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Bible Dictionaries

Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Pharaoh

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A NEW KING WHO KNEW NOT JOSEPH.… AND WHEN HE SAW THAT THERE WAS RESPITE HE HARDENED HIS HEART

WHEN King Ahasuerus could not sleep at night he used to have his chamberlains called in to read the books of the chronicles of the kingdom at his bedside. And as the reading went on King Ahasuerus would stop them and would ask them, What honour and what reward have been done to Mordecai for all this? And then when the king's ministers answered him that nothing had been done, the first orders that the king gave in the morning were that Mordecai and all his descendants should be set straightway among the men whom the king delighted to honour. Now it was just because Pharaoh the father did not have the history of Egypt read to him in that way that he and his son came to such a terrible end. Poor, misguided crown-prince, when he was still the crown-prince! His tutors and his governors had destroyed their royal charge for lack of knowledge. They had amused him, and flattered him, and let him run wild, and let him have his own way in everything, when they should have been bringing him up as David brought up Solomon, and as the wise men in the east brought up Cyrus. The only claim any man has to reign over other men is that he is wiser and better than they are. The divine right, as it used to be called, of every true king is grounded in his wisdom, and in his goodness, and in his truth, and in his justice; he is the best born, the best brought up, the best read, the best experienced, the largest-minded and the noblest-hearted man in all the land. But the times are changed since Pharaoh's day. We are all kings, in a manner, in our day. We all have a crown on our head, and a sword and a sceptre in our hand. And, in our measure, we should all be instructed statesmen, like the royal patron of Mordecai and Esther; and it will go ill with us, and with those who come after us, if we are like Pharaoh, who had never heard of Joseph, and what Joseph had done for the land of Egypt. That will be the best election-time Scotland has ever seen, not when this or that party comes into power, but when every enfranchised man has already read about Wallace and Bruce, and about Cromwell and Milton, and about Hampden and Pym, and about Knox and Melville, and about Henderson and Rutherford and Chalmers. When all who have votes prepare themselves for the polling-booth in that way, then we shall see a House of Commons composed of the best and ablest men the land can produce; the moat loyal, the most fair and just, the most God-fearing, and the least self-seeking of men. Then Ireland, and India, and China, and Africa, and Armenia, and Macedonia shall hold out their hands to England; and all lands shall both love and fear England and her Queen because of that knowledge and that righteousness which alone exalteth a nation, and which alone enthroneth and establisheth a sovereign.

Come on, let us deal wisely with them, said the ill-read and ignorant sovereign who sat on the throne of Egypt at the time when the children of Israel were fast becoming more and mightier than their masters. Come on, was his insane edict, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply and it come to pass that, when there falleth out any war, they join themselves to our enemies and fight against us. Therefore, they did set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. But the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and grew. Till in a policy of despair this demented king charged all his people, saying, Every son of the Hebrews that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive. This is all that remains on the statute-book of Egypt to testify to the statesmanship of that king of Egypt who had never heard of Joseph the son of Jacob, the servant of Potiphar, and the counsellor and deliverer of the kingdom. That was the statute-book, and that was the sword and the sceptre, that this Pharaoh handed down to his son who succeeded him, and who was that new Pharaoh whom God raised up to show in him His power, and that through him His name might be declared throughout all the earth. A Pharaoh, says Philo, whose whole soul from his cradle had been filled full of the arrogance of his ancestors. And indeed, he was no sooner sat down on his throne, we no sooner begin to hear his royal voice, than he at once exhibits all the ignorance and all the arrogance of his ancestors in the answer he gives to Moses and Aaron: Who is the Lord that I should obey Him? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go. Get you to your burdens. It is because you are idle that you say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord. Go, therefore, for there shall no straw be given you, and yet you shall deliver your tale of bricks! The father had not known Joseph, and the son knew neither Joseph, nor Moses, nor Aaron, nor God. Moses! Moses is my slave, he shouted. Moses should be baking his tale of bricks all this time. What! Moses! of all men in the world, to come into my presence with a demand like that! Had Moses been some great ambassador who had come in a ship from some far country; had Moses and Aaron come with great gifts and in a great name to negotiate a royal league with Egypt, Pharaoh would have done them honour. A banquet would have been spread for Moses and Aaron, and the great council of the kingdom would have been called together to receive them, and to hear what they had to say. But Moses and Aaron! Why, they should have been at their tasks! Who are they, to come like ambassadors to me? No; to your bricks and to your burdens, you Moses and Aaron! And if only your minister were some great one, it would go so much better with him and with you. If he only came from some far-off city, and from some famous pulpit. If you only heard him preach once or twice in a lifetime, then you would attend to what he says; and you might, who knows, be prevailed on to do it. If your minister were only Dr. Chalmers, or Dr. Candlish, or Mr. Spurgeon. But he is nobody. And, besides, he has offended you, and has not always pleased you. And he is full of faults. And, besides, you know all about him. Moses had blood upon his hands in his youth, as Pharaoh's counsellors kept him well in mind. Yes, you stick to it like that royal spirit. It would be weak, it would be an impossible humiliation in you, to make any alteration in your heart or in your life for what your present minister says. Talk on after every sermon. Show your children after every sermon and every prayer of his how much better their father could preach and pray. Tell them about Disruption times. Laugh at their weak impressions and at their foolish praises, and tell them that they have never heard preaching to be called preaching. And if it turns out with you like Pharaoh, and if Pharaoh rises up in the day of judgment to condemn you, then stand up on the left hand and tell the Judge to His face that He never gave you and your children a chance. With such a minister, you never had fair play and a proper chance. Moses! Who, I would like to know, is Moses? Pharaoh was still shouting out that to his captains when the Red Sea rolled in and cut short his scorn.

