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says, "God is righteous, I am wicked; Moses, pray for us;" and presently lays down his head again. God hath no sooner done thundering, than he hath done fearing. All this while you never find him careful to prevent any one evil, but desirous still to shift it off, when he feels it; never holds constant to any good motion; never prays for himself, but carelessly wills Moses and Aaron to pray for him; never yields God his whole demand, but higgleth and dodgeth, like some hard chapmen, that would get a release with the cheapest. First, They shall not go; then, Go, and sacrifice, but in Egypt; next, Go, sacrifice in the wilderness, but not far off; after, Go ye that are men; then, Go you and your children only; at last, Go all save your sheep and cattle. Wheresoever mere nature is, she is still improvident of future good, sensible of present evil, inconstant in good purposes, unable through unacquaintance, and unwilling to speak for herself; niggardly in her grants, and uncheerful. The plague of the grashoppers startled him a little, and the more through the importunity of his servants; for when he considered the fish destroyed with the first blow, the cattle with the fifth, the corn with the seventh, the fruit and leaves with this eighth, and nothing now left him but a bare fruitless earth to live upon, (and that covered over with locusts) necessity drove him to relent for an advantage: "Forgive me this once; take from me this death only."
But as constrained repentance is ever short and unsound, the west-wind, together with the grashoppers, blows away his remorse; and now is he ready for another judgment. As the grashoppers took away the sight of the earth from him, so now a gross darkness takes away the sight of heaven too. darknesses were but privative, this was real and sensible. The Egyptians thought this night long, (how could they choose, when it was six in one?) and so much the more, for that no man could rise to talk with other, but was necessarily confined to his own thoughts. One thinks the fault in his own eyes, which he rubs oftentimes in vain. Others think, that the sun is lost out of the firmament, and is now withdrawn for ever; others, that all things are returning to their first confusion: all think themselves miserable, past remedy, and wish (whatsoever had befallen them) that they might have had but light enough to see themselves die.
Now Pharaoh proves like to some beasts that grow mad
Grace often resisted turns to desperateness. "Get thee from me, look thou see my face no more; whensoever thou comest in my sight, thou shalt die." As if Moses could not plague him as well in absence; as if he that could not take away the lice, flies, frogs, grashoppers, could, at his pleasure, take away the life of Moses that procured them. What is this but to run upon the judgments, and run away from the remedies? Evermore, when God's messengers are abandoned, destruction is near. Moses will see him no more,
till he see him dead upon the sands; but God will now visit him more than ever. The fearfullest plagues God still reserves for the upshot: all the former do but make way for the last. Pharaoh may exclude Moses and Aaron, but God's angel he cannot exclude. Insensible messengers are used, when the visible are debarred.
Now God begins to call for the blood they owed him in one night every house hath a carcass in it, and, which is more grievous, of their first-born, and, which is yet more fearful, in an instant. No man could comfort another; every man was too full of his own sorrow, helping rather to make the noise of the lamentation more doleful and astonishing. How soon hath God changed the note of this tyrannical people! Egypt was never so stubborn in denying passage to Israel, as now importunate to entreat it. Pharaoh did not more force them to stay before, than now to depart: whom lately they would not permit, now they hire to go. Their rich jewels of silver and gold were not too dear for them, whom they hated; how much rather had they to send them away wealthy, than to have them stay to be their executors! Their love to themselves obtained of them the enriching of their enemies; and now they are glad to pay them well for their old work, and their present journey. God's people had staid like slaves; they go away like conquerors, with the spoil of those that hated them, armed for security, and wealthy for maintenance.
Old Jacob's seventy souls which he brought down into Egypt, in spite of their bondage and bloodshed, go forth six hundred thousand men, besides children. The world is well mended with Israel, since he went with his staff and his scrip over Jordan. Tyranny is too weak, where God bids "Increase and multiply." I know not where else the good herb overgrows the weeds; the church outstrips the world. I fear, if they had lived in ease and delicacy, they had not been
so strong, so numerous. Never any true Israelite lost by his affliction. Not only for the action, but the time, Pharaoh's choice meets with God's. That very night, when the hundred and thirty years were expired, Israel is gone: Pharaoh neither can, nor can will to keep them any longer; yet in this, not fulfilling God's will, but his own. How sweetly doth God dispose of all second causes, that, while they do their own will, they do his !
The Israelites are equally glad of this haste. Who would not be ready to go, yea to fly out of bondage? They have what they wished; it was no staying for a second invitation. The loss of an opportunity is many times unrecoverable. The love of their liberty made the burden of their dough light. Who knew whether the variable mind of Pharaoh might return to a denial, and, after all his stubbornness, repent of his obedience? It is foolish to hazard, where there is certainty of good offers, and uncertainty of continuance. They go therefore; and the same God that fetched them out, is both their guide and protector. How carefully doth he choose their way! not the nearer, but the safer. He would not have his people so suddenly change from bondage to war.
