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Exodus 5:1. Hold a feast] That is, of course, a religious festival,—a “holyday,” as the same word is rendered Psalms 42:4; “with processions and dancing,” of we keep close to the primary meaning of the Hebrew word châ ghagh “to move in a circle.” However open to abuse, we cannot afford to let slip the propriety of joy in worship. The infinitely blessed Jehovah would be served with gladness. His own holy joy seeks to overflow into the hearts of his saints; and this it does if ever, in those direct acts of homage which he himself has instituted.
Exodus 5:2. Neither will I let Israel go] Or, rather: “And certainly I will not let ISRAEL go,”—the language of tyrannical determination and bold defiance. As much as to say: “[know not Jehovah; but even if I did, THAT would make no difference.”
Exodus 5:3. Hath met with us] And this may be an adequate rendering. But the construction (with the preposition, ‘al, “upon”), and the context, rather strongly favour the more forcible meaning attributed by Fürst and Davies to qâ râ (see under qâ-râ No. II), ‘to strike upon, or hit against a thing.” This hint might lead us to interpret the words thus: “The God of the Hebrews has encountered us;” i.e., “has laid an arrest upon us”—“His call is imperative.” It is a wrong done to God, which he must needs resent, when the leisurely joy of worship is denied him. What an affliction to any people to be too hard worked to render God this service. The Pharaohs who impose such an affliction cannot complain if the wronged Jehovah call them very sternly to account. 3 Let us go] The cohortative mood: almost=“We must needs go” (comp. Ewald Gr. § 228); but here blended with the particle of entreaty nâ, “pray:” “We must needs go—pray let us!” The joyful, leisurely worship which God demands is needful for us as well as due to Him.
Exodus 5:5. Now are many] The connection between this fact, and the easing of the people’s burdens is not at first sight apparent; but, on reflection, becomes clear. From Exodus 1:11 we learn that the building-tasks exacted of the Hebrews were demanded under the idea of tribute; for the words there rendered “task masters” (cf. below, on Exodus 5:6) namely sâ-rey miççim mean, “princes of tribute” Now it is evident that a given sum-total of tributary building would gradually become a lighter burden as the Hebrews multiplied. Hence the meaning of Pharaoh in this place seems to be: “The work has not been increased in proportion to the increase of the people: permitting this, you have allowed them to find case by the mere fact of multiplying.” It may not have been convenient or desirable to begin building more cities: so Pharaoh would have the labour of finishing those in hand most vexatiously augmented. By the way, we thus get a glimpse of the process by which the sons of Israel were enslaved. Their yoke was imposed under the specious name of “tribute:” this tribute was imperiously exacted: then the payment was made gallingly bard to render. The enslavement was complete.
Exodus 5:6. Taskmasters] A good rendering of the Hebrew uô-ghesim, which literally means “exactors,” and is. in Job 39:7, used of the “drivers” of asses. The Sept. rendering of this word is exceedingly expressive: ergodiôktai (ἐργοδιώκται), “work-pursuers,” “work-persecutors.” These “taskmasters” seem to be the same as the “princes of tribute” mentioned Exodus 1:11 (comp. previous note), and manifestly were Egyptians acting under Pharaoh and looking but too well (Exodus 5:14) after his interests. Officers] These were evidently Hebrews (Exodus 5:14-20) who were set over their brethren, and were held responsible for the performance of the required work. Theirs was indeed an unenviable position: they had to wring Pharaoh’s demands out of their own kinsmen, or be beaten themselves.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 5:1-9
THE FIRST ATTEMPT AT RELIGIOUS SERVICE
What a long time it takes to get men fairly into any work that is required of them. This is true in the secular sphere of daily life. Men put off till tomorrow what ought to be done to-day. Especially is this the case in reference to the duties that pertain to our moral life; there is much delay before men are willing or ready to undertake them.1 It is now some time since the first indication had been given to Moses that it was the Divine will that he should achieve the freedom of Israel. Yet he has been objecting to the service, reasoning with God, wishing to be liberated from it, and in fact, only now, when he finds escape impossible, is he about to commence it. Men little suspect the time they waste, the energies they weaken, and the unnecessary difficulties they occasion, by such unbelief and delay. Every day we neglect the mission it becomes harder to accomplish. We honour God by speeding immediately upon His errands. They are important, and may be endangered by delay.2 Israel is suffering the hardships of a cruel bondage all the time we are reasoning and objecting to free them, and therefore a tardy obedience is cruel and unwarrantable. The woe and sorrow of the world demands that Christian workers should be immediately brave and active. It is all very well to linger for few moments by the bush, burning but unconsumed, to get a vision of heaven, and to hold communion with God, that the soul may be refreshed and strengthened for the arduous work before it, but the act of worship must soon and naturally break into the act of service, or we shall be guilty of unnecessary delay. In obedient work men hold communion with God quite as truly as when standing near the burning bush. We have here illustrated the first attempt made at religious service.
Exodus 5:1. That this first attempt at religious service was made responsive to the call, and in harmony with the will, of God. “And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.”
1. Thus there was a great necessity that the work now attempted by Moses and Aaron should be accomplished. It would be almost impossible to realize the condition of Israel at this time. They had been the slaves of a tyrant king, many of them from their birth. They were ignorant. They were heavily worked. They knew not the glad meaning of freedom, nor did their slavery accomplish any worthy political end; it had been achieved by deception, and was marked by severe oppression. Here then was a grand sphere for a brave and heroic man. It is a sphere greatly needing his attention, worthy of his deepest sympathy, and it will require his most potent effort. Hence we see that Moses and Aaron were not seeking to remove a fancied evil, with which a few people were afflicted, but a wide-spread and long-continued woe, which rendered sad the life of a vast nation. Some men seek to remove imaginary evils and fail, and with their failure society at large has little sympathy. They are objects of merriment rather than of serious thought. We shall expect then of these two men entering upon a work so eminently needed, that they will in all probability succeed. It is a source of great strength to a Christian worker to have the consciousness that he is attempting a work that really needs doing. There are hundreds of good men animated by this conviction to-day, and we all know that in the great world round us, there are many enterprises requiring their effort. Humanity is in a condition of servitude, of moral servitude far more dreadful and despicable than that of ancient Israel.3 It is in need of moral emancipation. Are there not many of us willing to make our first effort in such a cause? That wicked alley is without a tract distributor, will you not offer to take it? That class in the Sunday-school is without a teacher, will you not endeavour to instruct it? That pulpit is without a minister, will you not make an effort to deliver the Gospel from it? That heathen town wants a missionary, will you not leave your home to take it the freedom of the cross? The work is a necessity, will you not make an attempt at it? You can go to the tyrant Sin, and demand the freedom of his slaves. This is a work that the world needs doing, and at once. It is rendered imperative by the passion of men, by the pain of society, by the obligations of the cross, and by the distinct call to Christian service.
2. Moses and Aaron were the right men to undertake this work. In the first place, Moses had been directly called by God to do it; also Aaron had been providentially conducted to this sphere of work. In this we see the different methods by which God enjoins work upon good men. He sometimes speaks directly to the soul in such a manner as cannot be mistaken; at other times, He quietly opens up our way to duty, and unexpectedly we find ourselves in the presence of work demanding our immediate attention. I believe in a special call to, and preparation for, Christian Work. Unless a man has heard the voice of God, unless he has beheld the vision of the burning bush, unless his soul has held communion with heaven, unless he has learned to speak the deep name of Jehovah, he has no right to go on the errand of Israel’s emancipation. He cannot teach to others the meaning of a name he does not understand himself. He cannot reflect the light of a vision he has never seen. A call from God is an absolute necessity of Christian service. We are getting too lax in this matter. We fear that the Church is sending men on errands of freedom whom God has not commissioned. We cannot expect them to succeed. Then, think of the moral preparation that Moses and Aaron had received for this work in relation to Israel. We know right well the discipline through which Moses had passed up to this hour. It is written. The prior life of Aaron is unwritten. God does not always disclose the process by which his servants are prepared for their toil. They are prepared in different ways. Solitude prepares one man; publicity will prepare another; the preparation must be in harmony with the temperament of the man, and the work that he has to perform. The Church requires to think less of results, and more of the methods by which they are to be attained. Sometimes we see a great worker. He conquers every difficulty. He is always successful. We at once regard him as ideal. We laud his talent. We say that Christian toil is easy to him. We only view the result. Had we seen him years ago, we should have seen him curious at the bush, objecting to the service, asking that another may be sent in his place; then he was a feeble, trembling worker, but the Divine preparation and heavenly grace has, through long years, made him what he is. The call to Christian work is of God, and likewise all the qualifications for it.4 The reason why there is so much failure in the toil of good men is because they do not entirely submit themselves to the holy discipline which would qualify them for it. Christian workers seek to be prepared of God for your toil. Thus Moses and Aaron were well qualified for this work. And we have workers in the Church to-day almost equal to them; divinely cultured in soul they are making their first attempt at service. This very day they are standing before Pharaoh. They are seeking the freedom of the morally enslaved. May God prosper them in their mission.
3. Moses and Aaron undertook this work in the proper manner and spirit. There is a right way and a wrong in the performance of any kind of work; but especially when it is of a moral character; then the greatest results are dependent upon the utmost trivialities. It sometimes occurs that God gives a man a pattern of work, and shows him how to execute it. This was the case with Moses and Aaron. They were told to gather the elders of Israel together, and then to proceed to Pharaoh with the request of freedom. The Divine mind is capable of infinite suggestions to moral service, which are always helpful and welcome to the earnest worker, and which should be carefully wrought out. The direction of heaven is needful in the work of spiritual emancipation. There are so many methods to be considered, so many interests to be regarded, so many emergencies to be expected, so much impulse required, and so many difficulties to be encountered, that only God can render us any aid in such a work. But often the gentle methods of service are the most effective, and we want to obtain the sublime and happy art of Christian work, to win men into acquiescence with the Divine will by a word of love, almost unconsciously to themselves. We should strive to present the message of God to them in such a voice and manner as shall the most entice their attention and obedience. Many a good enterprise has been ruined by the lack of a little loving and considerate art, which would have rendered, it successful. But there are times when Christian art is of little use, as in the case now under review; Pharaoh will not yield his profitable slaves to the courteous request of two strangers. Hence Moses and Aaron are bold and determined in their request for the freedom of Israel they plainly make known the word of God in reference thereto.5 So, when we have to attack time-honoured custom, unholy vested interests, and to deal with men who are deaf to all the righteous claims of God, the only method of service is to say, “Thus said the God of Israel, let my people go.” Thus we should imagine that the work attempted being greatly needed, of divine appointment and preparation, it will be almost certain of success. But how disappointing is the sequel.
II. That our first attempt at religious service is often met by open profanity and ignorance. “And Pharaoh said, 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.”
1. Moses and Aaron were met by a manifestation of ignorance. Pharaoh seems to know nothing about the God of Israel; or, if he was aware of His existence, to hold Him in very inferior esteem. Perhaps he thought that Jehovah was unable to aid the people in their bondage, or He would have done so long before. And so it often happens, when Christian workers commence their toil, that they are met by wilful and lamentable ignorance,—ignorance of the very first principles of religion, by a rejection of moral restraint, of the claims of God and humanity. Such a dark condition of mind is very difficult to contend with, and is a great hindrance to philanthropic toil. Only a Monarch ignorant of God would permit slavery within his realm. Where there is the most religion there will be the truest freedom. But the sequel of the history will show that Pharaoh could not much longer remain ignorant of Jehovah, and that he had reason to tremble before His power.
