Exodus 8:20 - 9:35
There is no record here of the plague of lice being removed, but Moses is told by God to present again to Pharaoh His demand that the people, whom He claimed as His be released. He is again to intercept the king as he was going forth to the river early in the morning. Those who have studied the records of ancient Egypt have told us that the Nile was worshipped as representing one of the chief deities of that land of idols, and we remember that when the river was smitten under the first plague Pharaoh was going in the same direction in the morning (Exodus 7: 15). It gives us the impression that he was going forth to worship the Nile-god, and just at that moment his god was smitten. So also there was a goddess, who was supposed to preside over frogs. This shows us how these judgments affected the gods of Egypt, as indicated in Exodus 12: 12.
By the river, Pharaoh is threatened with the fourth plague. We notice that seven times it is described as "swarms"—to which word our translators have added "of flies" in italics, since the word in the original is evidently an Egyptian one and not Hebrew, and no one knows its exact significance. The Septuagint uses a Greek word meaning "dog-flies," and this is the word used in Darby's New Translation. Other authorities believe that it really signifies "beetles." If so, that would again bring in the thought of the gods of Egypt, for the beetle was venerated by them.
We pause here a moment to observe that Urquhart in his "New Biblical Guide," points out very forcibly that there are a number of words used that have their roots in the Egyptian language and not the Hebrew, as well as allusions to Egyptian customs and geographical details, which would only be known to people familiar with Egypt, and that these are introduced without one word of explanation. The unbelieving "Higher Critics" insisted that the Pentateuch was never written by Moses, but was the work of Ezra, or of someone else about his time—that it was a "pious fraud" perpetrated in the hope of making the people attach more weight to the law they were supposed to observe. But Ezra, or someone else, coming from Babylon, would never have had this intimate knowledge of Egyptian words and customs dating a thousand years before, and could he in some miraculous way have obtained the knowledge, he would have had to insert explanations to make them intelligible to the readers of his day. No, the hallmark of the Egypt of the time of Moses is plainly to be seen. It is as well for us ordinary Christians to know these facts, for we may occasionally be confronted by these infidel reasonings.
Another thing we must notice is that in this fourth plague Israel in the land of Goshen is exempted entirely from its effects. The "swarms" appeared punctually the next day, as the Lord had said, and this severing of Goshen greatly heightened the impressive force of the miracle. The land was "corrupted," or "destroyed" by these "swarms," which rather supports the idea that they were beetles, for in recent times travellers in Egypt have testified to the very destructive habits of the sort of beetles that are found there.
This plague evidently made a deep impression on the stubborn mind of Pharaoh and for the first time he made a show of yielding, but only by way of a small concession of a compromising nature. The Israelites might have a short release from their tasks and sacrifice to their God, but it must be in Egypt and not outside its borders. They might have a little bit of their religion so long as their links with Egypt were not cut. A type this, of the snare that has prevailed so largely in Christendom. The god of this age is content for us to carry on Christian observances, so long as we remain attached to, and controlled by, "this present evil world."
Moses at once rejected the offer, for the sacrifices of Jehovah were of a kind that would be a deadly offence to the people of Egypt and provoke murderous action. In this again we can see a typical significance, for that which lies at the root of all our worship is the unique excellence of Christ contrasted with the condemnation of Adam's race as fallen sinners. A doctrine which involves that judgment is an abomination to the world.
Pharaoh evidently had to acknowledge the force of this objection, for he at once altered his concession to giving permission for a very short journey into the wilderness, only not very far away. He wished to have them well within the reach of his arm, so that their separation from his land should be only nominal and temporary. Once more we see how this fits the type. If there is to be a breach between the church and the world, let it be only of a nominal sort, and one which lends itself to the Christian being still held in bondage.
With this concession the king asked for the intercession of Moses, which was granted with a warning against the deceitful line that he had been following. The Lord acted according to the prayer of Moses and another great miracle took place. On the next day the swarms departed so thoroughly that not one insect remained in the land. But, relieved of this infliction, in spite of the warning, once more Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to allow the concession he had just promised. How true all this is to human nature! Under affliction people appear to become quite pious, the affliction is removed, and they promptly resume their godless ways.
Exodus 9. The fifth plague is now threatened by command of the Lord. The first three had occasioned terrible inconveniences upon Egypt, the fourth had corrupted their possessions; the fifth was to smite them in one of the chief sources of their wealth. Horses and asses are mentioned first, and for these animals Egypt was specially famed. A very grievous "murrain," or "plague," would come upon them and again there should be complete exemption for the Israelites. So it came to pass. On one side of the line of separation there was death, on the other not one animal was affected. This again was plainly the hand of God, but Pharaoh was unmoved, and remained hard and impenitent. Therefore, as we see in verse 8, Moses is instructed to act without giving Pharaoh any warning of what was coming. It is worthy of note that this feature also marked the third plague, and we shall find it again repeated when we come to the ninth. No comment is made in our chapters as to this feature, but it seems to be a part of God's ways to warn twice and if no attention is paid, then to strike the third time without any warning being given. Later on we do get the word, "God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not" (Job 33: 14). That saying of Elihu was certainly exemplified here.
This time Moses was without warning to perform an act in the sight of the king, casting into the air handfuls of ashes from the furnace. Egypt had been "a smoking furnace" (Gen. 15: 17), into which the children of Abraham had been plunged, and now ashes of the furnace were to recoil upon the heads of their oppressors, smiting them with boils and blisters. It is specially mentioned that the severity of the boils was such that the magicians, suffering from them like the rest could not stand before Moses. They were utterly discomfited. No hint is given here why this smiting of the magicians is specially stated, but it is known that great soundness and cleanliness was imposed upon these men, who were the very highest rank of idolatrous priests, and without it they were disqualified from exercising their office and their charms.
But in spite of all this Pharaoh remained obdurate, and in verse 12 we are plainly told that the Lord hardened his heart. Yet the dealings of God with him proceeded and even worse afflictions were threatened. Again Moses was to intercept him early in the morning, and warn him of further chastisement upon his realm.
This time the word of the Lord through Moses contained not only a plain threat of what was impending but also a revelation of how the hand of the Lord had been upon him in the past, raising him up to sit upon the throne of Egypt. Verse 16 is quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9: 17, as a striking example of the working of the sovereignty of God. Some of those who have studied the records of ancient Egypt have told us that in their opinion this Pharaoh of the exodus was not altogether of royal blood, but rather a son of the harem, who ascended the throne by being married to a princess fully of royal blood and in the line of succession. If this be so, it illuminates the position. He was "raised up" by God, not in the sense of being born into the world, but of being raised to the throne in an unusual way.
The sovereignty of God is one of the great foundation facts of Scripture: a fact that may well move our hearts to praise. If He were not sovereign in His omniscience and omnipotence, we might well tremble before the might of the great adversary. The responsibility of man, even though fallen, is another fact made plain in Scripture, and both facts we must maintain, though we may not feel able to correlate the two. Nebuchadnezzar, whose responsibility was undoubted, acknowledged the Divine sovereignty when he said, "He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?"
God knew the stubborn self-will and pride of this man, and working behind the scenes raised him up to where he could carry on and even intensify the ill-treatment of His people, and thus bring things to a head. The hour was now ripe for God to deal with him, and in doing so, display His power in such fashion that His name would be declared throughout all the earth. That in those days the name of Jehovah was so declared is borne witness to by such a scripture as Joshua 2: 8-11. And even in our day, 3,500 years later, the fame of it has not died away.
We must take note of verse 17, for in it we find an early example of the principle that what is done against the people of God is accepted as done against God Himself. It came most fully to light when Saul of Tarsus was arrested by, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" Again we see it in Matthew 25: 40, 45, applying there to what is done for the Lord as well as against Him, but en both cases their attitude manifested in their treatment of His people. In exalting himself against the children of Israel Pharaoh was exalting himself against God, and thus hurrying on to his doom.
Verse 26 tells us that in this seventh plague the land of Goshen was again exempted. But there was also a new feature as regards the Egyptians in that; warning being given, there was an opportunity for any of the common people, who regarded the word of the Lord, to take action which would save them from the worst of it. The violence of the hail storm was so great that man or beast exposed to it would die. The crops were wrecked and even trees of the field destroyed. Verses 31 and 32 give explicit information, which shows us that the time of year must have been late February or early March, for then in Egypt the barley is in the ear and the flax in blossom (or, boiled), but the wheat and the rye not yet in the stalk.
The visitation was so terrific that Pharaoh was frightened and inclined to make some confession of wrongdoing, as verse 27 shows, and to promise to let the people go, if only there might be a cessation of this fearful scourge. Moses however was not deceived by this fresh profession of repentance and piety, and told him plainly that he knew he would not fulfil his promise, yet he went forth as an intercessor and spread his hands out unto the Lord, when the visitation ceased as suddenly as it began. Both in its onset and in its cessation it proved itself to be an act of God.
Sceptics have raised a difficulty as to cattle being slain by the hail seeing they had been smitten under the fifth plague. They overlook perhaps that the fifth was upon all "which is in the field" (Ex. 9: 3), so there may have been a good number not in the field. And further the cattle of the Israelites were wholly untouched, and there was nothing to prevent the Egyptians, in the two or three weeks that probably elapsed between the fifth and seventh plagues, seizing many of them for their own use.
Under this seventh plague Egypt must have lost nearly all its glory and have been brought very low. Most of its live stock destroyed, its trees broken, barley and flax ruined —the latter especially a very valuable crop. But directly the chastisement ceased Pharaoh relapsed into his stubborn defiance, and not only he but his servants also. How all this should drive home into our hearts the fact that what is born of the flesh is still flesh, no matter to what treatment it is subjected; and that the mind of the flesh is enmity against God.
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