THE EIGHTH PLAGUE. Notwithstanding his self-condemnation and acknowledgment of the righteousness of God in all the judgments that had been sent upon him (Exodus 9:27), Pharaoh no sooner found that the seventh plague had ceased than he reverted to his old obstinacy. He both wilfully hardened his own heart (Exodus 9:34); and God, by the unfailing operation of his moral laws, further blunted or hardened it (Exodus 10:1). Accordingly, it became necessary that his stubbornness should be punished by one other severe infliction. Locusts, God's "great army," as they are elsewhere called (Joel 2:25), were the instrument chosen, so that once more the judgment should seem to come from heaven, and that it should be exactly fitted to complete the destruction which the hail had left unaccomplished (Exodus 10:5). Locusts, when they come in full force, are among the most terrible of all the judgments that can befall a country. "A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness" (Joel 2:3). They destroy every atom of foliage—crops, vegetables, shrubs, trees—even the bark of the fruit-trees suffers—the stems are injured, the smaller branches completely peeled and "made white" (Joel 1:7). When Moses threatened this infliction, his words produced at once a great effect. The officers of the court—"Pharaoh's servants," as they are called—for the first time endeavoured to exert an influence over the king—"Let the men go," they said; "knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" (Exodus 10:7). And the king so far yielded that—also for the first time—he let himself be influenced by the mere threat of a judgment. tie would have let the Israelites depart, before the locusts came, if only they would have left their "little ones" behind them (Exodus 10:8-11 ). Moses, however, could not consent to this limitation; and so the plague came in fall severity the locusts covered the whole face of the earth, so that the land was darkened with them (Exodus 10:15); and all that the hail had left, including the whole of the wheat and doora harvests, was destroyed. Then Pharaoh made fresh acknowledgment of his sin, and fresh appeals for intercession—with the old result that the plague was removed, and that he remained as obdurate as ever (Exodus 10:16-20).
Go in unto Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart. The word "I" is expressed in the original and is emphatic. It is not merely that Pharaoh has hardened himself (Exodus 9:34); but I have "dulled" or "hardened" him. Therefore condescend to see him once more, and to bear my message to him. The heart of his servants. Compare Exodus 9:34. As Pharaoh's determination began to waver the influence of the court officers increased. Hence the frequent mention of them in this part of the narrative. That I might shew them my signs. The "fierceness of man" was being "turned to God's praise." It resulted from the obstinacy of Pharaoh that more and greater miracles were wrought, more wonderful signs shown, and that by these means both the Israelites themselves, and the heathen nations in contact with them, were the more deeply impressed.
That thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son. The Psalms show how after generations dwelt in thought upon the memory of the great deeds done in Egypt and the deliverance wrought there. (See especially Psalms 78:1-72; Psalms 105:1-45; Psalms 106:1-48; but compare also Psalms 68:6, Psalms 68:7; Psalms 77:14-20; Psalms 81:5, Psalms 81:6; Psalms 114:1-3; Psalms 135:8, Psalms 135:9; Psalms 136:10-15.)
How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself! The confession recorded in Exodus 9:27 had been a distinct act of self-humiliation; but it had been cancelled by subsequent self-assertion (Exodus 9:34, Exodus 9:35). And, moreover, humility of speech was not what God had been for months requiring of Pharaoh, but submission in act. He would not really "humble himself" until he gave the oft- demanded permission to the Israelites, that they might depart from Egypt.
To-morrow. Again a warning is given, and a space of time interposed, during which the king may repent and submit himself, if he chooses. The locusts. The species intended is probably either the Aeridium peregrinum or the Oedipoda migratoria. Both are common in Arabia and Syria, and both are known in Egypt. They are said to be equally destructive. The Hebrew name, arbeh, points to the "multitudinous" character of the visitation. A traveller in Syria says—"It is difficult to express the effect produced on us by the sight of the whole atmosphere filled on all sides and to a great height by an innumerable quantity of these insects, whose flight was slow and uniform, and whose noise resembled that of rain; the sky was darkened, and the light of the sun considerably weakened. In a moment the terraces of the houses, the streets, and all the fields were covered by these insects." Into thy coast—i.e. "across thy border, into thy territories." The locust is only an occasional visitant in Egypt, and seems always to arrive from some foreign country.
They shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth. This is one of the points most frequently noticed by travellers. "The ground is covered with them for several leagues," says Volney. "The steppes," says Clarke, "were entirely covered by their bodies." "Over an area of 1600 or 1800 square miles," observes Barrow, "the whole surface might literally be said to be covered with them." They shall eat the residue of that which escaped. Locusts eat every atom of verdure in the district attacked by them. "In A.D. 1004," says Barhebraeus, "a large swarm of locusts appeared in the land of Mosul and Baghdad, and it was very grievous in Shiraz. It left no herb nor even leaf on the trees. When their swarms appear," writes Volney, "everything green vanishes instantaneously from the fields, as if a curtain were rolled up; the trees and plants stand leafless, and nothing is seen but naked boughs and stalks." And shall eat every tree. The damage done by locusts to trees is very great. "He (the locust) has laid my vine waste, and barked my fig-tree; he hath made it clean bare and east it away; the branches thereof are made white" (Joel 1:7). Travellers constantly notice this fact. "When they have devoured all other vegetables," says one, "they attack the trees, consuming first the leaves, then the bark." "After having consumed herbage, fruit, leaves of trees," says another, "they attacked even their young shoots and their bark." "They are particularly injurious to the palm-trees," writes a third; "these they strip of every leaf and green particle, the trees remaining like skeletons with bare branches." A fourth notes that "the bushes were eaten quite bare, though the animals could not have been long on the spot. They sat by hundreds on a bush, gnawing the rind and the woody fibres."
They shall fill thy houses. Compare Joel 2:9. The witness of modern travellers is to the same effect. Morier says "They entered the inmost recesses of the houses, were found in every corner, stuck to our clothes, and infested our food". Burckhardt observes—"They overwhelm the province of Nedjd sometimes to such a degree that, having destroyed the harvest, they penetrate by thousands into the private dwellings, and devour whatsoever they can find, even the leather of the water vessels". An older traveller, Beauplan, writes as follows:—"In June 1646, at Novgorod, it was prodigious to behold them, because they were hatched there that spring, and being as yet scarce able to fly, the ground was all covered, and the air so full of them that I could not eat in my chamber without a candle, all the houses being full of them, even the stables, barns, chambers, garrets, and cellars. I caused cannon-powder and sulphur to be burnt to expel them, but all to no purpose; for when the door Was opened, an infinite number came in, and the others went fluttering about; and it was a troublesome thing, when a man went abroad, to be hit on the face by those creatures, on the nose, eyes, or cheeks, so that there was no opening one's mouth but some would get in. Yet all this was nothing; for when we were to eat they gave us no respite; and when we went to cut a piece of meat, we cut a locust with it, and when a man opened his mouth to put in a morsel, he was sure to chew one of them." Oriental houses, it is to be borne in mind, have no better protection than lattice-work in the windows, so that locusts have free access to the apartments, even when the doers are shut. Which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers' fathers have seen. Inroads of locusts are not common in Egypt. Only one reference has been found to them in the native records. When they occur, they are as destructive as elsewhere. Denon witnessed one in the early part of the present century. Two others were witnessed by Carsten Niebuhr and Forskal in 1761 and 1762; and another by Tisehendorf comparatively recently. The meaning in the text is probably that no such visitation as that now sent had been seen previously, not that Egypt had been hitherto free from the scourge. He turned himself and went out. Moses did not wait to learn what effect his announcement would have. He" knew "that Pharaoh would not fear the Lord. (See Exodus 9:30.)
