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Exodus 10:1-19 - Homilies By D. Young

The Eighth Plague: the locusts.

I. CONSIDER THE EMPHATIC STATEMENT WITH RESPECT TO THE HARDENING OF THE HEART . In Exodus 9:34 we are told that when the hail and the thunder ceased, Pharaoh hardened his heart, he and his servants. Note here two things:

1 . How Pharaoh's heart was hardened just after he had made a confession of sin; from which we see how little he understood by the word "sin," and how little he meant by the confession.

2 . The combination of his servants with him in this hardening; from which we may judge that just as some among his servants had been taken further away from him by their prudent and believing action when the hail was threatened ( Exodus 9:20 ), so others had been drawn still nearer to their master, and made larger sharers in his obstinacy and pride. The unbelieving, who left their servants and their cattle in the fields, not only lost their property when the hail descended, but afterwards they became worse men. And now in Exodus 10:1 , not only is there a statement that the hearts of Pharaoh and his servants were hardened, but God in his own person says, " I have hardened his heart," etc. Then after this statement, so emphatic in the expression of it, however difficult to understand in the meaning of it, God goes on to explain why he has thus hardened the heart of Pharaoh and his servants. In the first place, it gives an opportunity for showing God ' s signs before Pharaoh— " all my plagues" ( Exodus 9:14 ). Thus God would turn our attention here to the thing of chief importance, namely, what he was doing himself. Important it certainly is to notice what Pharaoh is doing, but far more important to notice what Jehovah is doing. We may easily give too much time to thinking of Pharaoh, and too little to thinking of Jehovah. Thus God would ever direct us into the steps of practical wisdom. We are constantly tempted to ask questions which cannot be answered, while we as constantly neglect to ask questions which both can be answered and ought to be answered. The conduct of Pharaoh is indeed a fascinating problem for those who love to consider the play of motives in the human heart. In considering him there is ample room for the imagination to work out the conception of a very impressive character. Thus, we might come to many conclusions with respect to Pharaoh, some of them right, but in all likelihood most of them wrong, perhaps egregiously wrong. These are matters in which God has not given opportunity for knowledge; the depths of Pharaoh's personality are concealed from us. There is true and important knowledge to be gained , but it is in another direction. The marvellous, exhaustless power of God is to be more prominent in our thoughts than the erratic and violent plunging of Pharaoh from one extreme to another. Amid all that is dark, densely dark, one thing is clear and clear because God meant it to be clear, and took care to make it so—namely, that all this conduct of Pharaoh was the occasion for unmistakable and multiplied signs of the power of God. One is here reminded of the question of the disciples to Jesus ( John 9:2 ), "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" To this question more answers than one were possible; but Jesus gave the answer that was appropriate to the occasion. The man was born blind, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. So not only was Pharaoh's heart hardened, but God himself hardened that heart, in order that these signs might be shown before him. Then, in the second place, these signs being wrought before -Pharaoh , became also matters for consideration , recollection , and tradition to the Israelites themselves. Moses, taken as the representative of Israel, is to tell to his son, and to his son's son, what things God had done in Egypt. Here is ample occasion given for the observant and devout in Israel to note the doings of Jehovah and communicate them with all earnestness and reverence from age to age. Surely it was worth a little waiting, a little temporal suffering, to have such chapters written as these which record Israel's experiences in Egypt! What are the sufferings, merely in body and in circumstances , of one generation, compared with the ennobling thoughts of God, and the consequent inspiration and comfort which may through these very sufferings be transmitted to many generations following! Why it is even a great privilege for one generation to be poor, that through its poverty many generations may become rich.


1 . There are the expostulations of Pharaoh ' s servants with him ( Exodus 10:7 ). They, at all events, are not disposed to wait for the coming of the locusts. That the locust-plague was a very dreadful one, we may partly gather from other intimations in the Scriptures with respect to these voracious insects, advancing in their innumerable hosts ( Deuteronomy 28:38 , Deuteronomy 28:42 ; 1 Kings 8:37 ; 2 Chronicles 7:13 ; Joel 1:4 ; Nahum 3:15 ). The experiences of modern travellers in the East are also such as to assure us that the expectation of a visit from the locust is enough to excite the most alarming thoughts (see in particular Dr. Thomson's observations on the locust in The Land and the Book ) . But in truth we hardly need to go beyond the conduct of Pharaoh's servants themselves. The very name locust was enough to startle them into precautionary activity; they did not wait for the reality. Some of them, indeed, had anticipated the destructive effect of the hail, and taken suitable precautions; but others felt there was room for question whether, after all, the hail would be so pernicious. In their presumption they guessed that a hailstorm could inflict only a slight and reparable damage. But what could escape the locusts? Every green thing was well known to perish before their voracity. Even what might be called an ordinary visitation from them would be no trifle; how much more such a visitation as Pharaoh's servants had now every reason to believe would come upon them! For the time was long past when they doubted concerning the power of Moses to bring what he threatened. It is no longer a question of the power of Moses, but of the endurance of Egypt. In all likelihood the thought now prevailing in the minds of Pharaoh's servants—possibly in Pharaoh's own mind—was that this run of calamity would presently come to an end, if only it was patiently endured. For in ancient Egypt there was doubtless some such proverb as might be Englished into our common saying, "It is a long lane that has no turning." Egypt has known the long lane of seven plagues; surely it cannot be much longer. And yet it may easily be long enough to destroy them before they get out of it. Locusts to come, when Moses speaks about them, may be reckoned as good as come, if something be not done promptly to avert their approach; and once come, then how long will the food of Egypt remain, either for man or beast! No wonder, then, that Pharaoh's servants turned upon him with such warm—one may almost say threatening—expostulations. The prospect of an immediate and almost instantaneous stoppage of supplies was enough to bring them hastening, as with one consent, to beg a timely submission from their master.

