Once more God made allowance for the weakness and self-distrust of Moses, severely tried as he had been by his former failure to persuade Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1-5) and his recent rejection by the people of Israel (Exodus 6:9). He made allowance, and raised his courage and his spirits by fresh promises, and by a call upon him for immediate action. The process of deliverance, God assured him, was just about to begin. Miracles would be wrought until Pharaoh's stubbornness was overcome. He was himself to begin the series at once by casting his rod upon the ground, that it might become a serpent (Exodus 7:9). From this point Moses' diffidence wholly disappears. Once launched upon his Heaven-directed course, assured of his miraculous powers, committed to a struggle with the powerful Egyptian king, he persevered without blenching or wavering until success crowned his efforts.
I have made thee a god to Pharaoh. Moses was diffident of appearing a second time before Pharaoh, who was so much his worldly superior. God reminds him that he is in truth very much Pharaoh's superior. If Pharaoh has earthly, he has unearthly power. He is to Pharaoh "as a god," with a right to command his obedience, and with strength to enforce his commands. Aaron shall be thy prophet, i.e. "thy spokesman"—the interpreter of thy will to others. Compare Exodus 4:16.
Thou shalt speak. The Septuagint and the Vulgate have, "Thou shalt speak to him," which undoubtedly gives the true sense. Moses was to speak to Aaron, Aaron to Pharaoh. (See Exodus 4:15, Exodus 4:16.)
I will harden Pharaoh's heart. See the comment on Exodus 4:21. And multiply my signs and my wonders. The idea of a long series of miracles is here, for the first time, distinctly introduced. Three signs had been given (Exodus 4:3-9); one further miracle had been mentioned (Exodus 4:23). Now a multiplication of signs and wonders is promised. Compare Exodus 3:20, and Exodus 6:6, which, however, are not so explicit as the present passage.
That I may lay my hand on Egypt. Pharaoh's obstinacy was foreseen and foreknown. He was allowed to set his will against God's, in order that there might be a great display of Almighty power, such as would attract the attention both of the Egyptians generally and of all the surrounding nations. God's glory would be thereby promoted, and there would be a general dread of interfering with his people. (See Exodus 15:14-16; Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25, etc.) Bring forth my armies. See the comment on Exodus 6:26. Great judgments. See above, Exodus 6:6.
The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. Rather, "that I am Jehovah"—i.e. that I answer to my Name—that I am the only God who is truly existent, other so-called gods being nonentities. They will know this and feel this when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, as I am about to stretch it forth.
Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them. This statement is general, and anticipative of the entire series of interviews beginning here (Exodus 7:10), and terminating (Exodus 10:29) with the words, "I will see thy face no more." The obedience of Moses and Aaron was perfect and continuous from this time forward until Egypt was quitted.
Fourscore years old. This age is confirmed by the statement (in Deuteronomy 31:2; Deuteronomy 34:7) that Moses was a hundred and twenty at his death. It is also accepted as exact by St. Stephen (Acts 7:23, Acts 7:30). Moderns are surprised that at such an age a man could undertake and carry through a difficult and dangerous enterprise; but in Egypt one hundred and ten years was not considered a very exceptionally long life, and men frequently retained their full vigour till seventy or eighty.
When Pharaoh shall speak to you, saying, Shew a miracle. It is obvious that there would have been an impropriety in Moses and Aaron offering a sign to Pharaoh until he asked for one. They claimed to be ambassadors of Jehovah, and to speak in his name (Exodus 5:1). Unless they were misdoubted, it was not for them to produce their credentials. Hence they worked no miracle at their former interview. Now, however, the time was come when their credentials would be demanded, and an express command was given them to exhibit the first "sign."
Exodus 7:1, Exodus 7:2
God assigns to each man his intellectual grade.
