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Exodus 5:4-18 - Homilies By D. Young

Pharaoh's first response: his answer in deed.

Pharaoh has given a proud verbal refusal to the request of Moses: but he is not contented to stop with words. The first result, discouraging and discrediting of Moses' application, is still further to increase burdens and hardships already scarcely tolerable.

I. CONSIDER HOW THIS ADDITIONAL SEVERITY TO ISRAEL ORIGINATED —that is, how it originated as far as Pharaoh's part in it was concerned. It came through his utterly mistaken notions as to Moses and Israel. Pharaoh, as an alert politician, was bound to inquire how it was that Moses had been led to prefer this request; and he came to the conclusion that the people had too much leisure time—did their work far too easily—and thus left an opportunity for the success of any designing demagogue, such as he judged Moses to be. And, indeed, Pharaoh's conjecture showed a very plausible appearance of shrewd insight into human nature. All such readers of this narrative as utterly disbelieve the reality of Divine intervention and supremacy in human affairs, will say that Pharaoh was not far wrong; whereas he was utterly wrong. Moses went into the presence of Pharaoh because the power of God constrained him. He would have gone anywhere to escape the task, if only he could have done it with safety and self-respect. Pharaoh little knew what a profound sense of unworthiness dwelt in the breast of Moses. Other feelings might come and go, mount to flow and sink to ebb; that remained, more penetrating and subduing the more he had to do with God, and the more he had to do with Israel Pharaoh was also utterly mistaken as to the people . The request for liberty had not come from them. They of their own accord and carnal judgment would never have thought of such a request. As soon might the helpless victim of a raging beast of prey turn to it with a real expectation of mercy. The prisoner may devise many plans of escape: but he would reckon it a mere provocative of more painful and stringent captivity, if he addressed to his gaoler a formal request for liberty. Pharaoh then, in his ignorance of God, proved ignorant and mistaken in the whole of his policy. Every view is mistaken, egregiously mistaken, that leaves out the thought of God as a living, intimate, ever-watchful Power.

II. CONSIDER THAT ALL THIS CRUEL TREATMENT DID NOTHING AT ALL FOR PHARAOH . If it had done anything, however little, to delay the final disaster, it would have been something to say: but it did nothing at all He treated Moses as a mere politician, and Israel as being only in a state of incipient insurrection. If such had been the reality of things, then his policy, however damnable for its cruelty, would have merited at least this admission, that there was a real adaptation of means to ends. But Pharaoh was as yet utterly unconscious of his real enemy. His mind was in a state of darkness, deep as that outward darkness which later overspread his land. All his efforts, summed up and stated in the largest way, simply came to this—that he was making very bitter the temporal life of a fleeting generation. But he himself had not arrested by a single step the advance of a righteous and omnipotent God. Struggling against the visible Moses and the visible Israel, he knew nothing of how to resist the invisible God. A man may rage about, putting out all candles and lamps, leaving us for awhile in darkness, but he has not retarded the sunrise by even the minutest fragment of time. This is our glory and our comfort, if we have the spirit of Christ dwelling in us, that we are contending against one who has only carnal weapons. We are not allowed to take carnal weapons; they are of no use to us; and never should we forget that they are of no use to those who are against us. Pharaoh did not delay God's liberating work; that work went on in all the majestic ease of its divinity, amid the smitings of the oppressor and the wailings of the oppressed. Making bricks without straw was mere child's-play compared with the enterprise on which Pharaoh was now embarked. He might as well have gone out with the sword and spear against the pestilence and the famine, as against Israel with a mere increase of oppression and cruelty.

III. THIS ADDITIONAL CRUELTY SHOWED THE IMPERATIVE NEED OF DIVINE INTERVENTION . If Pharaoh was powerless to delay the advance of God, he was very powerful to shut out interference from any other quarter. Help in God, sure and sufficient help, but help only in God, was one of the great lessons which all these painful years were meant to teach Israel. Pharaoh had unmistakable power of the human, despotic, might-makes-right sort over Israel. As the inquisitor by an easy nod signifies to give the thumbscrew another turn, so Pharaoh had only to send out his royal wish, and all the taskmasters had Israel at once in fresh agony. And just so we have to be taught by a bitter experience that as Christ is a Saviour from sin, with all its fatal fruits, so he is the only Saviour. The first attempt at a real protest and resistance against sin brings out all its power. Though the sinner's miseries do not begin when Christ the accredited deliverer makes his first approach in deliver, there is nevertheless a distinct accession to them. Christ cannot challenge the power of sin in any of us without rousing up into intense activity the evil already working in our breasts. Pharaoh was not really a more powerful ruler after the visit of Moses than he was before; but the disposition and power then became manifest. The hearts of the generation in the midst of which Christ lived and died were not of exceptional malignity or obduracy. The generation immediately before and the generation immediately after, would have treated him in exactly the same way. But it was necessary for him to draw out sin into a full revelation of its hideous potency, in order that it might be made perfectly clear that none but himself could deal with it. True, Pharaoh was glorying in what was only a fabric of delusions and a refuge of lies; but, frail though it was, no breath of man had strength enough to blow it down. None but God could make the effectual and dissipating storm to descend upon it.— Y .

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