Free Again

Chapter 16

In Egypt, Moses' older brother Aaron was instructed by angels to meet him near Horeb. Together they journeyed to Egypt. Soon after their arrival, they called together the elders of Israel, and Aaron repeated to them all of God's dealings with Moses. They then showed them the signs which God had given to Moses. "And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped."

The two brothers then entered the palace of the Pharaohs as ambassadors from the King of kings, and they spoke in His name: "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness.

"Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?" demanded the proud monarch. "I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go."

Their reply was, "The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest He fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword."

News of the interest that Moses and Aaron were exciting among the people had reached the king ahead of them. Already the kingdom had suffered loss by the interference of these strangers, and he angrily said, "Moses and Aaron, wherefore do ye let (keep) the people from their works? get you unto your burdens."

During their enslavement to the Egyptians, the Israelites had to some extent lost their knowledge of God's Law. Because the demands of their taskmasters made its observance apparently impossible, the Sabbath had been generally disregarded. Moses, however, showed his people that obedience to God was the first condition of deliverance. This effort to restore the observance of the Sabbath had come to the notice of their oppressors.

The king, now thoroughly roused, suspected the Israelites of a design to revolt from his service; and he immediately adopted measures to crush out their independent spirit. The most common building material of that country was sun-dried brick. Cut straw was intermixed with clay, to hold it together, and large quantities of it were required for the work. Making bricks employed great numbers of the bondsmen. The king now directed that no more straw was to be furnished; the laborers must find it for themselves, while the same number of bricks would be required.

This order produced great distress among the Israelites. The Egyptian taskmasters had appointed Hebrew officers to oversee the work of the people, making them responsible for the work done by those under their supervision. Forced to gather stubble instead of straw, the people found it impossible to accomplish the usual amount of labor. For this failure, the Hebrew officers were cruelly beaten.

These officers, supposing that their oppression came from their taskmasters and not from the king himself, went to Pharaoh with their complaint. Their protests were met with a taunt: "Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord." Refusing to listen to them, the king ordered them back to their work. Returning from the palace, they met Moses and Aaron and greeted them with bitter censure. "The Lord look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us."

The Hebrews had expected to gain their freedom without any special trial of their faith or any real suffering or hardship. But they were not yet prepared for deliverance. Many were satisfied to remain in servitude rather than meet the difficulties attending removal to a strange land. Some had become so much like the Egyptians that they preferred to remain in Egypt. Therefore, the Lord overruled events in order to more fully develop the oppressive and tyrannical spirit of the Egyptian king and also to reveal Himself to His people, that in seeing demonstrated His justice, power, and love, they would choose to leave Egypt and give themselves to His service.

Before the monarch of the most powerful kingdom then in existence, the two representatives of the enslaved race again presented themselves, repeating the command from God for Israel's release. The king now demanded a miracle, as evidence of their divine commission. Aaron threw his rod down before Pharaoh, and it immediately became a serpent. The wise men and the sorcerers of the realm then threw down their rods, "and they became serpents. But Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods." Then the king, more determined than before, declared the power of his magicians to be equal to that of Moses and Aaron. Denouncing the servants of the Lord as impostors, he felt himself secure in refusing their demands.

Moses and Aaron were now directed to meet the king the next morning beside the Nile River. Viewed as a source of life and fertility, the river was worshipped as a god. Daily the monarch came there as an act of devotion. Here the two brothers again repeated the message to him. They then stretched out the rod and struck the water. The sacred stream ran blood. The fish all died, and the river became offensive to the smell. The water in the houses, as well as the supply preserved in cisterns, was likewise changed to blood. For seven days the plague continued, but without effect upon the stubborn will of Pharaoh.

Again the rod was stretched out over the waters, and frogs came up from the river. The frog was regarded as sacred by the Egyptians, and they would not destroy it. The slimy pests had now become intolerable. They swarmed even in the palace of the Pharaoh, and the king was impatient to have them removed. Sending for Moses and Aaron, he said, "Entreat the Lord, that He may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the Lord." Moses allowed the king to set the time for the plague to end. The next day was agreed upon, the king secretly hoping that the frogs might disappear on their own in the meantime. The plague continued, however, until the time specified.

