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ISRAEL OPPRESSED IN EGYPT
Exodus 1:1. With Jacob.] These words are strongly emphatic in the orig. “WITH JACOB EACH MAN AND HIS HOUSE came in.” Thus at a single stroke—the whole story of the aged patriarch’s coming down into Egypt is recalled: thus at once does “Exodus” strike its roots into “Genesis.”
Exodus 1:5. For Joseph] This is obscure. A more exact rendering makes all clear: “But (so waw freq. when w. an emph. nominative, as here) JOSEPH had already come into Egypt.” A mark of exactness: “Count him in the seventy; but remember HE had come before.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 1:1-6
GOD’S KNOWLEDGE OF MAN’S DOMESTIC LIFE
I. He knows the Children of the Family. “Reuben, Simeon.” He knows the peculiarity of their mental life—of their moral character—of their disposition—no matter how large the Family. He knows the friendly relations, or otherwise, that exist between the members of the home, and the intentions of each. This thought ought to subdue all discord—inspire fervent sympathy—and lead the family to purity of life.
II. He watches the journeyings of the Family. “Which came into Egypt.” The Family may be called to journey in search of commercial employment—in search of health—pleasure—or to enhance the interests of divine truth—in all such wanderings every member is noted by God, who recognises their place of settlement. We should not journey into “Egypt” without an indication of the divine will. All family changes should be under the instruction of heaven. This insures—safety—protection—development—though sometimes discipline. Such was the case with this family, they were shielded while in Egypt, they multiplied under disadvantageous circumstances, they were prepared by sorrow for their important future.
III. He marks the Death of the Family. “And Joseph died and all his brethren.” Not one member passes from the family circle without the divine knowledge. God permits it—and ordains it to be a means of good to those remaining. This should hush the voice of complaint. God knows all about our home-life—a consolation in trial.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 1:1. Family life is at the basis of all history and religious progress.
Family life has frequently to pass through continued discipline to prepare it to exercise a holy influence upon the nation, and to make it a channel for the divine purpose:—This discipline is 1 Painful—Taskmasters.
2. Deceptive—the King.
3. Accumulative—Taskmasters—then the Midwives—lastly the River.
4. Harmonious—all tended to one end.
5. Completive—their freedom.
A life can sometimes be compressed into a name.
Men gather permanent record from an incidental connection with the progress of the Church.
Relationship to the Church, at certain crises of its history has given immortality to many names that otherwise would have been lost in obscurity.
Some names are omitted in this history that their silence may lend emphasis to these spoken.
The small and feeble beginnings of the Church. An old man on a journey, changing his place of residence, surrounded by his kindred:—
1. A pathetic sight—leaving old associations—the scene of old and happy memories—going into a strange country.
2. Unusual—it is not often that we see old men leaving a place in which they have spent a life-time—they like to end their days amid familiar scenes and companions.
Exodus 1:5. “For Joseph was in Egypt already.” This sentence contains a volume of history. Why was he in Egypt already?—
1. Because it was the refuge from the folly of an over-indulgent parent. Jacob would have spoiled Joseph—would have pampered him—weakened his moral energies—therefore God sent him into Egypt—a better school for his moral education.
2. Because of the deception of jealous brothers.
3. In order that he might welcome the Church shortly to come there.
4. Because of the kindly providence of God. The providence that sent Joseph to Egypt was kindly:—(i.) Because it elevated his social position. (ii.) It taught his brethren the guilt of deception. (iii.) It saved a nation from the horrors of famine. (iv.) It taught a king the divine philosophy of a dream. (v.) It placed a godly life in the midst of a wicked court. (vi.) It ultimately brought Jacob’s family to unity, peace, and prosperity.
Thus Joseph in Egypt was the punishment of parental indulgence, the victim of a brother’s hatred, the child of a merciful providence, the Ruler of a vast Empire.
There may be wrapped up in the history of one absent member of your family circle the fortune of a kingdom, and the sequel of your early life.
God generally sends a Joseph into Egypt to mitigate the force of all our trials.
I. Death removes the most useful men. “Joseph.”
1. He had instructed his brethren.
2. He had enriched his father.
3. He had saved his nation.
4. He had taught the world an eternal lesson—Yet he died.
II. Death removes the largest families. “All his brethren.”
III. Death removes the proudest nations. “Pharaoh.”
THE DEATH OF A WHOLE FAMILY.—
I. It was a very large family. There were twelve sons. Of the largest family that gladdens the house, or that mingles in social intercourse, each member must go the way of all the earth.
