It was hard to get Moses to accept the leadership of his people. He almost missed the glory of his life, by urging his unworthiness and unfitness. But when he had accepted his mission - he gave himself to it without reserve. He never again raised the question of his ability. He never shrank from any service required of him. He never failed in any task or duty.
Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and delivered to him the message of Jehovah, "Let my people go!" "Who is Jehovah," was the insolent reply, "that I should hearken unto His voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, and moreover I will not let Israel go!"
Pharaoh charged Moses with keeping the people from their tasks, and the taskmasters were then commanded to make it still harder for them. They were to withhold straw from the brick-makers, compelling them to gather straw for themselves, while the quota of bricks required was not lessened. Thus the demand made upon Pharaoh, only added to the burden and hardship of the people. In their anguish, they cried to Moses in bitter complaint. Moses took the matter to God. God rehearsed His covenant promise that He would surely bring the people out. But they could think of nothing except their cruel wrongs and great sufferings.
One of the dangers of affliction, is that in our distress we fail to hear God's words of comfort, that we think only of our own affliction and pain. There is a picture of a mourner sitting on a rock beside the sea which has swallowed up her dear ones. She is bowed in deep grief. Behind her is the Angel of Consolation, touching the strings of his harp. But the woman is so absorbed in her sorrow that she sees not the angel nor hears the music of comfort. So it is ofttimes with those in grief. The comfort is brought to them - but they hear it not. If the people of Israel had listened in their bitter trouble, to the promise of God - they would have been braver and stronger to endure a little longer in hope of the relief that was coming.
Then began a series of plagues or judgments - while Pharaoh fought stubbornly against God. These plagues were meant to reveal to Pharaoh the power of Jehovah and to compel him to let go his hold upon God's people. The waters were turned into blood; frogs swarmed everywhere - in people's houses, in their beds, their ovens; lice, then flies filled all the land; a grievous pestilence caused great loss among cattle; boils afflicted the people; a fearful storm of hail wrought destruction upon crops and property; locusts covered the whole country, eating up all the herbs and trees which the hail had left; thick darkness was over all the land for three days.
At the first Pharaoh seemed entirely indifferent to these judgments. Then he began to be affected by them for a little time - but as soon as the plague was withdrawn, he would harden his heart. After the plague, he offered to let the people go to worship their God - but they not allowed go out of the land. This condition Moses could not accept. Pharaoh then agreed that they might go out of Egypt - but not very far away. But when the flies were gone, he withdrew his permission altogether. When the storm of hail was working such destruction, Pharaoh confessed that he had sinned - but his penitence was of brief duration. When the devastating plague of locusts was announced, Pharaoh said the people could go - but the men only. This condition, however, could not be accepted. When the darkness lay upon the land Pharaoh said to Moses, "Go you, serve Jehovah; only let your flocks and herds be stayed." The answer to this was prompt and positive. "Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not a hoof be left behind." Pharaoh then said to Moses, "Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die!" Moses said, "I will never appear before you again!"
It should be noted that the Israelites did not suffer in the plagues. When the plague of flies was threatened, Jehovah said, "I will set apart that day the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there. I will put a division between My people and your people." After the plague upon the beasts of Egypt we are told that Pharaoh sent, "and, behold, there was not so much as one of the cattle of the Israelites dead!" In the storm of rain and hail the record is, "Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, there was no hail." In the time of the darkness in Egypt "all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings."
God always makes a distinction between His own people and those who do not accept Him. It may not seem so. Christian people suffer in the same calamities with those who are not friends of Christ. In the great conflagration there is apparently no distinction made. The houses of Christians are not spared, the fire does not leap over them and burn only the homes of unbelievers. In the desolation of the earthquake, when a city is destroyed, godly men's homes are not left standing, while the houses of wicked men topple in ruin to the ground. In the sweep of contagion over a community, there seems to be no favor shown to those who love God and live lives of faith and service. Life's common sorrows and troubles seem to knock at all doors alike. The godly are not exempt. Indeed, it sometimes appears as if the wicked fare better than the righteous, and have fewer trials!
How, then, does God make a distinction between His own people - and those who do not own Him and worship Him, who do not obey Him and live to honor Him and bless others? We may say at least, that when God's children suffer with the ungodly - they do not suffer as the ungodly do. The latter have no comfort in their sorrows or losses. They are not sustained and strengthened in enduring them. When their property is destroyed in the flood, the conflagration, or the earthquake, they have nothing left; their loss is absolute. When they are bereft, when loved ones are taken from them, they have no consolation; no Divine comfort is with them.