The Lord could have caused the frogs to return to dust in a moment, but He did not do this lest after their removal the king and his people should convince themselves that it had been the result of sorcery or enchantment. The frogs died and were then gathered together in heaps. Here the king and all of Egypt had evidence that this work was not accomplished by magic but was a judgment from the God of heaven.
"But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart." At the command of God, Aaron stretched out his hand, and the dust of the earth became lice throughout all the land of Egypt. Pharaoh called upon the magicians to do the same, but they could not. The magicians themselves now acknowledged, "This is the finger of God."

Next came great swarms of flies. Flies filled the houses and swarmed upon the ground, so that "the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of flies." These flies were large and venomous, and their bite was extremely painful to man and animals. Unlike the earlier plagues, but exactly as had been foretold, this judgment did not extend to the Israelites in the land of Goshen.

A more terrible event soon followed—a disease came upon all of the Egyptian cattle that were in the field. Both the sacred animals and the beasts of burden—cattle, oxen, sheep, horses, camels, and asses were alike destroyed. Still the king was stubborn.

Moses was then told to take ashes and sprinkle them toward heaven. The fine particles, caught by the air, became a plague of oils on both man and beast, wherever they were blown. Not even the magicians could protect themselves from the painful sores. Still the heart of Pharaoh grew harder.

A plague of hail was now threatened. Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh with the warning, "Send therefore now, and gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die." Rain or hail was unusual in Egypt, and such a storm as was foretold had never been witnessed. The report spread rapidly, and all who believed the word of the Lord gathered in their cattle, while those who disregarded the warning left them in the field. Thus, in the midst of judgment, the mercy of God was displayed. The people were tested, and it was shown how many had been led to fear God by the mighty demonstrations of His power.

The storm came as predicted—thunder and hail, and fire mingled with it. All Egypt trembled before the awful outpouring of divine judgment. Pharaoh hastily sent for the two brothers, and cried out, "I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Entreat the Lord (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer." Moses answered, "As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the Lord; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the Lord's. But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the Lord God."

Moses warned the monarch that if he still remained fixed in his determination to resist the God of heaven, a plague of locusts would be sent, which would cover the face of the earth and eat up every green thing that remained. Pharaoh's counselors were appalled. They were fast losing all that had been gained by the labor of the Hebrews. The whole land was now being threatened with starvation.

Moses again stretched out his rod over the land, and an east wind began to blow, bringing clouds of locusts. They filled the sky till the land was darkened and devoured every green thing that remained. The people of Egypt were ready to despair. The plagues that had already fallen upon them seemed almost beyond endurance, and they were filled with fear for the future. Everywhere men were asking with bated breath, What will come next?

Suddenly a darkness settled upon the land, so thick and black that it could be felt. Not only were the people deprived of light, but the atmosphere was very heavy. At the end of the third day of darkness, Pharaoh summoned Moses and agreed to let the people leave, provided the flocks and herds were permitted to remain. "There shall not an hoof be left behind," was the firm reply. The king's anger burst forth beyond control. "Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die."

The answer was, "Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more."

Moses had been forbidden, on pain of death, to appear again in Pharaoh's presence; but a last message from God was to be delivered to the rebellious monarch. Again Moses came before him, with the terrible announcement: "Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more . . . . And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out."

Before the execution of this sentence, the Lord through Moses gave the children of Israel direction concerning their departure from Egypt, and especially for their preservation from the coming judgment. Each family, alone or in connection with others, was to slay a lamb "without blemish" and with a bunch of hyssop sprinkle its blood on the "on the two side posts and on the upper door post," of the house, that the destroying angel, coming at midnight, might not enter that dwelling. They were instructed to eat the flesh roasted, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, at night, "with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand."

The Israelites obeyed the directions that God had given. Swiftly and secretly they made their preparations for departure. Their families were gathered, the paschal lamb slain, the flesh roasted with fire, and the unleavened bread and bitter herbs prepared. The sign of blood—the sign of a Saviour's protection—was on their doors, and the destroyer did not enter.

At midnight, the shrieks and wails of the mourners filled the air. Terrified at the overwhelming horror, the king, with pale face, "called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said . . . . And be gone; and bless me also." The royal counselors also and the people begged the Israelites to leave, "We be all dead men." Before the morning broke, the vast multitude of Hebrews were on their way.

This chapter is based on Exodus 4–12