Three different intellectual grades are here set before us—that of the thinker, that of the expounder, and that of the mere recipient. Pharaoh, notwithstanding his exalted earthly rank, occupies the lowest position. He is to hang on the words of Aaron, who is to be to him as a prophet of the Most High. Aaron himself is to hang on the words of Moses, and to be simply his mouthpiece. Moses is to stand to both (compare Exodus 4:16) as God. And here note, that the positions are not self-assumed—God assigns them. So there are leaders of thought in all ages, to whom God has given their intellectual gifts, whom he has marked out for intellectual pre-eminency, and whom he makes to stand to the rest of men as gods. Sometimes they are their own prophets—they combine, that is, the power of utterance with the power of thought. But very often they need an interpreter. Their lips are uncircumcised. They lack eloquence; or they even lack the power of putting their thoughts into words, and require a "prophet," to publish their views to the world. The "prophet-interpreter" occupies a position very much below theirs, but still one requiring important and peculiar gifts, such as God alone can give. He must have the intelligence to catch the true bearing, connection, and force of the ideas presented to him, often in rude and uncouth language, like statues rough-hewn. He must be able to work up the rough material into presentable form. He must have a gift of language, if not a gift of speech. The great mass of men occupy a lower rank than either of these; they can neither originate, nor skilfully interpret; it remains that they be content to receive. God has given to them their humble position, as he has given to the others their loftier ones. They should cultivate their receptivity. They should be satisfied to listen and learn. They should remember that if, on the one hand, οὗτος μὲν πανάριστος ὂς αὐτὸς πάντα νοήσῃ—on the other, ἐσθλὸς δ αυ} ka)kei=noj o$j eu) ei)po&nti pi&qhtai
The fierceness of man turns to God's praise.
The most signal triumphs of Divine power are those in which the resistance to it is the most determined. The greatest of all victories was probably that which was gained when—after "war in heaven"—Satan was seen, like lightning, falling from heaven to earth. Since then, great triumphs, tending to God's praise, occur whenever the right and the truth succeed against seemingly insuperable opposition. When the boy shepherd with his sling and stone smites to the earth the gigantic Philistine—when the proud Sennacherib after all his boasts has to leave Jerusalem unhurt and fly to Nineveh—when Epiphanes is defied and baffled by a handful of Jewish mountaineers—when victory is finally gained by "Athanasius contra mundum," God's might is seen and recognised, as it would not have been, unless overwhelming strength had seemed to be arrayed against comparative weakness. When the "heathen rage," and the "kings of the earth and rulers" are on their side, and the cry of defiance goes forth: "Let us break God's bands asunder, and cast away his cords from us"—then God is most apt to show his might—to "refrain the spirit of princes," and make it manifest that he "is wonderful among the kings of the earth." The longer and fiercer the opposition, the more conspicuously is God's praise shown forth. Blow follows blow until the opposing power is shattered, smitten to the ground, laid prostrate. Then is the time for the song of triumph: "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the right way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed arc all they that put their trust in him!" (Psalms 51:10-12).
Miracles the credentials of an ambassador from God.
It is not easy to see any way in which God could authenticate a message as coming from him, except by giving the messenger supernatural powers. Conceivably, he might proclaim his will from heaven directly, in terms of human speech. But even then doubts would be raised as to the words uttered; men's recollections of them would differ; some would question whether words were used at all, and would hold that it had "thundered" (John 12:29). If, to avoid such results, he speaks to man through man, how is he to make it clear that his prophet has indeed been sent by him? He cannot make his messenger impeccable, if he is still to be man. He cannot give him irresistible eloquence, for eloquence is at once suspected; the reason rises up against it and resists it. What other course is there, but to impart to his messenger a portion of his own command over nature—in other words, to give him the power of working miracles? The light of nature seems to have taught Pharaoh to ask for this proof. The same light taught Nicodemus to accept it—"No man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:2). So it will ever be with simple men in simple times. It is only when men have become sophisticated, when they have darkened the light that is in them by "foolish questionings" and "oppositions of science falsely so called," that they begin to see specious objections to miracles, and regard them as "difficulties in the way of receiving a revelation" rather than as convincing evidences of it. We may properly call upon an opponent to tell us what evidence of a Divine mission he would accept, if he rejects miracles as an evidence, and wait for his answer. We shall probably find that ὁ ἀναιρῶν ταύτην τὴν πίστιν οὐ πανὺ πιστότερα ἐρεῖ ("he who destroys this basis of belief will not discover a surer one").—Aristotle.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
A god to Pharaoh.