On the other hand, the children of God, in precisely the same troubles or afflictions, have joy of which the people of the world have no experience; they have light in their homes. In their losses - they have compensations. A man had put all his money into the building of a mill. Just when it was completed there came a great flood, and the mill was swept away. As the owner stood on the bank when the floods had subsided, grieving over his loss, he saw something shining in the sands. The wild waters which had swept away his mill - had laid bare a vein of gold. The disaster which had beggared him - had made him rich.
So is it always with the earthly losses which befall the godly - when they endure them with faith and trust in God. Earthly losses - uncover spiritual treasures! Pain which hardens the impenitent heart - softens the heart of him who is abiding in Christ. Bereavement leaves the Christian lonely - but he is comforted by the Divine love and sings and rejoices in his grief. "To those who love God - we know that all things work together for good."
Let us not say, then, that God makes no distinction now between His own people and those who love and obey Him not. We do not know what protection from physical hurt and danger comes continually to those who are Christ's. The ninety-first psalm is filled with promises of Divine care, sheltering and blessing to those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and abide under the shadow of the Almighty. We do not know from how many unseen dangers we are preserved every day. God's eye is always upon His people. The very hairs of their heads are all numbered. Then when sorrow or trouble befalls them, they are held in the everlasting arms and the love of God ministers to them healing and comfort.
The same troubles come to the saint and the sinner. Yet there is always a difference. God does indeed make a distinction between the world and His own people. If sorrow comes to both, it is different - to the Christian it is illumined by hope. If death comes to both, it is not the same to both - to God's child it is but the opening of the gate into the Father's house!
Nine plagues had been visited upon his land and people - but still Pharaoh yielded not. Now the announcement was made that there would be one more judgment, the most terrible of all, and that then Pharaoh would yield. "I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely." The appalling character of the last plague would be such that Pharaoh would no longer hold out.
Preparations were now to be made by the people of Israel for leaving Egypt. The Lord's assurance had been realized. "No word He has spoken shall ever be broken." The people were to go out, and they should not go empty. "Tell all the Israelite men and women to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold." The Hebrews had been serving the Egyptians long without wages; what they were taught to ask now, was their simple right. The result was that they went away with gold and silver and other valuable articles freely given by the Egyptians. These gifts no doubt were used afterward, perhaps contributing toward the building and adorning of the Tabernacle.
Moses then told the people of the terrible woe that was to come upon the Egyptians. "All the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die!" There would be no exceptions - no household would be spared the calamity. From the palace to the lowliest hut - every family would have its dreadful sorrow. Even the cattle would not escape. This would be the last judgment of God upon the Egyptians, to compel Pharaoh to let go his hold upon the Hebrews.
It is most interesting to notice that the Lord said, "I will go out into the midst of Egypt." It was a Divine judgment, not a mere ordinary calamity. This death of the firstborn in all the land of Egypt, suddenly and simultaneously, was not a mere coincidence, was not due to any pestilence or contagion. It was the hand of God which produced it. It was a direct Divine act, a judgment upon Pharaoh, to bring him down before the Lord in submission.
Here, as in all this struggle between the Lord and Pharaoh, the Hebrew people were unharmed. "But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark !" This shows that it was not merely an epidemic that swept through the land, for then the Israelites would have suffered as well as the Egyptians. "Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites." It is always so. The Lord knows His own people, knows where they live, knows them in any company or crowd, never overlooks the least or lowliest of them, and always distinguishes between them and the people of the world. "The Lord knows those who are His."
Though Pharaoh had received such a fearful warning concerning the death of the firstborn - announced to him in advance, no doubt, to give him an opportunity to repent - yet his heart was not softened - but only grew harder! We would say that he, as king and father of his people, should have submitted in order to save them from the terrible calamity that impended, and which he was assured would surely come unless he yielded to God. But even this motive of compassion for his people did not make the stubborn king relent. He persisted in his struggle with Jehovah though he was assured that unless he let the people go - the firstborn in all his land would die at midnight.
We should not forget that the same resistance to God is repeated in a measure, in everyone who year after year hears God's calls of mercy and grace - and refuses to yield to the Divine love. There is a passage in the Gospel of John which reads strikingly like this story of Pharaoh: "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: "He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn - and I would heal them." John 12:37-40
To us the lesson is that we should listen to every voice of God, to every appeal and command, never resisting, always submitting gladly, cheerfully. Only thus can we make sure of God's blessing. To resist, to refuse to obey, is to have our hearts made harder and less open to future appeals. And the end of final resistance and rejection - is the utter hardening of the heart until it is past all feeling, and past all hope!
Bible Verses: John 12:37-40
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