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Exodus 5:1-21 - Homilies By H. T. Robjohns


" I know not Jehovah," etc.: Exodus 5:2 . We now come face to face with the king. As the king here becomes very prominent, we will keep him conspicuous in the outlining of this address.

I. AUDIENCE WITH THE KING . This is a convenient moment for introducing Pharaoh as the terrestrial representative of the Sun, as the vicegerent of Deity upon earth. Does it seem wonderful that men should receive a man in this capacity? But millions of professed Christians in this nineteenth century so receive the Pope. We will take the suggestions of the story in the time-order of the narrative. We have—

1 . A lesson in courage. The two went to their audience with the king at the peril of their lives. Some might have remembered Moses. Their demand touched the honour and revenues of the king. Courage in facing responsibility is the lesson; leave consequences to our poor selves to God.

2 . A suggestion as to the method of evangelic grace. Jehovah here calls himself for the first time in relation to the nation, as distinguished from the man Jacob, "the God of Israel." A crowd was just becoming a State and a Church, when Jehovah calls himself their God. First he is their God: then all possibilities are before them. Their history begins well. So now: first adopted children, and then the obedience of children.

3 . A warning against want of catholicity. The tone of Pharaoh is that of the vicegerent of Deity, as against a tutelary god he deigned not to acknowledge. But he was wrong even on the principles of enlightened pagandom, which was forward to acknowledge the gods of all nations. Compare the policy of imperial Rome.

4 . Teaching as to gradation in God ' s demands. Here may be discussed the nature and propriety of the first demand for three days' absence. Looking at things after the events, it may appear to some that here was a demand which concealed the real intention, viz. to return no more. But this would be to impeach the veracity of God! The demand really was for "a whole day's prayer-meeting," with a day to go, a day to return. In the desert, as in consideration of Egyptian feeling; but probably within the frontier, for there were Egyptian garrisons in Forts of the desert of Sinai. A moderate demand! One that Pharaoh might well have complied with. Compliance might have led to further negotiation; and this Pharaoh might have stood out in history as co-operating in the deliverance and formation of the Church of God. Instead of that he set himself against the small demand, and was unready for the greater ( Exodus 6:11 ) when it came. And so we see him through the mist of ages, "moving ghost-like to his doom." It is a picture of the method of God. He asks first for the simple, reasonable, easy etc. etc.

II. ORDERS FROM THE KING . "The very same day!" Such is the restlessness of the tyrant-spirit. The orders were addressed to the "drivers," Egyptians, and to the "clerks" of the works, Hebrews. Note the large employment of "clerks," as evidenced by the monuments. The appointment of these "clerks" would contribute much to the organisation of Israel, and so prepare for the Exodus. As to the orders—explain them. Bricks a government monopoly; witness the royal mark on many to this day. Same number of bricks as before, but people to gather in the corn-fields the straw (in harvest only the ear cut off) previously allowed by the government, chop it, and mix it with the clay. Terrible cruelty of these orders-in-council in such a climate.

III. OBEDIENCE TO THE KING . For the sake of vividly and pictorially bringing up the condition of the people, note the time of straw-collecting: time of harvest—end of April; then a hot pestilential sand-wind often blows over the land of Egypt for fifty days; the effects on health, tone, skin, eyes (in the land of ophthalmia), of so working in blazing sun, in clouds of dust, in hopeless slavery. They return to the horrid brickfields; fail; fierce punishments, as to this day in the same land.

IV. EXPOSTULATION WITH THE KING , The "clerks" of the works constitute a deputation to the king, perhaps by virtue of a "right of petition." The king accuses them of being "idle." To understand this, think of the gigantic public works, the terrific labour, the perishing of thousands, the likelihood that such a taunt would spring to tyrannical lips. The king refuses, perhaps threatens the lives of the "clerks." See verse 21—"to put a sword ," etc. Here again, that which seemed most against the people made for them. The treatment of the "clerks" brought them into sympathy with their enslaved brethren. Israel closed its ranks. The fellowship of suffering prepared for the companionship of pilgrimage. There was, too, a present blessing. Spiritual feelings were quickened, heaven came nearer, the pitying love of God became more precious. One can imagine such scenes as those in which the slaves of the Southern States, through horrid swamps and over mighty rivers, in the dead of night "stole away to Jesus."

"In that hour, when night is calmest,

Sing they from some Sacred Psalmist,

In a voice so sweet and clear

That I cannot choose but hear.

"And the voice of their devotion

Fills my soul with strange emotion;

For its tones by turns are glad,

Sweetly solemn, wildly sad."

[Adaped from LONGFELLOW .]

V. CONSEQUENCES TO THE AMBASSADORS OF THE KING OF KINGS . Moses and Aaron, somewhere near the palace, were waiting to know the result of the audience of the "clerks" with the king. The "clerks," irritated and angry, turned on the God-given leaders: verse 21. [Note in the Hebrews the expression "to stink in the eyes ," and the fact that pungent odours do affect the eyes! A dreadful trouble to Moses and Aaron!

In conclusion, observe—

1 . The cruelty that is ever incident to sin. "Man's inhumanity to man" a universal fact. "The dark places of the earth are full," etc.; so places alight with modern civilisation. The incidents of any gin-palace! There is, too, a cruelty of word and manner. Soul-wounds deeper than sword-gashes. No cure save under the sanctifying power of the Cross of self-abnegating love.

2 . The pain that attends all emancipations. The first efforts of Moses and Aaron led to nothing but disaster. See Hebrews 6:9 . So with the agony of emancipation in America. So always and everywhere. So with reforms within the Church. So with crises of soul-history.

3 . The discouragement that may fall to leaders.

4 . The encouragement we all have. Note here—

5 . Through what sorrow all come to the final emancipation.— R .

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