—EXODUS 12:21-30.—JUNE 9.—
MOSES, accompanied by Aaron, his brother and appointed mouthpiece, appeared before Pharaoh and informed him of his mission in part. He made no reference to the complete departure of the Israelites never to return, though Pharaoh evidently understood this to be the program. The request was to go a day's journey into the wilderness and to offer sacrifices to the Lord, no reference being made as to what would be done thereafter. To Pharaoh it seemed preposterous that the Egyptians should let go from them a skillful people, who had been serving them now for a good while as bond-servants, and helping along amazingly in their general prosperity and wealth. Pharaoh determined that he would not encourage such a thought by the slightest sign of timidity, but on the contrary he would discourage it and cause, if possible, that the people should feel that Moses and Aaron, their representatives and delegates, had done them an injury by the agitation. Accordingly Pharaoh not only refused their request, but imposed additional burdens upon the people as a penalty for making it. All this might be termed human nature—the natural thing for any person in power to do.
It was the natural thing, however, only because of man's depravity; it would have been a very unnatural thing for any perfect man to have done. A man more nearly perfect in the image and likeness of God would, on the contrary, have had a spirit of fairness, a spirit of equity, which would have said, We have not been treating these people right; we have not been treating them according to the Golden Rule, as we would that they should have dealt with us. We have been taking advantage of their situation and of our power as a dominating race, and have been taking their labor by browbeating and by force. We will seek to make amends, not only by giving them their liberty, to which they have a right, but by pressing upon them as their rightful due a certain proportion of the wealth we have secured through their energies. We will then say to them,—Now, whether you go to another land or whether you stay here is a matter for yourselves to decide; but we will be glad to have you for neighbors and for friends, and to deal with you as fellow-members of one race, according to the Golden Rule.
But the depraved heart never has such suggestions, or, if it has them, promptly stifles them as foolish, unbusinesslike. The Lord's people, begotten again of the holy Spirit, enlightened through the Word of Truth and taught in the school of Christ, are not to take the worldly view on any such question, but in all their affairs to act in harmony with the Golden Rule. If any reader of this article has not been in the habit of so doing in the past, it is time that he should begin at once. Time is short in which to cultivate this proper view and to learn to use this Golden Rule. If our hearts do not attain to this standard of love for our neighbors as for ourselves, the Apostle assures us that we may seriously doubt that we have any love for God that would [R3994 : page 151] be acceptable to him. (1 John 4:20.) True, not many are in the position of Pharaoh, and even Pharaoh might have been unable to carry out the Golden Rule in connection with his dealings with the Israelites by reason of a contrary spirit amongst his counsellors and others of influence in the nation. Similarly we may not be able to do all that we could do and would like to do in harmony with the Golden Rule in our dealings with neighbors, employes, etc., but we are to cultivate this spirit in our hearts, in our minds, and to live as nearly in accord with this rule as present conditions permit. Our hearts must be up to this mark, whether we are able to conform all of our affairs of life to this standard or not. Otherwise we may be sure that we shall come short of the required standard, and unless we correct the matter we will have no part in the Kingdom, and would be totally unfit to be of that glorious class of kings and priests and judges who, according to the Lord's foreordination, are shortly to bless all the families of the earth in conjunction with their Lord and Head.—1 Cor. 6:2,3.
One after another ten different plagues came upon Egypt to compel them to let the Israelites go. We can readily see how God could have made the matter much easier for them even in their wrong condition of heart. He could have raised up to the throne of Egypt a weaker man, who would have more readily yielded; but, on the contrary, the Scriptures inform us that God raised up to the throne a man of that particular character which would be strong in resistance, dogged. We read, "For this very purpose have I raised thee up, that thou might show forth my power." The means by which the Lord raised up that Pharaoh to the throne is not particularly stated, but we have illustrations of similar exaltations under divine providence. For instance, the present Emperor of Germany was raised up to power by reason of his father's death, which the Lord could easily have hindered. The Czar of Russia was raised up to his position by reason of his brother's incapacity for the office. Theodore Roosevelt was raised up to the presidency by reason of President McKinley's assassination.
Thus God has it in his own hand to set up or pull down rulers, and he orders the matter evidently to a considerable extent with a view to the impressing of the lessons which he desires to impart; and these lessons and providences have to do with other peoples than those apparently most particularly interested. For instance, the present Czar has had much to do in the matter of bringing forward the Japanese to notice; and so the Pharaoh of the Exodus, supposed to have been Menephtah, was raised up particularly on account of the Israelites and the divine intention respecting their deliverance, and the punishment of the Egyptians for the injustices that were done them. With a weaker man on the throne the Lord's power would have been less displayed and the Egyptians would have received far less chastisement.