2. That Moses and Aaron were met by deep profanity. It would seem that Pharaoh had very loose notions about gods; he thought no doubt that one was as good as another. His own country abounded with them. And he had not much regard for those whom he had been brought up from childhood to fear rather than to respect. Besides, he had got to regard himself of as much importance as they were. In short, he was a god unto himself, and wished to be unto his people. He was not therefore prepared to show any consideration for the claim of a Deity of whom he was comparatively ignorant. Yet he must have known something of Jehovah, he would gather indications of his power and supremacy from the enslaved Israelites and their national records. It is great profanity for a man to slight the faintest indication of the Supreme Ruler of the universe, even though he be comparatively ignorant of his true existence. After hearing the request of Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh ought to have thoughtfully and seriously enquired into the matter, and a moment’s serious reflection would have shown him that he was putting himself in antagonism to the God of the despised Israelites. But, instead of this, he becomes insolent, opposes his authority to that of the most High, and refuses the request of the emancipators of Israel.6 So there are people in these days who have very loose conceptions about the deity, they are comparatively ignorant of Him, they treat His claims with contempt, they regard His servants with scorn, they imagine that they are free from His dominion, and with this profanity Christian workers are frequently called to contend.
3. That Moses and Aaron were met by unwarrantable pride. Pharaoh speaks in the second verse as though he were the supreme monarch of the world, as though there were none to rival his grandeur, or to defeat his power. And thus his pride led him to an unwarrantable defiance of Jehovah. It exposed him to imminent peril, for in a moment the Divine Being could have crushed him as a moth in his hand; so lamentable is the pride of man. And yet this ancient king of Egypt is but a type of many to-day, whose pride, the outcome of ignorance, brings them into open hostility to the will of God, and renders them antagonistic to His servants. Frequently are Christian workers met by manifestations of pride which they find very difficult to conquer. Thus the fact that we are sent by God to our first effort of Christian service, that we are prepared for it by the heavenly discipline of years, and that it is a work greatly required at our hands, does not remove from before us all the difficulties of the case. We have as thoroughly to contend with the ignorance, profanity, and pride of men as though we had never received our commission at the hand of God. It is not the economy of heaven to remove all obstacles out of the way of Christian service, else there would be but little for man to do in the way of sacred toil.
III. That our first attempt at service is often misunderstood, and its motive maligned. “And the King of Egypt said unto them, wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? Get you unto your burdens.”
1. Pharaoh was not sensitive to the claims of duty. He was a king, and had learned through a long series of years, by continued practice, to despise the claims of others, nor would he make an exception in the case of Jehovah. He was hardened in heart. He was darkened in mind. He was surrounded by all that could flatter his vanity, or aid him in the event of conflict: hence he was not much troubled by the moral questions of life. He would be far more perplexed by the invasion of a foreign king than by any command from God. And so Christian workers have to appeal to men who are almost destitute of religious feeling and sensibility, to convey to them the stern messages of God. We cannot wonder then that they are so often misunderstood and rejected. Pride always renders men insensible to the claims of duty.
2. Pharaoh was not a disinterested interpreter of the claims urged upon him. Moses and Aaron demanded that the tyrant monarch should announce freedom to all his slaves. But these slaves were of great service and profit to him and his nation: hence Pharaoh could not put a disinterested interpretation upon the demand thus made upon him. And so it is now, Christian workers have frequently to undertake work, and to enunciate requirements which are opposed to the secular interests of men. Can they wonder if these requirements should be rejected, and their motives misrepresented? It is difficult to get a man to do the will of God when it is in apparent antagonism to the interests of his trade or profession. Thus Christian workers can generally explain the opposition to which they are subject; they know that it arises from the enmity of the carnal mind, and from the dictation of self interest, rather than from any rejection of them personally. This misrepresentation may give rise to persecution and slander, but from this God will ultimately deliver those who toil for Him. Their aspersed character will be cleared. Their safety He will ensure, or the service of earth shall break into that of heaven.
IV. That sometimes our first attempt at religious service appears to be more productive of harm than good, and to have the very opposite effect to that designed. “And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying, Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves,” &c. Thus it would appear that Moses and Aaron instead of accomplishing the freedom of Israel, rather increased the pain of their slavery. But we know not by what methods God will accomplish His will, and even this intolerant conduct of the king may be part of the discipline which shall occasion his defeat. How many Christian workers have been in like circumstances to these, apparently having done those whom they sought to benefit more harm than good. And this has been a cause of great regret and discouragement to them. We would urge such not to be discouraged by appa. rent failures, for after all, these may contain the germs of future success. LESSONS:—
1. Begin at once some enterprise for the moral freedom of humanity.7
2. If in the first attempt at service you meet with difficulty and rejection, do not be dismayed.
3. That you must be finally successful in your efforts:—
(1.) For they are appointed by God.
(2.) You are upheld by heaven.
(3.) You have the sympathy of all good men.
Exodus 5:1. That Christian Workers should go boldly to their duty. “And afterwards Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh.” These two men had been set about their God-given work; they do not hesitate; there is no manifestation of timidity; they stand before the King of Egypt as equal to him, and as equal to their duty in every respect. So Christian workers should go to their work in a bold spirit, as supported by the Supreme Power.8 They have no need to tremble in the presence of any difficulty. The Lord is their Helper.
II. That Christian Workers should present the direct claims of god to men. “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go.” We must never go to moral service in our own name, nor must we use our own authority. All our messages and demands must be presented under the authority of God, and only His words are we warranted in uttering. Never leave out the “Thus saith the Lord” in your effort of service.9
III. That Christian Workers should aim, in harmony with the will of God, to bring the enslaved to a grand moral festival of freedom. “That they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.”10 All service should have reference to moral festivities; (to times of gladness and hope the world is called.) But the festival which is the accompaniment of the freedom wrought by God is characterised by devotion.
Why did God send Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh, when He could have destroyed him with a stroke, and have wrought the freedom of Israel:—
1. That God’s power might appear in shewing his wonders.
2. That the Israelites might see the great care God had over them.
3. To exercise their patience, not being delivered at once.
4. To leave Pharaoh without excuse. God’s ambassadors must proceed orderly in delivering their message—first to Israel, secondly to Pharaoh.
Order of persons as well as time is observable by God’s servants.
The poorest persons under God’s authority may come into the presence of the proudest king.
God’s ambassadors must declare His will to the greatest potentates.
God’s messengers must go in His authority, and vouch His name.
A proclamation of God:—
1. His name.
2. His authority.
3. His regard for His people.
4. His desire for the freedom of man.
The freedom of men:—Earnestly desired.
2. Effectively undertaken.
3. Divinely approved.
4. Successfully achieved.
The end of all redemption is that God’s people should serve him.
The true service of God is a festival of joy.
It is better to serve God in the wilderness than Pharaoh in Egypt.
Exodus 5:2. “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?”
I. Who is the Lord?
1. Thy Creator.
2. Thy Benefactor.
3. Thy Redeemer.
4. Thy Governor.
II. How may we bear His voice?
1. In the works of nature.
2. In the dispensations of Providence.
3. In our spiritual perceptions.
4. In the Bible.
PHARAOH’S IMPIOUS INTERROGATION
The text is the language of the Pagan and impious Pharaoh. A person whose history and character are fully presented to us in the Divine Word.
I. God has spoken to mankind.
1. He has graciously spoken by His works. “The heavens declare, &c., Romans 1:20. Here the existence, majesty, power, and wisdom are all declared.
2. He has spoken continually by His good providence. The admirable provision made for all creatures, &c Hear Paul’s address to the inhabitants of Lystra: Acts 14:15; Acts 14:17.
3. He hath spoken awfully by His judgments. How terrible His voice to the antediluvians—Pharaoh. By war—by pestilence by famine—by earthquakes.
4. He hath spoken distinctly in His word.
By the ancient prophets—by His own Son. Hear the Apostle: Hebrews 1:1. The Saviour also instituted the Christian Ministry, to convey the words of God to all the world.
II. Why and how you should hear.
1. Why you should hear His voice. Because of His right in and over you. He is your God, Creator, Lawgiver. Because of his condescension to you. It is infinite condescension on the part of Deity to stoop and speak to you. How angels hearken. Because of the design of His speaking, which is your present and eternal welfare.
2. How we should hear His voice. With awe, sacred attention, with holy anxiety to understand and obey it.
III. The impiety and folly of refusing to hear the voice of God. But who are guilty of it? The sceptic, sensualist, worlding, sinner. Pride of heart leads to it.
1. It is flagrant contempt of God.
2. It is open rebellion against the authority.
3. It must be eventually ruinous to the sinner.
[Sketches of Sermons, by Dr. Burns.]
Proud imperious spirits are hasty to reply roughly to God’s messengers.
Idolators are apt to despise God in the true revelation of Him.
Hardened souls vent their contempt upon God Himself more than on His Church.
Contempt of Jehovah will not suffer men to hear His voice.
Disobedience to God ushers in oppression to His people.
Scorners of God:—
1. They hear not His voice.
2. They perceive not His Revelation
3. They recognize not His claims.
4. They insult His servants.
5. They enslave His people.
6. They are obstinate in their denial.
THE REASONINGS OF AN ENSLAVED SOUL WITH ITS TYRANT OPPRESSOR
Exodus 5:3. There are times when men deeply feel the pain and degradation of their slavery; they are awakened, by the messengers of God, to a desire for freedom, when they utter their sentiments in the language of this verse:—
I. They urge the Divine uprising on their behalf. “The God of the Hebrews hath met with us.” God had awakened within Israel the desire and hope of freedom, had urged them to achieve it, and had promised to aid them in so doing. Pharaoh little knew the events that had happened prior to this visit; he was ignorant of the revelation which had been given to Moses and Aaron; but so it is, imperious sinners walk to their doom, ignorant of the agencies that would achieve their ruin. There is another history than that which is seen by the world at large; it is behind in the shade, only known to the favoured servants of God. The meeting of God with his people is an argument for freedom, and should be recognised as such by the proudest monarchs of earth.
II. They urge their own desire for freedom. “Let us go, we pray thee.” Probably many will not consider this could have been a very great argument with Pharaoh for the freedom of Israel; but it ought to have been. A desire for freedom, on the part of those who are destitute of it, should be a strong plea for its bestowal with all who have it in their power to snap the fetters of the slave. Heaven always respects our wish for freedom.12 True kinghood always will.
III. They urge their desire for solitude. “Three days’ journey into the desert.” They had been so long in the crowded cities of the Egyptians, so painful and sad had their condition become, that they longed for the solitude of the desert to refresh their souls, that they might drink in new life and hope.
IV. They urge their desire for devotion. “And sacrifice unto the Lord our God.” Their better manhood had returned to these Israelites. Their old feelings of worship are awakened. They have struggled through their pain and slavery, to God. They wish to worship him. This is a strong argument for liberty.
V. They urge their fear of pestilence. “Lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” Slavery in any nation is more productive of calamity and retribution than almost any other sin. That country will, in all probability, be the most exempt from pestilence and war which is the most free. There is a healing influence in liberty; hence this is an argument for it.
Just mark the contrast between the Egyptian king, and the Hebrew or Christian messengers. Being threatened, they threatened not; reviled, they reviled not again. They took meekly his remarks; they entreated, but threatened not; for they said immediately, “The Lord God of the Hebrews,” etc.; speaking calmly, as if not one insulting expression had been used. Now here is a precedent for us. If Pharaoh forgot his place, Moses and Aaron were not to forget theirs. [Dr. Cumming.]
God’s ambassadors must not forsake His message upon man’s denial.
