1 And Yahweh said unto Moses, See, I have made thee Elohim to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.
Moses being thus called of God, was first sent to the elders of Israel to make proclamation to them of the good of deliverance from Egypt, and of national independence in the land promised to their fathers. Moses was not only called and sent, but he was also equipped for the work; and prepared to prove that he was Yahweh's ambassador to them and Pharoah.
The Lord knew how incredulous they would reasonably be of the validity of Moses' pretensions to the high office of His plenipotentiary. They had refused Moses forty years before when he was in favour at the court of Egypt; it was not likely, therefore, that they would accept him as a returned exile.
Hence, something more was wanting than Moses' bare assertion that he was the ambassador of God. He was, therefore, endued with divine power by the exercise of which his claim to their acceptance might be attested. His staff could be turned into a serpent; his hand could become leprous as snow by putting it into his bosom; and water of the Nile spilled upon the ground converted into blood.
By these three signs given him to perform as his credentials he was assured by the Lord they would recognize him. He was to execute them in their presence
"that they might believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, had appeared unto him. And I will be with thy mouth," said God, "and teach thee what thou shalt say."
Elpis Israel 2.4.
3 And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
The difficulties that have been raised in connection with this matter are difficulties arising from wrong notions as to the nature of man, and from the want of an enlightened apprehension of the prerogatives of God in His relation to His works. If Pharaoh was immortal, and made liable by his heart-hardening to the dreadful destiny depicted in the hell-fire denunciations of orthodox sermonising, the divine work of raising him up and hardening his heart would at least be inscrutable, in the sense, that is, of being apparently inconsistent with what Yahweh had testified of His own character.
But Pharaoh, being a piece of living clay, and all mankind in a state calling for some startling exhibition of the existence and authority of God, there is not only nothing difficult to understand, but a something to excite admiration in the development of a man and the contrivance of a situation which should effectually ensure it. Any question of human right, as against God, is unanswerably disposed of by Paul in his famous argument:
"Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God?...
The fact is beyond question that Pharaoh was raised up for the part he had to perform in connection with the work of Moses: and the usefulness of the fact arises from this, that no one living in Egypt during the thirty or forty years preceding the exodus would have been aware, from anything he saw or heard, that the ruler of the country was the subject of divine work one way or the other. Had he watched him from the beginning - seen him nursed as a baby, noted him under tutorship, followed him through the ways of youth to maturity and manhood, he would have detected nothing indicative of divine selection and preparation.
All was apparently in the order of nature. Yet the man was a divine work. It is easy, turning from the contemplation of such a picture, to realise that in our own day, such men as Louis Napoleon, Bismarck, the Pope, the Emperor of Russia, or such a woman as our own Queen, or any one having relation to the divine work of the latter days (Dr. Thomas for instance), * may equally be a divine development and the subject of divine supervision, though every element in their lives superficially is thoroughly natural.
The "natural" in such cases is the form of the divine hand, or rather the tool used by it. The user of the tool is not visible in the work done, and the tool is only a tool. The tool is invisibly guided in a way that seems to itself and others perfectly natural, yet the work done is divine work because divinely planned, and divinely supervised in its execution, though the agents are unconscious of the divine initiative. Such a view helps us to recognise the hand of God in current public affairs, where the natural man sees only the proximate agency.
Such a view can, of course, be prostituted to the result of claiming divinity for things which have nothing divine in them. But wisdom will know where to draw the line. All things are not divine, but some are which are apparently natural. We need not assume divine initiative for any action in particular, either in public life or in our own lives, though God may have to do with both or neither.
Our business is to conform in all modesty to what God has required of us; but it is our comfort at the same time to know that matters and men and results may be of God, even if apparently natural only. Our part is to commit our way to Him in faith. We are helped thus to count upon and recognise the direction of God, where to the natural eye it is not visible.
Ways of Providence Ch 10.
5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.
Looking, then, at the powerless and barbarous condition of the Israelites-reduced to helpless serfdom under the Egyptians, and having no disposition to enter upon perilous enterprises - we realise how perfectly unfeasible the idea of deliverance from Egypt was, at the time when the fulfilment of the divine promise was due.
Even with a sanguine military leader, nothing was to be made of such a situation of things. But there was no leader.
Moses, whose providential development ... had made one experiment at trying to bring his brethren to right views of the situation, but the only result had been to bring about his own exile. He had been absent from the country for forty years. Nobody had heard from him.
