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given for the purpose. He was assured that the time was come for the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant, as to the deliverance of his people from Egyptian bondage, and that he was privileged to be chosen as the instrument by whose means the Almighty would effect the long-predicted purpose.
"Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt." 2
Miracle-working power was committed to him as a credential of his Divine commission, and, thus endowed, he returned to the Nile valley, whence forty years before he had fled for his life.
And now he was to enter on an enterprise so gigantic that it may well have appalled him! What was it? To require
! and compel a proud, selfish, self-willed, and mighty autocrat -one leading passion of whose life was to be the greatest of Egyptian builders-to surrender for ever the hundreds of thousands of slaves by whose forced labours only could the great works he had in hand be completed; it was to induce, moreover, a poor, degraded, spirit-broken horde of slaves to rise and seek, at the risk of their lives, liberty and independence; to lead them with their wives and little ones, their flocks and herds, to forsake the rich and fertile land in which they had dwelt for centuries, and exchange it for a wandering life in the wilderness; and this at the bidding of the God they had well-nigh forgotten, and for the sake of a faith they had forsaken ; it was to lead these quiet pastoral people, who had never learned the art of war, to the conquest of Canaan ; to recover them from the ignorance and idolatry into which they had sunk to a knowledge of Jehovah, and to train and fit them to take their place as a nation selected to be His witnesses in the world. In order to all this, Moses himself had, in the first place, to break up the home associations of 1 Gen. xv. 13-16.
? Exod. iii. 10.
forty years, and to return to a land where his life was forfeited. Nothing less than a Divine revelation,-nothing less than the burning bush, and the words which fell upon his ear from amid its sacred flames,-could have nerved the shepherd of Midian to address himself bravely to the task set before him, and to adhere to it with dauntless resolution for forty long years. It was no youthful enthusiasm which sustained this servant of God. He was already eighty years of age when he entered on his life-work.
On his return journey to Egypt he is met by his brother Aaron, from whom he had for forty years been parted. Had they corresponded from time to time through the caravans constantly passing from Sinai to Egypt and back? Had Aaron been seeking to revive Israel's faith in Jehovah, to keep in mind the Abrahamic covenant, and to impress on the minds of the people that the time of the promise drew near? It seems likely—at any rate, he had no difficulty in putting himself in communication with the people. A kind of tribal organization under elders still existed among the Hebrews, even at the lowest point of their social degradation. "Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel ;” and the people believed when they heard that Jehovah had visited Israel, and bowed the head and worshipped.
Then coinmenced the memorable struggle between the slaves and their oppressors, between the idol-worshipping king and the servants of the true God, ending in the first great national emancipation on record, and in such a vindication of the might and majesty of Jehovah as has never been forgotten from that day to this. It afforded also a lesson of the care of God for His people, and His power to deliver them, which could not be equalled, and which is referred to in all the after-pages of their history. We must not here retrace the thrilling and tragic episodes of the evermemorable Exodus, but we may say that the Bible account
of it is so full of local colouring and of harmonies with the time at which it occurred, that its exactitude and truthfulness are self-evident.
The Pharaohs, accustomed themselves to be worshipped and regarded as of superhuman power, were likely to resent commands issued as by a superior. But the miracles which accompanied the mission of Moses left their rebellion without excuse. Scripture lays the scene of the plagues in Zoan: "Marvellous things did He in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
He wrought His signs in Egypt, His wonders in the field of Zoan.” Those plagues had a double object : to manifest to Pharaoh and all Egypt the superiority of the true God over all their false deities, His absolute and almighty power; and to teach Israel not this only, but the covenant relation which Jehovah graciously sustained to them, the reality of His merciful interference on their behalf, and His present purpose to deliver them and lead them to their long-promised inheritance. The plagues were very specially directed against the idolatry of Egypt. The first-turning the Nile to blood-was conspicuously so, for eminent among the idols of the land of Ham was its one all-important river. A long and elaborate hymn (as old as the days of Moses) is still preserved, in which this god was praised in the chant. It was the great Osiris of Egypt, and the turning of its waters to blood was a public manifestation of the utter folly of the national creatureworship.1 1 The first and last verses are as follows:
“Hail to thee, O Nile !
O Nile, hymns are sung to thee on the harp ;
The frog similarly was regarded as a sacred symbol, and formed the head of the great god Ptah. The cow and the ox were, of course, specially sacred—the Apis and Mnevis of Egyptian idolatry. They were, in fact, the chief of the gods; and when the murrain fell on the cattle, the priests must have beheld with consternation their primary deities laid low; and when at last the darkness that might be felt overshadowed the land for three days, the supreme Sun-god of Egypt seemed to be struck out by the God of Israel. But all availed not to bow the stubborn will of Pharaoh ; his land might be destroyed, and yet the monarch would not yield to his Maker; and thus there came at last the dread catastrophe - the death by pestilence of the firstborn. “From the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne" (that is, who reigned with him) "unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle” (including the deified beasts of the temples). The connection of the plague of darkness with the pestilence that followed is remarkable, as something similar has not unfrequently happened in Egypt. The plague at times follows a severe blast of the Chamsin, or sand-storm, which may produce absolute darkness such as that described. Ten thousand men died in one day in 1696. In 1714 it was reckoned three hundred thousand died of the plague in Constantinople. In 2 Samuel xxiv. we read that seventy thousand died of it in Palestine in three days. “Uhlemann strikingly reminds us that all the plagues are connected with the natural peculiarities and phenomena of Egypt, and that they show the narrator's intimate knowledge of the country. “The Almighty hand of God,' he continues, 'shows itself, hence, not so much
Incense ascends unto heaven :
in the wonders themselves, as in their wide reach, their intensity, and the swift succession in which they came, at the Divine command—for, individually, they are specially characteristic of Egypt, in a certain degree, at all times.'”1
That the death of the firstborn was occasioned by the plague seems evident from the words in the Psalm, "He gave their life over to the pestilence, and smote all the firstborn in Egypt, the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham."
" The direct and indirect effects of the plagues were, in fact, equally necessary, humanly speaking, for the accomplishment of that event.
“In the first place, it must be remarked that the delay occasioned by Pharaoh's repeated resusals to listen to the commands afforded ample time for preparation. Two full months elapsed between the first and second interview of Moses with the king (see notes on v. 7, and vii. 17). During that time the people, uprooted for the first time from the district in which they had been settled for centuries, were dispersed throughout Egypt, subjected to severe suffering, and impelled to exertions of a kind differing altogether from their ordinary habits, whether as herdsmen or bondsmen. This was the first, and a most important step in their training for a migratory life in the desert.
“ Towards the end of June, at the beginning of the rise of the annual inundation, the first series of plagues began. The Nile was stricken. Egypt was visited in the centre both of its physical existence and of its national superstitions. Pharaoh did not give way, and no intimation as yet was made to the people that permission for their departure would be extorted; but the intervention of their Lord was now certain; the people, on their return wearied and exhausted from the search for stubble, had an interval of suspense. Three months appear to have intervened between this and
Geikie, p. 163.