Further arguments must urge the message of God, when its mere proposal is not enough.
The God of the Hebrews must be owned by them, though despised by Pharaoh.
Although God commands powers, yet it is fit that his people should entreat them.
To sacrifice to God and to feast with Him are synonymous.
Pestilence and sword are God’s judgments, exacting the neglect of His service.
These plagues are incident on all that neglect God, but much more on them that forbid others to serve Him.
The fear of these judgments should awe souls from slighting His message to them.
Exodus 5:4. Good men are often wrongly judged:—
1. In respect to their motives.
Persecuting powers return rough answers to humble petitions.
Oppressing kings make nothing of despising, checking, and menacing God’s messengers.
Wicked powers censure the motions for God’s service to be detractions from their work.
Oppressing rulers are angry with men who move souls to serve God.
Cruel masters drive God’s people from serving Him to bear their burdens.
RELIGION NO EXCUSE FOR THE NEGLECT OR DAILY WORK
There is much daily work carried on that is both against the law of God and man; this, religion will suspend, and, instead, will give a man work to do, the performance of which will be in harmony with conscience, and beneficial to the commonwealth.14 True religion is no friend to indolence. Religion is no excuse for the neglect of daily work:—
I. Because it commands men to provide things honest in the sight of all men. It gives a man an employment to fulfil, in one station or another, in lowly social grade, or otherwise. It makes men willing to earn their daily bread, to answer the purposes of labour, and to enhance the general welfare of the nation. If men are idle in their daily avocation, it is from the lack of religion, not from the possession of it. True piety consists as much in pursuing our daily toil as in attendance upon the services of the sanctuary. We should render both as a service to God. We must be diligent in business.
II. Because it provides men with forceful motives to work. True religion brings forceful motives to bear upon the souls of those Who are animated by it. It animates men to do their work from love to an unseen God, from faith in an unseen Saviour, and from fear of a coming judgment and eternity. Hence the motives of religion are calculated to make men earnest workers. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth,” &c.
III. Because it enlarges man’s sphere of work. Besides working in the world for daily bread, it opens up to him an enlarged and holy sphere of toil in the church, for the moral welfare of men. Nor will the duties of the one interfere with those of the other; both will admit of careful attention. St Paul wrought at tent making, and also had the care of the churches upon him.
Exodus 5:5. From the multiplied numbers of the church, tyrants expect multiplied labours.
It is the envy of persecutors to see God’s servants have rest from burdens.
It is incident to wicked powers to suggest, that God’s ministers move His people to idleness and sedition.
Exodus 5:6-7. God’s commands, and the interests of his people, are bitterly opposed by wicked powers.
Persecuting powers delay not to vent their malice against God and his people.
Wicked rulers have their agencies by whom they afflict the people of God.
Cruel powers stay the hands of ministers from doing justice to such as they will oppress.
It is savage cruelty to deny means, and expect work and advantage.
Former justice is forgotten where future oppression is intended.
Wicked powers will lose no gain, though they allow poor souls nothing to get it with.
They used straw in making brick.—
1. To temper the clay, that it might be firmer.
2. There was a great use for brick in Egypt, not only because they wanted stone, but because the buildings made of brick were durable.
In the pyramid of Fayoun there are found bricks which have been hardened in the sun, containing short particles of chopped straw mixed with the clay, their just idea being that straw would give cohesion to the mass, the brick not being submitted to the action of fire, but only to the heat of the sun. Whilst these bricks would not be suitable for our buildings, you can see their appropriateness in Egypt, where there is no rain. In a dry and sunny clime the bricks would last or thousands of years, whereas in our climate they would be of no use.
Exodus 5:8-9. The world and Satan opposed to the Christian’s Spiritual Progress. “If thou come to serve the Lord,” saith the wisdom of the Son of Sirach, “prepare thy soul for temptation. This caution too often neglected. Young converts imagine that the victory over Satan will be won at once, by the first blow. The children of Israel had sighed by reason of their bondage. The Lord heard their groaning. Sent Moses and Aaron to the Elders, The people believed. Did the chains of their bondage then fall off at once? Far otherwise. They were now in the way from slavery, towards the liberty for which they panted: but toil, privation, and affliction lay before them in long succession, ere they could sit down every man under his own vine, and every man under his own fig tree, within the consecrated borders of Canaan. Have you listened to the gracious pleading of the Spirit of God, in sincere anxiety for a complete and eternal deliverance? You will meet with hindrances, one of the first will arise from those who make a mock at sin, who deride the privileges and duties of pure and undefiled religion
(15) Such a rock of offence is represented by Pharaoh in this chapter, where we find emblematically pourtrayed:—
I. The prejudice of the careless and worldly against sincere and vital Godliness.
1. It is regarded as the dream and vision of a heated and enthusiastic imagination. When the wonders of redemption first break in upon the mind, when the inquirer first beholds the Son of God dying for him, he is ready to exclaim, “Whom have I in heaven but thee!” Are these feelings visionary; or have they been enkindled within his heart by the Spirit of God?
2. It is regarded as inconsistent with a proper attention to the duties of active life. I grant it possible that the eye of a Christian’s soul, first open to behold the glories of the Gospel, may be dazzled with their transcendent brightness, and become indifferent to objects of an importance merely temporal; as the natural eye, which has gazed for a moment upon the sun, sees nothing but dimness in the things of earth: but such an exclusive view of eternal things is of rare occurrence.
II. Another temptation which Satan employs to oppose an entire devotion of the heart to God, is by exaggerating the importance of worldly pursuits. “Let there be more work laid upon the men.” What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, if he shall love his own soul! A double caution may be deduced:—
1. To those who would hinder the spiritual freedom of others whom they may control or influence; as Pharaoh would have impeded the political deliverance of Israel. You must settle from Scripture and prayer whether the resolutions and desires you oppose arise from the inspiration of God, or the imagination of men. Woe to him that striveth with his Maker.
2. You who are thus hindered, remember that Scripture addresses you with a cautionary voice. Be not slothful in business.
[Buddicom’s Christian Exodus.]
REV. WM. ADAMSON
(1)—Ready!—A gentleman’s dog having gallantly rescued a drowning child, the spectators were eager to know the name of his master, in order to publish it. The owner at once exclaimed, “Never mind my name; but that of the dog is ‘Ready!’ ” Ready! aye, ready! Such was the response of the brave officer to his anxious commander’s enquiry whether he was prepared for the fight. We ought to be ready for every good work.
“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly.”
(2)—Delay!—Every day we neglect the mission it becomes harder to accomplish both as regards ourselves and it. We are less and less disposed towards it. It is more and more inveterate. As with travellers on the Alpine heights overtaken by the pitiless snowstorm at different stages of the mountain ascent, numbness is creeping over one, and the longer the other delays to help his friend by rubbing his limbs, the more profound becomes the torpor of both. Instant action will save both. Activity will give them both a glow.
“There is a firefly in the southern clime,
Which shineth only when upon the wing.”
Motion is developing beat. Magoon says that it is good policy to strike while the iron is hot; but it is still better to adopt Cromwell’s procedure, and to make the iron hot in striking. As one has said, Be active and expect Christ to be with you; be idle and the thorns and briars will grow so quickly that He will be shut out. Delaying to obey the call, the ice forms upon our feelings—gradually freezes to greater thickness, until total indifference results. Delaying to obey the call, the slave’s condition becomes more wretched, the drowning man sinks the deeper, the enfevered patient is entangled more pitiably in the meshes of delirium. The motto of each servant of God must be that of the indomitable mind of Edmund Burke in his address to his constituents at Bristol: For God’s sake, let us pass on. There is no time to be lost.
“Wake ere the earth-born charm unnerve thee quite,
And be thy thoughts to work divine address’d:
Do something—do it soon—with all thy might—
An angel’s wing would droop if long at rest.”
(3)—Humanity!—The whole world lieth in bondage; and no man in his senses will venture to assert that man is today just as man originally way. Even Moncure Conway, who dethrones Jehovah and enthrones his own deification (or definition) of Reason, is perforce ready to acknowledge that man is a dismantled fane—a broken shrine, with some gleam of departed glory about him sufficient to give an idea of what he once was, and with (he says) some germs of the original perfection which may be cultivated and developed. It is not now a question how this came about, or why it was allowed to happen. We have the fact that the whole world is in servitude to the wicked one—that from time to time Jehovah has raised up deliverers, either prospective or retrospective of the one great Deliverer, Christ, who was to appear.
“He came the prisoners to release
In Satan’s bondage held,”
and now calls upon every man to be the deliverer of his fellow-man. Had Moses refused to obey the call in the spirit of Cain, he would have met with Cain’s doom, viz., loss of the Divine approbation.
(4)—Qualifications!—Bishop Wilson wrote that the great secret of the ministry consisted in three things:
2. Immortal souls: and
3. Self-humiliation. But self-humiliation springs from discipline—that three-fold discipline of which Luther stoke when he declared that the three requisites or qualifications to do God’s works were prayer, meditation, and temptation. All these Moses had abundance of for years—are, more than forty long years. God instructs and qualifies as well as calls; for (says Bishop Reynolds) if no prince will send a mechanic from his loom in an honourable embassage to some other foreign prince, is it likely that Jehovah will send forth unqualified instruments about so great a work as the perfecting of the saints?—
“For well he knows, not learning’s purest tides
Can quench the immortal thirst that in the soul abides.”
(5)—Decision!—Even a foolish man may utter a wise sentiment, as Colton did, when he said that men ought to deliberate with caution, but act with decision. Hood calls attention to the decided man. He may be a most evil man, a grasping, avaricious, unprincipled man; still look how the difficulties of life know the strong man, and give up the contest with him. He walks by the light of his own judgment; he has made up his mind, and having done so, henceforth action—action is before him. He cannot bear to sit amidst unrealized expectations. To him speculation is only valuable that it may be resolved into living and doing. There is no difference, no delay. To this Jehovah had to bring Moses, so that, his spirit was in arms, all in earnest. As Pompey, when hazarding his life on a tempestuous sea in order to be at Rome on an important occasion, said that it was necessary for him to go, not for him to live. Thus Cæsar, when he crossed the English Channel, burnt his shipson the Anglican shores, that there might be no return. And so Cortes decided to break up the ships which had brought his soldiers to Mexico from Spain. This daring act had the effect of bracing his men, says Trench, to a pitch of resolution all but supernatural.
(6)—Pharaoh versus God!—This imperious monarch had never been accustomed to be thwarted. Men who have always thrust obstacles aside come to think their power invincible, and to make them a battering ram against fate and circumstances. When Jehovah came down to oppose Pharaoh in his despotic behaviour towards Israel, he tried to wrestle with Him, and paid dearly for his folly. A bantam may crow in the face of a fighting-cock once too often; and woe to the frail boat that rashly contends with the powerful tail of the whale. As one says, God never wrestles with a man without throwing him: so that we might apply Pollok’s description of the atheist to Pharaoh—
Despising reason, revelation, God,
And, kicking ’gainst the pricks of conscience, rush’d
Deliriously upon the bossy shield
Of the Omnipotent.”
(7)—Moral Freedom!—Behind the physical and national freedom of Israel was their moral and spiritual disenthralment. The hidden is offtimes most important. It was so here Moral freedom is everything. All sinners are represented as being in bondage, bound with the chain of their sins, servants of him whom they obey, led captive by the devil at his will. He is the great Pharaoh—that old dragon, the serpent. He gilds the yoke, and you are not conscious that you wear it; but there are times when you feel its fretting notwithstanding. That giant passion masters you. But a Deliverer has come to the shores of our world—proclaiming liberty to the captive and freedom to those who are fast bound in the misery and iron of sin-thraldom. From the strongest and most frowning fortress, in which tyranny can bind its captives, this Saviour can deliver. He will deliver: for if the Son make you free, you shall be free indeed.—And
“A day—an hour of virtuous liberty
Is worth a whole eternity of bondage.”