II. It was a very diversified family. “Joseph and all his brethren” are words few and easily recorded; but each one of those twelve had a history distinct from any other, experiences unlike, and many altogether unknown to his brother:—
1. They were diversified in their sympathies.
2. They were diversified in their social position.
III. It was a very tried family. Every family has its own sorrows. Tried:—
1. By bereavement—Rachel dies.
2. By discord amongst the brothers.
3. By a grievous famine.
IV. A very influential family. In addition to the influence, beneficial as it was vast, which Joseph wielded over Egypt, each of the twelve sons of Jacob was the source—the head—of one of the twelve tribes. These tribes have been the great religious teachers of the race, the priests and the prophets of humanity, the people especially chosen by God to reveal Himself—to foretell the Messiah—to be the ancestors of His own Son.
V. A very religiously privileged family. The instructions of Jacob. We have here in their death:—
1. A rebuke to family pride.
2. A warning against seeking satisfaction in family joys.
3. A lesson as to the right use of family relationships.
4. A reason for expecting family meetings after death. [Homilist.]
Families pass away—independent of domestic love and care. Nations pass away—independent of legal constitution or military prowess.
Generations pass away—independent of their number, wealth, or genius.
This generation is but the new spring rising from the winter of the past.
Joseph died—God deprives the Church of her comfort and stay:
1. That she may gain the power of self-reliance.
2. That she may shew her ability to be independent of all human instrumentalities.
3. That she may move into the exigencies of the future.
Men die; the Church progresses: God is eternal.
Sometimes the new generation is not equal in moral character to the old—the new king knew not Joseph.
Exodus 1:1-6. As trees growing in the wood are known—some by difference of their trunks, and some by the properties of their branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits; but this knowledge is had of them only whilst they stand, grow, and are not consumed; for if they be committed to the fire, and are turned into ashes, they cannot be known. It is impossible that, when the ashes of divers kinds of trees are mingled together, the tall pine tree should be discerned from the great oak, or the mighty poplar from a low shrub, or any one tree from another: even so men, whilst they live in the wood of this world, are known—some by the stock of their ancestors, some by the flourishing leaves of their words and eloquence, some in the flowers of beauty, and some in the shrub of honesty, many by their savage ignorance, and some by their kindness; but when death doth bring them into dust, and hath mixed all together, then their ashes cannot be known—then there is no difference between the mighty princes of the world and the poor souls that are not accounted of [Candray].
Exodus 1:11. Pithom] P. = “a narrow place:” a city of Lower Egypt, situated on the eastern bank of the Nile: Gr. Patoumos (Gosenius). Raamses] Prob. = “son of the sun:” “should be looked for at the site of the modern Belbeis, called Pelusium in old time: day’s journey N.E. of Cairo, on the Syro-Egyptian road. As the name R. appears as a royal name, the city and province may have been called from it” (Fürst).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 1:7-12
I. That a large population is of great advantage to a nation.
1. It gives an impulse to civilisation. The larger the number of people in a nation the greater likelihood of genius—business tact—invention—authorship—competition—and therefore of a complete civilisation.
2. It augments the force of the national prowess. A large population will be able to supply a large army. It will hold in terror the enemy.
3. It invests the nation with importance in the estimation of surrounding kingdoms.
II. That a large population sometimes excites the suspicion and envy of neighbouring kings. (Exodus 1:8-9.)
1. He was jealous of the numerical growth of Israel.
2. He was suspicious of what might befall his country in future exigencies.
III. That this suspicion frequently leads kings to practise the most abject slavery. (Exodus 1:11.)
1. It was cunning. He first got the Israelites to promise heavy rents—which they were unable to pay—this brought them into servitude—had some appearance of fairness on his part.
2. It was unjust. What right had this new king to interfere with the rapid growth of the Israelites, and still less to make it the occasion of their bondage. He should have rejoiced in their joy. A tyrant is insensible to any prosperity but his own.
3. It was painful. They had to pay heavy tribute—they were harshly treated. Slavery always occasions pain—mental, if no other—especially to those who have once enjoyed the happiness of freedom.