Moses was in the trying position of being sent out anew upon a mission in which hitherto he had not had the slightest particle of success. His discouragement was natural. Pharaoh, on a previous occasion, had repulsed him. He had lost the ear even of his own people. The situation, since his former interview with the monarch, had altered for the worse. To proceed further was like rowing against wind and tide, with little prospect of ever reaching shore. Discouragement wrought in the usual way. It led him to magnify difficulties. He brought up again his old objection of his deficiencies of speech. Even with Aaron as an intermediary, he felt how awkward it would be to appear in the presence of Pharaoh, and not be able to deliver his own message. His inability of speech would certainly, he thought, expose him to contempt. Yet observe, God forebore with him. His reluctance was not without sin, but God, who knows our frame, does not expect to find in us all at once the perfection of angels, and is compassionate of our weakness. We have here, therefore—
I. A DISHEARTENED SERVANT SUITABLY ENCOURAGED. God told Moses—
1. That he would clothe him with an authority which even Pharaoh would be compelled to respect. "See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh" (Exodus 7:1). It was not with words only that Moses was sent to Pharaoh. Powers would be given him to enforce his words with deeds. The judgments he would bring upon the land would clothe him with a supernatural terror—make him a superhuman and almost a divine person—in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants. (Cf. Exodus 12:3.) So God gives attestation to his servants still, making it evident by the power of the Holy Ghost upon them, that they come in his name, and speak with his authority. He accompanies their word with Divine power, giving it efficacy to arrest, convict, and convert, and compelling the haughtiest of the earth to acknowledge the source of their message. So Felix trembled before Paul (Acts 24:25). Paul's Gospel came to the Thessalonians, "not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance" (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
2. That the work of deliverance would be no longer delayed. This also was implied in what God said to Moses: the time had come for speech to be exchanged for action. Everything indicated that the "charge" with which Moses was now entrusted was to be the final one. It should encourage desponding servants to reflect that God has his "set time" for the fulfilment of every promise; and that, when this period arrives, all their mourning will be turned into joy.
II. THE COURSE OF ISRAEL'S DELIVERANCE FORETOLD.
1. Foretold because foreseen. It is God's prerogative that he knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 42:9). Nothing can take him by surprise. He knows all the way his purposes are to travel. The whole future lies mapped out, as in a clear-drawn chart, before him.
2. Foreseen because pre-ordained. God, like Christ in the miracle of the loaves, knew in himself what he would do (John 6:6). Nothing was left to chance in his arrangements. The steps in his plan were fixed beforehand. What would be done would be according to God's "determinate counsel and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23)—would be "whatsoever (his) hand and (his) counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28). The deliverance was arranged in such a way as most to glorify the power and greatness of the Deliverer, and demonstrate his superiority to heathen idols. This in no wise implies that violence was in the very least done to human freedom, though it suggests that God can so interweave the volitions of men, in the situations in which he places them, into his purposes, as to leave not one of them outside his settled plan. The chief difficulty is in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, here (Exodus 7:3) represented as an ordained link in the chain of God's designs. But if this hardening simply means that God will place Pharaoh, already a bad man, in circumstances which he knows infallibly will harden his heart, and if this is done justly, and in punishment of former sins, the hardening taking effect through unalterable laws of the moral nature, which also are of God's ordainment, it is difficult to see what righteous objection can be taken to it.
3. Foretold for wise ends. Similar predictions of the course of the deliverance had been made at earlier stages (cf. Exodus 3:19-22; Exodus 4:21-24; Exodus 6:1-9). They are here repeated
II. A GLIMPSE OF GOD'S END IN PROVIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT (Exodus 7:3, Exodus 7:4). The end is twofold—
1. The manifestation of the utterly free and unconstrained character of his grace and mercy in the salvation of man; and
2. What is the necessary counterpart of this, the manifestation of his power and justice in the infliction of judgments upon his enemies. Even evil is thus made to contribute indirectly to the ultimate and eternal establishment of the righteousness of God.—J.O.
On this subject, see above, and on Exodus 4:21. The present seems an appropriate place for a somewhat fuller treatment.
I. HARDENING AS PROCEEDING FROM GOD. "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." This, assuredly, is more than simple permission. God hardens the heart—
1. Through the operation of the laws of our moral constitution, These laws, of which God is the author, and through which he operates in the soul, ordain hardening as the penalty of evil conduct, of resistance to truth, and of all misimprovement and abuse of privilege.
2. Through his providence—as when God, in the execution of his judgments, places a wicked man in situations which he knows can only have a hardening effect upon him. He does this in righteousness. "God, having permitted evil to exist, must thereafter of necessity permit it also to run its whole course in the way of showing itself to be what it really is, as that which aims at the defeat of the Divine purpose, and the consequent dissolution of the universe." This involves hardening.
