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The faith and obedience of the one, therefore, and the insolence and pride of the other, equally and conjointly demonstrated to Moses, that the Lord had spoken unto him.
Armed, therefore, with a command from on high, confident of the goodness of their cause, and exalted above the fear of man, Moses and his brother advance boldly into the presence of the king, and make their requisition in these lofty and majestic words; "Thus saith the LORD GOD of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness."
In some ancient Jewish fragments, we have an account of four miracles, by which Moses signalized his entrance into Egypt. First, he made fire to issue out of the earth, in the eyes of all Israel, and thereby produced confidence in him as their deliverer. Secondly, being shut up in prison by order of Pharaoh, he broke the bars, burst open the gates, struck the guards with death, and released himself. Thirdly, he pronounced in the ears of the king, the name of JEHOVAH--at the sound of which that prince became deaf, and after a certain interval recovered his hearing, through the interposition of him who had taken it away. Fourthly, by the use of the same awful name, he deprived all the Egyptian priests of sense and motion. To this the Rabbins add, that on entering the palace of the tyrant, he was suddenly clothed with a dreadful form, and a countenance bright and majestic, like that of an angel. But we have no need to resort to fancy for a description of the magnificence of the scene, neither is there reason to suppose that any part of the glory of Moses consisted in personal lustre. His Employer and his errand lend him sufficient dignity and importance, without the glare which dazzles the eye.
Whatever were the outward appearance of Moses, his message, we know, was treated by Pharaoh with insolence and contempt, in these words; "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice, to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.' We are not to conclude that Pharaoh was an atheist, from his using this impious language. No: Egypt was a country wholly given to superstition; a land which had multiplied deities to itself. It was JEHOVAH whom he scorned to acknowledge. It was the God of Israel whom he despised. He judged of the power of their Patron and Protector from their own present forlorn condition.
The methods which Moses and Aaron employed to obtain the end of their mission, is a beautiful, an instructive, and an alarming representation of the conduct of Providence towards sinners in general. They begin with delivering a plain message in the name of their Master. Being repulsed, they proceed to argue and expostulate. A deaf ear being turned to the voice of reason and humanity, they have recourse to more extraordinary proofs of the weight and authority of their commission; proofs which, indeed, mark an Almighty arm; but an arm stretched out to convince, not to crush. A bold defiance being given to Omnipotence, what other method of working conviction and of procuring respect is left, but to let it fall with all its dreadful weight on the head of the defier?
It happened to Israel as it often does to men struggling to get free from the pressure of calamity, their efforts only serve to plunge them deeper in the mire; and it happened to Moses and Aaron, as it sometimes befalls men actuated by a similar good intention, but with less title and encouragement, their interference hurts those whom it was meant to serve; and they have the mortification of seeing the miseries of their poor brethren cruelly increased, through what might be deemed their own zeal and officiousness. The inflexible tyrant avenges himself, for the freedom taken with the king of Egypt by persons so low and contemptible, upon the bleeding shoulders of thousands of wretches, who could not redress themselves, and who durst not complain. Miserable
condition indeed! where the caprice of one man determines the fate of millions! Happy the nation where not men but laws govern!
Providence, in this instance, seems resolved to try how far savage cruelty and patient suffering can go; but ready to interfere in both, when they have come to the extreme. Israel is not prepared for salvation, till the cup of woe is full, and deliverance is despaired of from every quarter save Heaven: and Pharaoh feels not the rod of God's anger, till having filled up the measure of his iniquity, hardened his heart against GoD and against man, poured contempt upon mercy, and braved infinite justice, he exalts himself into an awful monument to every impenitent sinner, of the desperate madness of fighting with his Maker.
Moses is ready to sink afresh, under this cruel disappointment. The reproaches of the unhappy sufferers, called, forced, lashed into labour, beyond what their strength could bear, cut him to the heart, and again he shrinks from the task which was imposed on him and in these desponding words, he ventures to pour out the anguish of his soul before the Lord; "Wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name he hath done evil to this people, neither hast thou delivered thy people at all."
Thus far has flowed the angry tide of proud, imperial passion and thus low has ebbed the trembling, retreating stream of baffled expectation. And now, "it is time, Lord, that thou work!" To the one he saith, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." To the other, "Return, and fill all thy channels, and overflow all thy banks."
The Angel of the Lord begins with reassuring Moses himself, by a recapitulation of the tenour of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, under the sanction of his name as the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. In all these wanderings, weaknesses and distresses they had been encouraged to trust in a Being, omnipotent to protect them, all-sufficient to supply their wants. But their posterity were henceforth to know him by another name, and under a new description, even the incommunicable, unutterable name which denotes eternal, unchangeable self existence; deriving nothing from any, but conferring upon all, life, and breath, and all things; who is above all, through all, and in all; "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever:" and, of consequence, true to his word, faithful in keeping covenant, unalterable in his decrees!
Under the seal of that most tremendous, most animating and inspiring name, Moses is again dispatched to the people, with the assurance of a speedy, an instantaneous appearance in their behalf. But alas! their spirit is broken by the long continuance and accumulated weight of their calamities. They have been disappointed so often, that they can believe, can hope no longer; and the message delivered by Moses is like a charming song upon the ear of a deaf or a dead man. He is sent from the people to Pharaoh, with a repetition of the demand of Heaven upon him. But alas! the messenger himself has caught the desponding spirit of the unhappy men whom he had been last visiting; and the heart of Pharaoh has not in the least relented. Heaven seems to have interposed somewhat too late; the cause appears lost. Let us judge nothing rashly; let us not judge before the time. Let us humbly and patiently wait the issue, and then condemn if we dare, if we can.
-Moses at the bush saw God, under the appearance of a flame of fire; but no man can see Gop and live. "No man hath seen GoD at any time: the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." The deliverer of Israel needed himself to be nurtured and prepared for the discharge of his high office; but a Saviour of a lost world entered upon the execution of his infinitely more arduous task, every way qualified to bring it to a happy conclusion. The Jewish lawgiver stood himself condemn
ed by the law, and was a partaker with others in guilt and transgression; the Christian Leader was "holy, harmless and undefiled." Moses undertook the work assigned to him, slowly and reluctantly; but, O with what readiness did the friend of mankind press forward to the perfecting of his kind design; "Lo I come in the volume of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart."* "I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished "+ And yet there was no shame, no pain, no cross in the way of Moses; whereas the Captain of salvation was to be "made perfect through sufferings;" nevertheless, he advanced undismayed to the combat. "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer." Moses frequently recoiled from the conflict, shrunk from the difficulty and danger, failed in the hour of trial; but our great Leader and Commander went on conquering and to conquer;" turned not back; desisted not from doing and from suffering, till he could say, "It is finished." The Sun of righteousness shineth in his strength, let every star hide his diminished head. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS VI. 1.
Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do unto Pharaoh; for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.
THE history of the divine conduct is the best illustration of the nature of GOD. Do we desire to know what the Supreme Being is? We have but to consider what he does. Are we anxious to be satisfied of the truth of the declarations made by the great JEHOVAH concerning himself in his word? Let us compare them with the history and experience of men in every age. The proofs of the divine goodness and mercy are written in characters so fair, and are so frequently presented to our view, that not to observe them must argue the grossest stupidity and inattention; and not to acknowledge, love and adore the glorious source of that unbounded goodness, must argue the blackest ingratitude. When the Lord makes himself known by the judgments which he executes, we see him advancing, to use the ideas and the language of men, with slow and reluctant steps. When misery is to be relieved, benefits conferred, or sins forgiven, the blessing outruns expectation, nay, even desire. But when the wicked are to be punished, justice seems to regret the necessity under which it is laid, to maintain itself, and the sinner is not destroyed till, to his own conviction, his condemnation is acquitted of unrighteousness, and till every thing around him calls for vengeance. The wickedness of the old world was so great, that GOD is said to have
*Psalm xl. 7, 8.
t Luke xii. 50.
+ Ib. xxii. 15.
repented that he had made man." Nevertheless, after God had threatened to destroy the human race with a deluge, a reprieve of many years is granted, to afford space and means for averting the calamity by repentance. Abraham was permitted, nay encouraged to intercede for the sinful, the devoted cities of the plain of Jordan; and the righteousness of so small a number as five persons would have saved the whole people of those regions. The nations of Canaan were not expelled, to make way for Israel, till the measure of their iniquity was full; and the haughty spirit of Pharaoh was not brought low, by wonder upon wonder, by plague upon plague, till he had hardened his heart against the power of God, and the sufferings of men, and thereby made himself a "vessel of wrath fitted for destruction."
The awful scene which we are this night to contemplate, is, in more respects than one, singular and unexampled. We are not only presented with a series of miracles, a demonstration of the tremendous power of Almighty GOD, but, what is still more extraordinary, they are a series of miracles, all marked with uncommon rigour and severity. The wise and righteous Governor of the world seems, in this instance, to have deviated from the usual lenity of his proceeding; as if determined to make men tremble before him, and to stand in awe of his power and justice, as well as to hope in his mercy. Moses and Aaron, though their former embassy to Pharaoh had met with a reception so mortifying to themselves, and so fatal to their afflicted brethren, are obliged and encouraged, at God's command, to undertake a second. And the haughty tyrant having dared to reject the first, as delivered in the name of an unknown God, they are now furnished with credentials which carried their own authority on their foreheads, and which were calculated to convince every thing but rooted infidelity, of the divine power by which they were issued. First, they make reason speak. And had Pharaoh been wise, no other monitor had been necessary. But a deaf ear being turned to that meek and heavenly charmer, it becomes needful to employ a stronger and more forcible language. Being again introduced, they again deliver their message, and are again treated with scorn. Aaron, as he was commanded, having the rod of God in his hand, casts it upon the ground before Pharaoh and his court, and lo! it instantly becomes animated; it is converted into a serpent, armed with deadly poison. When Moses first beheld this strange sight, he "was afraid, and would have fled:" but Pharaoh appears not in the least alarmed. The same fire melts wax, and hardens clay; the same doctrine is the savour of life unto life in them that believe, and of death unto death in them that perish.
Some interpreters have alleged, that this transformation was not only miraculous, but emblematical, and that it was intended to humble this tyrannical and sanguinary prince, by exhibiting a representation of his own character, and of his subserviency to the power of that God whom he had presumed to defy. When a sudden and striking change, through the permission of Providence, takes place! A harmless rod or shepherd's crook, the emblem of mild, wise and good government, is changed into a poisonous snake, the emblem of cruelty and oppression. And lo, at the divine pleasure, the poison is again extracted, the deadly tooth is plucked out, and the fiery serpent becomes a harmless rod again. And thus in general, afflictive providences are either the gentle rod of a wise father to admonish, to correct and to reform; or the keen twoedged sword of an adversary, to cleave asunder, to devour and to destroy. Whether this were intended or not, it is evident Pharaoh understood it not, or disregarded it. And, as infidelity is always desirous of fortifying itself by something that has the semblance of reason: and, while it pretends to doubt of every thing, is, in truth, the most simple and credulous principle in the world. Pharaoh affects to treat the miracle which was wrought by Moses and Aaron, as a mere trick, a feat of necromancy or magic. He calls
for such of his own people as professed these arts, to confront them with the Israelitish ambassadors: in order to oppose skill to skill, and to diminish the respect and attention claimed by Moses and Aaron, to their mission, and to their God, by shewing similar or equal signs, performed by Jannes and Jambres, the votaries of an Egyptian deity.
The magicians confidently undertake the task, and, through the permission of Heaven, partly succeed. Their rods cast upon the ground, likewise become serpents. The heart of Pharaoh exults, and the magicians of Egypt laugh the Jewish shepherds to scorn. But the triumph of unbelief is only for a moment. Aaron's rod, in its serpent state, swallowed up their rods. Reasoning man will ask, why were not impiety and infidelity checked in their very first attempt? Why were the demons of Egypt left in possession of the slightest vestige of power, to oppose or to imitate the mighty power of God? Why grant to Pharaoh and to his magicians, even the momentary triumph of their incantations? The reason is obvious. Had the Egyptian enchantments been attended with no success, and produced no effect, infidelity would have had its plea at hand. "Your pretended miracle is mere illusion, it is an attempt to mislead our understanding, by imposing upon our senses. Though we cannot produce this particular effect, or perform this particular trick, by our art, we can effect wonders equally or much more astonishing." But, by being permitted to succeed in their first effort, and to rival Moses and Aaron so far in power and reputation, they are insensibly drawn in to give their sanction to the sign performed by the Hebrews, for the sake of their own credit; and no sooner is it stamped for currency, with their image and superscription, than they and their abettors are confounded, by seeing the wretched impression of their art effaced, absorbed, annihilated; and no image remains visible, but that of the living and true God. The power which swallowed up the magicians' rods, could as easily have prevented the transmutation; but the confutation is much more complete by the one than it would have been by the other. Impiety has shut her own mouth, and infidelity stands stripped of her last and only plea.
An opportunity is here presented of instituting an inquiry, which has greatly employed and violently divided the learned and ingenious; namely, whether the supernatural effects, here and elsewhere in scripture ascribed to the agency of demons and malignant spirits, through the practice of magical arts, were real miracles, that is, alterations of the known and established laws of nature, by the permission of GOD; or only dexterous impositions, practised by subtile artists, on the simple and credulous, giving the appearance of reality to what had no existence? We shall not take upon us to determine, whether of these two opinions is most conformable to reason, and to the analogy of faith. But the opportunity having offered, we shall take the liberty of suggesting some considerations, tending less to settle the question, than to shew that, perhaps, it is not capable of a solution. But our grand aim shall be to shew, that, which ever side men are pleased to take, the miracles wrought in support of truth, through the agency of the Author of all good, preserve all their superiority, and the truth itself shines in all its lustre.
And, first, if we try the cause by the letter of the narration of Moses, it will immediately strike every reader, that these extraordinary feats were actually produced by the power of the devil. The history relates the change that passed on the magicians' rods, in the selfsame terms which describe the transmutation of Aaron's; and the name given to these execrable men, is the same that belongs to persons who have devoted themselves to the wicked one. On the other hand we know, that scripture, in describing natural objects, usually accommodates itself to the prevailing notions of the ages and nations in which the inspired authors lived and wrote; that it condescends even to Vol. III.