4. It was apparently productive of gain. “And they built for Pharoah treasure cities, Pithon and Raamses.” But what the Egyptians and their king gained in public buildings—they lost in sensitiveness of conscience—in force of manhood—in worth of character. No man can keep slaves without weakening the sensibilities of his moral nature—which are far more valuable than any property attained through the serfs. Slavery involves a loss of all that is noble in human nature—it leads to murder. (Exodus 1:22.)
IV. That slavery is an incompetent method of conquest. (Exodus 1:12.)
1. Because it does not gain the sympathy of the people it conquers.
2. Because it arouses the indignation of those who are subject to its cruelties. What would be the feelings of the Israelites as day by day they were made to build the treasure cities of Pharoah?—they would curse his very reign. Such treatment would offend their reason—affront their humanity—excite their passion—such people would be dangerous subjects to any ruler. It would have been a wiser policy to have made them his friends.
3. It does not save a Ruler from the calamity he seeks to avert. The slavery of the Israelites did not hinder their numerical increase—it alienated the sympathies of the increasing nation—and prepared the way for all the conflicts of the future history.
We may take this passage in a symbolical sense
AS SHEWING THE INCREASE OF THE CHURCH
I. Notwithstanding the removal of its chief officer. (Exodus 1:6) Joseph was dead—his example would be gone—his authority in the nation would be no longer on the side of Israel. Many will go to church when the chief Ruler of the nation does, who would never go otherwise; religion is fashionable then. His influence would be gone. His counsel would be inaccessible. To-day the church loses its chief officers, but it still grows.
II. Notwithstanding the decade of the generation. (Exodus 1:6.) The generation contemporary with Joseph was dead. A vast army of human beings had marched into the grave, yet Israel grew. So to-day men die, but the Church, by making new converts, multiplies her progeny to an almost incredible extent.
III. Notwithstanding the persecution to which it was subjected. (Exodus 1:11.) Israel was severely persecuted—was reduced to slavery. Kings have tried to reduce the Church—the truth—the Bible—the pulpit—the religious press to bondage—but the fiercer their despotism, the more savage their atrocities—the firmer and stronger has the Church become. The Church can never be put down by force. The Infinite Power is on her side. This is more than all that can be against her.
IV. Notwithstanding the artifices by which it was sought to be betrayed. (Exodus 1:15; Exodus 1:22.) The king tried to get the midwives to kill, at the birth, all the male children of the Israelites. Ultimately, an edict was passed that they were to be cast into the river. Both failed. So the Church has been in danger of losing many of its members through the treachery of the outside world, and through the daring cruelty of meddlesome men. Still it grows. May it soon fill the world, as the Israelites did Egypt.… All Church increase is from God—not from men—not from means.… God has promised to multiply the Church.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 1:7. That under favourable conditions of climate and health, nations have, within themselves, a great power of numerical increase. That the blessing of God is the great secret of true prosperity.
That there are times when the Divine promise appears to reach more rapid fulfilment.
The larger the population of a nation, the greater are its capabilities of sympathy, mutual dependency and help, and oftentimes the greater difficulty in its right government.
The Divine goodness is seen in the prosperity of nations.
A NEW KING
I. He was out of sympathy with the purpose and providence of God. He endeavoured to diminish a people whom God wished to multiply, to oppress a people whom God had led under his authority. Many kings, by their conduct—their enactments—their selection of counsellors—shew themselves to be out of sympathy with the Divine King.
II. He was out of sympathy with the conduct of his predecessors (Exodus 1:8.) He knew not Joseph—and had no desire to aid or succour the people whose history was associated with that revered name Kings are not often harmonious in their method of government—under one reign the Church is safe and peaceful—under the next it is probably persecuted. One king unbinds the legislation—discards the friendship, and religious toleration of another.
III. He was envious in his disposition. (Exodus 1:9.) He envied and feared—the number—the strength—the military prowess of the Israelites—fears unfounded. But, by the force of his own envious disposition, and its consequent despotism, he made an otherwise peaceable people his enemies. Envious men generally bring on themselves the evils of which they suspect the innocent to be guilty. An envious spirit is sure to bring a king into difficulty.