It is Dr. Caird who asserts that no language—no emblems can be found to convey any adequate idea of the sesseoness of such a deliverance. Not the poor timid struggling bird springs forth from the snare with a note of more thrilling joyfulness—not the despairing heartsick captive casts the first look of freedom on the bright heaven, or treads with bounding steps the greensward of home with a more exulting throb of happiness. And never was that ancient song of deliverance sung with a deeper meaning than when the soul, morally freed from the galling tyranny and oppressive yoke of Satan, exclaims: Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler—
“’Tis liberty alone that gives the flowers
Of fleeting life their lustre and perfume,
And we are weeds without it.”
(8)—Fearless!—Moses had a duty to discharge, and no dangers must deter him. When God sends men on a work for Him, He virtually undertakes the responsibility of “breakers ahead.” His ministers and deliverers must not look askance and hesitate in the fulfilment of their labours because they see “a bombshell” coming. It is related of Charles the Twelfth of Sweden that—whilst besieged in Stralsund he was one day dictating a letter to his secretary, when a bomb from the enemy’s outworks fell through the roof of the house where they were. The report of the shell alarmed the secretary so much, that the pen fell from his hand; whereupon the king enquired what was the matter. The trembling secretary could only ejaculate: “The bombshell.” The monarch’s stern response was: “What has the bomb to do with the letter? Go on with your writing.” So what had Moses to do with Pharaoh’s wrath? It was for him to go on with the work of deliverance which God had authorized, and as he had been pleased to appoint. Then
“Work, though the enemies’ laughter
Over the valleys may sweep,
For God’s patient workers hereafter
Shall laugh when their enemies weep.”
(9)—Divine Authority!—Canon Ryle mentions an incident in the life of Whitefield, which illustrates the authority. When preaching on one occasion, an old man fell asleep and some of the audience became listless. Suddenly changing his manner, Whitefield broke forth in an altered tone—declaring that be had not come to speak in his own name, otherwise they might lean on their elbows and go to sleep. “No; I have come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, and I must, and will be heard.” The sleeper started wide awake—the hearers were stripped of their apathy at once—and every word of the sermon was attended to. It was thus that Moses addressed Pharaoh. It was thus all witnesses for God should address the listeners, with authority:
“By Him inspired, they speak with urgent tongue
Authoritative, whilst the illumined breast
Heaves with unwonted strength.”
(10)—Freedom’s Sweets!—The Christian deliverer is all the more active and energetic in his work, because he was once himself a slave. A traveller stood one day beside the cages of some birds which, exposed for sale, ruffled their sunny plumage on the wires, and struggled to be free. Sadly he gazed on these captives till tears stood in his eyes; and turning round to their owner, he asked the price of one. As soon as the money was handed over, he opened the door and set the prisoner free. This he did with captive after captive, till every bird was away, soaring to the sky, arising on the wings of liberty. The crowd stated and stood amazed; but his remark soon cleared up their difficulty: “I was myself once a captive, and know the sweets of liberty.”—Liberty! What heart is there that does not feel its pulse quicken at the sound? All instincts teat in unison here. Even the dullest, we are told, kindle into rapture, and the most craven for freedom’s sake would strike the unwilling blow—
“Ah! There lives not a victim of pride and power
But hopes in the future to win release;
But dreams of some bright and golden hour,
When the reign of oppression and wrong shall cease.
Not a toiler who plods neath a burden of care,
But dreams of relief and liberty there.”
(11)—Voice of God!—There are many ways in which God causes us to hear His voice! and the first of all His voices is that of His works. Eliza Cook has In glowing terms written—
“God has a voice that ever is heard
In the peal of the thunder, the chirp of the bird;
It comes in the torrent all rapid and strong,
In the streamlet’s soft gush as it ripples along;
Let the hurricane whistle, or warblers rejoice,
What so they tell thee but ‘God hath a voice.’ ”
How many have heard Him calling in His Providence, amid the sunshine of prosperity and the shadows of sorrow—amid the chimings of the marriage bells and the solemn toll of the funeral knell. But His sweetest voice is that of His Evangel. Pharaoh had heard the Divine voices of nature and Providence, but, like Samuel, he did not understand them. Now he hears the “Evangelic” voice, and, like the deaf adder, stops his ears. Yet no voice sounds sweeter. As Dr. Hamilton says, on the gospel tree there grow melodious blossoms—sweeter bells than those which mingled with the pomegranates on Aaron’s vest. The idea is borrowed from Oriental poetry, which tells of a wondrous tree on which grew golden apples and silver bells. Every time the breeze went by and tossed the fragrant branches, a shower of those yellow globes fell, and the living bells chimed and tinkled forth their airy ravishment. When Moses spoke to Pharaoh the bells rang unheeded in the monarch’s ears; so the golden fruit of joy and peace fell among the brick-kilns of Egypt for Israel’s nurture.
(12)—Liberty a Divine Right!—Dr. Webster tells a story which admirably illustrates this axiom. In times past, a slave, starting in the darkness and stillness of the midnight hour, and taking the north-star for his guide, toiled on his weary way, resting by day and travelling by night until he reached Vermont. He was pursued by his alleged owner, and seized with the intention of returning him to slavery. The case was brought before Judge Harrington; and the slave-owner, in proof of his claim, called the attention of the judge to a bill of sale. It was returned with an intimation that it was not satisfactory evidence of the sale and purchase; whereupon the indignant slave-owner asked what would be sufficient proof. The judge at once replied that a bill of sale from GOD ALMIGHTY would alone satisfy him. Such God will never give; for freedom is His life—
“Oh, freedom! terribly thou springest forth,
As springs the flame above a burning pile;
And showest to the nations, who return
Thy shoutings, while the pale oppressor flies.”
(13)—Wisdom!—Nearly every opinion and advice may be stated in a gentle or in an offensive way. An Oriental prince asked two interpreters to explain his dream. One said that he would lose all his relatives, and then himself die. The monarch ordered this prophet of evil to be beheaded. The other assured him that he would survive all his relations. The prince loaded this one with favours, though both interpretations were the same. Moses was gentle in his demand to Pharaoh: Let us go three days’ journey and sacrifice to our God—
“Speak gently! it is better far
To rule by love than fear,
Speak gently! let not harsh words mar
The good we might do here.”
(14)—Law of Work!—Work is necessity, says Exell. Work gives a feeling of strength, cries Müller. Work is triumph, as Richard Burke exclaimed shortly after an extraordinary display of powers in Parliament by his brother Edmund: “When we were at play, he was always at work. But work is also a law. There is such a thing as the Law of Work; and from the particle of dust at our feet to man—the last stroke of God’s great and sublime handiwork—all bear the impress of the law of labour. The earth is one vast laboratory, where de. composition and re-formation are constantly going on. As has been aptly added, the blast of nature’s furnace never ceases, and its fires never burn low. The lichen of the rock and the oak of the forest each works out the problem of its own existence. The earth, the air, the water, teem with busy life. Onward unceasingly—age after age—the world pursues its course; a perpetual lesson, with all it contains, of industry to man. Even the rolling spheres join the universal chorus of labour. Therefore
“Work though the world would defeat you;
Heed not its slander and scorn;
Nor weary till angels shall greet you
With smiles through the gates of the morn.”
(15) Christian Hindrances! The tyrant’s malice cannot suffer the saints to be in peace: hence the Saviour’s farewell monition that they must expect tribulation. The Biblical Treasury narrates the case of a soldier in the East Indies—a stout, lion-hearted man—once a noted prizefighter, and a terror to those who knew him. When freed from the bonds of his own passions and guilt the change in his character became most marked and decided. The lion was changed into a lamb, but the lamb had to submit to persecution. One of his comrades, stirred up by Satan, ridiculed him, and taking a basin of hot soup threw it into his bosom. Instead of springing like a tiger upon the insulting comrade he wiped his scalded breast and calmly said, “This is what I must expect as a Christian.” Every means will be employed—every effort and device made—every subtle snare enlisted to injure the soul and retard its spiritual enjoyment of Christian freedom—yet not without the Divine permission—as with Israel and Job. God allows the tyrant’s agents and emissaries to surround us with perils, beset us with troubles, and confront our footsteps with red-hot ploughshares as necessary discipline:—
“If from Thy ordeal’s heated bars
Our feet are Seamed with crimson scars, Thy will be done.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 5:10-14
THE TRUE PICTURE OF A GREAT TYRANT
In the Word of God we have many patterns of human life and moral conduct. We have depicted the proud man in his gaiety, the covetous man with his wealth, the foolish man in his folly, and the tyrant in his cruelty. These pictures of life are eminently calculated to answer a useful and practical purpose. When the picture is of moral goodness and virtue, it is calculated to inspire with its beauty, and to lead men to an imitation of it. When, however, it is of tyranny, as in the case before us, it is likely to awaken supreme contempt, and deep abhorrence for it. There is in man a certain intuition which always utters a response to these representations of conduct, especially when they are presented in a pictorial form, as then they appeal to the imagination, and make a far deeper impression upon the mind than any mere precept could. In these pictorial representations of character there is real life; we feel that we are in contact with men who exhibit feeling, who speak, who act, whose bearing is in harmony with our own inner experiences: hence they take deep hold of your souls. We hope that the picture sketched in the verses of this paragruph will give us such a vivid realization of the cruelty and horror of tyranny that we shall flee from it ourselves, and endeavour to repress it in others. We observe—
I. That tyrants generally take offence at and make the slightest interference with their conduct the occasion of additional hardship to their slaves. The narrative informs us that Moses and Aaron had been divinely commissioned to go to Pharaoh, and rebuke his treatment of the Israelites, and to demand their freedom.
1. Thus we see that it is the duty of good men to rebuke tyrants. God calls men, and especially qualifies them, to rebuke tyrants who are oppressing humanity. It would appear as if Pharaoh had almost had his own way in the oppression of Israel. Egypt had not intercepted him, nor had the Israelites risen in rebellion against him, nor had any heroic champion undertaken their cause; they were the slaves of a monarch who acted towards them according to the arbitrary and cruel impulse of his iron will. And this had been the case for years. He has, therefore, grown impatient of rebuke, and especially when administered by comparative strangers. It does sometimes happen that tyrants are allowed long to pursue their course of cruel oppression without interruption; hence they are imperious. But God will one day arrest them by a stern message. He will send an heroic servant, qualified by heavenly vision and a clear insight into the purposes of the future, who shall meet the tyrant in his own palace, and reveal a power supreme and unconquerable, before which he will have to yield. Some good people think it best to let tyrants alone, to let them work their own cruel purpose until they come to their sad end, when they will die unpitied.16 They imagine it foolish to arouse their rage by interference, to awaken them to further cruelties to those already under their charge. We say that this is a wrong and cowardly method of viewing the matter. We are unwarranted in allowing tyrants to reign for a day; in standing near while multitudes are suffering the agonies of a bondage they have not power to resist. In such an emergency we must be men; above all, we must be Christian men. It is our duty to demand the freedom of the oppressed, and, if necessary, to use stringent measures to obtain it. We must be tired with a holy courage, and go as angels to snap the letters of the bondmen, and bring them into sweet liberty.