It is the wondrous mercy of God, that he hath respect, as to his own glory, so to our infirmities. He intends them wars hereafter, but after some longer breathing and more preparation; his goodness so orders all, that evils are not ready for us, till we be ready for them. And as he chooses, so he guides their way. That they might not err in that sandy and untracted wilderness, himself goes before them: who could but follow cheerfully, when he sees God lead him! He that led the wise men by a star, leads Israel by a cloud. That was an higher object, therefore he gives them an higher and more heavenly conduct: this was more earthly, therefore he contents himself with a lower representation of his presence; a pillar of cloud and fire: a pillar for firmness, of cloud and fire for visibility and use. The greater light extinguishes the less; therefore in the day he shews them not fire, but a cloud. In the night nothing is seen without light; therefore be shews them not the cloud but fire. The cloud shelters them from heat by day; the fire, digests the rawness of the night. The same God is both a cloud and a fire to his children, ever putting himself into those forms of gracious respects that may best fit their necessities.
As good motions are long ere they can enter into hard hearts, so they seldom continue long. No sooner were the backs of Israel turned to depart, than Pharaoh's heart and face is turned after them, to fetch them back again. It vexes him to see so great a command, so much wealth cast away in one night, which now he resolves to redeem, though with more plagues. The same ambition and covetousness, that made him wear out so many judgments, will not leave him, till it have wrought out his full destruction. All God's vengeances have their end, the final perdition of his enemies, which they cannot rest till they have attained. Pharaoh therefore, and his Egyptians, will needs go fetch their bane. They well knew that Israel was fitter to serve than to fight; weary with their servitude, not trained up to war, not furnished with provision for a field: themselves, captains and soldiers by profession, furnished with horses and chariots of war. They gave themselves therefore the victory beforehand, and Israel either for spoil or bondage. Yea, the weak Israelites gave up themselves for dead, and are already talking of their graves. They see the sea before them, behind them the Egyptians: they know not which is most merciless, and are stricken with the fear of both. O God, how couldst thou forbear so distrustful a people! They had seen all thy wonders in Egypt, and in their Goshen; they saw even now thy pillar before them, and yet they did more fear Egypt than believe thee. Thy patience is no less miracle than thy deliverance. But instead of removing from them, the cloudy pillar removes behind them, and stands betwixt the Israelites and Egyptians; as if God would have said, they shall first overcome me, O Israel, ere they touch thee. Wonder did now justly strive with fear in the Israelites; when they saw the cloud remove behind them, and the sea remove before them. They were not used to such bulwarks. God stood behind them in the cloud, the sea reared them up walls on both sides of them. That, which they feared would be their destruction, protected them. How easily can God make the cruelest of his creatures both our friends and patrons!
Yet here was faith mixed with unbelief. He was a bold Israelite that set the first foot into the channel of the sea: and every step that they set, in that moist way, was a new exercise of their faith. Pharaoh sees all this, and wonders; yet
hath not the wit or grace to think, (though the pillar tell him so much) that God made a difference betwixt him and Israel. He is offended with the sea, for giving way to his enemies, and yet sees not why he may not trust it as well as they. He might well have thought, that he which gave light in Goshen, when there was darkness in Egypt, could as well distinguish in the sea; but he cannot now either consider, or fear it is his time to perish. God makes him fair way, and lets him run smoothly on, till he be come to the midst of the sea; not one wave may rise up against him, to wet so much as the hoof of his horse. Extraordinary favours to wicked men are the forerunners of their ruin.
Now, when God sees the Egyptians too far to return, he finds time to strike them with their last terror. They know not why, but they would return too late. Those chariots, in which they trusted, now fail them; as having done service enough, to carry them into perdition. God pursues them, and they cannot flee from him. Wicked men make equal haste, both to sin and from judgment: but they shall one day find, that it is not more easy to run into sin, than impossible to run away from judgment: the sea will shew them that it regards the rod of Moses, not the sceptre of Pharaoh; and now (as glad to have got the enemies of God at such an advantage) shuts her mouth upon them, and swallows them up in her waves; and, after she hath made sport with them awhile, casts them upon her sand, for a spectacle of triumph to their adversaries.
What a sight was this to the Israelites, when they were now safe on the shore, to see their enemies come floating after them upon the billows, and to find among the carcasses upon the sands, their known oppressors, which now they can tread upon with insultation! They did not cry more loud before than now they sing. Not their faith, but their sense, teaches them now to magnify that God, after their deliverance, whom they hardly trusted for their deliverance.