IV. He was cunning in his arrangements. (Exodus 1:10.) He involved the Israelites in heavy debt—tried to depress their spirit—to enervate their moral nature—to degrade their humanity—and so to deprive them of the time—opportunity—means—or disposition of joining, in case of war, another nation against himself. A cunning king is sure to outwit himself. Policy is a weak basis for a throne—it invites suspicion—alienates respect—leads to ruin.
V. He was cruel in his requirements. (Exodus 1:11-12.) The Israelites were to pay tribute—Taskmasters were set over them—they had to build treasure cities without remuneration. They were deprived of the right and value of their own labour—this not to serve any philanthropic, or heroic purpose—but to satisfy the envious passion of a cruel monarch
VI. He was thwarted in his project. (Exodus 1:17.) The midwives spared the male children, contrary to the wish of the king. Mere power cannot always command obedience. It is sometimes defeated by weakness. Cunning is sometimes overcome by the Godly simplicity of a few women. Despotism is subdued by womanly tenderness. Heaven is on the side of the oppressed.
The difference in character, intention, and disposition, between the successive occupants of official position.
Changes in the official positions of a country often affect the Church. God can make are cunning envy of a cruel king subserve His purpose, and aid His Church.… Good men, when dead, are frequently lost sight of, and their deeds are forgotten.
Nothing sooner perisheth than the remembrance of a good turn [Trapp].
The vicissitudes of power:—
1. Are independent of past services.
2. Are independent of moral character.
3. Are frequently dependent upon the arbitrary caprice of a despotic king.
When forsaken by the king, a good man still has God to fall back upon. It is often at such times that he finds religion the most helpful—then the Divine consolations more than make up for the loss of the human.
Exodus 1:9. A bad king will make a wicked people:—
1. He will influence the weak by his splendour.
2. Terrify the timid by his power.
3. Gain the servile by his flattery.
4. Gain the simple by his cunning.
5. Sometimes gain the good by his deception.
An envious spirit magnifies its difficulties.
Moral goodness is the only thing worth envying in the life of a nation—power and numbers generally excite the ambition of monarchs.
Many wicked rulers cannot bear to witness the prosperity of the Church.
The prosperity of the Church is apparent to her enemies.
Exodus 1:10. Kings ought to know better than to convene councils to oppose the intentions of God. Such conduct is:—
The end and design of the council was:—i. To prevent the numerical increase of Israel. ii. To enfeeble the military power of Israel. iii. To detain the Israelites in permanent bondage.
Wicked rulers encourage all under them to set against the Church.
Policy and strength are combined in the world to vex God’s people.
The design of worldly wickedness is to keep God’s Church from growing.
It is usual with worldly powers to suspect God’s people of treachery.
Sinful rulers project wars, and then blame the innocent for them.
Worldly powers are solicitous that God’s Church may not get out of their hands … Earth and Heaven are frequently in conflict over the Church.
It has been the policy of tyrants to represent the Church as dangerous.
Cunning the worst, the most degrading, and unsuccessful policy of kings.
Kindness is the most effective argument. Had the new king shewn sympathy with the Israelites, they would have become his willing allies in war, his obedient citizens in peace; whereas now they are his most inveterate enemies. A cunning policy is a losing one.
Exodus 1:11. The taskmasters of the world:—
1. Sin is a taskmaster.
2. The rich are often taskmasters.
3. The ambitious are often taskmasters. These taskmasters are:—i. Authoritative; “They did set over thee.” ii. Painful; “To afflict thee.” iii. Inconsiderate; “Burdens.”
That God allowed his people thus to be enslaved and afflicted:—
1. A mystery.
2. A problem.
3. A punishment.
4. A discipline.
God can make a nursery for His Church anywhere.
God knows where to put His Church to school.… God knows the best preparation for the future of the Church.
The Church must not measure the love of God towards her by the affliction she endures, but by His purpose therein.
Subtle counsels against the Church soon bring forth cruel practices.
Exodus 1:12. Moral growth proportionate to affliction.
1. This is true of individual moral character.
2. This is especially true in the developement of the Church.
Why does persecution and trial operate thus:—
1. To manifest the love of God towards His Church.
2. To manifest the power of God over His enemies.
3. To fulfil the promise of God made to the good.
4. To manifest His providence towards the Church.
5. To strike terror into the hearts of tyrants.
6. To manifest the divinity of truth, and pure moral character.
God can soon find taskmasters to afflict an idolatrous church.