There was no scheme among them. Even Moses himself, in the pastoral seclusion of the desert of Horeb, had given himself over to the occupations of a quiet individual life. What more unpromising idea was there at that moment than the idea of leading the Israelites, a helpless, unwilling horde of people, out of a powerful country, where they were held down by special rigours of law, as a useful slave race, dangerous to be allowed any liberty? Such an enterprise had every element of impossibility. As a scheme in human hands, there was no object to serve by it, and no means of accomplishing it.
God had promised it, and if it was to be done, extraordinary means were necessary. This reflection is inevitable if we simply have in view the problem of how Israel was to be rescued from the hands of their oppressors, but how incalculably stronger the thought becomes when we realise the object divinely proposed in that deliverance. It was not merely the rescue of an afflicted race from oppression. This was a subordinate item in the programme.
The main purpose... was that Israel might know Yahweh as the only God, and that the divine Name might be declared in all the earth. The state of things required this to be done, for the whole world, including the Israelites themselves... was fast settling into a state of complete and incorrigible barbarism.
God's purpose ultimately to populate the earth with obedient men (put to the proof in days of evil), required that this state of things should be broken into, and that His existence should be palpably demonstrated, and His will established in a form sufficiently influential to effect intended moral results in the generations following. How was this to be done without the display of His power in a visible and intelligible manner? The answer is obvious, and paves the way for a survey of the extraordinary incidents by which this display was effected.
Visible Hand of God Ch 9
7 And Moses was 80 years old, and Aaron 83 years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.
...he obtained an audience of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, for which his previous status at the Court of Egypt, in the days before his exile, had doubtless paved the way. The impending struggle between Divine power on the one hand, and the power of Egypt on the other, was opened gently at the first. Moses presented a limited request of a perfectly reasonable nature, even from the Egyptian point of view. The full extent of the Divine purpose was not disclosed at once.
Visible Hand of God Ch 11
MOSES was 80 years old at the EXODUS. This occurred exactly at the very night of the first passover, 430 years after Abram's marriage with Hagar, A.M. 2033. The year of the Exodus was therefore A.M. 2463. From this deduct 80 years, and we find that Moses was born A.M. 2383; from which the year of Joseph's death, A.M. 2309, being subtracted, we discover that the interval between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses was 74 years.
12 For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.
Magicians never did perform miracles in the sense of a truly superhuman operation. Their wonders have always been "lying wonders," that is, wonders apparently superhuman, but really only feats of hand or skilful applications of the secret forces of nature. Many such secrets were known to the Egyptians, some of which have perished with them. Artists of our day do not know how they obtained their fixity of colour, nor do mechanicians understand by what application of power they lifted and put in their places the immense blocks that go to form the pyramids.
Some electricians have concluded, from various circumstances, that they were acquainted with magnetism, vital and mechanical. Their "enchantments" were certainly due to natural knowledge, deftly applied.
How could they turn a rod into a serpent? Not having been told (except that it was "with their enchantments") how they did it, we cannot know exactly; but we may guess. They knew that this was what they had to do-apparently to turn rods into serpents by throwing them down. They therefore procured serpents, and paralysed them into a rigid form by some mode of chemical treatment. They then encrusted them with some substance that made them look exactly like sticks; and knowing how to terminate the paralysis of the beasts at will, by the application of some counter chemic or mode of generating electric force, they went before Pharaoh ready to show him the feat which had been ordered.
They pitched their stiffened serpents on the floor, and of course the creatures started wriggling by the side of the serpent of Moses. The difference between the two performances became, however, at once apparent, for the true rod-serpent rears itself, darts quickly from one to another of the make-believe rod-serpents, swallows them and then quietly resumes its rod-state in the hands of Moses. There are feats that cannot be simulated, and this is one.
It is one of the great differences between the miracles of Divine performance and those of priestly deception, that the works of Divine power are beyond the possibility of human appliance. Who could single out the first-born in every house and kill him? Who could open a path in the sea? Who could feed a multitude for forty years in a desert? Who could cleave the earth beneath a rebellious company and send them shrieking into the abyss? Who could, by the exercise of will, make the massive walls of a fortified city fall simultaneously in all directions?