3. Through a direct judgment in the soul of the individual, God smiting him with a spirit of blindness and infatuation in punishment of obstinate resistance to the truth. This is the most difficult of all aspects of hardening, but it only cuts the knot, does not untie it, to put superficial meanings upon the scriptures which allege the reality of the judgment (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:28; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). It is to be viewed as connected with what may be called the internal providence of God in the workings of the human mind; his government of the mind in the wide and obscure regions of its involuntary activities. The direction taken by these activities, seeing that they do not spring from man's own will, must be as truly under the regulation of Providence, and be determined in quite as special a manner, as are the outward circumstances of our lot, or those so-called fortuities concerning which we are assured: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matthew 10:29). It is a significant fact that, as sin advances, the sinner becomes less and less a free agent, falls increasingly under the dominion of necessity. The involuntary activities of the soul gain ground upon the voluntary. The hardening may be conceived of, partly as the result of a withdrawal of light and restraining grace; partly as a giving of the sou] up to the delusions of the adversary, "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2), whose will gradually occupies the region in the moral life vacated by the human will, and asserts there a correspondingly greater power of control; and partly as the result of a direct Divine ordering of the course of thought, feeling, and imagination. Hengstenberg acutely remarks: "It appears to proceed from design, that the hardening at the beginning of the plagues is attributed, in a preponderating degree, to Pharaoh, and towards the end to God. The higher the plagues rise, so much the more does Pharaoh's hardening assume a supernatural character, so much the more obvious is it to refer it to its supernatural causality."
II. HARDENING IN ITSELF CONSIDERED. The heart is the centre of personality, the source of moral life, the seat of the will, the conscience, and the affections (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:18). The hardening of the heart may be viewed under two aspects:
1. More generally as the result of growth in sin, with consequent loss of moral and religious susceptibility; and
2. As hardening against God, the author of its moral life. We have but to put these two things together—the heart, the seat of moral life, hardening itself against the Author of its moral life—to see that such hardening is of necessity fatal, an act of moral suicide. It may elucidate the subject to remark that in every process of hardening there is something which the heart parts with, something which it resists, and something which it becomes. There is, in other words
(1) That which the heart hardens itself in, viz. some evil quality, say injustice, cruelty, lust, hate, secret enmity to God, which quality gradually becomes a fixed element in character;
1. All evil hardens, and all hardening in moral evil is in principle hardening against God. The hardening may begin at the circumference of the moral nature, and involve the centre, or it may begin at the centre, and work out to the circumference. Men may be enemies to God in their mind by wicked works (Colossians 1:21), they may have "the understanding darkened," and be "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness (marg. hardness) of their hearts," and being "past feeling" may give "themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:17-19), and yet be strangers to God's revealed truth. All sin, all resistance to light, all disobedience to conscience, has this hardening effect (cf. Romans 1:19-32). But it is a will which has broken from God which is thus in various ways hardening itself, and enmity to God is latent in the process. The moment the truth of God is brought to bear on such a nature, this latent enmity is made manifest, and, as in the case of Pharaoh, further hardening is the result. Conversely,
2. Hardening against God is hardening in moral evil. The hardening may begin at the centre, in resistance to God's known will, and to the strivings of his Spirit, and thence spread through the whole moral nature. This is the deepest and fundamental hardening, and of itself gives a character to the being. A heart hardened in its interior against its Maker would be entitled to be called hard, no matter what superficial qualities of a pleasant kind remained to it, and no matter how correct the moral conduct.
3. Hardening results in a very special degree from resistance to the Word of God, to Divine revelation. This is the type of hardening which is chiefly spoken of in Scripture, and which gives rise to what it specially calls "the hard and impenitent heart" (Romans 2:5). All revelation of God, especially his revelation in Christ, has a testing power, and if resisted produces a hardness which speedily becomes obduracy. God may be resisted in his Word, his Spirit, his servants, his chastisements, and in the testimony to his existence and authority written on the soul itself. But the highest form of resistance—the worst and deadliest—is resistance to the Spirit drawing to Christ.
III. THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH COMPARED WITH HARDENING UNDER THE GOSPEL. Pharaoh stands out in Scripture as the typical instance of hardening of the heart.
1. He and Jehovah stood in direct opposition to each other.
2. God's will was made known to him in a way he could not mistake. He pretended at first to doubt, but doubt soon became impossible.
3. He resisted to the last. And the longer he resisted, his heart grew harder.
4. His resistance was his ruin.
In considering the case of this monarch, however, and comparing it with our own, we have to remember—
1. That Pharaoh was a heathen king. He was naturally prejudiced in favour of the gods of Egypt. He had at first no knowledge of Jehovah. But we have had from infancy the advantage of a knowledge of the true God, of his existence, his attributes, and his demands.