And Pharaoh's servants said unto him. This marks quite a new phase in the proceedings. Hitherto the courtiers generally had been dumb. Once the magicians had ventured to say—"This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19); but otherwise the entire court had been passive, and left the king to himself. They are even said to have "hardened their hearts" like him (Exodus 9:34). But now at last they break their silence and interfere. Having lost most of their cattle, and a large part of the year's crops, the great men became alarmed—they were large landed proprietors, and the destruction of the wheat and doora crops would seriously impoverish, if not actually ruin them. Moreover, it is to be noted that they interfere before the plague has begun, when it is simply threatened, which shows that they had come to believe in the power of Moses. Such a belief on the part of some had appeared, when the plague of hail was threatened (Exodus 9:20); now it would seem to have become general. A snare to us—i.e. "a peril"—"a source of danger," the species being put for the genus.
Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh. Pharaoh did not condescend so far as to send for them, but he allowed his courtiers to bring them to him. And he so far took the advice of his courtiers, that he began by a general permission to the Israelites to take their departure. This concession, however, he almost immediately retracted by a question, which implied that all were not to depart. Who are they that shall go? It seems somewhat strange that the king had not yet clearly understood what the demand made of him was. But perhaps he had not cared to know, since he had had no intention of granting it.
And Moses said, We will go with our young, and with our old. This statement was at any rate unambiguous, and no doubt could henceforth be even pretended as to what the demand was. The whole nation, with its flocks and herds, was to take its departure, since a feast was to be held in which all the nation ought to participate. The Egyptians were accustomed to the attendance of children at national festivals (Herod. 2.60).
And he said, etc. Pharaoh's reply to the plain statement of Moses is full of scorn and anger, as if he would say—"When was ever so extravagant and outrageous a demand made? How can it be supposed that I would listen to it? So may Jehovah help you, as I will help you in this—to let you go, with your families." (Taph is "family," or household, not "little ones." See Exodus 1:1.) Look to it; for evil is before you. Or, "Look to it; for you have evil in view." Beware, i.e; of what you are about. You entertain the evil design of robbing me of my slaves—a design which I shall not allow you to carry out. There is no direct threat, only an indirect one, implied in "Look to it."
Go now ye that are men. Or, "ye that are adult males." The word is different from that used in Exodus 10:7, which includes women and children. And serve the Lord; for that ye did desire. Pharaoh seems to argue that the request to "serve the Lord" implied the departure of the men only, as if women and children could not offer an acceptable service. But he must have known that women and children attended his own national festivals. (See the comment on Exodus 10:9.) Probably, he knew that his argument was sophistical. And they were driven out. Literally, "One drove them out." Pharaoh's manifest displeasure was an indication to the court officials that he wished the interview ended, and as the brothers did not at once voluntarily quit the presence, an officer thrust them out. This was an insult not previously offered them, and shows how Pharaoh's rage increased as he saw more and more clearly that he would have to yield and allow the departure of the entire nation.
The Lord brought an east wind. Locusts generally come with a wind; and, indeed, cannot fly far without one. An east wind would in this case have brought them from northern Arabia, which is a tract where they are often bred in large numbers. Denon, the French traveller, notes that an enormous cloud of locusts which invaded Egypt during his stay, came from the east. All that day. The rest of the day on which Moses and Aaron had had their interview with the Pharaoh.
The locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt. This statement is very emphatic, and seems to imply that the plague was more widely extended than any that had preceded it. Egypt extends about 520 miles from north to south, but except in the Delta is not more than about 20 miles wide. Columns of locusts of the length of 500 miles have been noticed by travellers (Moor in Kirby on Entomology, letter 6.), and 20 miles is not an unusual width for them. But such a length and such a breadth are not elsewhere recorded in combination. Thus the visitation was, in its extent as well as in its circumstances, plainly abnormal.