The first nine of these plagues seem to divide themselves into three groups of three each, and the entire ten are supposed to have covered a period of nine months—not that they were continually enforced in that time, but that considerable intervals occurred between them. In the first three Aaron's rod was used as a symbol of divine power; in the second three the rod was not used; in the last three Moses' rod was used. In each of the three series the first was with full warning, the second with less warning, the last with no warning. The first plague is supposed to have occurred in June and the last one in the following April.
To the ordinary reader the story of these plagues and the deliverance of the Israelites is a wonderful one, but to those who have made some progress in the knowledge of the Truth and who discern in the experiences of the Israelites something typical of the experiences of the Lord's people in the end of this age, the entire lesson has a still broader, deeper and stronger significance. From this standpoint the Pharaoh on the throne and the powers of Egypt represented Satan, the prince of this world, and the powers of this world. From this standpoint the antitype of Israel would be all of God's people who desire to worship and to serve him, but who are in bondage to sin and Satan. From this standpoint the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt typifies the deliverance in the end of this age of all who desire to come into harmony with God. And correspondingly, the plagues that came upon Egypt and which forced the deliverance of the Israelites typified the great time of trouble coming upon the world in the end of this age, by means of which ultimately the power of the oppressor will be broken, and all who desire full liberty to worship and serve the Lord will be granted the opportunity; and as Pharaoh and his hosts, in seeking to interfere with the divine program, were destroyed, so Satan and all sympathizers and colaborers with him, seeking to restrain and interfere with the labors of those who would serve the Lord, will ultimately be overwhelmed and destroyed in the Second Death.
Noting that these ten plagues prefigured the time of trouble in the end of this age, we are not surprised to find similarly ten plagues mentioned in connection with the time of trouble portrayed in Revelation as constituting the consummation of this present age and this "present evil world." There the first three plagues are called the woe trumpets, and following them come the "seven last trumpets." The first three apparently affect all, the last seven are restricted to those who are in opposition to the Lord. And so it was in the plagues of Egypt: the first three affected the Israelites as well as the Egyptians, but from the last seven the Israelites were exempted.
While these plagues were very remarkable they were less so than might occur to us, because many of them were merely intensified experiences along lines from which the Egyptians had previously suffered. The intensity of these, and the fact that they came in harmony with preannouncements, constituted the main features that would commend them to the Egyptians as miracles. For instance, the first two the Egyptian magicians were able to imitate on a small scale. The names of these magicians are given us in the New Testament, where it is stated that as Jannes and Jambres [R3994 : page 152] resisted Moses, so certain ones today resist the message of God at the hands of his servants and seek to produce counterfeit effects by the power of Satan.—2 Tim. 3:8.
The first plague—the waters turned to blood—caused serious inconvenience for the Egyptians, who are noted as the most cleanly of all the Orientals. They were obliged to dig wells near the river, using the soil as a purifier or strainer of the water. Of course the thought must be that the water became bloodlike. Gieke offers a not unreasonable suggestion respecting the basis of this miracle—that it was "the presence and inconceivably rapid growth of microscopic animals (infusoria) and minute cryptogamous plants of a red color. Ehrenberg, in 1823, saw the whole bay of the Red Sea at Sinai turned into the color of blood by the presence of such plants. In Silliman's Journal there is an account of a fountain of blood in a cave in South Africa. It grew solid and burst bottles in which it was put, and dogs ate it greedily. The cause of these wonders is a minute alga which grows so rapidly that it actually flows, and is so small that there are from 40,656,000,000 to 824,736,000,000 plants in a cubic inch."
Another writer says concerning the Nile, as he saw it one morning, "The entire mass of the waters was opaque and of a dark red, more like blood than anything else to which I could compare it."—Monumental History of Egypt, I., p. 10.
The fact that we can imagine the process by which divine power produced this miracle does not interfere with its miraculousness, which is fully attested by its appearing just at the time indicated by Moses, and by the fact that it affected the water everywhere, even in household vessels.
Among the numerous Egyptian deities was the frog-head goddess, Heka. The supposition therefore is that this plague was a special reproach to that goddess and her worshippers, and particularly severe because it was not lawful for the Egyptians to kill their tormentors. They were so abundant as to constitute a plague in the truest sense. Frogs were everywhere, in the fields, in the streets, in the homes, in the beds, in the kneading troughs. Of the physical basis of this miracle Gieke remarks that frogs in distressing numbers frequently come from the river Nile: "In the height of inundation, the abounding moisture quickens inconceivable myriads of frogs and toads which swarm everywhere, even in ordinary years."