2. That good men who rebuke tyrants are likely to involve themselves in anxiety and conflict. Moses and Aaron who have just rebuked Pharaoh for his cruelly to, and demanded the freedom of, Israel, have by so doing, commenced a struggle that will involve them in lifelong trouble and anxiety. And so it is now. To rebuke a tyrant is a difficult matter, and especially if he occupies a high social position. There are always men of policy, place-hunters, who will defend such a man as Pharaoh, animated by the hope of future gain: hence such hollow-hearted hypocrites are the first to insult, and, if possible, to defeat, the earnest endeavours of the good to relieve the slave of his chains. A few such sycophants as these can contrive plots, circulate slander, and awaken animosities very difficult to be overcome. Many a man has rendered sad his life by interfering with a tyrant in the interest of humanity at large. Such a sacrifice of personal comfort is hard to make, but is often required at the hands of those who would be the heroic emancipators of the enslaved. Such will get their reward. They will win a calm peacefulness of soul which outward clamour will not be able to disturb, and the gratitude of the world. Instance Wilberforce.
3. That good men by their rebuke often awaken tyrants to further animosity. We are painfully conscious that the attempts at freedom are not at first successful; they require long-continued operations, which are likely to augment the rage of the despot they seek to dethrone: hence during the process of emancipation all slavery is rendered more cruel and despicable.17 But this is only the prophecy of ultimate freedom, and will soon obtain its fulfilment in the songs of ransomed Israel. The heroic good are not responsible for this additional cruelty, but it is a tribute to the energy of their effort; and instead of discouraging those who are called to endure it, it should inspire them with hope, as the darkest part of night is that just preceded by the dawn. All tyrants are impatient of the interference of others.
II. That tyrants generally employ others to carry their messages and to execute their purposes of cruelty. Probably Pharaoh seldom saw the enslaved Israelites, or the burdens they were made to bear, and the cruelty to which they were subjected. He only knew the treasure-cities they were building, and the way in which they enriched his royal coffers. He simply gave his orders to the taskmasters and they executed them. He had little or no personal oversight over his slaves.
1. Tyrants are generally too indolent and indifferent to take a personal oversight of their slaves. Pharaoh would prefer lounging about in his royal palace to the trouble of a personal inspection of his slaves. The walk to them would be too much for him. Besides, he would not risk the consequences of such a visit. The condition of Israel was so sad, their work so hard, their scourging so brutal, and their bondage so severe, that even his heart, stone-like as it was, might feel regret at their woe. The human heart in the worst of wretches, and in the greatest tyrants, will assert its natural feeling of pity, even though it be unwelcome to those within whom it is awakened. The remembrance of Israel’s wrongs might haunt him in the day time, and disturb his slumbers by horrid dreams at night. He would, therefore, keep at a distance from his slaves, that he might not hear their cries, and that he might live on almost unconscious of their woes. There are few men who can visit the wrongs and woe they occasion; they prefer to live at a distance from it. True, there are some hardy sinners who can stand unmoved surrounded by the victims of their tyranny.
2. Tyrants generally prefer the excitement of pleasing amusement. Pharaoh in the Egyptian Palace, and, as the centre of an Oriental court, would not be wanting in amusements and occupations congenial to his passionate desires. He would much more prefer the pleasantry and magnificent entertainment of his royal surroundings than visiting his slaves. Hence he employed others who should exercise a direct supervision over them. Tyrants like to make others responsible for the injuries they inflict.
III. That tyrants generally demand work under conditions that render it almost impossible. Pharaoh commanded that henceforth the Israelites should make bricks without the regular provision of straw. The officials were forbidden to find it for them: hence they were scattered about the country to obtain it for themselves. This occupied much of their time, and yet the same amount of work was required from them. So tyrants are unjust and inconsiderate in their demands. They are unreasonable. There are many of this kind in the world to-day. There are some in the commercial world; they expect their servants to make bricks without straw, to make money without capital. There are some in the Church: they expect Ministers to make bricks without straw, to fill the chapel when no one will help him, to save souls when no one prays for him. There are lots of people in the world who expect those under them to do the impossible, and this is the essential spirit and demand of tyranny. Only a despot will require of a man more than he can happily and reasonably render.
IV. That Tyrants bring grief upon the lives of others without the slightest regret, and are utterly destitute of human feeling. Who can imagine the condition of Israel at this time? Their slavery throughout has been one of calamity and woe, but never has it been more severe than now. This is the supreme moment of the tyrant’s rage. The burden of Israel’s work is unbearable. Their lives are full of grief. All public spirit is crushed out of them. And this is always the result of despotic rule; it brings misery upon a nation; it crushes the energy out of a people; it makes them incapable of noble impulse, or of heroic action. The saddest pictures of past history are those connected with the records of tyranny.18 The tear and voice of sorrow cannot move the heart of a despot, he is accustomed to their wail.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
THE TASKMASTERS OF THE PEOPLE
I. As coming out from the presence of a cruel monarch The taskmasters and officers were, no doubt, some of them chosen from the Israelites, as they would be more likely to find out any plot that might be contrived for their freedom, and they would have more influence with their brethren in the event of a rebellion. They had been in companionship with Pharaoh. They would be no better for this. Men are always morally the worse for spending an hour with a tyrant. They almost unconsciously imbibe his spirit. They become familiar with his vocabulary.
II. As uttering from Pharaoh a cruel message. When you see a man coming out from companionship with a tyrant, you may expect that he will soon speak a message of cruelty. When tyrants are together, their counsel generally has reference to the oppression of the weak.
III. As imposing from Pharaoh a cruel task. Israel was to make bricks without straw. Tyranny is very inventive. It is never at a loss for a method whereby to augment the woe of those whose slavery it has achieved.
“I will not give you straw.” Cold comfort! Things commonly go backward with the saints before they go forward, as the corn groweth downward ere it grow upward. Hold out, faith and patience; deliverance is at next door. When things are worst, they will mend. (Trapp.)
The cruel commands of despotic monarchs are quickly obeyed by their instruments.
Instruments must do and say what persecuting powers command.
Some messengers may deliver glad tidings to God’s people with gladness, others with regret.
A sad message:—
1. Sent by a tyrant.
2. Sent through his servants.
3. Sent to the people of God.
4. Sent under permission of Providence.
MEANS NECESSARY TO WORK
I. That man cannot accomplish work without means. Israel not make bricks without straw. Neither can men undertake any work without the means necessary to its accomplishment. A man cannot write a book without intellect. He cannot build a church without money. He cannot save souls without intimate communion with God. He cannot gather riches without industry. He cannot influence social without moral purity. Men cannot make bricks without straw. The great folly is that they try. They are men trying the impossible. They are of weak intellect, yet they want literary fame; they are of feeble sympathies, yet they long for the honours of emancipation; they are animated by a dream, they pursue a phantom.
II. That one man has often the power to intercept the means by which another man works. Pharaoh had the power to take away the straw from the Israelites, which afore-time had been given to them to make their bricks. So, one man has the power to intercept the methods by which the intellect, the genius, the activities, of another are accustomed to work. We can take away the straw by which our brother has been accustomed to make his bricks. And many, animated by envy, covetousness, and despotism, render those around them almost incapable of toil. Hence many bright visions are dispelled, many long-indulged expectations are disappointed, and many hours are beclouded with sorrow, through the interference of such overt tyranny.
III. That when men are robbed of their means of work they are thrown into great straits. The Israelites were scattered all through the land of Egypt, to seek stubble instead of straw, whereby to fulfil their toil. Men must work. They are not to be entirely stopped by hindrances, but they are greatly impeded by them. They are rendered unhappy. They know not where to supply the place of that they have lost. Their amount of work is greatly diminished. One man has the ability to render the task of another difficult.
IV. Any man who intercepts the work of another takes a fearful responsibility upon himself. The man who takes away the straw whereby another man works is involving himself in terrible responsibility. The poorest workman can make a brick if he cannot build a house. Do not impede his labour; if you do, God will measure out to you a just retribution. Many men who are now dead would have left the world a far richer legacy of thought and labour, if the straw had not been taken from them in the day of their effort. Woe to the Pharaoh who gave orders for its removal, and who sent these great minds to gather stubble in the broad universe, anywhere where they could meet with more kindly shelter and aid.
THE CHURCH CAST UPON HER OWN RESOURCES
I. That the Church is often cast upon her own resources. There are times when men withdraw the aid they have long given to the Church. They issue orders that no more straw is to be placed at her disposal. Men of the world do not give the Church her due. She is thrown back upon her own resources, upon her own originality, suggestiveness, and, supremely, upon her God. She has to go into the wide world to seek aid in the performance of her holy toil. She has to make use of the meanest agencies, even of stubble, now that her straw is withheld. These are times of dark depression.
II. That when human aid is thus withdrawn, men expect from the church the same amount of work that she accomplished before. Pharaoh expected from the Israelites the same amount of work daily after the straw was withheld, as before. So, notwithstanding that the Church has to go in search of new agencies, and awaken new instrumentalities, yet in the time of her depression men unreasonably expect that she will achieve the same amount of toil. Let our business men give the Church the straw, the wealth, the consecrated talent she needs, and ought to have from them, and she will soon double her diligence and duty.
III. That when the Church does not accomplish her work as fully and speedily under these difficult circumstances, she is persecuted and slandered by the world. Exodus 5:14. Thus the Church, in the most trying moments of her history, is misunderstood, misrepresented, slandered, and persecuted by those to whom she has rendered unnumbered and incalculable service.19
Cruel commands of persecuting powers are obeyed by afflicted souls.
Dispersion from fellow workers is a hard burden on them, from whom work is exacted.
It is a contradictory thing to drive men from work, and yet expect daily labours.
Such hard undertakings are the servants of God sometimes called to bear.
Exodus 5:13-14. Reasons why men do not perform their work.
Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and to-day, as heretofore?
I. Some men say that they do not work because they cannot see any to do. They say that no one will employ them to make bricks. When men make this excuse we seldom believe them. In a country like this, where every kind of industry is carried on, no honest, intelligent, and diligent worker need be without employment. This excuse is generally the plea of the idle vagrant, rather than the statement of real fact. It may occasionally and for a time be made with truth.
II. Some men do not work because they are physically incapacitated. They are unable to make bricks. They may have been born with the defective use of their bodily limbs, hence they are not able to enter upon the industrious pursuits of a busy life. Such cases are numerous. They are deserving of special asylums for their benefit. They should always excite our sympathy, and the best aid we can render.
III. Some men do not work because they are indolent. They will not make bricks. They say there are no bricks to be made. They are idle. Such men are a curse to themselves, to their families, and to the nation at large. The law ought to have power to make them work, and earn honestly their daily bread. They are the cause of half the woe that comes upon our country.
IV. Some men do not work as they would because they are prevented from doing so by the injustice of others. These Israelites did not make as many bricks as they otherwise would have done had Pharaoh supplied them with straw, as was his duty. There are multitudes of good workmen kept from the full and complete performance of their daily work by the injustice and tyranny of their superiors or even by their comrades. Not even kings ought to have the power to prevent the easy and happy workmanship of their subjects. What a vast amount of profitable labour would be lost to Egypt through this conduct on the part of Pharaoh. That nation, as a rule, will be the strongest and happiest in which there is the greatest facility for good and joyous work.
In the absence of help, cruel taskmasters are hasty to call for work.
Full work is called for by wicked exactors, where means of doing it are withheld.
Daily work is commanded by oppressors when they deny daily bread.
Hard blows as well as harsh words cruel powers inflict upon God’s harmless ones.
Tender officers are made to smart by superiors, because they dare not oppress others under them.