The land was darkened. It is not quite clear whether the darkness here spoken of was caused by the locusts when they were still on the wing or after they had settled. It is a fact that the insects come in such dense clouds that while on the wing they obscure the light of the sun, and turn noonday into twilight. And it is also a fact that with their dull brownish bodies and wings they darken the ground after they have settled. Perhaps it is most probable that this last is the fact noticed. (Compare Exodus 10:5.) All the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. Injury to fruit by the hail had not been expressly mentioned in the account of that plague, though perhaps it may be regarded as implied in the expression—that the hail "brake every tree of the field" (Exodus 10:25). The damage which locusts do to fruit is well known. They devour it with the green crops, the herbage, and the foliage, before setting to work upon the harder materials, as reeds, twigs, and the bark of trees. In Egypt the principal fruits would be figs, pomegranates; mulberries, grapes, olives, peaches, pears, plums, and apples; together with dates, and the produce of the persea, and the nebk or sidr. The fruit of the nebk is ripe in March. There remained not any green thing. "It is sufficient," observes one writer, "if these terrible columns stop half an hour on a spot, for everything growing on it, vines, olive-trees, and corn, to be entirely destroyed. After they have passed, nothing remains but the large branches and the roots, which, being underground, have escaped their voracity." "Where-ever they settle," says another, "it looks as if fire had burnt up everything." "The country did not seem to be burnt," declares a third, "but to be covered with snow, through the whiteness of the trees and the dryness of the herbs." A fourth sums up his account of the ravages committed by locusts thus—"According to all accounts, wherever the swarms of locusts arrive, the vegetables are entirely consumed and destroyed, appearing as if they had been burnt by fire."
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste. Literally, as in the margin, "hasted to call for M. and A." He had made similar appeals before (Exodus 8:8, Exodus 8:25; Exodus 9:27), but never with such haste and urgency. Evidently, the locusts were felt as a severer infliction than any previous one. I have sinned. So, after the plague of hail (Exodus 9:27); but here we have the further acknowledgment, against the Lord your God and against you; "against the Lord," in disobeying his commands; "against. you," in making you premises and then refusing to keep them (Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:34, Exodus 9:35).
Only this once. Compare Genesis 18:32. Pharaoh kept this promise. He did not ask any more for the removal of a plague. This death only—i.e. "this fatal visitation"—this visitation, which, by producing famine, causes numerous deaths in a nation. Pharaoh feels now, as his courtiers had felt when the plague was first threatened, that "Egypt is destroyed" (Genesis 18:7).
He … intreated the Lord. Moses complied, though Pharaoh had this time made no distinct promise of releasing the people. He had learnt that no dependence was to be placed on such promises, and that it was idle to exact them. If anything could have touched the dull and hard heart of the king, it would have been the gentleness and magnanimity shown by Moses in uttering no word of reproach, making no conditions, but simply granting his request as soon as it was made, and obtaining the removal of the plague.
And the Lord turned a mighty strong west wind. Literally, "a very strong sea-wind"—i.e. one which blew from the Mediterranean, and which might, therefore, so far, be north, north-west, or north-east. As it blew the locusts into the "Sea of Weeds," i.e. the Red Sea, it must have been actually a north-west wind, and so passing obliquely over Egypt, have carried the locusts in a south-easterly direction. Cast them into the Red Sea. Literally, "the Sea of Weeds." No commentater doubts that the Red Sea is here meant. It 'seems to have received its Hebrew appellation, Yam Suph, "Sea of Weeds," either from the quantity of sea-weed which it throws up, or, more probably, from the fact that anciently its north-western recess was connected with a marshy tract extending from the present head of the Gulf of Suez nearly to the Bitter Lakes, in which grew abundant weeds and water-plants. There remained not one locust. The sudden and entire departure of locusts is as remarkable as their coming. "At the hour of prime," says one writer, "they began to depart, and at midday there was not one remaining.", "A wind from the south-west," says another, "which had brought them, so completely drove them forwards that not a vestige of them was to be seen two hours afterwards".