Who could destroy a whole army in a single night, as the soldiers lay in their tents? Who could heal all diseases with a word? Who could raise the dead? These, and a hundred such like things are the wonders performed among Israel by Divine power - wonders of a nature that excludes the possibility of human collusion. Men may momentarily stiffen serpents, but they cannot give the unstiffened animals the power of devouring a dozen neighbours. They cannot shake Sinai by earthquake, and envelop it with fire and cloud, and cause a trumpet voice to be heard for days throughout a great distance.
Visible Hand of God Ch 11
13 And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as Yahweh had said.
It was necessary he should resist, and therefore that he should be strengthened to do so. It is strange that any person should find difficulty in the reception of this fact, yet not strange when people entertain the idea that Pharaoh was an immortal being, and doomed by this treatment to the certainty of a hell such as is pictured in popular theology.
When it is recognised that Pharaoh was an obstinate pagan, raised up expressly that in him God's power might be exhibited in all the earth, it is impossible that the difficulty can exist to a logical mind. Human nature is but the earth-clay in the hand of the potter. The potter will work out of the chaotic clay-fields beautiful pottery fit for the potter's house: but in the process, some clay is turned to inferior account, shaped into inferior vessels, and put to inferior though necessary purposes; tempered, perhaps, to a rough and strong state, quite unlike the fineness and beauty of porcelain. Where is the difficulty? None but such as the false doctrine of human immortality creates.
Visible Hand of God Ch 11
15 Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river's brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand.
16 And thou shalt say unto him, Yahweh Elohim of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.
17 Thus saith Yahweh, In this thou shalt know that I am Yahweh: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood.
To deliver such a message to a man just out in the fresh morning, and with the luxury of a morning bath in the river before him, was certainly to arrest his attention in the most striking manner possible, and to propose to him a sign most palpable and beyond the power of man. We are not told how Pharaoh received this uncourtly interruption of his morning privacy. He was probably displeased enough, and impatiently ordered Moses out of his presence. But God's business is very urgent when it comes.
Visible Hand of God Ch 11
19 And Yahweh spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.
20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as Yahweh commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
Why the stretching out of the rod?
Because there was a right moment for the wonder to commence, and it was fitting that that right moment should be marked so that the connection between the accomplishment of the marvel and the holder of the rod might be apparent. Was it Aaron or was it the rod that produced the effect? Neither: "Yahweh smote the river" v25; but Aaron and the rod (commanded by Moses) were God's signal.
A railway official shows a white flag from a gallery in the Birmingham railway station, and the train moves off. It is not the flag that does it; it is the signal for the thing to be done: the steam liberated by the drive does the work. God's drivers are the angels; the Spirit is the steam. When the signal was shown - when Aaron's rod was elevated-the waters throughout Egypt were simultaneously operated on by the angelic workers, so as to be chemically and organically transmuted into a nauseous coagulation, offensive and deleterious to man and beast.
Ye polite unbelievers! Reconsider and discard your shallow objections. Water turns into blood in your bodies every day. Can ye tell how the marvel is accomplished? Ye may talk of gastric juices, and chyle, pancreatic fluids, absorbent vessels, secerning glands, and all the other apparatus of the animal economy, but when ye have gone over the whole list, ye are still where ye were-ignorant as the cattle in the field of the essential process by which the ingredients of the wonderful element we call water are turned into the still more wonderful crimson fluid that charges the fibre of the body with energy and life.
We only know the fact, but not its occult nature; and because the fact is slowly performed every day, ye think it not wonderful. Or else, if ye have sufficient sense to feel that perhaps it is wonderful, ye instantly stultify your reason, and make all wise men ashamed by your assertions that this is the only form in which the wonderful act can be performed-that God can turn water into blood in your bodies, but he cannot do it in the open air on the banks of the Nile.
Poor masses of cellular tissue and water! Men will learn yet that your notions and impressions, and poor capacities, are no measure of the possibilities of the Power that produced the framework of heaven and earth.
God can do things quickly or slowly-by direct volition or circuitous organic incorporation of the invisible forces-according as the occasion calls.
Visible Hand of God Ch 11
22 And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as Yahweh had said.
They got a small quantity of water; it must have been a small quantity, because it was after the water in general was turned into blood; and with their pettifogging appliances, they were able to turn clear water into crimson liquor; any chemist can do it today. And because they were able to do this, Pharaoh came to the same conclusion as in the case of the serpents: that Moses was merely a cleverer magician than the court sorcerers.
Visible Hand of God Ch 11
23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.
He remained in sullen retirement, vexed, angry, and impotent.