2 . There is the extraordinary yielding of Pharaoh to these expostulations. Nothing less than extraordinary can it be called. His yieldings hitherto have been under actual chastise-meat. He has waited for the blow to be struck before he begged for mercy. But now, upon the mere threatening of the blow, he is moved to make overtures of submission. We shall have to notice of what a partial and worthless sort this submission was; at present, the main thing to mark is that there was a submission at all. He could not afford to trifle with the warnings of his servants. Hitherto, in all probability, they had been largely flatterers, men who fooled Pharaoh to the top of his bent with compliments as to his absolute power; but now they are turned into speakers of plain and bitter truth; and though Pharaoh may not like it, the very fact that he is thus addressed is enough to show him that he must arrange terms of surrender before another battle has even begun. Thus, by merely studying the conduct of Pharaoh and his servants before the locusts came, we see very clearly what a terrible plague they were. The plague of the locusts was a great deal more than a variation from the plagues of the frogs, the gnats and the flies.

III. Consider how, in spite of all the dread inspired by the thought of these locusts, PHARAOH 'S PRIDE STILL HINDERS COMPLETE SUBMISSION . It was in an emergency of his government, and under pressure from his panic-stricken servants, that he consented to treat with Moses. Moses comes, and Pharaoh makes him an offer, which Moses of course cannot accept, seeing that he really has no power to treat; he has but the one unchangeable demand; it is a righteous demand, and therefore the righteous Jehovah cannot permit it to be diminished. But the rejection of Pharaoh's offer gives him a convenient loophole of escape into his former stubbornness. He can turn to his servants and say, "See what an unreasonable man this is. He comes expecting that in the terms of peace I am to yield all, and he is to yield nothing. Better to risk the locusts, and if need be, perish in the midst of our desolated fields, than live dishonoured by yielding up all Israel at his inexorable request." Speaking in some such spirit as this, we may well believe that Pharaoh stirred up his servants, and won them to support him in continuing his dogged resistance. It is a noble principle to die with honour rather than live with shame; it is the very principle that in its holiest illustration has crowded the ranks of Christian martyrdom. But when a principle of this sort gets into the mouth of a Pharaoh, he may so pervert it as to bring about the worst results. There is no manlier way of closing life than to die for truth and Christ; but it is a poor thing to become, as Pharaoh evidently would have his servants become, the victims of a degraded patriotism. It was all very well to talk loud and drive Moses and Aaron from his presence; but what was the good? the locusts were coming none the less. The fact is, that all suggestions of prudent and timely surrender were cast to the winds. The pride of the tyrant is touched, and it makes him blind to everything else. He rushes ahead, reckless of what may come on the morrow , if only he can gain the passionate satisfaction of driving Moses out of his presence to-day. There is no reasoning With a man in a passion; all arguments are alike to him.

IV. CONSIDER PHARAOH 'S ULTIMATE SUBMISSION AND THE CONSEQUENCE OF IT . He drove Moses and Aaron out of his presence, but nevertheless he had to yield, and that in a peculiarly humiliating way. When he saw the locusts actually at work, then he came face to face with reality; and reality sobers a man. He had to send in haste for the men whom he had driven away, for the locusts were in haste. Every minute he delayed brought Egypt nearer and nearer to starvation. Oh, foolish Pharaoh! just for the pleasure, the sweet, momentary pleasure of driving Moses out of your presence, to risk the horrors of this ravaging host. Notice further, for it is a remarkable thing, that while Pharaoh begs most humbly for mercy , he makes fie formal promise of liberation. The promise, we feel, was really there, all the more emphatic and more evidently unconditional, just because unspoken. Any way, the time had come when formal promises from Pharaoh mattered little, seeing they were never kept. The great thing was that he should be made to feel the pressure of God's hand upon him, so that he could not but cry to escape from it. Every time he thus cried and begged, as he here so piteously does—all his stubbornness for the time melted away into invisibility—he showed in the clearest manner the power of Jehovah. Jehovah's end, in this particular plague of the locusts, was gained when Pharaoh begged that they might be driven away— Y

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