But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart. The word used here is the intensive one, khazoq, instead of the milder kabod of Exodus 10:1. Pharaoh's prolonged obstinacy and impenitence was receiving aggravation by the working of the just laws of God. (See the comment on Exodus 4:21.)
Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:2
God's mercies and wondrous works to be kept in perpetual remembrance.
Man's forgetfulness of God's benefits is one of the saddest features of his existing condition and character. He needs continual urging and exhortation to the duty of remembering them.
I. HE FORGETS ESPECIALLY THOSE BENEFITS WHICH ARE CONSTANT AND CONTINUOUS.
(a) Temporal benefits. Life, strength, health, intellect, the power to act, the capacity to enjoy, the ability to think, speak, write, are God's gifts, bestowed lavishly on the human race, and in civilised countries possessed in some measure by almost every member of the community. And, for the most part, they are possessed continuously. At any moment any one of them might be withdrawn; but, as it pleases God to make them constant, they are scarcely viewed as gifts at all. The Church would have men thank God, at least twice a day, for their "creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life." But how few perform this duty! Creation, preservation, daily sustenance, even health, are taken as matters of course, which come to us naturally; not considered to be, as they are, precious gifts bestowed upon us by God.
(b) Spiritual benefits. Atonement, redemption, reconciliation, effected for us once for all by our Lord's death upon the Cross; and pardon, assisting grace, spiritual strength, given us continually, are equally ignored and forgotten. At any rate, the lively sense of them is wanting. Few say, with David, Constantly, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Psalms 103:1-5).
II. HE FORGETS EVEN EXTRAORDINARY MERCIES. A man escapes with life from an accident that might have been fatal; recovers from an illness in which his life was despaired of; is awakened suddenly to a sense of religion when he had long gone on in Coldness and utter deadness; and he thinks at first that nothing can ever take the thought of the blessing which he has received out of his remembrance. He is ready to exclaim, ten times a day, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he hath done for my soul!" But soon all fades away and grows dim; the vivid remembrance passes from him; he thinks less and less of what seems now a distant time; he neglects to speak of it, even to his children. Instead of "telling in the ears of his son, and of his son's son, what things God wrought for him in the old timer he does not so much as think of them. Very offensive to God must be this forgetfulness. He works his works of mercy and of power for the very purpose "that men may tell of them and have them in remembrance," may "teach them to their sons and their sons' sons," may keep them "as tokens upon their hands, and as frontlets between their eyes," may "tell them to the following generation."
III. PERPETUAL REMEMBRANCE OF EXTRAORDINARY MERCIES IS BEST SECURED BY THE OBSERVANCE OF ANNIVERSARIES. God instituted the Passover, and other Jewish feasts, that the memory of his great mercies to his people in Egypt and the wilderness should not pass away (Exodus 12:24 27). So the Christian Church has observed Christmas Day, Good Friday, Ascension Day. Such occasions are properly called "commemorations." And individuals may well follow the Church, by commemorating important events in their own lives, so they do it—
God's long-suffering towards the wicked has a limit.
"How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself?" (Exodus 10:3). "The goodness of God endureth yet daily." His forbearance and long-suffering are wonderful. Yet they have a limit. God will not proceed to judgment—
I. UNTIL THE SINNER HAS HAD FULL OPPORTUNITY FOR REPENTANCE. Pharaoh had been first warned (Exodus 5:3), then shown a sign (Exodus 7:10-12); after this, punished by seven distinct plagues, each of which was well calculated to strike terror into the soul, and thereby to stir it to repentance. He had been told by his own magicians that one of them, at any rate, could be ascribed to nothing but "the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19). He had been impressed, alarmed, humbled so far as to make confession of sin (Exodus 9:27), and to promise three several times that he would let the Israelites depart from Egypt (Exodus 8:8, Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:28). But all had been of no avail. No sooner was a plague removed at his humble entreaty than he resumed all his old pride and arrogance, retracted his promise, and showed himself as stiff-necked as at the first. The time during which his trim had lasted, and God's patience endured, must have been more than a year—surely ample opportunity!
