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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Ex. 5–10]

MOSES and Aaron went to Pharao (Fig. 21) and demanded, in the name of God, that he should allow the people of Israel to go out into the desert to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Pharao proudly answered: “Who is the Lord that I should hear His voice, and let the people go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” And from that day forth, he ordered the overseers and taskmasters to oppress the Israelites more and more, by putting them to still harder work.

The Lord told Moses and Aaron to appear again before Pharao. They did as the Lord commanded, and Aaron cast his rod before Pharao, and it was changed into a serpent. Pharao called the magicians, and they, by enchantments and certain secrets, also turned their rods into serpents; but Aaron’s rod devoured their rods. Yet the heart of Pharao remained hardened, and he would not let the people go. Then the Lord began to send ten plagues upon the Egyptians.

 

Fig. 21. Head of Pharao (Menephtah I.). Old Egyptian sculpture.

Next morning, by the command of God, Aaron went to the bank of the Nile, and struck the river with his rod, and instantly it was turned into blood. Thereupon the fish died, the water was corrupted, and the water of all the streams and ponds in Egypt was turned into blood. And the Egyptians dug new wells round about the river; for they could not drink the water of the river. Even then the heart of Pharao did not relent. (First plague.)

After seven days, Aaron stretched forth his hand over the rivers and streams and pools of Egypt, and inmediately a multitude of frogs came forth from the waters, and covered the whole land of Egypt. They entered the houses and the ovens, and covered the tables and the beds, and spared neither the hut of the peasant nor the palace of the king. Then Pharao, being frightened, called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them: “Pray ye the Lord to take away the frogs from me, and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” Moses did as the king desired, and the frogs disappeared. (Second plague.)

But when Pharao saw that the frogs were gone, he hardened his heart again. Then Aaron was commanded by God to strike with his rod the dust of the earth; and instantly myriads of gnats arose, and tormented both men and beasts throughout all Egypt. All the dust of the earth was turned into gnats. But Pharao’s heart remained obdurate. (Third plague.)

Then the Lord sent a very grievous swarm of flies into the houses of Pharao and his servants, and the whole land was corrupted by them. Then Pharao’s heart began to fail, and he said to Moses and Aaron: “I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; but go no further. Pray for me.” But when God, at the prayer of Moses, had banished the flies, Pharao’s heart grew hard again, and he refused to let the people go. (Fourth plague.)

Then God sent a murrain among the cattle, which destroyed the best part of the flocks and herds of the Egyptians, but spared those of the Israelites. Still Pharao would not submit. (Fifth plague.)

Then the Lord ordered Moses and Aaron to sprinkle ashes in the air in presence of Pharao, and there came boils with swelling blains in men and beasts. (Sixth plague.)

Then again Moses stretched forth his rod towards heaven, and the Lord sent down thunder and hail and lightning running along the ground; and the hail, mixed with fire, smote every herb of the field and every tree of the country, and killed every man and beast that were in the open fields. None of it fell, however, in the land of Gessen, where the children of Israel dwelt. Pharao called Moses and Aaron, and said: “I have sinned this time also. Pray ye the Lord that the thunder may cease, and that I may let you go.” But when, at the prayer of Moses, the hail had ceased, the king broke his promise, and his heart became exceedingly hard. (Seventh plague.)

Then the Lord sent a burning wind, which blew all that day and night; and in the morning, the locusts came, and they covered the whole face of the earth and wasted all things, devouring the grass of the earth, and whatever fruits the hail had left; and there remained not anything that was green, either on the trees, or in the herbs in all Egypt. Therefore Pharao in haste called Moses and Aaron, saying: “Forgive me my sin this time also, and pray to the Lord your God that He take away from me this death.” Moses prayed to the Lord, and the Lord sent a very strong wind from the west which took the locusts and threw them into the Red Sea. This time, again, Pharao hardened his heart. (Eighth plague.)

 

Fig. 22. Locust.

Then Moses stretched forth his hand towards heaven, and there came a horrible darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. No man saw his brother, nor moved himself out of the place where he was. But where the children of Israel dwelt, there was light. Then Pharao called Moses and Aaron, saying: “Go, sacrifice to the Lord—let your sheep only and your herds remain.” Moses answered: “All the flocks shall go with us.” Thereupon the king hardened his heart again, and would not let the people go. Moreover he said to Moses: “Get thee from me. In what day soever thou shalt come into my sight, thou shalt die.” Moses replied: “I will not see thy face any more.” (Ninth plague.)

The Lord spoke again to Moses: “Yet one plague more will I bring upon Pharao and Egypt, and after that he will let you go and thrust you out.” Now Moses was a very great man in the land of Egypt in the sight of Pharao’s servants and of all the people.

Moses, therefore, spoke to all the people: “Thus saith the Lord: ‘At midnight I will enter into Egypt; and every first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharao, who sitteth on his throne, even to the first-born of the handmaid that is at the mill, and all the first-born of the beasts; and there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as neither hath been before, nor shall be hereafter. But with all the children of Israel there shall be no death, nor mourning, that you may know how wonderful a difference the Lord maketh between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down to me, saying: Go forth, thou and all the people that is under thee. After that we will go out.’ ” (Tenth plague.)

The object of the plagues, with which God visited the Egyptians, was manifold. The plagues, which devastated Egypt, while they did not touch the land of Gessen, were sent, firstly, to teach Pharao and his people that the God of Israel was also Lord over Egypt, and the one True and Almighty God. Secondly, to convert the haughty king and force him to obey the commandments of God. Thirdly, to punish Pharao and his people for their unreasonable idolatry and their cruel oppression of the people of God. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a god, and now destruction was brought upon them by means of it. Disease killed the cattle which were objects of their worship; and lower creatures, such as gnats, flies and locusts, inflicted torments on them. Thus they were punished by the very things through which they sinned. Fourthly, the plagues were sent to teach the pagans that the gods whom they worshipped were vain and powerless; however earnestly they appealed to them, they could obtain no help from them. Fifthly, they were intended to confirm the Israelites in their belief in the one true God and in confidence in Him who protected them in such a wonderful way; and to nil their hearts with gratitude towards Him.

The Justice and Patience of God. By these plagues, Almighty God not only manifested His terrible justice, but also His merciful patience. He sent the first plague only after the miracles worked before Pharao had produced no effect. The plagues gradually succeeded each other, beginning with the least; and when these availed nothing, they became more and more dreadful. Moreover, they did not follow each other day after day, but between the several plagues there was an interval of days, sometimes of weeks.

Impenitence. Pharao is a warning example of impenitence and obduracy. God did not warn him only outwardly, by Moses’ words and by the ten plagues, but also inwardly, by His grace. But Pharao would neither listen to the admonitions of God, nor obey the movements of divine grace, and thus, by rendering himself unworthy of further graces, he at last became quite hardened. Once or twice he made good resolutions about letting God’s people go, but as soon as the pressure of necessity was removed he did not keep them. God foretold to him the last and worst plague some fourteen days before it was sent, and would, in His mercy, have spared Pharao and his people this last terrible visitation, if only he would have consented to let the Israelites go. Pharao, however, despised the divine warning as an empty threat, and remained hardened. He is the type of a defiant sinner who will not listen to any exhortations, does not carry out good resolutions, perseveres in sin, and finally becomes quite hardened.

APPLICATION. Are you at all like Pharao? Do you pay attention to the admonitions of your parents, confessor &c.? Have you made good resolutions with your lips only, or have you taken real pains to give up your bad habits? Have you ever made a bad confession, and concealed your sins? All this would be the beginning of impenitence, and would lead you to obduracy and the loss of your soul. Pay heed, then, to the warnings of those set over you; listen to the inspirations of divine grace, and the voice of your conscience, so that your heart may not grow obstinate and hard. St. Paul is urgent in his warnings against obduracy: “According to thy hardness and impenitent heart thou treasurest up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5).








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