Tyrants find grief where they expected joy.
God is with the Church, even in her bondage.
The land of shelter becomes the house of slavery.
The place of our satisfaction may soon become the scene of our affliction.
The divine chastisements tend more to growth than to destruction.… All true growth and progress are characterised by pain.… Comfort and sorrow, growth and slavery, are made to unite in the discipline of the Church.
Welcome, bondage! if it is only accompanied by increased moral energy.
As the ground is most fruitful that is most harrowed. The walnut-tree bears best when most beaten. Fish thrive best in cold and salt water than in warm and fresh [Trapp]. The Egyptians were grieved:—
1. Because their plots were a failure.
2. Because their cruelty was unavailing.
3. Because they had exasperated an enemy they could not subdue.… Half the grief of the world is occasioned by the failure of wicked and cruel purposes.
Exodus 1:8-11. If the mountains overflow with waters, the valleys are the better; and if the head be full of ill-humours, the whole body fares the worse. The actions of rulers are most commonly rules for the people’s actions, and their example passeth as current as their coin. The common people are like tempered wax, easily receiving impressions from the seals of great men’s vices; they care not to sin by prescription and damn themselves with authority. And it is the unhappy privilege of greatness to warrant, by example, others’, as well as its own sins, whilst the unadvised take up crimes on trust and perish by credit [Harding’s Sermons].
Exodus 1:11. As we say of fire and water, and as the Romans said of Caligula, “Nemo melior servus, nemo pefor dominus,” we may say of the Church’s enemies—“They are very bad masters, executing their own lusts and cruelty against God’s people, yet very good servants, if the Divine hand makes use of them for the Church’s service;” just like the good husbandman, who makes use of briars and thorns which, though they be fruits of the curse, and cumber the ground, yet he will suffer them to grow in hedges, that he may make them a fence unto his fruitful ground [Strickland].
Exodus 1:12. Even as the palm-tree, the more it is laden and pressed down, the more it groweth and stretcheth out, or spreadeth its boughs in length and breadth: so, likewise, the Church, the more she is persecuted and afflicted, the more force, courage, and liveliness she taketh to herself. Like as roses and lilies are accustomed to flourish and to increase among thorns: so is this a common thing for the Church to flourish in the midst of persecutions.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 1:13-14
THE DESPOTISM OF SIN
I. That it commences by suggesting a small tribute to the sinner. The Egyptian King, no doubt, suggested to the Israelites that great advantage might arise to them if they would enter into certain engagements or investments under his authority. This they did—paying heavy tribute—which they were unable to meet—and so placed themselves in his power.
1. Sin generally commences its tyranny by suggesting the probability of gain under its rule. It wins us by the hope of a good investment—whereby we may secure wealth—prosperity—fame. But when we commence to work out the contract we find that we have been lured by a false hope—a deceptive promise. We find ourselves involved in difficulties—numerous—complicated—depressing—ever increasing—until we are reduced from the position of tenant to that of slave. Never enter into any bargains with sin. They are sure to end in woe. They promise liberty—they give chains. The world is a great prison-house full of the dupes of sin.
(1.) Sin is cunning.
(2.) Sin has many counsellors.
(3.) Sin has many agencies. You are not a match for it.
II. That it succeeds in getting the sinner completely within its power. The Egyptians succeeded in getting the Israelites completely under their authority
1. Sin gets the sinner under its rule. It makes him obey the laws of hell. It makes him work the purposes of Satan. He must violate every holy instinct of his nature. He must reject the counsel of the Infinite. He becomes a subject of the infernal realm of being.
2. Sin makes the sinner subject to its counsel. The Israelites were enslaved as the result of a national consultation between the Egyptian king and his near advisers. Satan holds a council in reference to the moral servitude of human souls—the sinner yields to the unjust and unholy requirements of his fiendish companions.
3. Sin makes the sinner responsible to its authority. The Israelites were responsible to the king of Egypt for the kind and amount of service they rendered. He made them feel obligated to build the house, and to serve in the field. So the devil tries to bring men to do his work as though they were obligated to follow his bidding, so completely is the soul brought under Satanic power. It is conscious of its burden. It has not the energy to cast it away.