II. UNTIL IT IS MANIFEST THAT THERE IS NO HOPE THAT HE WILL REPENT. "What could have been done more in my vineyard, that I have not done to it?" God asks in Isaiah (Isaiah 5:4). And what more could he have done to turn Pharaoh from his evil ways, that he had not done on this occasion? Exhortations, warnings, miracles, light plagues, heavy plagues, had all been tried, and no real, permanent impression made. The worst of all was, that when some kind of impression was made, no good result ensued. Fear—abject, servile, cowardly fear—was the dominant feeling aroused; and even this did not last, but disappeared the moment that the plague was removed. Pharaoh was thus constantly "sinning yet more" (Exodus 9:34). Instead of improving under the chastening hand of God, he was continually growing worse. His heart was becoming harder. His reformation was more hopeless.
III. UNTIL GOD'S PURPOSES IN ALLOWING THE RESISTANCE OF HIS WILL BY THE SINNER ARE ACCOMPLISHED. God intended that through Pharaoh's resistance to his will, and the final failure of his resistance, his own name should be glorified and "declared throughout all the earth" (Exodus 9:16). It required a period of some length—a tolerably prolonged contest—to rivet the attention both of the Egyptians generally, and of the surrounding nations. After somewhat more than a year this result had been attained. There was, consequently, no need of further delay; and the last three plagues, which followed rapidly the one upon the other, were of the nature of judgments.
Man's interposition with good advice may come too late.
It is impossible to say what effect the opposition and remonstrances of his nobles and chief officers might not have had upon Pharaoh, if they had been persistently offered from the first. But his magicians had for some time aided and abetted his resistance to God's will, as declared by Moses; and had even used the arts whereof they were masters to make, the miracles which Moses wrought seem trifles. And the rest of the Court officials had held their peace, neither actively supporting the monarch, nor opposing him. It was only when the land had been afflicted by seven plagues, and an eighth was impending, that they summoned courage to express disapproval of the king's past conduct, and to recommend a different course. "How long shall this man be a snare unto us? Let the men go," they said. But the advice came too late. Pharaoh had, so to speak, committed himself. He had engaged in a contest from which he could not retire without disgrace. He had become heated and hardened; and, the more the conviction came home to him that he must yield the main demand, the more did it seem to him a point of honour not to grant the whole of what had been asked. But practically, this was the same thing as granting nothing, since Moses would not be content with less than the whole. The interposition of the Court officials was therefore futile. Let those whose position entitles them to offer advice to men in power bear in mind four things—
The terribleness of God's severer judgments.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the bands of the living God." "Our God is a consuming fire." "If the wicked turn not, God will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors" (Psalms 7:11-13). Every calamity which can visit man is at his disposal. God's punishments are terrible—
I. BECAUSE HE IS OMNIPOTENT. He can smite with a thousand weapons—with all the varieties of physical pain—aches, sores, wounds, boils, nerve affections, inflammation, short breath, imperfect heart action, faintings, palpitations, weakness, cramps, chills, shiverings—with mental sufferings, bad spirits, depression, despondency, grief, anguish, fear, want of brain power, loss of self-controls distaste for exertion, etc.; with misfortunes—sickness, mutilation, loss of friends, ill-health, bereavement, death. He can accumulate sorrows, reiterate blows, allow no respite, proceed from bad to worse, utterly crush and destroy those who have offended him and made themselves his enemies.
