<< Exodus 10: The plagues of Locusts, of Darkness >>
and the Destruction of the First-Born
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him: And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy sons son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord. Exodus x. 1, 2.
IN considering the persistent career of Pharaoh and the downfall of himself and his people, we are conducted in the circumstances which will now engage our attention, to three more of those terrible calamities, which are recorded as having come upon this unhappy monarch and his country. He is represented obstinate as ever, sinning and repenting, sinning and repenting down to his final ruin.
The three leading particulars which are contained in the sad history are, first, the plague of the locusts, those malignant insects that are said to have destroyed every green herb, and every young tree in the land; secondly, the plague of darkness,--of that kind of thick and awful darkness which is described in the words of the text as a darkness that could be felt; and thirdly, the destruction of the first-born of Egypt, from the first-born of the king that sat on the throne down to the first-born of the maid-servant that sat grinding at the mill.
Allow me before turning to the particulars, and to the spiritual divine warnings which are contained in those particulars, to remind you of the truth which we ought never to forget, that the calamities which were brought upon Egypt, were not absolutely from the Lord, as their efficient cause; they were only permitted by Him as signs of the terrible calamities which come down upon a sinking nation and a sinking soul; but they originate in the powers of hell.
In considering this point which we are wishful to illustrate on the present occasion, it is of importance to have a correct understanding of the circumstances connected with this great truth. Allow me to observe that all good, and only good, descends from the Father of Lights.
All the afflictions which exist in the world --in the mental world or in the physical, originate in evil as a cause, either immediately or remotely. And when we speak of evils, allow me to point out, that we may use the term for afflictions in the widest sense. Pernicious plants, destructive animals, all those things which are noxious and venomous and cause misery; all originate really in the powers of darkness.
We usually imagine that the life which flows into angels and good men, and which undoubtedly is from the Lord himself, and the life which flows into serpents, tigers, and wolves, and all hurtful embodiments of organized existence, either in the vegetable or in the animal world,--that all this life is just the same pure life from the Creator. As to its highest origin, as we have mentioned, that is true. But it cannot be that the Love of the pure, holy and adorable fountain of life can directly and without change make the life of a tiger or a wolf. There must be some intermediate perversion of that life, some channel through which it descends, which alters its nature, and causes it to form in the visible world noxious plants and loathsome and destructive animals. Now, in the case before us, we have an exemplification, and to some extent, an explanation of this matter. For locusts are most destructive insects, and are described here as devouring all the green of the land, and inflicting a most terrible plague upon the Egyptians. In relation to them we have on another occasion in the Sacred Scriptures, the veil as it were drawn aside. You will find in Rev. 9th, when John was able to see the world of mind, because of his spiritual sight being opened, a description of what he saw, and he writes, And he opened the bottomless pit, and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as a smoke of a great furnace and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth; and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. Here we are shewn the origin of those noxious creatures, with the locusts themselves as illustrations, and an explanation of what has puzzled both philosophers and others.
What is more common than to find unexpected results in nature around us? There is enough of order to show that the operations of nature originate in law and order, au the result of Infinite Love and Wisdom, but there is too much of aberration not to compel us to acknowledge that there are disturbing causes.
The world of nature is the outbirth and the clothing of the world of spirit. The life from God flowing through heaven forms around us the myriad shapes of use and beauty which everywhere burst out in nature. But we must never forget that there is in the universe the world of evil--hell. That world operates upon this world also. Through evil minds the spheres of the infernal world flow into this and create innumerable forms of vicious life. No sooner had man fallen, than the earth began to produce thorns and thistles. We must never forget that vast combination for destruction which is composed of the malignant of all ages assembled in their mad and dreary world, where evil is their good, and perverted souls in myriads skilled in abomination, compose a hideous focus of mischief, burning to destroy. Were not the Lord who has the keys of hell and of death controlling and moderating this lowest world as well as the heavenly one, mankind would be destroyed. It is of the Lords mercies that we are not consumed. So much of infernal action as may be useful in temptation, and may show the nature of evil and yet be overruled for good is permitted, just as the wrath of man is made to praise the Lord, and the remainder of wrath is restrained (Ps. lxxvi. 10).
We sometimes meet with the observation, that all the laws of nature are quite regular in their operation, constantly producing the same exact effects, and that miracles such as described in this divine history could not have happened. Let us consider this. What is more common than plagues even in modern times, aberrations of the most extraordinary kind? Not long ago, that deadly disease, the cholera arose in India, passed on scourging nation after nation, passing from the East, on and on until coming to Western countries it visited ourselves. Other diseases, which were formerly unknown, come with quick and rapid destruction, and in some cases are far more extensive and fatal than those plagues of Egypt. They wend their wild destructive way, exhaust their terrible power, and then cease. A little time after the cholera, came that mysterious plague the potato disease, again a plague quite different from any thing which had happened before in the vegetable world, accomplished its destructive work, year after year, setting all the learned and unlearned at nought in their efforts to trace the cause, and how it could be removed. It worked its way, and then died out, while men were laboring to discover how it could be overcome and guarded against. And so it is constantly; things are continually happening in this unexpected way; and those who own no power but that of nature stand paralyzed, and can give no account of them.