III. That it ultimately imposes upon the sinner an intolerable servitude.
1. The servitude of a bitter life. How sad the lives of these abject Israelites. Every day spent in unrequited toil—subject to heavy tribute—savage taskmasters—a fierce king—an envious nation—without hope of deliverance. Without free social intercourse—without happy domestic life. Sin renders life bitter—destroys friendly companionships—breaks up family comfort. Fills life with grief.
2. The servitude of hard work. The Egyptians made the Israelites build cities, and attend in the fields. The devil gives sinners hard work to do. Sinners often work harder than saints. Their toil is far more exhausting and fatiguing. Nor are sinners recompensed for their toil; Satan makes them build houses for other people! The unprofitableness—the folly of sin.
3. The servitude is degrading. The Israelites came into Egypt as a godly family, brought there by Joseph, who was distinguished as a God-fearing man. They were honoured by the king. They were respected by the people—Yet a few years afterwards they are employed as field-servants. What a transition in their position, and all because they yielded to the cunning allurements of a wicked king! So sin brings men from respect to derision—from plenty to beggary—from moral rulership to servitude, Repulse the first attempt of Satan to bind even a golden chain around your wrist, for, when fastened, you will find the gold to wear off, and disclose a steel manacle that will bruise your flesh. Sin degrades individuals—and nations.
THE SPIRITUAL BONDAGE OF MAN
I. It was an entire and universal bondage. The dominion of the oppressor had no merciful limit, nor mitigation. Every Israelite in Goshen was the bondservant of the Egyptians. The bondage of Satan knows no limit—no mercy:—
1. The understanding is depraved.
2. The will is perverted.
3. The affections are depraved.
II. The Israelites under a severe and cruel bondage.
III. The Israelites were in a helpless bondage. Every refinement of policy, every effort of power, every device of craft, was practised against them by the might and subtilty of a nation unrivalled in arts and arms. They could not escape of themselves. Satan has a close alliance with every appetite and affection of our nature. Difficult to get from under his tyranny [Buddicom’s Christian Exodus].
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 1:13-14. The sufferings of Israel were rendered more intense:—
1. As a punishment for their idolatry.
2. To inspire within them a deep hatred toward Egypt, so that through their perils in the wilderness they might not wish to return thither.
3. That the prospect of Canaan might animate and refresh their souls.
4. That after such excessive and unpaid labour they might fairly spoil the Egyptians on their departure.
5. That they might be aroused to earnest prayer for deliverance.
6. That the power and mercy of God might be more forcibly displayed in their freedom. Here is a true picture of tyranny:—i. Its rigour increases with failure. ii. It becomes more impious as it is in evident opposition to the Divine providence. iii. It discards all the claims of humanity. iv. It ends in its own defeat and overthrow.
It is the cruel design of persecutors to make God’s freemen their slaves.
Wicked persecutors are the more rigorous to those whom God favoureth.
Some men take a delight in making the lives of God’s people miserable.
Men are slow to be taught that, by their mad schemes, they are fighting against God.
By the Work of this bondage the Israelites, getting instructed in civilized life, were being prepared for their future home.
Exodus 1:15. Hebrew midwives] It is curious, though it may not throw light on the precise relation in which these women stood to the Hebrew women, that their names should be of a like sig. (according to Fürst): Shiphrah = “beauty;” Puah = “gracefulness.”
Exodus 1:16. Upon the stools] Perhaps a low seat employed by the mid wives; or the word may be used for a washing vessel of stone, in which they used to wash infants (Ges.) But the explanation of Fürst appears to be, contextually, more forcible: “Look to the two sexes.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 1:15-21
HIGH SOCIAL POSITION USED FOR THE FURTHERANCE OF A WICKED PURPOSE
I. That sometimes high social position exerts its authority for the accomplishment of a wicked and cruel purpose. (Exodus 1:15.)
1. The king commands the murder of the male children of the Israelites. What could be more diabolical than this? They were to be murdered in the birth. They were innocent of any plot against the Egyptian government. They had in no way injured the country—yet they are to be put to death—almost before their first experience of life. None but the king dared to have uttered such a cruel mandate. Kings seem to have an idea that they can do what they like. What an abuse and degradation of regal power. It is this kind of thing that brings them into contempt.