2. Pharaoh had a heathen upbringing. His moral training was vastly inferior to that which most have enjoyed who hear the Gospel.
3. The influences he resisted were outward influences—strokes of judgment. The hardening produced by resistance to the inward influences of Christianity, strivings of the Spirit, etc; is necessarily of a deeper kind.
4. What was demanded of Pharaoh was the liberation of a nation of slaves—in our case it is required that we part with sins, and yield up heart and will to the Creator and Redeemer. Outward compliance would have sufficed in his case; in ours, the Compliance must be inward and spiritual. Here, again, inasmuch as the demand goes deeper, the hardening produced by resistance is of necessity deeper also. There is now possible to man the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:32; Hebrews 6:4 6).
5. The motives in the two eases are not comparable. In the one case, God revealed in judgments; in the other, in transcendent love and mercy.
Conclusion:—"To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Hebrews 3:7, Hebrews 3:8, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 3:15, Hebrews 4:7). Beware, in Connection with this hardening, of "the deceitfulness of sin," The heart has many ways of disguising from itself the fact that it is resisting God, and hardening itself in opposition to him. One form is procrastination. Not yet—a more convenient season. A second is compromise. We shall find attempts at this with Pharaoh. By Conceding part of what is asked-giving up some sin to which the heart is less attached—we hide from ourselves the fact that we are resisting the chief demand. Herod observed John the Baptist, and "when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly' (Mark 6:20). The forms of godliness, as in the Pharisees, may Conceal from the heart its denial of the power thereof. Conscience is quieted by church-membership, by a religious profession. There is disguised resistance in all insincere repentance. This is seen in Pharaoh's relentings. Even when the resistance becomes more avowed, there are ways of partially disguising the fact that it is indeed God we are resisting. Possibly the heart tries to wriggle out of the duty of submission by cavilling at the evidence of revelation. Or, objection is perhaps taken to something in the manner or form in which the truth has been presented; some alleged defect of taste, or infelicity of illustration, or rashness of statement, or blunder in science, or possibly a slip in grammar. Any straw will serve which admits of being clutched at. So conviction is pushed off, decision is delayed, resistance is kept up, and all the while the heart is getting harder—less sensible of the truth, more ensnared in error. It is well also to remember that even failure to profit by the word, without active resistance to it (if such a thing is possible)—simple want of care in the cherishing of good impressions, and too rash an exposure to the influences which tend to dissipate and destroy them—will result in their disappearance, and in a consequent hardening of the heart. The impressions will not readily return with the same vividness. To-day, then, and now, hear and obey the voice of God.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
God still glorified amid human weakness and sin.
I. MOSES' WEAKNESS (Exodus 6:1-30. Exodus 6:28-30). The command was—"Speak thou unto Pharaoh." Moses in his despondency is overpowered by the sense of his infirmity. He fears the ridicule of the Egyptian court. There are times when the sense of our unfitness for speaking God's words crushes us. Let us take heed lest lowly self-judgment pass into unbelief and disobedience. The loss of faith in ourselves is no reason why we should cease to trust God.
II. GOD'S REMEDY (Exodus 7:1-25. Exodus 7:1, Exodus 7:2). Moses' slowness of speech is veiled by unthought-of glory. He that feared the derision of Pharaoh is surrounded with dreadful majesty and made as God to him. To obedient faith, felt incompetency for the task God calls us to, will only be the occasion of his bestowing upon us more abundant honour. Our very defects can be transformed into power. A man's very awkwardness often disarms criticism and appeals to the heart as the most faultless elegance can never do.
III. JEHOVAH WILL BE GLORIFIED IN PHARAOH'S UNBELIEF (Exodus 7:3-5).
1. They are forewarned of Pharaoh's stubborn refusal. We are not sent on God's errand with False expectations.
2. God's purpose will be accomplished, not defeated, by that opposition. His defiance will only call forth the revelation of God's terribleness. Where sin has sought to dwell and to reign, the terrors of God's judgment will alone be remembered.
3. Egypt will also know that God is Jehovah—the faithful One. God's name will be written in their punishment as well as in Israel's redemption.
IV. THE VERY AGE OF GOD'S SERVANTS WILL PRAISE HIM (Exodus 7:7). The childhood of Samuel, the youth of Daniel, the old age of Moses and Aaron are arguments of unconquerable strength for the feeble and despised to trust and toil.
1. There is a place for all.
2. No man's day is over if he will only yield to God. The dying thief who believed in his dying agonies has been among the mightiest preachers of God's infinite grace.—U.