What sign showest Thou, said the unbelieving Jews to our Lord, that we may see, and believe Thee? What dost Thou work? Let me see a miracle, said Pharaoh to Moses and Aaron, and then I will let Israel go. And to satisfy Pharaoh, and to soften his heart, Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. But instead of saying, This is the Lord, and proclaiming an edict that the people should go free, Pharaoh called in his sorcerers and his magicians, and they did in like manner with their enchantments. And miracle succeeded miracle; miracles of judgment were wrought and miracles of mercy; but they all ended in the same way-Pharaoh's heart was only the more hardened. It looked a very innocent request. We would have said that it was a very promising and a very hopeful state of mind in Pharaoh to ask for some proof of the divine embassy of Moses and Aaron, and then he would obey. But, all the time, the evil seed of all Pharaoh's after life and death of sin lay at the heart of that innocent-looking, hopeful-sounding demand. For, innocent as it looked, and hopeful as it sounded, Pharaoh's demand put upon God, and upon Moses and Aaron, the first step of Pharaoh's repentance and obedience. If no miracle had followed his request, then Pharaoh would have felt fully justified in holding to his refusal. And, as it was, when his magicians did something sufficiently like Aaron's rod, then Pharaoh fell back and took his stand upon that, till the miracle upon which he had suspended his obedience was wrought in vain. No. Pharaoh's first step to his salvation, had he but taken it, was not to see a miracle, but to do what he knew to be right. Had Pharaoh said to his servants-Come, let us read in the book of the kingdom. Come, let us see what manner of life the people of Israel live in Goshen. What are their sorrows? What are their complaints? What are their requests? Then he would have soon after said, Yes, let them sacrifice to their God without molestation; and then let them come back again to their work. That was all that was asked of Pharaoh for the time; and, had he not been filled full from his cradle with the ignorance and arrogance of his ancestors, Moses and he would soon have come to terms, and Egypt and Israel would have been friends and allies to this day. But Pharaoh took a wrong turn and a false step when lie still asked for evidence where he should have offered obedience; and that wrong turn and that false step laid him at last in the bottom of the Red Sea.

No. It is not more evidence you need. Or, if it is evidence, then it is the evidence of obedience and experience. It is not a course of Lectures on Apologetics you need. All the Bridgewater and Bampton treatises together would only mislead you and harden your heart. Neither is it a special providence, nor an extraordinary interposition on the part of Almighty God that you need. No, Be not self-deceived. For this cause, among others, God raised up Pharaoh that he might speak to you out of the Ked Sea, saying, Learn of me. Burn your books about miracles. If I had not bargained for miracles I would not have been here. Read books of obedience. Read books of prayer and repentance and obedience. Cease from debate and betake yourselves to be alone with God. Yes. A voice comes from the depth below, as well as from the height above, saying to us all, He among you that doetb the will of God, eveu he shall know of the doctrine, and shall not need to seek after a miracle. Do the will of God in the thing that lies nearest you, and in the thing that God has been so long asking of you; do it; resolve to do it; begin to do it tonight and before tomorrow; and then all past miracles in Egypt and in Israel, and all present providences and all coming experiences, will all work together to soften your heart and thus to strengthen and assure your faith. But turn away tonight from your first duty; make postponements; seek more convenient seasons; raise obstacles; make conditions; seek for signs, and put it off yourself, and put it upon God and upon His servants, to wait for you and to make terms with you, and from this night your heart will harden like Pharaoh's heart till your end is like his. Two young men are sitting in one seat, and, to look at them, you would say that they are not far from the kingdom of God. Their hearts are in the balance. They are almost persuaded. The intimation is made to them of the approaching celebration of the Lord's Supper. The time and the place are told them when their names may be entered for the Table. They both listen to the intimation. They both think about it; both in their own way. Yes, the one says, I have put it off too long. And I am no better. I think I will take what looks like God's word to me tonight. I will offer myself just as I am. And he does it. And his name is enrolled for the coming communion. He begins tonight and he goes on from tonight. The church is henceforth his church. The minister is henceforth his minister. He comes up to the church Sabbath after Sabbath now with a new interest in everything, and a stake of his own in everything. His heart softens and softens. And his faith clears up, and strengthens, and strikes root, and brings forth fruit; till, after years and years and years spent among us, he passes over into the promised land. His neighbour looks at the communion invitation also, and almost accepts it. No. I will wait, he says. I have some difficulties not yet resolved. I have not seen the unbelieving argument of that new book sufficiently answered. I must first read what is to be said on the other side. No, not tonight. No, not this communion yet. And he goes home. And, you could not detect it, it is so little, but his heart is just the smallest degree hardened tonight. He was at the sharp turning of the way, and he took, if anything, the wrong turn. He took Pharaoh's turn. May he turn again! Turn him, O Lord, before he goes on to Pharaoh's end.

The magicians led on Pharaoh so far, but a time came when their enchantments could carry them no farther. This is the finger of God, the outdone magicians had the insight and the honesty to say. This is the finger of God, and there is no use, and it would he death to us, to go on fighting with our enchantments against God's finger any further. Do, they advised Pharaoh-do what is asked of thee, and let the people go. But those magicians had done their evil work hotter than they knew. For, by that time, Pharaoh's heart was so hardened by their enchantments that he would not hearken to the too late advice of his old enchanters. Just so. We have seen it ourselves a thousand times. We have seen magicians who could begin a work of deception and delusion, but who could not stop the deception and undo the delusion when they fain would. We have seen philosophers putting nature in the place of God till their scholars went against both God and nature too. We have seen fathers and mothers indulging their sons, and letting them take their own way in religion and in life till they could not stop them. We have seen infidels, and scoffers, and gamblers, and drunkards, and all manner of profligates made by the score, as the magicians made Pharaoh; made, that is, little by little, till the work was finished, and till those who began it and carried it so far on were laughed at when they said, This, I fear, is the finger of God. The very sorcerers themselves at last believed, but Pharaoh still held out. They could set a bad work a-going; but, with all their advice, and with all their authority, they could not stop their evil work, nor in one iota undo it.

But stroke after stroke, plague after plague, fell upon Pharaoh till even he was brought at last to his knees. Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Entreat the Lord and I will let the people go. And Moses cried unto the Lord, and the Lord did according to the word of Moses. But when Pharaoh saw that there was to be respite, he hardened his heart and hearkened not unto them. Fatal Pharaoh! Everything that came to Pharaoh hardened his hard heart. God was fairly battled with Pharaoh. God was completely defeated by Pharaoh. Good and evil, grace and judgment, plague and respite from plague-it was all one. Pharaoh's heart was hardened. Pharaoh was his name. What is your name? Well, when we substitute your name for Pharaoh's name in the terrible passage about the respite, we have in that passage the last chapter, the latest written-out chapter, of your evil life. Your present respite is fast running out, and up to tins holy day you are still hardening your heart. You have gone on doing the things you swore to God and to man you would never do again. Because judgment against your evil work was not executed out, when it began to be executed, you have lifted up your heel to this very day in the face of God. There are men here tonight who were in that same seat on the New Year's day before last. And they have often remembered, sometimes with tears, but more often with a hard remorse as of hell, the text of that New Year's day address. The text that day was out of A Kempis, and it was to this effect. That spiritual writer said to us that, if we would root out but one of our vices every new year, we should soon become perfect men. And, as I know, there were some men present here that New Year's day who were so touched and so taken with that striking counsel of A Kempis that they asked for a respite for that year. Now, that is a year and a half ago. They have had a whole half-year to the bargain, till their vice is all the deeper in their bodies and in their souls to this day. Stop tonight before you sleep. Stay up alone and set yourself to think what conceivable end God can have had in raising you up, and in filling your life so full of so many accumulated and aggravated sentences and respites of sentences? God tells us Himself for what purpose He raised up Pharaoh. And, read what God says about His purpose with Pharaoh in what light you like, and offer what explanations of it you like, still it remains a terrible story and a terrible sentence. What do you think, what do you suppose, God has raised you up for? Are you, do you think, would you believe, being sentenced and respited, sentenced and respited, and sentenced and respited again in order to show how far grace can go-your sin and God's grace? Who can tell, but that as Pharaoh stands to the end of time the proof of God's power, so you are to stand at the opposite pole as the proof of His long-suffering and super-abounding grace? Yes, that must be it in you. After so many respites, and so much sin after so many respites, if you die under respite, that must be it. Yes, this must be the key to your so often respited life-this: that, where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. And that, as sin hath reigned unto death in you, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life in you by Jesus Christ your Lord. May it be so!

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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Pharaoh'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/p/pharaoh.html. 1901.

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