Unreasonable demands are the best reasons which oppressors give for their cruelty.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
(16)—Tyrants!—Such is the policy of statesmen in these days. The King of Dahomey has been allowed year after year to indulge in the most horrid and repulsive acts of tyrannic cruelty on the plea that if you give a man rope he is sure to hang himself. Similarly the Emoeior of Abyssinia was permitted to practise the most perfidious persecutions, until the honour of England was touched. The lion remained quiet whilst the hyena destroyed other animals, and only aroused himself when the wild beast’s foot touched his mane. A similar policy of non-intervention led to increased despotism on the part of King Bomba, and to the aggravated tyranny on the part of Spain over the inhabitants of Cuba. So odious have been the cruelties perpetrated by the Spaniards, that heaven is rejected by the natives as a place likely to contain Spaniards.
“The natural bond
Of brotherhood is severed as the flax
That falls asunder at the touch of fire.”
(17)—National Liberty!—Numerons and bright are the laurel wreaths with which poetry has decked the names of such patriots as Wallace, Tell, Kossuth, Cavour, and Garibaldi. Yet, after all, men may be patriots, men may achieve their country’s freedom, and yet themselves be slaves. Some have been still themselves bonds, men to their own passions, bondsmen to sin—
“Who then is free? the wise who well maintains
An empire o’er himself.”
No word has been more prostituted. The theme of every factious demagogue, the watchword of every traitor, liberty becomes a name which the honest and well disposed almost tremble to hear. As though lawlessness Were freedom, and submission to good government slavery. The slave of his every passion will proclaim himself the worshipper of liberty. The man who would sweep away religion from a State makes a boast of seeking its freedom. So that, in a sense in which it was not designed, we may use the lines of Edwards—
“Like Sicily’s mountain, whose fires never die,
Thy presence on earth is contest;
A beacon of wrath when it flames on high,
And a mighty fear when at rest.
Like thee it awakes from its terrible sleep,
And o’er the dark rock and green valley sweep.”
(18)—Records of Tyranny Many are familiar with those recorded in the Bible from Pharaoh and Adonibezek to Herod and Nero. The records of secular history are even darker still The emperor Trajan was stalled in his day the best, so that the prayer was: “May you have the virtue and goodness of a Trajan.” Yet his chief pastime was in the arena of the gladiators. In his tortures of the Christians he called into requisition fire and poison, daggers and dungeons, wild beasts and serpents. Clemens Romanus he cast into the sea with an anchor round his neck, while Ignatius was cast to the famished lions in the amphitheatre. The Emperor Commodus took pleasure in cutting off the feet and putting out the eyes of such as be met in his rambles through the city. Dr. Leland writes that nothing could exceed the cruelty of the Spartans to their slaves. It was part of their policy to massacre them on stated occasions, in cold blood, by forming ambuscades in thickets and clefts of locks. They received a certain number of lashes annually to remind them of their condition—
“Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn.”
As witness the bloody pictures of Russian tyranny in regard to the Poles and Circassians with the cruel knout; or the more extended and aggravated cruelties of the Roman despotism upon the Vaudois of the Valleys of the Piedmont, as well as of Germany, Bohemia, France, Spain, and England. And that tyrants come at last to be indifferent to the sorrows and sufferings of their slaves appears from the account given by Arvine Of feminine cruelty in the West Indies. Educated in this country, she returned to her home at the age of fifteen to be married. After some years, she again paid a visit to her old friends in Ireland, who were appalled to listen to her sentiments upon slavery, and to her statements as to the way in which West India ladies treated their slaves. She confessed that she bad often snatched their baby from their bosom, run with it to a well, tied her shawl round its shoulders, and pretended to be drowning it As she told this she was convulsed with laughter. Domitian could not have practised more refined cruelty. Not that these are the only aspects of tyranny. As Byron asks—
“Thinkest thou there is no tyranny but that
Of blood and chains? The despotism of vice—
The weakness and the wickedness of luxury,
The negligence, the apathy, the evils
Of sensual sloth—produce ten thousand tyrants.”
(19)—Church Work!—This is specially true of missionary enterprise. We sometimes hear complaints of the slow progress of missions, as though nothing had been done. These charges invariably come from men who have wilfully withheld the straw. And yet the wonder is that the tale of bricks has been so good. Judson began his Burmese mission in 1814, but the Americans who supported him then were by no means liberal in their supplies. Yet in 1870, a hundred thou, sand converts could be counted. If the progress was slow we see that it was also sure. It was none the worse for being progressive. Peter’s lengthened shadow did not fall on all the gathered sick at once in Jerusalem; even so is Christianity going through the earth—lengthening as she advances.
“Over the winter glaciers
I see the summer glow,
And through the wide-piled snowdrift,
The warm rosebuds glow.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 5:15-19
REQUIRING THE IMPOSSIBLE
I. That there are some people in society who strive to make those under them do the impossible. Pharaoh tried to make the Israelites do the impossible, when he commanded them to make bricks without providing them with straw. This demand of tyranny is heard to-day in our large factories and amongst our agricultural population.
1. All require men to do the impossible who wish them to work beyond their capabilities. Every man has a degree of capability for work peculiar to himself, and can only execute that kind of work in a given time, according to his own ability. To require more at his hands is to require the impossible. To require men to work beyond their physical strength is to require the impossible. Some employers have no regard for the physical manhood of those engaged in their service. They give the same amount of work alike to the strong and the weak, and expect it accomplished. The thin, pale countenances of many who are daily seen wending their way to our busy hives of industry are indices to sad tales of heart and home. They are overworked. They are sinking into the grave. How often is the buoyant life and energy of youth quenched, and almost extinguished, by toil in an overcrowded and illventilated office. All who require young men to prosecute their daily business under such conditions are, in effect, seeking the impossible. To require men to work beyond their intellectual ability is to require the impossible. There are hundreds of men in our country who occupy positions beyond the power of their mental ability to sustain happily, and with comfort to themselves. This is the case with many who indulge in large financial speculations; with many in the daily haunts of life who occupy a higher position than they are qualified for; and with many popular ministers. Those in authority over them, and an exacting public, are ever urging them to make bricks without straw. Hence their work becomes a burden and a sorrow. To require men to work beyond their moral energy is to require the impossible. There are some men of little souls and small sympathies who have great churches, and who have in their congregation men of large hearts. These large-hearted hearers get but little help in their sorrows and conflicts from their minister and his sermons; they ought not to expect otherwise, for even a minister cannot make brick without straw. How can a preacher give to his congregation the sympathies of an overflowing heart of love, when his soul is hardly large enough to contain even himself, when he is of cold temperament, logical in thought rather than deep in emotion. Never require your minister to do the impossible; to visit all the parish in a day, to know that people are ill when he has never been told, to attend half a dozen committees at the same hour, to lead a prayer-meeting when he is preaching elsewhere, or expect sympathy from him when he has none to give. If you have chosen him as your pastor, do not expect him to make bricks without straw.
2. All require men to do the impossible who wish them to work beyond their opportunity. Every man must have time, and a proper time, to do his work. He must not be expected to do two things at once. He must not be expected to work when nature requires that he should be in bed asleep. But men must not only have the opportunity of time in which to accomplish their work, but also the opportunity of place and means. Every workman should have a place adapted to his employment, and should be readily supplied with means whereby to carry it on. He should have a shed to make his bricks in, as well as straw to make them with.
3. Contemplate the method employed to get men to do the impossible. These methods are various. Some will condescend to flattery and cant to get men to do that for which they are totally unadapted. Others will use force and persecution.
(1.) They set taskmasters over us. To watch our conduct. To inspect our work. To insure our diligence. To augment our burden. To darken our sorrow. How many managers in our large factories, inspired by the tyrant spirit of their masters, act the part of these Egyptian officers. How many deacons in small churches are more like them than they are like Christ, who gave rest to the heavy ladened.
(2.) They abuse us. They say we are idle, and that even after we have made the best attempt within our power, to fall in with their unjust demands.
(3.) They mock our religious sentiment. “Therefore, ye say, let us go and do sacrifice unto the Lord.” They impeach our religious motives. They insinuate that we are hypocrites. These, then, are the ways and methods in which we are treated, when tyrants endeavour to compel us to do the impossible.
(4.) Some people will attempt to accomplish the impossible. It would seem that these Israelites did. They were scattered abroad, and went seeking stubble wherewith to make bricks. Never attempt to do what you cannot, either in response to the order of the tyrant or the smile of the flatterer. It will involve you in utter failure and distress at last, when you will get no sympathy from those who urged you to it. The world is full of men who are trying to do the impossible. They are trying to make wealth too fast, they are giving out energy they will never be able to repair.
II. That the people who strive to make those under them do the impossible are throwing society into an attitude of pain and complaint. “Then the officers of the Children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?”
1. The requirement of the impossible tends to throw society into an attitude of pain. When men are required to do the impossible, their physical and moral energies are exhausted by what they know must be fruitless labour. Hence they become weary. They despair. Most of the social pain of our country is occasioned by tyrannic and covetous spirits, who are in haste to get rich out of the cheap and stern labour of those who are unfortunately in their service. National happiness is to a very large extent the outcome of a free and sympathetic employment of the working classes.
2. The requirement of the impossible tends to throw society into an attitude of complaint. When society is in pain, it is almost sure to render vocal its anguish in the language of complaint. Men feel, when they are required to do the impossible, that they are unjustly treated. And nothing will sooner give rise to complaint than a sense of injury and wrong. When society is complaining, it cannot be happy or prosperous. A tyrant king can destroy the very life of a nation. “Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants.”
1. Is it from the sheer motive of tyranny?
(2.) Is it as an additional assertion of authority since the demand of Moses and Aaron?
(3.) Is it with a cruel delight in our woe?
(4.) It certainly cannot be justified.
III. That the people who strive to make those under them do the impossible, and who throw society into an attitude of pain, are but little affected by the woe they occasion, and generally resent any mention of it to them. “Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.”
1. Not withstanding the outcry of the oppressed the tyrant demands renewed work. “Go therefore now, and work.”
2. Notwithstanding the outcry of the oppressed, the tyrant adheres to his cruel measures. “There shall no straw be given you.”
3. Notwithstanding the outcry of the oppressed, the tyrant mocks their woe, and treats them with contempt. LESSONS:
1. Never require the impossible.
2. Never attempt the impossible.
3. Adapt methods to ends.
4. Cultivate kindly dispositions toward your employers.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
REASONS REQUIRED FOR MORAL CONDUCT
Exodus 5:15. “Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants.”
I. There are times when men are required to give reasons for their method of moral conduct. They have been oppressive in their conduct. They have to give a reason for their oppression. They have been dishonest, they have to give a reason for their deception. They have occasioned pain to others, and any man who gives pain to his fellow creature ought to be rigorously questioned about it. Public opinion often calls a man to its tribunal. Sometimes men are the questioners. Sometimes God is the Questioner. Kings are not exempt from these interrogations. The world will one day have to give a reason for its conduct at the solemn bar of God.
II. It is highly important that every man should be able to allege heavenly principles and motives as the basis of his conduct. Men must not rest their methods of conduct upon the dictate of their own pleasure, convenience, or arbitrary will, but upon the spiritual law of God. Revenge, envy, and selfishness are vile reasons for conduct, and will meet with severe retribution. Love to God and man is the only true and loyal principle and motive of human action, and only will sustain the scrutiny of infinite rectitude.
III. That a man who can allege heavenly principles as the basis of his conduct will be safe at any tribunal to which he may be called.
1. He will be safe at the tribunal of his own conscience.
2. He will be safe at the tribunal of God’s Book.
3. He will be safe at the tribunal of public opinion.
4. He will be safe at the final tribunal of the universe.
Oppressed souls cannot but complain of cruel and unjust smitings.