The third plague—lice. The revised version margin renders the word lice sandflies, or fleas, and apparently with some reason. Sir Samuel Baker says of modern North Africa that, "At certain seasons it is as if the very dust of the land were turned into lice." He then describes the sandfly as a "sort of tick, not larger than a grain of sand, which when filled with blood expands to the size of a hazel nut." This miracle the magicians were unable to duplicate, and their words are the first historical definition of a miracle: [R3995 : page 152] they said, "This is the finger of God."
The fourth plague—flies or beetles. The Hebrew word used in this connection is held to signify a mixture, that is various swarms of insects. The Septuagint translators, who lived in Egypt, considered the word to mean dog-flies; others hold that it signified beetles, a peculiarly serious plague to the Egyptians, because the beetle was considered the incarnation of Kephna, the Sun god, and was forbidden to be killed. A writer says,—
"Modern Egypt is sometimes visited with enormous swarms of beetles which inflict very painful bites, gnaw and destroy clothes, household furniture and leather, and consume or render unavailable all edibles."
The fifth plague—murrain. This is supposed to have been a kind of epizootic or contagious fever affecting all domestic animals. Rawlinson declares, "There were several murrains in the years 1842, 1863, 1866, in which last-named year nearly the whole of the herds were destroyed." It was marked as one of these plagues by its prediction for a definite day and from the exemption of the cattle of the Hebrews.
This plague was started by the symbolical scattering toward heaven of ashes of a furnace—possibly in allusion to the furnace of affliction through which the Hebrews had been passing, or possibly in sarcastic imitation of the methods of the Egyptian priests, who yearly offered sacrifices of burnt human bodies, sometimes Hebrews—to Typhon, the god of evil, scattering the ashes thus in the air.
The seventh plague—hail. This also was a very unusual experience for the Egyptians, for in their country thunder and lightning, snow and hail, are very rare. All the more it would be to them a demonstration of divine power; it terribly impressed them, besides causing serious loss not only to men and beasts but to vegetation. Pharaoh, alarmed, again proposed to accede to the demands, but again hardened his heart and refused when the plague was withdrawn.
The eighth plague—locusts. A German writer says it often happens that immense swarms of locusts come to Egypt from Nubia. Wherever they appear they cover the ground for miles and sometimes to considerable depth. It is in vain to attempt to drive them away. Only when the last bit of grass and grain is devoured will they depart, leaving behind those which in the dense mass of insects were hurt and could not go further. It takes weeks to kill these remnants. A newspaper remarks that in 1881 two hundred and fifty tons of locusts were buried in Cyprus, each ton numbering over 90,000,000 of these pests. In 1873 the writer witnessed a similar visitation of locusts or grasshoppers in the western part of the United States. They came in great clouds, obscuring the light of the sun as would a snow-storm, and greatly resembling it. Wherever they alighted it meant destruction. They were so plentiful that they could have been shoveled were they not continually in motion, and railway travel was greatly delayed in those parts by reason of the slipperiness of the tracks from the large numbers that were crushed. This also would be recognized as a plague because of its announcement and because of the usual exemption of the land of the Hebrews. Again Pharaoh repented, this time his courtiers urging upon him acquiescence with the command. [R3995 : page 153] Pharaoh even confessed sin, and yet subsequently hardened his heart and refused the people liberty.
The ninth plague—darkness. The physical basis of this miracle is thus stated: "In April, about Easter, there begins in Egypt a period of fifty days called Chemsim, meaning fifty. During this period the south wind at times brings a storm of fine sand, which sometimes is terrible. Wherever the storm passes a crackling sound is heard, as of electric sparks. A nervous depression seizes mankind and domestic animals. This is the Egyptian darkness."
Gieke says, "Artificial light at such times is of little use. The streets are practically emptied and a deep silence reigns everywhere." This plague of "deep darkness" impelled Pharaoh to grant the request of Moses provided the flocks and herds of the Hebrews did not go with them—a compromise which Moses promptly rejected.
