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( Exodus Xii. 29, 30.)
The children of Israel, who had long been smarting under the oppressions of Pharaoh in Egypt, were not forgotten by the Almighty. About B.C. 1648, according to Hales, Moses was commissioned, in connexion with his brother Aaron, to bring them out of their house of bondage, by a series of judgments, which humbled that proud nation and its lawless tyrant in a remarkable manner.
Convinced by a miracle of his Divine commission, and having gained over the people of Israel to acquiesce in his intended proceedings, Moses, with Aaron, boldly entered into the presence of Pharaoh, and thus addressed him:—" Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness." Offended at this freedom of speech, Pharaoh haughtily replied: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go," Exod. v. 1, 2. Still undaunted, Moses and Aaron pleaded Israel's cause with earnestness; but their zeal only served to increase the rage of the tyrant, and the oppression of their brethren.
Thus opposed by a rash and weak mortal, the Almighty now said unto Moses: "See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh," Exod. vii. 1. And he gave him an assurance that the Egyptians should acknowledge his holy name in the day when he stretched forth his hand upon Egypt, and brought forth his chosen ones from thence.
Moses, therefore, with his brother Aaron, went again to Pharaoh, and demanded the release of the Hebrews. The proud monarch regarded them again with contempt; when Aaron, at the command of Moses, threw down his rod, and it became a serpent. Upon seeing this, Pharaoh sent for his magicians, and they performed a similar act by their enchantments. The rod of Aaron, however, swallowed up their rods, thereby demonstrating the superiority of the first miracle, and the reality of the mission of Moses. Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he refused to comply with the demand.
The judgments mentioned, and which are known in sacred history as "The ten plagues," now followed in rapid succession. They are thus briefly enumerated:—
The first plague.—As Pharaoh went to pay his adoration to the river Nile, the principal divinity of the Egyptians, he was met by Moses and Aaron; and the latter, stretching his rod over that river, it became blood, and all the fish died: these formed a considerable part of the subsistence of the Egyptians. The change also operated upon all the canals and reservoirs, and even upon that water which had been preserved in vessels of wood and stone for domestic use; so that "there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt."
The second plague.—The river Nile, together with another of the Egyptian gods, the frog, was once more made the instrument of punishment. Myriads of frogs came up from its waters, and overspread the land. They swarmed in the cottage and the palace.
The third plague Without giving any notice, the dust of
Egypt was now smitten by the rod of Aaron, and it became lice throughout all the land of Egypt upon man and beast.
The fourth plague.—This judgment consisted of a swarm of "flies," which covered the whole land of Egypt, except the land of Goshen.
The fifth plague.—This plague, which was that of " murrain," destroyed the cattle of Egypt, save those of the Hebrews.
The sixth plague.—The Almighty now laid his hand upon the persons of the Egyptians. In the presence of Pharaoh, Moses sprinkled ashes of the furnace towards heaven, and they were afflicted with "boils and blains;" and these appearing upon the proverbially clean persons of the magicians, they relinquished that show of rivalry and opposition which they had recently manifested.
The seventh plague.—Pharaoh still continuing unrelenting, Moses stretched forth his rod, and a desolating tempest arose; thunder and hail, so rarely known in Egypt, and fire mingled with the hail, swept over the whole breadth of the land, except Goshen, killing man and beast, destroying the trees, with the standing crops of flax and barley.
The eighth plague.—The locust was now made the instrument of Egypt's punishment. Although not formed for crossing seas, or for long flights, by the aid of a strong east wind these armies of God winged their way over the Ked Sea from Arabia, to perform their mission. They covered all the land, and devoured every herb of the field.
The ninth plague.—In Egypt, where the sun is seldom obscured by a cloud, a thick darkness now prevailed for three days. This must have been peculiarly afflicting and humiliating to that nation, since their great deity, the sun, obscured of his glory, and darkness, another of their deities, were made the instruments of their punishment.
The tenth plague.—By his obstinacy Pharaoh at length sealed the warrant for a wide-spread destruction. The Almighty resolved to vindicate the cause of Israel. "About midnight," said he to Moses, "will I go out into the midst of Egypt: and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die."
While this judgment was pending, the Israelites were directed to demand articles of silver and gold of the Egyptians. They were also to slay a lamb, of a year old, and without blemish, for every family, the flesh of which was to be eaten with bitter herbs, in haste, with their loins girded, their sandals on their feet, and their staff in their hand. To preserve their habitations from the judgment, moreover, they were directed to sprinkle the side-posts and upper door-posts of each house with the blood of this paschal lamb, that so, when the destroying angel appeared, they might be preserved.
In commemoration of this signal interposition, this solemn rite of the passover was instituted a standing ordinance in the Jewish church. It was designed, also, to shadow forth the Paschal Lamb, Jesus Christ, who in the fulness of time should appear as the deliverer of the human race from the thraldom of sin and Satan — a thraldom more fearful in its nature than the bondage of the Israelites.
And now the awful hour of midnight came; and while yet the Israelites were feasting upon this sacrifice, ready to depart from the hated shores of Egypt, the destroying angel went forth and smote all the first-born in the land.
"From the couches of slumber, ten thousand cries
Burst forth 'mid the silent dead!
Sightless, and dumb, and dead!
She awakens—his life hath fled!"
In the sententious and emphatic language used by the sacred historian, "There was not a house where there was not one dead."
The scene which the artist has designed to illustrate this event has been derived from an anonymous etching, and the costume throughout is from Egyptian authorities. It represents a family of the higher rank of people, and may, as far as it goes, be taken as a faithful picture of the architecture, furniture, and costume of the Egyptians.
The terrible despair depicted in the countenances of the group, bending over the lifeless first-born, fitly shadows forth that which may be imagined sat upon the countenances of the bereaved families of Egypt on that awful night. When death steals into the chambers of the human race under ordinary circumstances, and even at the close of the decay of nature, it is a solemn event; but when he comes suddenly—when no warning is given of his approach—when he visits those whom we love in the vigour of life—the event tells with tenfold power upon the human heart. How terrible must that night have been, therefore, to the Egyptians, when the first-born— those loved ones among the children of men—universally perished. The lamentations which followed this awful judgment is emphatically characterized by the inspired penman as " a great cry." It was not the cry of a family, deep and distressing though it be, but of a nation. How deeply the judgment was felt by Pharaoh and his people is discerned by their conduct towards the Hebrews. Although they had hitherto pertinaciously resisted their departure, struck with dread at the visitation, they were urgent upon them to leave their shores; for they said, "We be all dead men."
Behold, reader, in this narrative, the power of Jehovah, and admire and adore! See how vain it is for a mortal man to contend with Omnipotence, and, in the contemplation of it, lay down your arms of rebellion. As surely as he desolated Egypt for the opposition which Pharaoh and his people displayed towards him, in retaining his chosen when he demanded their deliverance, so surely shall those who retain their natural enmity against him feel the rod of his anger. It is our truest wisdom, therefore, to bow low at his footstool, and to seek reconciliation with him through the atonement of Christ. This is our only and all-sufficient refuge! "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," John i. 29.