2. He seeks to accomplish this by bringing the innocent into a participation of his murderous deed. These Hebrew midwives were of godly moral character. They feared Jehovah; they sympathised with the enslaved Israelites; they had no thought of doing their comrades any harm; as for murdering the offspring of those whom they attended in childbirth, the very suggestion was most revolting to them. Thus, the king tries to enkindle within the hearts and minds of these midwives the same envy, and unholy thought that occupied his own. It is almost unpardonable to suggest sin to those that have no previous occasion for, or idea of committing it, and especially when the suggestion is rendered authoritative by power and national supremacy. This suggestion was not only cruel and murderous, but it was subtle. In this way the king would be concealed as the murderer. It would be done by the midwives, and they even would not be detected in the act. Thus many simple lives would have been plunged into awful crime—and innocent victims would have suffered for the guilty. Tyrants are generally cowards, and seek such means for the accomplishment of their designs as are more likely to involve others than themselves.
II. When high social authority is used to further a wicked design we are justified in opposing its effort. (Exodus 1:17.)
1. We are not to do wrong because a king commands it. Many weak-minded people will do anything a king tells them. They think what he says must be right; they are flattered by his personal attention to them; they are awed by his pomp and splendour; they are bribed by his offer of reward (the king would no doubt promise these midwives ample recompense). When the highest personage in the realm needs an accomplice to aid in an evil deed, never help him, however humble or poor your station in life may be. It will be your ruin if you do; he will soon want to dispatch you, to shield himself from the possibility of detection. Right is the supreme monarch of the soul, and claims obedience before any temporal power. To oppose murder, when advocated by a king, and when it could be accomplished unknown—and when, if known, would win the applause of a hostile nation, is heroic—benevolent—divinely rewardable, and is the duty of all who fear God.
2. Such opposition must embody the true principle of piety. The midwives feared God—more than they did the king. This opposition to the cruel intent of the monarch was not obstinate, but it was the outcome of a conscience influenced by the Divine Spirit. We must always reject the idea of sin in a pious spirit—from Christian motive.
3. Such opposition will secure for us the Divine protection. The king summoned the midwives to himself again. He asked why they had neglected his command. They replied fearlessly. No harm came to them. God will protect brave souls that dare to defy a wicked king.
III. That for such opposition we shall be Divinely Rewarded.
1. God dealt well with the midwives.
2. God made the midwives houses.
3. Men lose nothing by serving God in preference to a cruel king.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 1:15. Sin often brings men into companionships that otherwise they would despise.
It is a mercy that tyrants are often dependent upon others, of more tender sympathies, for the accomplishment of their designs.
The plan of murder is not so easy after all; there are persons to be consulted who may turn round upon us, and, on some ground, deny our authority. What if the midwives set themselves against Pharaoh? Two humble women may be more than a match for the great king of Egypt. No influence, how obscure soever, is to be treated with contempt [City Temple.]
Exodus 1:16. When burdens do not effect the will of tyrants on the Church, murder shall.
Cruelty on the first onset seeks to shed blood by subtilty.
Tyrants will make helps for life to be instruments of death—midwives to be murderers.
Bloody powers suborn either such as be of the Church, or strangers to destroy them.
Subtle tyrants order the best opportunity at first, to hide their cruelty.
It is devilish to set a tender soul upon such bloody designs [Hughes].
Satan, in all his instruments, hath always aimed at the death of Israel’s males [Hughes].
No greater argument of an ill cause than a bloody persecution [Trapp].
Why were the males to be put to death?—
1. Because they were the most capable of insurrection and war.
2. Because the Israelitish women were fairer than the Egyptian, and so might be kept for the purposes of lust.
3. Because the Israelitish women were industrious in spinning and needlework, and so were kept for service.
Exodus 1:17. The tyrant-projects of a wicked king may be thwarted by the piety of his subjects.
God has instruments in the world to aid His Church, as well as to persecute it.
Religion will deter men from the most terrible sins.
God gives courage to timid souls, to enable them to resist kingly wrong.
God makes them save life whom men appoint to destroy it.
The good hand of God doth keep the males, or best helps of the Church’s peace, when persecutors would kill.
Still the conflict rages between God and the tyrant king. On which side are we found?