The tenth plague—the death of the Egyptian firstborn. Ample opportunity had been given for repentance, and the record is that Pharaoh once more refused to let the children of Israel go, and subsequently it is recorded that God hardened his heart. We are not to suppose that God interfered with his free moral agency in the matter, but that this hardening of his heart was accomplished through the Lord's leniency—his prompt granting of release from one plague after another when Pharaoh repented and proposed obedience. The fact that he and his people had weathered so many of these storms and plagues doubtless encouraged the monarch to hope that eventually he would retain hold upon the Hebrews, despite all the threats and plagues. However, there was a limit to divine favor, and it was so arranged that that limit would not come until the people of Egypt had suffered a severer chastisement in punishment of their injustice toward the Hebrews. Although we are not living in a time when God is judging the world—rewarding and punishing every act of mankind, as will be done when Christ shall take to himself his great power and the Millennial reign shall begin—nevertheless we see that in the case of the Church there is a judgment already enforced along spiritual lines, so that those who have made a covenant with the Lord by sacrifice, if willing and obedient, receive an hundredfold more in the present time as well as in the blessings of the future, while those who neglect their covenant receive correction and stripes, and fail to enjoy the riches of God's grace and peace. The Scriptures inform us, however, that the world will not entirely escape the wrong doings of the present time—that every misdeed will work an injury to character in proportion as it was wilful and against the light, and that all such undermining of character will require repairs and rectification under the restitution processes of the Millennial age. Thus, on the whole, has been arranged a very just and equitable system of rewards and punishments, measured according to the knowledge and perversity of each individual. It is in line with this that the Scriptures speak of the time of trouble, which is now near at hand, as being a just compensation upon Christendom for its failures to recognize the principle of equity. The collapse of the world's institutions of civilization in a period of anarchy will be the penalty of disregard for the Golden Rule.
The smiting of the first-born of Egypt contained two lessons: (1) It was the most severe blow because the first-born of the nation would be the more prominent persons in each family. (2) But the special object in confining the plague to the first-born was to show that only the first-born of the Hebrews were spared or passed over. The other members of the Hebrew families were in no more danger of that plague than were the other members of the Egyptian families. Only the first-born were marked, indicated as in danger, while the rest were to be saved. The Scriptures clearly show that the Lord thus intended to indicate the passing over or sparing of the Church in the present time. The type therefore has nothing whatever to do with the world. Only the household of faith, known in the Scriptures as the Church of the First-born, have that degree of light and knowledge that would permit them to be on trial for eternal life, with the danger of losing the same in the Second Death.
The world in general is not in this danger; they are still under the original condemnation, and hence not subject to the second condemnation or the Second Death. This type marks clearly what all the Scriptures so forcefully express, namely, that the present is the trial time of the Church, as the Apostle expresses it, "If we sin wilfully after that we have received a knowledge of the truth there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking forward to of judgment that would devour us as adversaries of God." Again he says, "As touching those who were once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the holy Spirit and tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, if these fall away it is impossible again to renew them unto repentance; seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame."—Heb. 6:4,6; 10:26,27.
Not only is the Gospel Church scripturally termed the "Church of the First-born," but it is also spoken of as the first-fruits unto God of his creatures. (Heb. 12:23; Jas. 1:18.) The two thoughts are in full accord; first-born ones imply later-born ones, first-fruits imply later-fruits. Thus does the Lord draw our attention to the fact that, while his plan has had its most gracious beginning with the elect of this Gospel age, his favor will not end with these, but ultimately proceed to all the families of the earth in accord with his great Oath-Bound Covenant to Abraham, "In thy Seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." The First-born constitute the Seed class. Christ is the Head or first of this First-born company, but it will not be complete until the last member of the body of Christ shall have been passed over from the earthly to the heavenly life and nature.
We have already noted that only the first three of the plagues extended to the habitations of the Hebrews, but in announcing to the people the tenth plague Moses informed the Hebrews that they also would be subject to this plague, except under the one condition—that they should remain inside their houses during this Passover night, and that the [R3996 : page 154] outside of the doorposts and lintels of their homes should be sprinkled with the blood of a specially sacrificed lamb, whose flesh was to be eaten during that night by those within the house. The message to them was, "The Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians, and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel and the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not suffer the destroyer to come into your house to smite you."
How profoundly simple yet strong are the divine testimonies and types in their instruction of the Spiritual Israelites respecting the necessities for faith in the precious blood as the only ground of acceptance with God, the only protection from the Second Death of those begotten of the holy Spirit. We do not think it strange that the world despises the blood, speaks lightly of the blood sacrifice of the Hebrews; but we are amazed that any of the Lord's people, after having once tasted in the sense of appreciating the merits of God's favor through the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God—after once having realized that Christ died the Just for the unjust that he might bring us back to God's favor—after once having appreciated the fact that the death penalty was upon the race, that Christ died as father Adam's substitute, thus to redeem him and all who lost life in him—after all this we marvel greatly that any such could do despite to the blood of the Covenant with which we are sanctified—we marvel that any such could go out from under the blood, thus repudiating it and doing despite to the divine favor thus manifested on our behalf. It is not for us to determine positively those who have been begotten of the holy Spirit and who have subsequently repudiated the merit of our Lord's atonement sacrifice on our behalf, but it is for us to recognize that all who take such a step wilfully, intelligently, deliberately, have fallen out of divine grace and have become a second time children of wrath, and that their case is a hopeless one, that they will be subject to the Second Death. It is respecting this form of sin that the Apostle declares, "There is a sin unto death: I do not say that you should pray for it." Prayers for those who have taken themselves deliberately out of the Lord's hands and rejected the precious sacrifice which he provided for their covering would be unavailing, useless.
We picture before our minds the scenes of that night: the Hebrews by instruction were prepared for their journey into Canaan, and merely waiting for the morning light and the preparation which the tenth plague would effect by discouraging the Egyptians and leading them really to facilitate the departure of their bond-servants. Each family group had its lamb roasted with fire and without a bone broken. Each group must feed upon the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, with sandals on and staff in hand as sojourners. All of these details represented the household of faith during this Gospel age, the bitter herbs representing the trials and difficulties of life, which will only tend to sharpen our appetite for and our appreciation of the Lamb, and of the unleavened bread, which also symbolizes the flesh of Jesus. We are still eating, still waiting, still under the blood, but the morning is now very near, when all the passed-over ones, represented thereafter in the priestly type of Levi, will be the first to pass beyond the power of the antitypical Pharaoh, the Adversary—and lead forth all the remainder of mankind, willing to become Israelites indeed. Under the New Covenant arrangement typified by the Law Covenant, the Royal Priesthood, Christ and his Church in glory, will antitype the Aaronic priesthood, while the associated Great Company will be the antitype of the tribe of the Levites.
For over 1600 years the people of Israel, by divine commandment, celebrated this passing over of their first-born on the night before they left Egypt; and our Lord, in the same night in which he was betrayed, his last night of earthly life, not only celebrated this Passover Supper but gave his followers a new Memorial as a substitute for it, unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine as the symbol of our greater Passover, through faith in his blood, and as perpetuating the central thought of the original Passover we have under consideration. Here then is a celebration observed throughout the whole world today, and which we know has been in force as a Memorial for over 3500 years! Can anyone of reasonable mind doubt the origin of this sacred Memorial, whether its significance is seen or not—whether its value is recognized or not—whether its antitypical meaning is seen or not? We hold that this Memorial is one of the strongest confirmations of the divine plan and purpose, and we much regret that many intelligent people observing the Memorial of our Lord's death fail to grasp the fact that it is a Memorial of that which was typified in Israel's Passover. If this fact were generally recognized, in how brief time all Christian people would celebrate the Memorial on its anniversary, actual or approximate, as did the Lord and his apostles and the early Church—and as we still do.
Most particularly did the Lord direct in respect to the observance of the type and its signification. Parents were to tell their children the story of the passing over of the first-born and of the favor of God thus manifested toward them, and of the deliverance thus effected on their behalf. And judging from the observance of the matter today amongst the Hebrews, we can well imagine that the divine injunction was never at any time overlooked. The Passover is the most important of all the Jewish festivals, corresponding in the spring of the year to the Atonement Day Memorial six months later. And if it was appropriate that the typical Israelite who knew only of the typical passing over should tell his children of the Lord's goodness and mercy, how much more should the spiritual Israelite, who discerns the antitype, and who recognizes the Lord Jesus as the antitypical Lamb, and the period of this Gospel age as the antitypical night of passing over, and the merit of Christ's sacrifice as the antitypical sprinkling of the blood, and the feeding upon Christ in our hearts, and the acceptance of his meritorious sacrifice as the antitype of Israel's going out of Egypt—how much more shall we feel it not only to be a duty but a privilege to tell our children, yea, and all who have ears to hear, respecting the grace of God in Christ, and the blessed opportunity of being passed over granted to all those who now by faith accept the divine favor, and present their bodies living [R3996 : page 155] sacrifices and become partakers of the holy Spirit. If any of us have been slack or remiss in respect to the telling of this great message, let us resolve that we shall be on the alert hereafter, and that we will more and more appreciate the opportunity to show forth the praises of our Lord.
Let us remember the Golden Text, "When I see the blood I will pass over you." Let us all see to it that the blood of Christ is ever recognized, not only within our hearts but confessed, sprinkled, manifested, and declared outwardly to others. Let us remember the Apostle's words that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, and applying this thought let us recognize that we have remission of sins only in proportion as we recognize the merit of the great sin-offering effected by our Lord, finished at Calvary.