<< Exodus 7: The Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart >>
And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.--Exodus vii. 3.
THIS divine declaration, I will harden Pharaohs heart, will, at first sight, be difficult to understand for those who have a true and tender regard for God, but who may not perhaps have a sufficient knowledge of His Providence. They truly believe Him to be unchangeable and good. Now, to such I would say, however much this declaration may startle you and induce unpleasant thoughts, never suffer yourselves to swerve for a moment from the great eternal truth, that God is unutterable and unchangeable love. There are, in divine things, as there are in human philosophy, appearances which belong to the first sight, and to the imperfect knowledge of subjects, and which are rectified by more perfect observation and reflection. It seems that this solid earth on which we stand is one of the most unswerving, immovable of objects. Its hills and mountains, its valleys and plains, its rocks and buildings, all seem to be at rest; yet the fact Is, that it is in most rapid motion. It is going at the rate of thirty times the speed of a cannon ball every hour of the day and night. The first is the appearance, the second is the reality. One who has not been made familiar with the facts of astronomy, believes that the sun rises every morning in the east, and sets every evening in the west; he will tell you that this effect has been taking place ever since he was able to observe, and that all his neighbors and friends have seen the same thing; yet the real truth is that the sun never stirs from its place relatively to the earth. You see, therefore, that in these and in a thousand instances, nay, in fact in every instance that can possibly be cited, the appearance, at first sight, is something very different from the actual reality. Now it is just so with spiritual things.
In a variety of instances the Lord appears different from what He really is; but let me again urge upon every soul within reach of my words, that the eternal truth is, God is infinite love, infinite wisdom, infinite goodness, and never changes.
All appearance of change results, just as in the case of the errors we have named, from our imperfect observations and understanding. When we come really to know the truth, we shall have learned, thee it has for its supreme lesson, what is often brought out in the Divine Word, both in the Old and New Testaments, The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.--Ps. cxlv. 9. The real truth is, as it is expressed in the 136th Psalm twenty-six times over, beginning with the first verse and passing through every succeeding verse; alike in smiting the first-born of Egypt (v. 10), as in bringing Israel from among them (v. 7), in slaying famous kings (v. 18), as in giving food to all flesh (v. 25), His mercy endureth for ever. Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever. How beautifully and how powerfully is this truth expressed in the lamentations of Jeremiah, It is of the Lords mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not (iii. 22), and in the same chapter, out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good. This is the eternal, the fixed and the certain fact that lies at the bottom of all real sound thought in theology. St James expresses it in other language, but with equal clearness, when he says Every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.--Js. i. 17. There is no way in which God could possibly change from His nature, which is LOVE. Such change could only happen from His having a divided nature, and this could only result from one or other of these three conditions. The greater part evil, and the lesser part good; there might be a change until the evil part had overcome the good, and made the whole evil; then there would be a rest of eternal malignity, which is not conceivable. Or, the good part might be more powerful than the evil, then there would be change until the good part had overcome the evil, and then there would be everlasting persistence in good. Or, the two might be just equal; there is no other conceivable case; and if the two were just equal, two equals, like two wheels of equal power, would keep one another in check. He would not then do anything at all, which also is not conceivable. So that you will perceive that this eternal truth is, in the very nature of things, absolutely so, and it cannot be otherwise: in Him there can be no variableness, nor shadow of turning. And then St John expresses it with equal emphasis, and with equal clearness, when he says, He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is LOVE.iv. 8. He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God; for God is LOVE.iv. 16.
Consequently, this great truth,--this important lesson for all sacred thoughts, must never be forgotten; whatever appears to contradict it, this is the great truth; hold to it. Suppose anything most strange and inconceivable, if you like, but never suppose that the infinitely loving God can turn against His creatures, or desire to inflict mischief upon any of them. He is the fountain of peace and love, light and joy; the unceasing Father of heaven, the source of every mercy. I am Jehovah, He says, I change not, therefore, ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.--Mal. iii. 6.
But then still comes this declaration:--I will harden Pharaohs heart; and a person may say, Pharaoh seems to have been very badly treated, that he should have been first hardened and then punished. What, then, is meant by this declaration, I will harden Pharaohs heart? Allow me to draw your attention to the fact that this hardening is mentioned in three forms of speech. The ordinary way, of which you will find two instances in this chapter and several in other chapters, is simply to state the fact that Pharaohs heart was hardened. But another form is that which is given in the text, I will harden. And notice that this, I will harden, is simply, in the original language, the future of the verb to harden; it does not express even so much as is expressed by our words In the future I will harden, it has not in the least the idea of I will to harden, which is frequently expressed in our use of the future tense. It is simply expressive of the fact, that the Lords operations would be productive of the hardening of Pharaohs heart. And the third way in which the same fact is stated, is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. You will find this expressed in the next chapter, and in other parts of the Word. In the next chapter it is in this language in the 10th verse, But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said. We must not therefore consider that this hardening of Pharaohs heart arose from any intention or direct influence of the Divine Being to harden it; it was owing to the obduracy of the evil state in which Pharaoh was, that the operations of Gods providence and mercy had that effect upon him.
Every influence proceeding from God operates not simply according to its own nature, but according to the nature of the object upon which it rests. This is illustrated by circumstances familiar to us all. The sun, which, in outward nature, is Gods highest representative, quickens the humming-bird and revives the snake, gives the lily its whiteness, and the hemlock its poison, calls forth fragrances from the garden, and malaria from the swamp.
The same sun which softens wax, hardens clay; not because there is any difference in the influence that flows into these two, but because their natures are different. The very same beam that is beautiful to the healthy eye is most painful to the eye inflamed. The person in agony says the sun gives me very great pain. The occasion of the sensation is the disordered organ. The very same healthy influence which causes the flower to bloom near a carcass, makes the dead body itself to swarm with loathsome life. It is in this way, therefore, that we can conceive that the divine mercy, operating upon a good soul, softens, elevates, and refines it; the very same mercy operating upon a bad mans heart, hardens it, and makes it resist, and revolt. This is the reason why Pharaohs hardening of his own heart increased more and more as the divine mercy flowed down; not because God willed to harden it, but because his self-will desired to rule over everything earthly, heavenly, and divine, and the more he was spared, the more he was insolent. Besides this, we may remark that the Divine Being is the source of life in all persons, both good and evil, and therefore, in a certain universal sense, it may be said that all life which enables a person to do either one thing or another, flows from God. But the life that flows into a bad man, although it is that which gives him power, even to exercise his influence against God, and against goodness, was not given to him for that purpose. In his corrupt and malignant heart, he changes that life which flowed down purely to him; just as the suns light in passing through a painted window becomes red or purple, or whatever the color of the glass may be, and thenceforward flows on in that condition. This is the universal sense in which it may be said that the Lord hardened Pharaohs heart, without, as we said, the least intention of doing so, but simply because his heart was of such a character that Gods love in him was turned into hate, rebellion, and obduracy.
But further, there is a special sense in which we may regard it as true, when it is said I will harden Pharaohs heart. Notice, that the hardening took place in proportion as the pains and plagues were taken away; and this is a circumstance which always happens with the bad; spare them and they harden in pride. In the succeeding chapter, as we have before noticed, that is especially marked.
In the case of each of the plagues, you will find that the account of the hardening is at its completion, when the plague is removed.
Then it was the Lords mercy giving him another chance as it were, not pressing too hardly upon him, but chastising him and then withdrawing. Thus it is always with a thoroughly malignant soul that will not be amended. Each time that sorrow is removed it hardens itself and defies as before. It was thus the very mercy and loving-kindness, which were exercised towards this poof rebellious king, that were laid hold upon to harden him. As the pain grew less, the rebellion and obstinacy grew stronger. It is in this way that the Lord says will harden his heart --that is, I shall harden Pharaohs heart.
Permit me now to direct your attention to the succeeding portion of the text, where it is said, I will multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. Notice the word signs, for by this expression is not merely meant that some remarkable things were going to be done, but that they were to be signs, and a sign is something that has a meaning connected with it. A sign has a signification. Let us endeavor to discern the signification of the three remarkable things which took place as recorded in this chapter. First, there was the throwing of the rod of Moses before Pharaoh, and its becoming a serpent. There was then, the passing of the rod over the waters, and their becoming blood. And thirdly, the plague of frogs. To each of these, allow me to ask you to give a brief attention. Bear in mind that the exact rendering of the sign would be that the rod became a water-serpent. And the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments; their rods were thrown down and became water-serpents. In order to see the signification of this sign, we must bear in mind, that the serpent, whether it is in the allegorical part of the Word, or in the declaration of outward fact, is always the symbol of the sensual degree of the mind in man. A marvelous series of truths are unfolded to us in the Divine Word, and elsewhere, when we see the signification of the serpent. That animal, being the one that goes nearest to the earth, is representative of that degree of the human mind which was intended also to go nearest to the earth--that is to say, the love of the senses and sensual things.
It is a remarkable thing that in Egyptian hieroglyphics, whenever there is a, door represented in any of the manifold forms in which such things occur, there is always a serpent associated with it; and this originated, we doubt not, in their knowledge, that the senses are the doors of access between the soul and the world. When our Lord is described as the Being who would come and bruise the serpents head, it is to teach us that He would come to put down the preponderance of selfishness and sensuality; to reduce in us that lowest degree which had become the ruling one. For selfishness, which ought to be at the bottom of the soul, has all over the world been suffered to get to the top, and to be worshiped. It has been said of savage tribes, that they all, more or less, worship the serpent at one time or other. Alas! it is equally true of civilized nations. They worship the serpent too, and if their demon serpent is not so gross, it is more subtly malignant than that which the savages of far-off nations worship. Now, it was to teach the king of Egypt this fact that the rod of Moses was placed before him; and it became a water-serpent. The Egyptians, the scientific nation with their great river, were representative of those who delight in the waters of scientific truth. The Egyptians in a state of defying God, like this Pharaoh, represent those, who, with science and learning, with fashion, with the world in all its glory, and in all its knowledge, erect pretensions against God, and claim all for their own. They fancy in lordly pride that they have a right to do as they please, ungoverned by the divine commandments. Such a state of the soul is represented here by Pharaoh, and it is described very emphatically by the prophet Ezekiel, when he says, Behold I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, my river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.--xxix. 3. Precisely is it, just as represented here, where a person has got a great river of scientific knowledge, and claims it to be his and not Gods, and says Who is the Lord that I should serve Him? and wishes to lift himself proudly up, that he is a human water-serpent, vain of his information, vain of his talents, vain of his philosophy, vain of his endowments he is a dragon that saith my river is mine own, and I have made it for myself. Now to shew him this,--to be a sign of it, the rod was cast down before Pharaoh. The rod, as we have mentioned, and shewn formerly, was the symbol of the letter of the Word of God, which is a rod to the spiritual pilgrim. The same letter of the Bible, when it is laid hold of, handled, perverted, and twisted by the vain self-conceit of a person who will not have Gods law--of love to Him and love to man,--becomes a serpent.
A self-asserting intellect tries to make Gods Word subservient to its own evil purposes, not becoming regenerate, not becoming good, not putting the love of God and the neighbor as they ought to be, in the ruling place in our hearts and minds! It either invents a false religion, pretending to obtain forgiveness without inward and real change; or it assumes infidelity and rejects all religion.
Whenever either of these is done, it is turning the rod of Moses into a serpent.
It is said that the magicians did the same with their enchantments. Time will not permit us to dwell upon the mode in which enchantments at that time, and afterwards, were made the means of the most terrible kind of communication with hell. The magicians were not mere conjurers, nor was it to put down mere conjuring that the laws were given, contained in the 15th Deut. against having communication with the dead, and against familiar spirits. The ancient nations had to be rooted out; and it is said by the Lord in the same chapter, they were rooted out for these abominations, as ulcers upon the human race, as gangrenous masses. By diabolical magic they opened up a communication with the hells, and thus imitated divine power, introducing the most terrible abominations into the world. It was in this way that the magicians could do these things by their enchantments. There are spiritual magicians now, there are curious jugglers, who play freaks with divine truth, and make it the means of perpetuating sin. These are spiritual enchanters; and when the Divine Word says to such a one as Pharaoh, See! You are turning your soul into a serpent, your religion is represented here by this rod turned into a serpent, these intellectual enchanters say, Oh, yes, it is quite true. People are selfish in everything. They are selfish in business; down goes that rod and it becomes a serpent. People are selfish in writing books; away goes that rod and becomes a serpent. These enchanters turn all their rods into serpents. They say all things are alike. But the first and highest wrong is the perversion of religion. When religion is wrong, trade is wrong, literature is wrong, politics are wrong, education is wrong, everything goes wrong. They all become serpents together. It is this great truth which is taught by Aarons rod swallowing up all these serpents.
The next sign was the water being turned into blood. Water is the symbol of truth; the water of Egypt, the land of ancient science, being symbolical of scientific truth. This truth is salutary and excellent, just as truth on spiritual and eternal things is salutary and excellent for the inner matters of the soul. But where selfishness is allowed to rule instead of God, Pharaoh becomes a great water-serpent. Then science is perverted. It is full of selfishness, slain and bloody. The trail of the serpent is over it all. This was the second sign shewn before Pharaoh. How different from that was the glorious sign which our Savior exhibited in the very first miracle that He wrought,--the turning of the water into wine.
This latter represented the transformation of cold truth into generous loving thought. That which is received merely as a matter of knowledge at first, being turned by the Savior into loving, holy, cheering, exhilarating and delightful wisdom. Water turned into wine! Whet a contrast! Self, in opposition to God, turns water into blood. Obedience to the Savior, turns water into wine.
And the third sign, that of the frogs covering everything, was a symbol of what such a character eventually becomes. The croaking of frogs is symbolical in the Divine Word, of the croaking and quibblings of false reasoning, of reasoning against God, goodness, and heaven. This croaking spirit complains that everything else is at fault but the croaker himself. Frogs of this kind are represented in the 16th chapter of the book of Revelations, where John says, I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon. And such croaking, such reasoning against truth, such murmuring and complaining against the glorious principles of righteousness, and the order of the world, come and cover the whole mind. If a, man will not suffer the Lord to make him happy, he will make himself a croaking, conceited, miserable being, covering the land of his soul with frogs. You may meet with such persons now; they are not difficult to find. If people will not be made better, they become worse; and after a while, they become entirely set against the pure and simple requirements of heaven.
How astonishing is this strange perversity of the human character! How wonderful, and yet how true, that multitudes shun in every way the easy method of asking the Lord Jesus to lead them; and when they are shewn what to do, of doing it. The law of right is the simplest law that can be expressed; it is simply when we see the truth, to walk in it; not stopping and hesitating, scheming, and fancying, but simply doing what the Divine Will in mercy tells us to do. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Then all the plagues and distempers of the soul will cease, and the Lord will lead us out of bondage, into the freedom of those that walk in the liberty of light and love.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)