Those who fear God are superior to all other fear. When our notion of authority terminates upon the visible and temporary, we become the victims of fickle circumstances; when that notion rises to the unseen and eternal, we enjoy rest amid the tumult of all that is merely outward, and therefore perishing. The men who fear God the most save their country. They make little noise, they hold no open-air demonstrations. All great workers in society are not in the front [City Temple].
Exodus 1:18. That tyrants are sometimes disappointed in those whom they expected to fulfil their designs.
That tyrants can call those who disappoint them to account:—
1. In anger—the king was in a rage that his purpose had failed.
2. In disquietude—the king was perplexed as to the issue of Israel’s growth.
3. In astonishment—that two women should have set at naught his royal commands. He did not know the great force of true womanhood.
Exodus 1:19. Faith in God enables men to give a reason for not doing wrong.
Tyrants are foiled by little instrumentalities in their efforts to destroy or injure the Church.
God can make His persecuted creatures more lively and strong to bear than others.… Religion fires a timid soul with heroism.
Exodus 1:20. Persons who are instrumental in the saving of human life are pleasing to God.
Persons who render ineffective the designs of a tyrant, and preserve the Church from harm, are Divinely blessed.
All who fear God will be favourably dealt with—now and hereafter.
They who serve God serve a good master. Was God indifferent to the character and claims of the midwives who bore practical testimony for Him in the time of a nation’s trial? His eye was upon them for good, and His hand was stretched out day and night for their defence. They learned still more deeply that there was another King beside Pharoah; and in the realization of His presence Pharaoh dwindled into a secondary power, whose breath was in his nostrils, and whose commands were the ebullitions of moral insanity. No honest man or woman can do a work for God without receiving a great reward [City Temple].
There are times when nations are called upon to say “No,” to their Sovereigns. Such times are not to be sought for with pertinacious self-assertion, whose object is to make itself very conspicuous and important; but where they do occur, conscience is to assert itself with a dignity too calm to be impatient, and too righteous to be deceived [City Temple].
The Church must grow, even though the king seeks its death.
Exodus 1:21. God makes sure houses for the sons of His Church when persecutors destroy them [Hughes].
Our reward is proportionate to our fear of God.
The conscience, that sole monarchy in man,
Owing allegiance to no earthly prince;
Made by the edict of creation free;
Made sacred, made above all human laws,
Holding of heaven alone; of most divine
And indefeasible authority [Pollock].
Exodus 1:22. There is a woful gradation in sin. As mariners, setting sail, lose sight of the shore, then of the houses, then of the steeples, and then of the mountains and land; and as those that are waylaid by a consumption first lose vigour, then appetite, and then colour; thus it is that sin hath its woful gradations. None decline to the worst at first, but go from one degree of turpitude to another, until the very climax is reached.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 1:22
THE LAST EDICT OF A TYRANT KING
I. It was public in its proclamation.
1. How men advance from one degree of sin to another. The last murderous intention was only made known to two midwives; it was private—it was subtle. This is public; this is unconcealed; he fearlessly and untremblingly announces himself as the murderer of all the males of Israel.
II. It was cruel in its requirements.
1. It was an edict requiring the death of the young. Why should a tyrant king fear the infant sons of Israel?—He knew that they would be his enemies of the future if spared. There is a power in young life—it is the hope of the Church—the terror of despots. If the world only gets hold of the young, the Church will soon cease its growth.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSE
Exodus 1:22. A very easy plan, was it not? Whom you fear, destroy; that is a brief and easy creed, surely. This was turning the river to good account; it was a ready-made grave. Pharaoh did not charge the people to cut the sod, and lay the murdered children in the ground; the sight would have been unpleasant, the reminders would have been too numerous; he said, “Throw the intruders into the river: there will be but a splash, and the whole thing will be over. The river will carry no marks—will tell no stories—will sustain no loadstone—it will roll on as if its waters had never been divided by the hand of the murderer!” All bad kings have feared the rise of manhood. Nothing better than murder occurred to the mind of this short-sighted king. He never thought of culture, of kindness, of social and political development; his one idea of power was the shallow and vulgar idea of oppression [City Temple].
An unkingly argument used for an unkingly purpose.
Bloody powers desire to make executioners enough to destroy the Church.
Persecuting kings do not entreat, but command their people to be instruments of cruelty.
God suffers persecutors to go to the utmost of their appointed bounds.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent