<< Exodus 9: The Murrain, the Boils and the Hail >>
Then the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. Exodus ix. 1.
IT is easy for a thoughtful mind to see that the service of the Lord is perfect freedom. All that the Infinite Father and Savior of mankind desires, is that every one of His children should be happy. He has made every faculty, both of mind and body, that it should be capable of receiving some excellence, some grace, some truth, some good, some glory some beauty, and some blessing,--all calculated to elevate His creatures, and make them happy. When He, then, says reiteratedly, Let my people go, that they may serve me, it is but the invitation of infinite mercy, condescending in love to ask that He may have the privilege of blessing us, that He may win us from all the causes of misery and mischief, and bring us into true order for earth and for heaven. How astonishing then is it, when we find the reiteration of this divine admonition from time to time, as it is disclosed in the sacred history before us, each step in the progress, the Lord simply giving the invitation, Let my people go, that they may serve me, we say how astonishing is it that we should find Pharaoh, backed by his people, perpetually seeking to evade this holy demand, perpetually hardening himself against this invitation of the King of kings, reiterating his obstinacy and bringing fresh ruin upon his head, until the utter wreck of his kingdom is completed.
Yet this illustrious drama of the world, this amazing exhibition of infinite mercy, power, and love, was then a world-wide example. It was a representation, by the wreck of a kingdom, of what always happens in the history of every ruined soul. Then similar steps of degradation are re-enacted. By such stages, a man makes himself a fiend, and ultimately, with the same blasphemy and horror seals his perpetual misery. We must not forget that this divine history, stirring and appalling as it is, and surrounded with such striking circumstances as were present when it was enacted on the plains of Egypt, is the instrument by which, from that time to this, the progression of good souls upwards to bliss was represented by the various stages of the Israelitish progress; and the sinking of obstinately wicked ones downward to misery was represented by the discomfiture and destruction of the Egyptians. The three plagues of this chapter are descriptive of the successive progress of the soul downwards.
The first pest, you will see, is the murrain of the beasts. The second is the plague of boils and blains, or, as it might be more correctly rendered, of ulcers and pustules;--the idea is that of loathsome, corrupt, putrid sores, and all the little infestations which surround such ulcerated parts. And thirdly, the plague of hail. We will consider these three stages of descent, which are all found in actual life, as you will discover by noticing the divine lessons and applying them to what experience discloses to a conscientious and observant mind. We shall see that such a description is as correct now spiritually, as it was correct literally, when the great lesson was first given. The laws of nature, which are those of Providence, are all wonderful; yet they are laws of order, in which love reigns, and which out of seeming discord, and strange variety, educe progression and lasting good. The term murrain is an old English word for consumption in relation to animals. We are told that it was a murrain upon the horses, the asses, and the camels, and subsequently upon the oxen and the sheep. And if we bear in mind the great doctrine, that all things in the outer world are symbols of principles in the inner world of the human soul, we shall soon see what is to be understood by the murrain on the horses, the asses, and the camels.
We may here observe in relation to the plagues with which Egypt was afflicted literally, that they were not mischiefs to which the Egyptians were altogether unaccustomed. They were rather the infestations common to the land, but awfully increased in severity. We are informed by modern residents in Egypt, that similar plagues, though less extensive, are far from unknown to the present inhabitants of that country. Paton, a recent writer, in his excellent work, The Revolutions of Egypt, remarks, In 1843, the plagues of Egypt showed themselves again. The cattle-murrain of the previous year carried off 200,000 oxen. He remarks, also, that in the same year, The plague of locusts covered the whole land from the cataracts to the sea-board; so that the government, to encourage their destruction, gave the peasantry so much per oke (a measure) for their destruction. Mohammed Ali sent Abbas Pasha to enquire into this fresh source of loss and suffering, but nothing could effectually stop it; and in many spots every ear of corn was soon eaten up.--Vol. II. 227.
Even the most astonishing of all their disasters, the turning of the waters into blood, is not without some illustration at the present day. The same writer relates, At the Birgan (near Cairo), is a well, which, during the inundation, is of a reddish color, and hence the prevalence of the idea, that there exists in this quarter, a well of blood. Vol. II. 283. There would appear to be some quality in the soil, which, when reached by the water, tinges it, and forms it into a species of mineral blood. This same circumstance produced on a grand scale would be the miracle as presented to Pharaoh. A miracle is not a contradiction of the laws of nature, but only a wonderful display of that power, which is ever active in a more limited form. A miracle is a wonder, and to a well-informed mind nature is full of wonders.
The first three animals represent mans intellectual powers, and their consumption the destruction of his intellect, spiritual, natural and scientific. The horse is a symbol of that splendid power in the understanding, which the Lord gives to every soul, by which he can make advancement on the road of spiritual truth, just as the traveler with a fine horse can make advancement on the common road. It is this representation which unlocks all those parts of the Divine Word where horses are spoken of as being presented to the vision of the prophets. Elisha had around him horses of fire, and chariots of fire; and we easily perceive what is meant when we bear in mind that the horse is the symbol of the understanding of spiritual things; and that therefore it signifies that the angels who were about the prophet, and the prophet himself had understandings glowing with love,--horses of fire. In the same way, John says, he beheld the Son of Man riding on a white horse going forth conquering and to conquer, and the armies of heaven were following Him on white horses. These were symbols to the spiritual sight in the spirit world, where everything seen has a meaning, of the intellect of the angels, white with truth, being led by the Lord, who is Divine Truth in person, and whose glorious wisdom goes forth conquering and to conquer. The Lord made the house of Judah as his goodly horse in the battle (Zechariah x. 3). Every one sees that there must be a spiritual signification in that phrase. Judah, the tribe of Judah, could only be the Lords goodly horse spiritually. Every intellectual and thoughtful man, when he applies his understanding to Divine Truth, and seeks to progress by light from heaven, is precisely, in the sight of the Lord, like a person who is riding on a gallant horse, it knight of heaven going forth to achieve victory for truth and right.
The horse represents the understanding of spiritual things.
The ass is the symbol of the understanding of natural things. Hence, when the tribe of Issachar is said to be like an ass bending under two burdens, it was to represent that quality of mind in which a person gives himself only to natural pursuits and, as yet, feels his duties both as to goodness and truth, to be burdens to him. The camel, also a beast of burden, and as it has been called, the ship of the desert, useful especially to countries of vast sandy plains, is representative of the scientific intellect of man, his power of going over the most external matters, and making mere science subservient to nobler and more glorious truths. Now, a murrain upon these, a consumption of the horse, the ass, and the camel, is representative of that condition of the soul persisting in iniquity, when he is losing his intellectual power of understanding divine things; when he is losing even that lower power, common sense; when he is losing the perception of scientific truth itself. His soul becomes darker, and darker, and darker, on its way to idiocy, to madness, and to spiritual death. It is the same truth which we find in other language, illustrated in many parts of the Sacred Word. The Lord Jesus says, as you will remember, in His sublime sermon on the mount, The light of the body is the eye, but if thine eye be evil, or, as it is expressed in another gospel, If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! When a person has done wrong in ignorance of the truth, when he has not been aware of his faults and errors having such serious consequences; when he has never had it brought home to him that every hour he lives on earth he is living for eternity, and he has a work to do here which must be done either for weal or for woe, either for heaven or for hell, his evils may be afflictive, but they are not eternally fatal. This is bad enough, but when he sins from malignity of heart, when his selfishness has twisted his intellect, has so consumed his sense of spiritual right and natural right, and even scientific right, that he cannot see truly what is right and what is wrong; when his horse, his ass, and his camel are all consumed, when his very eye is darkness, and he calls truth falsehood, and good evil, bitter sweet, and sweet bitter, then how great is that darkness. It is this condition of a man that is represented by the destruction of the horse, the ass, and the camel. How different from the representation, in that divine account in the gospel, of the Lords taking an ass and bringing it to Jerusalem. In this latter case, it represents mans common tense brought into harmony with religion, and being suffered to have the high honor of bearing upon it the King of kings.
Then, all the natural truths we have, are being blessed by spiritual truths, and we are guided on to prosperity and peace.
In the sad account before us, there is depicted the condition of one, who, in spite of every friendly help, in spite of every remonstrance of friends and of conscience, in spite of every entreaty even of the God of love, still continues to defy the glorious Being who seeks to bless him. The sheep and the oxen, which also were consumed, are representative of other spiritual virtues, the spirit of duty. The disposition to plod on in useful works, is represented in the correspondences of the animal world by the ox. The sheep signifies all the kindly principles of charity. The Lord saysHe will put the sheep at His right hand--and He is their Divine Shepherd. But when a person has so far immersed himself in sin and guilt, that his intellect becomes utterly depraved, the oxen and the sheep soon expire too, and he has no flock of good affections to look after.
Then the next plague comes, which I have mentioned as the plague of ulcers and pustules, called in the English version boils and blains. Now this rottenness of flesh which is represented by loathsome sores, is representative of the shamelessness of evil which stands in entire contrast, you will remember, with what we pointed out as represented by former plagues. The sinner, in his early days, when his heart is heedless and rebellious, would not for the world have any person see him do what is not respectable. But now when he has sunk several stages lower, and particularly when the intellect has lost its power, when he has come into that condition which our Lord describes, when he says,--Repent and do the first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove, thy candlestick out of his place (Rev. 11. 5),--when those rational powers which have been celled the reins and the bridle of the soul, have been lost, then the utter indecency, blasphemy, and recklessness which prevail with him, are represented by the ulcers and pustules.
You will remember that striking passage, Full of wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores (Isa. i. 6). These putrefying sores are the disgusting blasphemies, the utter loathsomeness of character, the carelessness of the decencies and proprieties of life which prevail, when sin has become shameless. Such is the condition represented here by the ulcers and pustules which afflicted the Egyptians after the murrain had consumed the cattle.
Moses was commanded to take handfuls of ashes of the furnace and lift them up towards heaven.
The furnace represents the heart all alive with lust. They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker.--Hosea vii. 4. The ashes are there, fixed in his habits, fixed in his maxims and principles. He has no longer the warm delight which sin gave at first; but the results are fixed in his very character and they become ashes of the furnace. The ashes remain after the vigor of the lust is over, and the person has become a cool, besotted, and deliberate evil-liver:. These were lifted up by the sacred Prophet to show, how, in the sight of Heaven, such things look. What disgusting ulcers, what awful consumption of souls, what utter rottenness of spirit is brought about by those terrible evils which have thus made the bad mans heart into a furnace of infernal fire. You will see the same thing remarkably illustrated in what is said of those who fight against Jerusalem. And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem. Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongues shall consume away in their mouth.--Zec. xiv. 12. And so shall be the plague of the horse, of the mule, of the camel, and of the ass, and of all the beasts that shall be in these tents, as this plague.--Zec. xiv. 15.
Then comes the plague of the hail, the lightning, and the thunder. These signify that state of the wicked mans soul, in which he finds every truth of religion has become to him hard, condemnatory and severe. Hail is: frozen rain. Rain is representative in the Divine Word of the descent of truth into the soul. Yon will remember many places in which it is thus described, My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.--Deut. xxxii. 2. It is time to seek the Lord till he come and rain righteousness upon you.--Hosea x. 12. The descent of refreshing showers, the coming down of those bright and beautiful drops which give fertility to a country, slake the lands thirst, and refresh all nature, these are just like those divine descents of holy truths from heaven, by which the soul that thirsts after righteousness feels that it is also refreshed. The little paradise within has been visited from the heavenly world and all the trees of righteousness become pleased and happy. But where the soul has brought itself into a wintry state, when it has surrounded itself with an atmosphere of utter cold, it has no ray of warmth from the sun of righteousness, but all is hard, miserable, and unhappy.
The divine influence flowing down, becomes turned into hail. The very truths that would have otherwise cheered and comforted, become a condemnation, and are felt to be a declaration of punishment and despair. Oh! I have seen some sad instances, where persons have become so utterly bad as to adopt what Milton puts into the mouth of Satan,--I cannot repent,--Everything condemns me,--It is utterly useless for me to strive:--
Evil be then my good,
Whereer I go is hell,
Myself am hell.
When I was a boy of some twelve years of age, I met a person of this character, the son of most respectable parents, in Liverpool. He had become so reckless, so defiant, so careless, such a worshiper of strong drink, that he had disabled himself in body and soul for useful pursuits, yet clinging to his sin, until even the few hours when the bar was closed at night, were hours of intolerable pain. His parents, in dying, could not trust him with the fortune which they desired that, equally with his brothers and sisters, he should enjoy. A small sum was made over, so that he could just receive the little that might keep him with daily necessaries from week to week. A thoughtful boy, I was shocked to see so sad a wreck, and as he came down stairs, parched, burning and wretched, to see if yet the liquid fire was to be had, I took it upon me one day, to try if a boys talk would do him any good. I spoke to him of the present hell in which he was living, and of his future ruin. He heard me, but with this fearful announcement,--It is of no use. I know I am going to hell, and I go on clutching, clutching, clutching my own misery. Religion is true, no doubt, but it is all condemnatory to me; it is all a curse to me. I do not wish to hear of it. I cannot bear to hear of it. There is no comfort for me. It was all condemnatory, all despair, all destruction to him. It is this state that is represented by the hail coming down, and the thunder rolling over the wicked mans head. His own angry passions and lusts flashing, constitute the fire running along the ground. Such is the state represented in this divinely true and amazingly graphic description of what took place in Egypt, and of what takes place in every soul in this ruined condition.
But how wonderful is infinite love and mercy! Pharaoh when he was thus stricken down, and utterly helpless, after he had seen the hashes, and heard the thunder, and felt the hail, and beheld the whole kingdom smitten down, cried,--It is enough, I and my people are wicked.
Let there be a cessation; entreat the Lord for me. And Moses said,--Yes, I will entreat the Lord for you, and all this horror will cease; but I know that thou and thy people will not repent. The condition of things had become so fixed, so inrooted, that the very powers of the intellect which alone could grasp the truth and could change him, had been destroyed by the murrain, and they were no longer available. Pharaoh had brought himself to such a state of helplessness, such an infatuated state of intellect, that it was no longer possible for him to repent. He must go down and die; not for defect of divine mercy, Oh! no. The Lord had taken the plagues away one after the other. In fact the plagues were not from the Lord, but from hell. The divine power simply permitted hell to effect them, and the horrors then came.
At this day they who fight against Jerusalem are those who fight against right, against truth, against wisdom, and even against love; against the Savior God, who desires to make them happy. Oh! what an insane contest is that. The most terrible triumph that any soul can achieve, is its triumph over God. A man can, as far as he himself is concerned, absolutely get the victory in his own soul. Because he has freedom given to him from the Lord to become an angel, he can get the victory over truth; but it is his most terrible defeat. He can get the victory over goodness, but what a horrid triumph! a triumph which destroys in him the possibility of happiness. Oh! how much more noble and glorious is it for a man to take the counsel of the King of kings, to take the express, holy direct invitation of Him who is all good, to whom the whole universe is obsequious, who has given us this glorious world to make us comfortable here, and has given us a still more glorious home hereafter, if we will but let Him make us happy. How much nobler to be like Moses and Aaron, and the Israelites,--determined to quit our Egyptian state, to shun, with horror, all the ways of evil, and to enter upon that sacred freedom,--the freedom of loving God above all things, of doing right, and making ourselves and all around us happy; making a little heaven at home in order to prepare us for a glorious Heaven in the eternal world.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)