II. BECAUSE HE IS ABSOLUTELY JUST. God's judgments are the outcome of his justice, and therefore most terrible. What have we not deserved at his hands? If, after all his gentle teaching, all his mild persuading, the preaching of his ministers, the promptings of his Holy Spirit, the warnings furnished by the circumstances of life, the special chastisements sent to evoke repentance, men continue obdurate—what remains but a "fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries"? (Hebrews 10:27.) If each sin committed is to receive its full, due, and appropriate penalty, what suffering can be sufficient? Even in this life, the vengeances that have overtaken the impenitent, have sometimes been most fearful; what must the full tale be if we take in the consideration of another?
III. BECAUSE HE IS FAITHFUL, AND CANNOT LIE OR REPENT. God in his Word has plainly, clearly, unmistakably, over and over again, declared that the impenitent sinner shall be punished everlastingly. In vain men attempt to escape the manifest force of the words and to turn them to another meaning. As surely as the life of the blessed is never-ending, so is the "death" of the wicked. Vainly says one, that he would willingly give up his hope of everlasting life, if so be that by such sacrifice he could end the eternal sufferings of the lost ones. It is not what man feels, what he thinks he would do, or even what he would actually do, were it in his power, that proves anything; the question is one of fact. God tells us what he is about to do, and he will assuredly do it, whatever we may think or feel. "These (the wicked) shall go into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life everlasting" (Matthew 25:46). Oh! terrible voice of most just judgment which shall be pronounced on those to whom it shall be said, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41)] The crowning terror of the judgment of God is the perpetuity which he has declared attaches to it.
The agency of nature used by God both in inflicting and removing judgments.
God's footsteps are not known. Since Eden was lost to us it has pleased him, for inscrutable reasons, to withdraw himself behind the screen of nature, and to work out his purposes—in the main, through natural agencies. He punishes idleness and imprudence by poverty and contempt; intemperance and uncleanness, by disease; inordinate ambition, by collapse of schemes, loss of battles, deposition, exile, early death. Civil government is one of the agencies which he uses for punishing a whole class of offences; hygienic laws are another. It is comparatively seldom that he descends visibly to judgment, as when he burnt up the cities of the plains. So, even when he was miraculously punishing Egypt and Pharaoh, he used, as far as was possible, the agency of nature. Frog, mosquitoes, beetles, thunder, hail, locusts, worked his will—natural agents, suited to the season and the country—only known by faith to have come at his bidding, and departed when he gave the order. And he brought the locusts and took them away, by a wind. So the temporal punishments of the wicked came constantly along the ordinary channels of life, rash speculation producing bankruptcy; profligacy, disease; dishonesty, distrust; ill-temper, general aversion. Men curse their ill-luck when calamity comes on them, and attribute to chance what is really the doing of God's retributive hand. The east wind, they say, brought the locusts on them; but they do not ask who brought the east wind out of his treasury. God uses natural means also to remove judgments. "A wind takes the locusts away." A severe winter stops a pestilence. An invasion of their own territory recalls devastating hordes to its defence, and frees the land which they were ravaging. Reaction sets in when revolution goes too far, and the guillotine makes short work of the revolutionists. Want stimulates industry, and industry removes the pressure of want. Even when men's prayers are manifestly answered by the cessation of thought, or rain, or the recovery from sickness of one given over by the physicians, the change comes about in a natural way. A little cloud rises up out of the deep, and overspreads the heavens, and the drought is gone. The wind shifts a few points, and the "plague of rain" ceases. The fever abates, little by little, the patient finds that he can take nourishment; so the crisis is past, and nature, or "the strength of his constitution," as men say, has saved him. The changes are natural ones; but God, who is behind nature, has caused the changes, and, as much as miracles, they are his work.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
A new Message.
Even yet God had not done with the King of Egypt. He sends Moses again to ply him with reproof and threatening. The final stroke is put off as long as possible. If "by all means" (1 Corinthians 9:22) Pharaoh can be saved, he will not be lost for want of the opportunity. God tells Moses his design in dealing with the monarch as he did, and gives him a new message to carry to the royal presence.
I. GOD'S DESIGN (Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:2). He had hardened Pharaoh's heart and the heart of his servants, that he might show these his signs before him, and that he might secure their being had in remembrance through all succeeding generations in Israel. This bespeaks, on God's part—
1. Definite purpose in the shaping of the events which culminated in the Exodus. As Jehovah, the all-ruling one, it lay with him to determine what shape these events would assume, so as best to accomplish the end he had in view in the deliverance. It was of his ordering that a ruler of Pharaoh's stamp occupied the throne of Egypt at that particular time; that the king was able to hold out as he did against his often reiterated, and powerfully enforced, command; that the monarch's life was spared, when he might have been smitten and destroyed (Exodus 9:15, Exodus 9:16); that the Exodus was of so glorious and memorable a character.
2. It indicates the nature of the design. "That ye may know how that I am the Lord' (Exodus 10:2). We have already seen (Exodus 6:1-30.) that the central motive in this whole series of events was the manifestation of God in his character of Jehovah—the absolute, all-ruling, omnipotent Lord, who works in history, in mercy, and judgment, for the accomplishment of gracious ends. The design was
II. GOD'S REQUIREMENT—humility. "How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?" (Exodus 10:3.) This lays the finger on the root principle of Pharaoh's opposition, pride. Pride, the undue exaltation of the ego, is a hateful quality of character, even as between man and man. How much more, as between man and God! It is described as "the condemnation of the devil" (1 Timothy 4:6). Pride puffs the soul up in undue conceit of itself, and leads it to spurn at God's dictation and control. It aims at a false independence. It would wish to be as God. In the worldly spirit it manifests itself as "the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). In the self-righteous spirit it manifests itself as spiritual pride. It excludes every quality which ought to exist in a soul rightly exercised towards its Creator. Faith, love, humility, the feeling of dependence, gratitude for benefits, regard for the Creator's glory—it shuts out all. It is incompatible with the sense of sin, with the spirit of contrition, with humble acceptance of salvation through another. It is the great barrier to the submission of the heart to God and Christ, inciting instead to naked and impious rebellion. The degree and persistency of the opposition to God which pride is able to inspire may be well studied in the case of Pharaoh.
III. GOD'S THREAT (Exodus 10:4 7). He would bring upon the land a plague of locusts. The magnitude of the visitation would place it beyond comparison with anything that had ever been known. See below.
IV. MOSES GOING OUT FROM PHARAOH. "And he turned himself, and went out from Pharaoh" (Exodus 10:6). He delivered his message, and did not wait for an answer. This should have told Pharaoh that the bow was now stretched to its utmost, and that to strain it further by continued resistance would be to break it. His courtiers seem to have perceived this (Exodus 10:7). Moses' going out was a prelude to the final breaking off of negotiations (Exodus 10:29). View it also as a studied intimation—
1. Of his indignation at the past conduct of the king (cf. Exodus 11:8).
2. Of his conviction of the hopelessness of producing any good impression on his hardened nature.
3. Of the certainty of God's purpose being fulfilled, whether Pharaoh willed it or no. It was for Pharaoh's interest to attend to the warning which had now again been given him, but his refusal to attend to it would only injure himself and his people; it would not prevent God's will from being accomplished.—J.O.
The plague of locusts.
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, Exodus 8:32; 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 (Exodus 10:7). 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 (Exodus 5:1-23.) 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 Exodus 10:10 in stronger terms than ever.
II. A RENEWED ATTEMPT AT COMPROMISE (Exodus 10:8-12). Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron, and asks who they are that are to go to sacrifice (Exodus 10:8): the reply was decisive; "we will go with our young and with our old," etc. (Exodus 10:9). 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 (Exodus 10:10). He will consent to the men going to serve the Lord, but to nothing more (Exodus 10:11). 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 19:1-24.). 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 (Exodus 10:12-16). 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 2:1-32; 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)