Addresses for relief are fittest from the afflicted to the highest power oppressing.
Access, cries, and sad speeches are forced from the oppressed to oppressors.
The execution by instruments is justly charged upon their Lord’s.
1. He has often to give audience to his slaves.
2. He has to hear the cry of his slaves.
3. He has to listen to the complaint of his slaves.
4. He has to give a reason for his conduct to his slaves.
Exodus 5:16. THE EXPOSTULATIONS OF THE SLAVE
I. They expostulate that the means necessary to the accomplishment of their daily work were withheld. “There is no straw given to thy servants.”
II. They expostulate that they were brutally treated. “Thy servants are beaten.”
III. They expostulate that they were not morally culpable in their neglect of work. “The fault is in thine own people”
True servants may justly expostulate about hard dealings from their rulers.
To give no straw and to command bricks is a most unreasonable exaction.
To punish innocent servants when others sin, is a most unjust oppression.
Such wicked dealings sometimes make God’s servants to complain to earthly powers.
1. Unreasonable in his demands.
2. Cruel in his resentment.
3. Mistaken in his judgment of guilt.
Exodus 5:17-19. Cruel oppressors of God’s people are deaf to complaints.
Crimination, though false, instead of acceptation, is returned to the appeals of the oppressed by cruel powers.
Double labours are branded for idleness by unreasonable oppressors.
Persecutors do not only charge men but God, for making His people idle.
Inhuman persecutors drive the appealing oppressed out of their sight to work.
Cruel oppressors double their denial of help unto sad plaintiffs.
Complaints of exaction upon God’s servants are usually answered by adding more.
Cruel exactions of persecutors may make deep impressions upon God’s servants.
Good overseers are more afflicted when they see themselves forced to oppress the innocent.
Exodus 5:23. Neither has thou delivered thy people at all] This, though strong, is scarcely so bold as the original, which here makes an effective use of its preplaced infinitive absolute: “and—as for delivering—thou has not delivered thy people.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 5:20-23
CHRISTIAN WORKERS; THEIR DIFFICULTIES AND DISCOURAGEMENT
We do not as a rule fully appreciate the difficulties with which Christian workers have to contend. We are apt to imagine that their toil is comparatively easy, that they are aided in it by the ministry of heaven, and that therefore everything yields to their touch. Any man who talks thus shows that he has never been engaged in moral service, or his own experience would have taught him otherwise. Christian work is more difficult and perplexing than any other; it requires and calls into exercise the higher faculties of our being, which in most men are but feebly and partially developed; it brings into complicated social relationships; and often ends in apparent failure. The Christian worker must be permanently a man of faith, or he will despair in his toil, as nearly all that is seen is in opposition to his mission. Also, he is uncertain as to the time of his success; he knows not when he will come to the glad termination of his work. The men who toil in the secular spheres of life for their daily bread, and for the accommodation of society, know almost to an hour when their task will be completed. They have to deal with the inanimate things of nature, with wood and stone, which have no power of resistance, or remonstrance, These lifeless blocks must yield to the piercing of the chisel and the stroke of the hammer. But not so with the material on which Christian workers try their art. Human souls are not inanimate. They have the power of thought, of emotion, of will, and can resist, not only the earnest efforts of man, but also the influences of the Divine Spirit, when He strives to make them new creatures in Christ Jesus. Hence, when God calls Moses, or any other man, from ordinary toil to undertake some special mission for the moral welfare of humanity, He calls him to a task at once the most difficult and honourable. Let us then endeavour to appreciate and sympathize more with the perplexities of Christian service than we have hitherto done, that we may be patient, calmly awaiting the outcome of Divine Providence in its relation to the conduct of men. We observe:—
I. That Christian workers have frequently to contend with the obstinacy and ridicule of men in high positions. Moses and Aaron had to contend with the moral obstinacy of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt. And not only had they to conflict with his obstinacy, but also with his ridicule, and with his misrepresentation of their motive and conduct. He said that the design of these holy men, in their demand of freedom, was to indulge the indolence of Israel. And how frequently, in the history of Christian and philanthropic service, have kings and those in authority been the greatest hindrance to its progress. When the godly heroes of the Church have sought the emancipation of men, the pride of some haughty king, or the prejudice of some ignorant nobleman, or the vested interest of some rich autocrat, have thwarted their efforts. It is hard for a desert shepherd to contend with an impious king; the latter will have many allies, the former will rather have the legions of heaven to aid him than those of earth, as his cause is more popular with angels than men. Nor is it easy to endure the ridicule of those in high position, for when a king laughs and mocks at religious service, there are always a lot of servile spirits who will try to imitate his grin and raillery at our toil. We imagine that ridicule is almost the severest trial the Christian worker has to endure Thus we see that it is not the Divine plan to shield men from the ridicule and insult incurred by their effort of moral service, but rather to give grace that they may endure as serving him who is invisible. The ocean of Christian service is rocky and stormy, but we have a good pilot and a safe chart to guide us to our destined port.
II. That Christian workers have frequently to contend with the discouragement of a first defeat, and apparent failure. Moses and Aaron had been to Pharaoh according to the Divine command, and had met with a severe repulse. Their God was rejected. Their requirement of Israel’s freedom was haughtily refused. Their visit was followed by a servitude of increased rigour. It was to them a great failure They had no doubt, after the revelation God had made to them and the words He had spoken to them, but that they would meet with immediate success. But at once the fires of their enthusiasm were extinguished; their best efforts were without effect upon the king. Their statement of fact was useless. Their arguments were futile. Their entreaties were vain. The proud monarch defies them, and their God. All Christian workers will be able to enter into the bitter experiences of these two men. Their disappointment has often been yours. You heard the call of God; went forth to noble toil on behalf of the moral welfare of humanity, your heart was warm with glad excitement, visions of grand freedom came upon your soul, but they were all dispelled by the first attempt to snap the fetter. You were disappointed.20 You were sad. Your energy was gone, and you found it difficult to summon enough strength to make a second effort. Failure is always a woeful experience. It is to the scholar. It is to the voyager. It is to the soldier. It is especially so to the Christian worker. Never be disheartened by apparent failure; it may be but the shutting of a door, which will open widely upon your next approach.
III. That Christian workers have frequently to contend with the misapprehension of those whom they seek to benefit. Moses and Aaron had not merely to contend with the ridicule and resistance of Pharaoh; with their own sad consciousness of failure; but also with the misrepresentation and ungrateful reproaches of the slaves they sought to free. This is certainly one of the most remarkable features of Christian service. We should have thought that the Israelites would have been so tired and oppressed by their long-continued slavery, that they would have joyfully welcomed any agency likely to release them from it. But so far from this, they reproach Moses and Aaron upon the very first opportunity, accusing them of having augmented their burdens rather than relieved them. These Israelites had not the judgment to discern that this severe oppression was but the prelude to their release. They had not the patience to wait for the Divine Advent which would be the signal of their freedom. They had not the fortitude to endure their suffering calmly, even for a while. They immediately give vent to reproachful language, even to those who have given up all to relieve them in their trying circumstances. And this picture finds its reproduction in connection with much of the Christian service of our own day. How many of the slaves of sin, whose lives are full of misery and woe, resent any Christian effort that is made to recover them to purity and peace, because of the momentary increase of pain that is occasioned by the effort to become morally better. They desire, in response to our call, to leave King Satan, and to enjoy the freedom of King Jesus; hence Satan becomes more fierce in his temptations, he endeavours to make more secure their fetters, to increase their burdens; and in bitterness of soul they are liable to indulge in ungrateful words, and regard their expected deliverer as their foe. An increase of slavery generally precedes freedom, hence the slaves of sin should be prepared for anguish before they can chant the sweet anthem of liberty. These misrepresentations are however hard for the Christian worker to endure; they are not merely ungrateful, they are cruel, they wound his soul. Happy if they lead him to God in prayerful spirit.
IV That Christian workers have frequently to contend with their own misconception of the Divine method of working, and their inability to rightly interpret the meaning of events in relation thereto. Moses and Aaron no doubt thought that when Pharaoh had rejected their message, and when the Israelites had reproached their conduct, that their mission was at an end, and that it was a failure.21 This is evident from the prayer of the next verse or two. They could not interpret the meaning of events; they could not understand the increased burden of Israel’s slavery. They could not look beneath the surface of their daily history; and only few men can. Hence the difficulties of Christian workers. They have not the power to interpret events. They lack intuitive perception and penetration. They cannot work out historical problems; from the given equation of to-day they cannot find out the unknown quantity of to-morrow. Hence they err. They imagine that increased burdens mean failure, when in reality they are the first indications of success. For if the monarch did not fear that he would soon lose his slaves, he would not require more work from them than usual. So, the Christian worker has to contend with the many disadvantages occasioned by his own misreading of daily history. LESSONS:—
1. Not to be discouraged by apparent failures in Christian service.
2. Not to yield to the scorn of the Mighty in our attempt to improve the moral condition of men.
3. To interpret the reproach of the slave in the light of his augmented slavery, and not to be dismayed by it.
4. To prayerfully study daily events, so as to find God’s purposes of freedom developing themselves therein.
THE APPARENT FAILURE OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE
I. Our surprise that Christian Service should be a failure. It is a matter of surprise:—
1. Because the workers had been Divinely sent, and prepared for their toil. Had Moses and Aaron undertaken the emancipation of Israel at their own wish, or at the instigation of their friends, we could not have been astonished at their failure; but they were sent by God. They had been instructed by vision. They had been enriched by life’s discipline. They had gathered impulse from holy communion with heaven. They were invested with the power to work miracles. They were given the message which they were to deliver unto Pharaoh. We cannot but wonder at this failure.
2. Because the workers had received all the accompaniments necessary to their toil. They did not go a warfare in their own charges. They did not go in poverty. All the resources of heaven went with them. The two brothers found glad companionship in each other, and their all in God. We should have imagined that as the Divine Being had so equipped them for their mission, that he would have given them immediate success. Hence our surprise at their apparent failure.
3. Because the workers had arisen to a moral fortitude needful to the work. Once they were cowardly, and shrank from the mission, but their cowardice had broken unto heroism; their tremor was removed by the promise of God. Their objections to the service were removed. They went to it with brave heart. They were brave, because they had confidence in God. Hence we should have expected them to have succeeded at once, as a brave soul is never far from victory.
II. Our sorrow that Christian Service should be a failure. It is a matter of sorrow:—
1. Because the tyrant is unpunished. Men who in any way imprison their fellow creatures deserve the severest penalties that can be inflicted either by earth or heaven. It is a matter of regret when the agency designed for the infliction of retribution is frustrated in its stroke. Let the world rejoice when a despot is removed from his throne.
2. Because the slave is unfreed. We had anticipated the freedom of Israel from the sacred heroism of these two servants of God. We are apparently disappointed. But though the immediate effort is unsuccessful, God will achieve their freedom. The failure of moral service is only temporary.
3. Because the workers are disappointed. Moses and Aaron expected immediate success. Their communion with God had inspired them with this hope. Hence their dejection.
III. Our hope that the failure of Christian Service will not be ultimate.
1. Because the Divine call will be vindicated. Moses and Aaron were the right men to achieve the emancipation of Israel. God will demonstrate this, in the history of the world, by their success. The moral selections of heaven are capable of vindication, and one day will be vindicated to humanity.
