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PHARAOH'S REFUSAL TO RELEASE THE FLOCKS AND
HERDS OF THE ISRAELITES.
A SERMON. By Mr. H. BEST, Minister of the Hull Society. “And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the Lord ; only let your
flocks and your herds be stayed ; let your little ones also go with you.”— EXODUS X. 24.
Our text conveys a lesson fraught with interest and instruction to every mind; for though it records an incident which occurred upwards of three thousand years ago, it has, like every other portion of the narrative, an application to the Lord's Church and people. That this lesson may the more readily impress itself upon our minds, and its essential importance be perceived, we may briefly recal some of the main incidents which are treated of in this history. The separate parts are so woven together into a homogeneous whole that we cannot, without doing violence to its entirety, treat the text as an isolated passage. The events which led to this concession on the part of Pharaoh may be briefly enumerated. Moses, the divinely appointed leader of the oppressed Hebrews, had entreated Pharaoh to release them from bondage, and give them permission to leave the country. These entreaties had been accompanied by miraculous signs and symbols, and enforced by threats of painful consequences. Repeatedly had Moses appeared in the presence-chamber of the Egyptian monarch, either to reiterate his requests or listen to the relentings of the king; repeatedly had these requests been enforced by those plagues which successively swept over the stubborn king and his people, devastating the land, and plunging its inhabitants into grief and distress. Still, with the stubbornness of pride and tyranny, the prayers, the entreaties, and the threats of Moses were unavailing. Relenting under the present sufferings of the plagues, as they successively visited him, no sooner had the pressure been removed, than a relapse ensued. Again and again was this repeated, each new experience of Divine intervention only serving to harden the heart of the king. It was immediately after one of these visitations that he so far relented in his purpose as to make the concession named in the text, in which he expresses his willingness to let the Hebrews go, and take their little ones with them, on condition that they left their flocks and herds.
The general spiritual lesson involved in these striking and remarkable events is the bondage, suffering, and final deliverance of the human soul. It is the Divinely inspired record of human progress, from sin, the world, and nature, to a state of freedom, greatness, and immortality. In short, it treats of some of the earlier stages of that deeply interesting and sublime work, the regeneration of man—that work which is the burden and song of all the inspired writers, which was the end and purpose of our redemption and of our Lord's glorification. 'A theme so fruitful, and one so inexhaustible in its details, is deemed of sufficient importance to be the subject of Holy Writ ; surely, then, that which Divinity records, which seers and prophets were made the instruments of communicating, which angels ever delight to explore, ought to be the most engrossing of human interest and anxiety, the subject of all human hopes and fears, and its accomplishment the one great purpose of life. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The new birth, or regeneration, then, with all its innumerable and minute, though essential particulars, is the subject treated of in the narrative of the establishment of the Israelitish nation. That portion of it which consists in deliverance from those principles of evil which predominate in the natural man is the subject treated of in these earlier chapters of Exodus. Profounder depths, indeed, than any we purpose to fathom on this occasion are contained in this portion of the Divine Word. The deliverance of the Church from infesting evils and falsities is here recorded; but at present it will suffice for us to extract such practical lessons as may be found in an individual application of the truths which it contains, to the end that our purposes may be loftier, our hearts purer, our minds more enlightened, and our lives holier and more useful.
We must be very brief in our remarks upon the signification of Egypt and Pharaoh, though it is essential to the elucidation of the passage before us. It must suffice to say that the natural mind, with all its faculties, is signified by Egypt, and some ruling principle thereof by Pharaoh, its king. We read of a Pharaoh antecedent to this, who was friendly to Joseph and his kindred; but we have now to consider the acts of one who knew not Joseph, and who oppressed his posterity. By this we perceive that the natural mind, in its unregenerate and perverted condition, is symbolized. We have all experienced this bondage. Pharaoh, in the form of some dominant evil, has oppressed us, and, alas ! is yet oppressing some of us, and holding us to a service at once painful and humiliating. Sad it is that multitudes are willing bondsmen, without either the knowledge of their degradation, or any aspirations after freedom. When we long to be free, when our cries are heard, appealing from the hardships imposed upon us by our taskmasters, we shall not fail of a deliverer. He who sent His servants Moses and Aaron to the help of His people of old, can and will send them to us with still greater potency, with greater signs and wonders than were performed by them in Egypt. They were potent to perform external miracles, but the Divine Moses and Aaron, who are made the instruments of our deliverance, are potent to change hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, natural things into spiritual, destroy the works of hell, and establish the kingdom of heaven. Such things can have no comparison, except as correspondences, with the earthly events that typify them. But by means of these types and symbols we obtain a perception of the living truths to which they correspond.
The Lord approaches us as our deliverer by means of His Divine Law, which alone is capable of wresting the spiritual man from his bondage, and striking terror into the evil principles which rule him as with a rod of iron. “His laws are perfect, converting the soul.” Conversion is here identical with regeneration, and the Divine Law alone is capable of accomplishing this. Moses and Aaron represent this Divine Law, which operates for our deliverance, as the Mosaic lawgiver did for the enslaved Hebrews. The whole history of Moses is replete with instruction when thus perceived in his representative capacity. He comes to us as that inward spirit of the Law which operates upon, and reduces to order and beauty, the internal man with all his faculties. It approaches us, as it were, with a direct commission from the Almighty, accompanied with grace and strength, not only to paralyze and confound the evils of our unregenerate nature, but also to encourage, advise, and govern the spiritual and internal man, which is the Lord's true Israel. The Divine Law, however, in its relatively pure and naked form, cannot always operate. Could the Lord act directly upon the unregenerate without danger to their spiritual lives, His Word would be comparatively irresistible, and thus the freedom of man's will would be imperilled. Hence the necessity of intermediates, and the presentation of the Divine Truth to the rational mind, that the understanding and judgment may be convinced. The external of the Law, therefore, has its functions to perform, and this external of the Law is represented by Aaron, who was said to be a man fluent of speech, which Moses was not. The Law of the Lord embodied in doctrinals, precepts, and commandments, and generally in the letter of the Word, is made the medium through which the Divine Moses is enabled to operate upon our evils and falsities. We cannot but be impressed, therefore, with the importance of externals, through which alone heavenly influence can be brought to bear upon the whole man. Thus, when we prayerfully and sincerely meditate upon the Word, the conjunction of these two is effected, and produces in us those heavenly delights which the earnest seeker after truth is often permitted to enjoy.
Step by step, these principles will effect our deliverance, and purge us from the evils which so stubbornly hold us in their grasp. By terrors, by judgments, and by spiritual plagues is this accomplished. It will not be necessary to our purpose to treat of any of these, excepting the one immediately preceding the concession which is made by Pharaoh in the words of the text, seeing that it was the cause of the concession being made. It was the plague of darkness, which brooded over Egypt three days. Spiritually this darkness denotes the consequence of the resistance which the natural man offers to Divine influences and entreaties. No sooner does the conflict between the two opposing powers within us commence in earnest, than the carnal mind begins to feel the consequences of its opposition, and to the extent that we allow its principles to cling to us are we made to suffer. Thus, as one of the results, the mind becomes so clouded with falsity, as a consequence of the activity of the indwelling evil, that it is deprived of all perception, the obscurity becoming so dense that the soul is plunged into anxiety. The mental faculties are paralysed, the mental vision closed, until the natural mind is fain to acknowledge the presence of a power with which it is unable to cope. How hardly we learn these lessons ! How long we struggle against our own convictions, against our better judgment, against every consideration which the Word of God presents to us! How bitter our experience often has to be before we are willing to yield anything to the Lord! We have every reason, therefore, to be grateful that we are made, by the inscrutable ways of Divine Providence, to see and recognise our true condition, and the danger to which we stand exposed from the sudden irruption of infernal influences.
Under such experience as this our stubbornness begins to relent. Our self hood has received another blow, which, although not altogether effectual in destroying its domination, brings that result nearer. We have felt, and we acknowledge the power of the Divine Law, which in our better moments we have called to our aid. The final result need no longer be doubtful, if only we continue faithful to our resolutions and sincere in our efforts. Defeat not only demoralizes the conquered, but it inspires with new hopes and gives renewed strength to the victors.
Under this sense of a superior power, the natural man begins to relent, and is ready to make some concession, to comply with the requirements of the Divine Law upon certain conditions. We are prepared to make some compromise, but we are not yet willing to yield to all the demands made upon us. How forcibly must this truth present itself to us in the light of our past experience! How few can say that they yielded up their hearts without a struggle! Even when yielding in some measure to our convictions, when pressed by the weight of overwhelming influences, we have made stipulations, held on to some darling sin or besetment, tried to make a compromise with our own consciences, and make terms with the Divine Law itself, which, we have yet to learn, requires the obedience and subjection of the whole man. Our spiritual mind now hungers after holy things; it longs to serve the Lord, to worship Him, and to effect its deliverance from the power of carnal appetites and passions. As we cannot altogether stifle these desires, nor silence these thoughts, we seek to make peace upon the basis of some compromise, which we weakly hope will settle the controversy for ever. We try to find some way of making the best of both worlds, to make some excuse for serving both God and mammon. How futile this is we soon learn, when we come to realize the saying of our Divine Master, that to serve both is impossible.
The specific nature of the concession which the regenerating man is now willing to make is seen in the offer of Pharaoh, that the Hebrews might go and serve the Lord, taking with them their little ones, but