It is only by knowing the great fact, that this outer world is but the outer world, and that there is an inner world,--a world of mind, a world of life, a world in which heaven and its influences play around the good, and carry on all the glorious operations of creation and formation, under the hand of the great Prime Mover, the God of heaven and earth; and at the same time, a world in which the powers of hell, the spheres of evil, are also about us, and play their part in this great and wonderful arena of divine operation. When the Divine Mercy sees that some great good, some salutary lesson, some mercy in disguise, something that will really better the human race, requires for a time a permission that hell be suffered to operate end influence, such permission is given, and these plagues, of one kind of another, accomplish their work, and then pass away. It is in this way that we can understand the origin of all these plagues, understand how it is that the divine love, so pure as it is, so holy as it is, so excellent and life-giving as it is in itself, when it flows through the hells and through wicked men is perverted, and becomes formative of foul, filthy and destructive objects.
That this was really the case in relation to these plagues of Egypt, we find stated in the dearest possible manner in the 78th Psalm, where it is said in the 16th verse, after speaking of the flies and the frogs, He gave also their increase unto the caterpillar, and their labor unto the locust. He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamore trees with frost; by sending EVIL ANGELS among them. There are angels of darkness as well as angels of light. The spheres of the powers of darkness flow forth and seek to infest the human race; and instead of its being marvelous that these dangers and destructions should come from time to time, the marvel is, such being the overwhelming condition of evil states and evil men amongst us, that we are ever sustained in life at all. The Lord with His merciful protection surrounds us all,--the evil as well as the good; He surrounds the imperfectly good as well as the earnestly regenerating, and it is by this protection that we are held constantly in safety. There is not a portion of the human body that would not be assailed by disease, if it were not for the protection of the Lord. There is not a herb of the field that would not perish from plague, if it were not that Infinite Mercy keeps down the spheres of hell. There is not a leaf of any tree that would not perish, and the whole earth would expire in ruin, wreck, and death. But He, who has all power in heaven and on earth,--though men think so little of it, so little love Him, and so little trust Him in His divine guardianship,--preserves all in safety, and wonderful to think, preserves to us all the health and wealth, of comfort and progress that we experience in this world of ours.
The same truth is also illustrated in the case of the destruction of the first-born. Although it is represented as coming from the Lord, yet, if you closely notice the narrative, you will see that it only came from the Lord in the same sense as that in which the other plagues came--that is, by permission.
The real destroyers were infernal spirits, and the spheres of infernal spirits. It is said, For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the DESTROYER to come in. The destroyer,--this was the real smiter of the first-born; and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you. And the destroyer, as we are informed (Rev. ix. 11), is the devil, that is hell. Here, then we have, as far as outward circumstances go, the explanation of the origin of these plagues, the inflictions of all mischief and misery. Well will it be for us, if we are enabled to feel a perfect faith and trust in the Lord, as the author of good, and also to be assured, that all miseries of every kind have their origin in evil, either in ourselves or in the powers of darkness.
Evils are only suffered to take place on account of some good end which the Lord sees may be answered by them. Before I was afflicted, says the Psalmist, I went astray; but now have I kept thy word. It is just so on a national scale. Before we were afflicted--before that terrible scourge which I have referred to, before the cholera came, we went astray in sanitary matters. How much do we yet go astray! Only by chastisements will the nations learn righteousness. People live in murky dwellings, smothered with bad air, careless of the laws of health, strength and well-being. To a great extent this remains so at the present time, but we are far from being so bad as before the cholera came and taught men better. It was just so with the potato disease. Ireland, which it smote the hardest, had long been festering in laziness, poverty, hunger, and dirt; crowded and huddled together, satisfied if they could get their meal of potatoes, to live and crouch on in their dirt and their misery. That staff of their laziness was destroyed, and hundreds of thousands were scattered to go to other countries to learn diligence and energy, and be influenced by better teaching and manlier thought.
This removal from their superstition, laziness, darkness, and misery, preparing, though thousands died, a better and a nobler lot, for millions upon millions. Even in the Lords permissions are unutterable mercies. He acts in all He allows, as well as in all He does, only with the tenderest regard to His creatures. Out of seeming evil He produces everlasting good.
Have not the results justified the permission of the plagues me have just named? Is not then the same Wisdom justified in the permission of the plagues of Egypt, when the results would be so stupendous as the formation of the Israelitish nation and church, and the writing of the Word, which should be a lesson of regeneration to all mankind for ever?
Three great stages in the downfall of Egypt and in the deliverance of Israel are enclosed in these remarkable signs. First, there is that of the locusts. We have already referred to the circumstance, that in the spiritual world there are appearances of locusts which overflow from the pit of darkness. We do not mean that there are any separate animals existing in the spiritual world with natural life as locusts do in this world. But that there are appearances of locusts, because certain kinds of evil principles take and exhibit that form which corresponds to their inner nature.
Locusts destroy the grass and the tender trees of the field. Now there is spiritual grass, or there are spiritual things which are to the soul what grass is to animals. And those you will oftentimes find referred to in the Sacred Word. The Lord Jesus says, in relation to the growth of the Gospel in the soul, it is first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. And in that beautiful Psalm, the 23rd, it is said, The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. And these green pastures on which the soul is enabled to lie down are those thoughts from the Holy Word which comfort us; by which we feed on what is good; which make us rely upon the divine promises, which enable us to recline and lie down in safety under the protection of our Heavenly Father and Savior. Now, the locusts, which destroy these green pastures, and eat up every green thing, represent the principles of malignant opposition arising from a thoroughly infidel state of heart--opposition to all the secret counsels of our Heavenly Father--eating up and removing out of the soul all joy and hope, all trust and confidence. They leave the whole soul as solitary and as barren as a desert, where no green thing is.
This plague of the locusts is representative of a far lower condition of the soul than that which we have previously met with. It first defied the Lord, and would not obey, but it kept up appearances. Step by step, it now sinks to the utter wreck everything heavenly, and of everything from the Word, which would have been a comfort and strength to the soul.
The forlorn condition of Pharaoh disposed him to make some concessions. He said,--We will let the men go, but nothing else. He has been endeavoring to make some arrangements of his own all the way through. Such is the custom of a rebellious spirit. It will not do what the Lord requires. It will do something; it offers some arrangement short of the demands of heaven. It wont do its simple duty. On the next occasion, when the plague of darkness came, Pharaoh was quite willing to let the men and the little ones go, but not the hocks and the herds. Moses said, There shall not a hoof be left behind. Pharaoh is representative of that very condition of the soul which lays hold of a sort of partial religion--of something which it substitutes for that thorough submission of the heart, that entire giving up of the inmost affections of the soul which renders the whole man what true religion requires.
The second plague you will perceive is the natural consequence of the first upon which I have remarked.
For if all these sweet and gentle and encouraging truths which are represented by the grass upon which the soul lies down, are destroyed by locusts, the necessary consequence will be the next plague--utter darkness. If religion, if the Word, if eternal things are eaten up and destroyed, and blotted out of the soul, what is there for all of us but utter darkness? It is reducing the soul to that condition that the ancients gave as an accurate description of prejudice,--a thing without eyes and without ears.
Lastly, there was the death of the first-born.
You are aware that it is a sublime doctrine of true religion that we must be born again. The birth of true religion in the soul is, however, twofold, first faith, then charity. The first-born of Pharaoh spiritually signifies the birth of such a faith as a person has, who has no obedience, and no charity. He has, perhaps, what he calls a plan of salvation or a scheme of salvation. In reading some departments of theological teaching you will often find a description of the plan of salvation, the scheme of the atonement, in which it is taught that the Lords death, which was the manifestation of His love to win us to obedience, without which there is no regeneration, nor salvation, is the SUBSTITUTE for obedience.
This is a miserable human substitute for that glorious divine rule which the soul learns from the Lord, and which is epitomized by Him as love to God and love to man, perfected in obedience. Any faith which induces a man to say,--I shall be saved, because I believe such and such a creed is a first-born of the Egyptians, either of Pharaoh on his throne, or of the maid-servant grinding at the mill, or of the captive in the dungeonsthat is, either of one who dictates such a faith, or of one who diligently seeks to support it, or of one of its most stupid followers. The faith of the Gospel is a faith in the Lord Himself the living Regenerator, and His divine commandments. Our Lord never said to any of those to whom He was about to give a blessing,--What are the articles of your belief? But where a person shewed his faith by his acts, and lovingly obeyed, He said--this is saving faith.
The first-born of Pharaoh is a persuasion that a person is a favorite of heaven because he belongs to the right creed. This is a sort of delusion which leads men into plagues and ruin. The time comes when the delusion serves them no longer--such a faith perishes. The first-born of Egypt dies--man has not been bettered by it. He looks back on his life, it is a mere wreck. He has gone from misery to misery, and now what is he? The first-born dies before the divine truth,--there is no spiritual life in it. There is nothing but condemnation, distress, darkness, despair.
On the contrary, the Israelites had light in their dwellings. Those who are of the class of which the Lord said, Behold an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile--who have endeavored to fight against their own passions and evils--those in the nearness of judgment have light in their dwellings. All around may be dark, but they have the light of life. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. True faith works from love. True faith embraces the Lord Jesus with the heart, trusts Him, loves Him, and lives to Him, by keeping His commandments.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)