1. Because service for the good of men cannot ultimately fail. This thought should inspire Christian workers with fortitude and patience. You are employed in a work that commands the obligation of the race, and the final blessing of God. LESSONS:—
1. Do not be alarmed at the temporary failure of Christian work.
2. The apparent failure of Christian work answers some wise purposes.
3. Those who occasion the temporary failure of Christian work are liable to the retribution of heaven.
4. Let Christian workers to hold on to the word and promise of God.22
THE COMPLAINTS OCCASIONED BY CHRISTIAN SERVICE
I. There is the complaint of the King, that the people are idle. The effort of Christian service always awakens complaint, and especially of those toward whom it is directed. Men are sure to imagine themselves injured by it, if they are to lose their slaves through it. People do not like the Gospel to interfere with them in the enjoyment of their sinful pleasures.
II. There is the complaint of the people, that they have been deluded. Moses and Aaron had inspired them with the bright hope of liberty, they were acting and living under the glad influence of this anticipation, when suddenly their slavery is rendered more intolerable by the revengeful oppression of Pharaoh. Sometimes impatient people who have been led to expect gifts from God imagine themselves deluded, because those gifts are delayed in their bestowal A true soul will wait, without a word of reproach, till heaven comes to open its prison door.23
III. There is the complaint of the workers, that they were defeated. Sometimes people, who ought to know better, complain about the ways of God. There are times when Christian service happens to please nobody but God. How many imperfections attach to the efforts of good men. We do not much wonder at the complainings of the King, or even of the Israelites, but we expected better things from Moses and Aaron. Christian men are too often found in the same attitude of soul as men of the world.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 5:20-21. Sense of evil from tyrants may make the oppressed fall into complaint against their best friends.
Providence orders his servants sometimes to meet with friends after sad usage by oppressors.
Ministers of salvation want to meet God’s afflicted, when they look not after them.
Instruments of deliverance may desire a good egress of the oppressed from tyrants, and not find it.
Sense overcharged with oppression may make men reproach God, and curse his ministers.
Unbelieving souls are ready to set God against His own word, and instruments sent by Him.
Hasty unbelievers under cross providences are ready to charge the cause upon God’s ministers.
Foolish souls charge God’s instruments of life to be causes of death.
Thus we have seen dogs in the chase bark at their best friends.—(Trapp).
Now comes a severer trial than any which these servants of the Lord had had to go through. The Lord’s people may expect to receive hard words from the people of the world; they may expect to be regarded as troublers of Israel; they may expect to have it said of them, as it was said of the Apostles, that they have “turned the world upside down.” But there is a harder trial to the Lord’s servants, when from professors themselves they meet with such treatment as Moses and Aaron met with from the officers who were set over the people of Israel. These men meet Moses and Aaron, and they say, “It is all your fault—Pharaoh would not have done us any harm but for you.” Now, brethren, we have seen and known something of this. If the Lord’s servant is faithful, he does trouble the world. He disturbs the monotony of things. A member of a family receives the truth; his former practices are abandoned; the whole course of his life is altered. It may be worldly prospects are affected by such a change as this: it disturbs the every day worldliness of the family of which this individual is a member, and this causes more or less uneasiness to those who are not like-minded. But instead of inquiry being made as to the cause of all this—instead of asking whether it is wrong, or whether it may not, after all, be right, ill feeling is vented against the instrument, who was the means of bringing the truth home to that heart, and who was really made a blessing to that family. Brethren, the Man of God must make up his mind to this, and not only to this, but one of the most painful things a servant of God meets with is to hear it said, “He is doing damage to the Lord’s cause.” If we are told, you have no business to stand against the world and sin, we can bear that, for it is the commission we have received from our Master, but we do find it a painful trial when we are told, if you were a little more judicious in your way of stating the truth of God, you would not offend the people of the world, and your preaching would be much more acceptable than it is. Still this ought not to affect the minister of God as to his statement of the truth; for if he has learned the truth, he knows that the message never was, and never will be, recommended by anything in the instrument. If a man had the silver tongue of an angel, he would never bring a soul to Christ; nor can any disqualification on the part of the instrument hinder the Lord’s work.24—(Lectures by Rev. W. H. Krause, A.M.)
Exodus 5:22-23. The prayer of a disappointed worker:—
1. It is indicative of disappointment.
2. Of injustice on the part of God.
3. Of cruelty.
4. Of contradiction.
Unjust criminations from God’s people make the ministers of God may quail and recede from their duty.
God’s faithful instruments, though they do retreat of weakness, yet it is unto the Lord.
God’s faithful ones under pressure may charge God foolishly for doing evil to His people.25
In such workings of flesh the spirit may humbly expostulate with God by prayer.
Sad events in ministering may make God’s servants question their mission.
In such questioning, souls may humbly deprecate the frustration of their ministry.
“And Moses returned unto the Lord.” He turned aside, as it were, to speak with a friend, and to disburden him self in God’s bosom. This is the saint’s privilege.—(Trapp).
The language in this twenty-second verse is very remarkable, and explains other passages of Scripture. Moses said, “Lord, wherefore hast Thou evil entreated this people?” But it was the taskmasters who evil entreated them, not God. And this explains that passage to which I referred last Lord’s day morning, about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. In the Hebrew idiom, God is often said to do a thing which He is only the occasion of its being done. It is said, for instance, that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart; that is. He applied those means, that, if not successful in subduing that heart, would necessarily, by their reaction, evenuate in the hardening of that heart. So here, God did not evil entreat the people; but He used these means to effectuate their exodus, which at first added to the weight and pressure of their burdens.—(Dr. Cumming.)
The prayer of Moses:—
I. A right act.
II. Done in a wrong spirit.
III. At a serious time.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
(20)—Christian Life!—When a man among the Grecians, writes Dr. Boyd, entered the Olympic Games to run for the prize, he had to lay aside all ideas of case and self-indulgence, and prepare himself for a severe contest. To listen to the voice of indolence and loiter by the way would cover him with deepest disgrace. And the more frequent he contended for the prize, the more experience be acquired—the more prospect had he of winning the reward. The Christian life is a struggle from first to last with the powers of darkness within and without. When the truth as it is in Jesus arises in its fullorbed grandeur upon his mind—when the chains of his bondage are snapped asunder by Him who proclaims liberty to the captive—when the burden of his guilt is removed, and sweet serenity and peace takes its place—when the soul begins to get a glimpse of its high privileges and lofty vocation, then the Christian is apt to think that this is to continue for ever. The maiden thinks that the joy of her first married experience is to be always steadfast; but she soon finds out from discipline of life that her notion is premature. So the Christian’s life becomes overcast with dark and threatening clouds—the in my collects all his forces to assail the fortress of Man-soul—the world scowls with clouds and tempests upon him—and the tyrant lets loose his hell-hounds of temptation to bring back the escaped bondsmen. As Cowper says:—
“He who knew what human hearts would prove,
How slow to learn the dictates of His love,”
ordained that the Christian life should be a continuous warfare—an unceasing struggle—an unwearied contention with evil. And thus
“Our blasted hopes, our aims and wishes crossed,
Are worth the tears and agonies they cost.”
(21)—Patient Work!—In the museum at Rotterdam is the first piece painted by the renowned Rembrandt. It is rough, without marks of genius or skill, and uninteresting except to show that he began as low down as the lowest. In the same gallery is the masterpiece of the artist, counted of immense value. Work! Patience! Tears of work! Years of patience! If all have not genius, all have the power to work for the glory of God and spiritual disenthralment of man. This is greater than genius; and especially if it be the work of moral freedom—the work of a Divine call to holiness.
“How beautiful is genius when combined
With holiness! Oh! bow divinely swell
The tones of earthly harp, whose chords are touch’d
By the soft hand of piety, and hung
Upon religion’s shrine.
(22)—Promises!—God had said. And Moses might know that He was able to perform what He had spoken. Men’s promises may be like pie-crust, made to be broken; not so is it with those of Jehovah. What He promises, the gates of hell cannot hinder its performance. Therefore Christian workers may well stay themselves on this rock of infinite assurance: I am God, and change not. By so doing they will find to their unspeakable comfort that no music is half so sweet, no eloquence so entrancing, no picture a all so attractive, as the promises of God. Like the aurora borealis, they would shine on the frosty and sombre sky of Moses’ discouragement, tinging it with brilliant colours, and relieving it with beautiful rays; even as with the pious old slave on a Virginia plantation, who, when asked why he was always so sunny-hearted and cheerful under his bondage, responded that it was owing to his custom of “laying fiat upon the promises, and then praying straight up to my heavenly Father.” Even so with Moses, he reclines on the assurance of deliverance whilst he pleads with God. Turn thy face sunward!
“Watch though so long be the twilight delaying,
Let the first sunbeam arise on thee praying;
Fear not, for greater is God by thy side,
Than armies of Satan against thee allied.”
(23)—God’s Times.—Moses had expected an immediate deliverance; but that God had not promised. Freedom He had solemnly declared that Israel should soon enjoy, but the “when” and the “how soon” were hidden in the dark. Gurnal fitly expresses the thought that, as the herbs and flowers, which sleep all winter in their roots underground, when the time of spring approaches forthwith start forth from their beds where they had lain so long undisturbed, so the promises of God will in their season effloresce and fruiten. Every promise is dated with a mysterious character, and as the gardener knows when the different seeds will come up, and arranges accordingly, so God knows the budding-time of His promises. Moses must wait. For want of skill in God’s chronology, we are prone to think that God forgets us, when indeed we forget ourselves in being so bold to set God a time of our own, and in being angry that he comes not just as we wish and expect.
“Be patient! oh, be patient! though yet our hopes are green.
The harvest fields of freedom shall be crown’d with sunny sheen.”
(24)—Means!—Moses forgot that God does not require great means—small means—or any means. He can work by little or nothing; though He is pleased to work by means. A ship struck on a reef of rocks distant from the shore, while the wind was roaring, and the wave was raging—
“Dreadful was the rack
As earth and sky would mingle. Nor yet slept the winds
Within their stony caves, but rushed abroad
From the four hinges of the world.”
The dwellers on the land could not reach the ship, and the sailors on the sea could not reach the shore. But the captain had a little dog on board—quick and intelligent. To tie a string to its neck—point it to the distant dimly-dark beach, with its shadowy group of spectators—and to fling it into the abyss to breast the foaming billows, was the work of an instant. The tiny terrier knew its errand and loved its master, and so fought its way buoyantly. No man could have triumphed over the angry waters, but the dog did. The cord had its rope, which was pulled ashore—then a hawser—then a cradle; by which means the crew were saved. What can God not do with little means?—
“Let us be content to work
To do the thing we can, and not presume
To fret because it’s little.”
The more helpless Moses was, the more glory accrued to his God. Just as with the bridge across the Falls of the Niagara. A kite bore a cord—the cord held a rope—the rope drew a cable—the cable hauled the first material necessary for the construction of the bridge. The insignificance of the means employed only redounded to the engineer’s praise.
(25)—Discipline!—The dove in the fable, annoyed because the wind had ruffled its feathers, foolishly wished for a firmament free from air, through the empty space of which it vainly dreamed that its unimpeded wing would dart swift as the nimble lightning. Silly bird! without that air it could neither live nor soar. Do not ignobly wish every breath of opposition away. Difficulties, asserts Coley, met and mastered, upbear us to the high reaches of honour. Difficulties, Beecher notes, are God’s errands; and when we are sent upon them we should esteem it a proof of Divine confidence, as a compliment from God. As in the Napoleonic wars, the general was wont to give the post of danger, or the command of a forlorn hope, or the defence of some strategic pass or bridge to a favourite subordinate.
“He holds me that I shall not fall,
And so to him I leave it all.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent