Exodus 10:1 - 11:10
Chapter 9 closed with the fact that both Pharaoh and his servants hardened their hearts. Chapter 10 opens with a statement by the Lord to Moses that He had hardened their hearts, and thus shut them up to their doom. It furnished also the occasion for the Lord to display Himself as the God of judgment in such fashion that it would be remembered in the generations to come. Even to our day this witness stands, and it will yet be remembered until the day of grace is succeeded by the epoch of judgment. Then God will deal in His righteous judgment and wrath not with Egypt only but with the whole earth, as is portrayed in Revelation 6—11, 15, 16. Of that coming day of judgment the plagues of Egypt were a small sample.
However, such is the longsuffering of God that Moses was sent once more to Pharaoh with a remonstrance and demand that he let the people go. He is warned that, if he still refused, God would smite Egypt with swarms of locusts, and this was to happen "tomorrow." In the previous chapter twice did God announce a plague for tomorrow, thus giving at least twenty-four hours respite in view of a possible relenting on the part of Pharaoh. In contrast to this, salvation, as we know, is always presented today.
Locusts were well recognized as a serious plague even in those days, and the extra severity of what was coming was plainly indicated, for it would destroy all that was left in the land. The wheat and rye escaped before, but they would not escape this. Moreover while the trees of the field had been broken by the hail, they were still in leaf: they would now be stripped bare. The only way of escape was indicated: that of Pharaoh humbling himself before the Lord, and letting Israel go.
Though the locust invasion now threatened was to be of altogether exceptional severity yet such a plague was not unknown in Egypt. Hence there was remonstrance from the servants of the king, and they were so stirred as to allow themselves an unusual freedom of speech, seeing the Pharaohs of those times were regarded almost as deities. Moved by this, he recalled Moses and Aaron and proposed another cunning device, raising a question as to who should go. In reply, Moses made it quite plain that there is no compromise permitted when God makes His demands. The Lord claimed the people as His; men, women, children and possessions. This is an important lesson which we all have to learn. Though we are not under law but under grace, yet there are "the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14: 37) and these are not issued that we may negotiate about them or compromise, but that we may obey.
Pharaoh attempted to negotiate. He would permit the men to go and sacrifice, but all the rest should remain in his power. He knew enough of human nature to be sure that this would bring the men back under his authority. Pharaoh was a tool of the devil, who knows very well the practical working of "thou . . . and thy house" (Acts 16: 31) and wished to turn it to his own advantage. The suggestion was, Let each man go, but let him leave his house behind. But if God was to have any, He would have ALL.
This declaration moved Pharaoh to more drastic action and Moses and Aaron were simply driven from his presence, and as Moses stretched forth his rod, the Lord brought up the strong east wind on the wings of which the mighty hordes of locusts came. In the annals of the east there are plenty of records as to the havoc that is made by a bad swarm of locusts. This was a visitation so grievous that "before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such." We can imagine therefore the terrible plight into which the land of Egypt was plunged.
As a result, Moses and Aaron, who a few days before had been driven out of Pharaoh's presence, were recalled in haste. Pharaoh adopted a humble attitude, confessing he had sinned and asking for a forgiveness which should include the removal of the punishment. The Lord knew his heart, yet He listened to his plea and by a strong west wind He removed the locusts so completely that not one was left. The locusts were drowned in the Red Sea. Not many days after Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned there too.
It now seemed as if the heart of Pharaoh had been softened, but it had not been so really. Directly the infliction was removed he reverted to his stubborn attitude of resistance. As predicted the Lord had hardened his heart. He provides us with the classic example of the sinner who defies God, but is quite prepared to adopt a humble attitude, if thereby he may avoid reaping the punishment he deserves. We have to remember this word: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28: 13). Under chastisement Pharaoh did not mind doing a little bit of confessing, but he had no idea of forsaking his self-willed way. The fair words he uttered in verses 16 and 17 of our chapter were merely an effort to avoid further punishment.
So, as we see in verse 21, the ninth plague was ushered in without any warning being given. Again Moses was to stretch out his hand toward heaven and there fell upon Egypt darkness of a supernatural kind. It is described as "darkness which may be felt." From this expression some are disposed to regard it as being of the nature of the hot south-west winds that do bring on Egypt great dust storms that darken the land; the wind being laden with tiny particles of sand, it can be felt. But on the other hand the expression may be a figurative one, in which the feeling about and groping in dense darkness is attributed to the darkness itself.
How it came about need not concern us. It was something supernatural. It lasted for three days. It was so dense and complete that all activity stopped. Every Egyptian was isolated from his fellows in the midst of his ruined country, and none of them knew when, if ever the visitation would end. Of all the plagues this must have been the most terrifying, because most mysterious and unprecedented. And all through the dreadful three days the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.
We cannot fail to see here a pictorial representation of what we find laid down in the New Testament. Take such a passage as this: "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes" (1 John 2: 10, 11). The present-day men of the world, though refined and educated, as were the Egyptians in their day, are in spiritual darkness. Only those who are born of God, and therefore possess the divine nature, are abiding in the light.
At the end of the three days, the darkness having departed, Pharaoh was again ready to attempt a compromise. This time it was, Let all men, women and children, go, but your flocks and herds must remain. But, as Moses pointed out, this would defeat the object of their going forth, since they would not have the wherewithal to sacrifice to the Lord. He stated again the Divine terms, in the nature of an ultimatum, "there shall not an hoof be left behind." It was the purpose of God to take His people, and every single thing they had, clean out of Egypt.
God's purpose for us who belong to His church today, is just the same in principle. Egypt typifies the great world-system, Pharaoh typifies the god and prince of this world. The children of Israel were to enjoy a physical deliverance: in body and in possessions they were to be free. Ours is a spiritual deliverance. We still live on earth and in the midst of the world-system, but it is the purpose of God that we be completely delivered from its enslaving power.
The uncompromising stand which Moses took on this point evidently angered Pharaoh, and his heart being still hardened of the Lord, he broke off all negotiation at this point. On God's part the ultimatum had been presented: on his part it had been rejected with a threat of death to Moses who had presented it to him. In reply to that threat Moses spoke as a prophet, and foretold in a veiled form his doom. It was not Moses who was about to die but first Pharaoh's firstborn and then himself.
As we commence to read Exodus 11, we realize that all God's preliminary dealings are over and the final strokes must now fall. As the preliminary judgments proceeded they increased in severity, and we are sometimes tempted to enquire why they should be necessary. We may ask: Since God knew in advance all that would transpire, why should He prolong the agony in this way? Why did He not eliminate the preliminaries and strike the final blow at once?
The answer surely is this: His ways and judgments are always right, yet He so acts as to manifest their rightness before His intelligent creation. Being omniscient, He knew that all nine plagues would not subdue the stubborn heart of Pharaoh; but the angelic principalities and powers in heavenly places are not omniscient, nor are men upon earth. So by testing Pharaoh, and giving space for repentance as plague succeeded plague with increasing severity, no one could rightly question the final stroke when it came. The same thing may be said as to the judgments of seals, trumpets and vials of the Book of Revelation, preceding the final destruction of the power of the adversaries at the glorious appearing of Christ.
Moses therefore was prepared of God for this "one plague more," that was very soon to fall. It was to be of such a nature that panic-stricken Pharaoh would not merely let them go but hasten to thrust them out. In view of this he was to instruct the people both men and women to ask of their neighbouring Egyptians "jewels" or "utensils" of gold and silver. By this time fear and respect had been instilled into their hearts, and Moses himself had become very great in their eyes. Hence they readily yielded up all that was asked of them. It is not an uncommon thing that humbler and more simple people are impressed by the acts of God when the great ones of the earth are undiscerning.
It would appear that verses 1-3 are somewhat parenthetical, for in verse 4 we again have Moses speaking, and as verse 8 indicates, he was still in the presence of Pharaoh. What he announced as about to happen was an act of God, both in its character and its severity, lifted far above all that had gone before. In the nine preceding plagues God had used things of His own creation in such a way as to chastise by them. But now He, the Creator, was going to step in after a personal sort: "About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt."
Now if the holy and righteous God comes down thus into the midst of His fallen and sinful creatures there can be but one result. The death penalty must fall, for "the wages of sin is death." Yet even so the mercy of God is displayed for death was not to fall upon all the Egyptians but only upon the firstborn of both man and beast. Many of us may have seen a "genealogical tree," showing the descent of some well-known family from the days of old. In such a tree the outmost twigs show the firstborn sons of the various branches of the family. Now using this as a figure, we may say that God was about to cut off all the young twigs, as a sign that His sentence of death rested upon the trees, though He would not at that moment cut down every tree.
But again there would be exemption for the Israelites, for the Lord was going to put a difference between them and the Egyptians. There was no fundamental difference between them; had there been it would not have been needful for the Lord to put a difference. Here then we have foreshadowed the "no difference doctrine" of Romans 3: 22, 23. The Israelites were sinners as the Egyptians were, and equally subject to the death sentence, and God is no respecter of persons. Hence if God puts a difference, it must be done in a righteous manner. We have to pass on to the next chapter to discover how the difference was to be put.
In Romans 3 the "no difference doctrine" is followed by verses 24-26, which reveal the righteous basis of the justification of the believer, which puts a difference between him and the unbeliever. When we reach Exodus 12, and read of the blood of the Passover lamb, we find in type the basis of the difference that is to be put between the Egyptians and Israel.
In speaking thus Moses gave Pharaoh and his servants full and clear warning of what was impending, and his words were prefaced by, "Thus saith the Lord." Having delivered this final message with the full weight of the Divine authority behind it, he went out from Pharaoh "in a great anger," or, "in a glowing anger." It is no sin to be angry with sin, and there was in Moses merely a reflection of that which was in the heart of God.
Our chapter closes with Pharaoh brushing aside all that had been said and for the last time but one we read of the Lord hardening his heart. His stubbornness however would only furnish further occasion for the multiplication of God's wonders in the land of Egypt.
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