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As Moses had now fulfilled his part of the contract, he naturally expected that Pharaoh would have performed his; but the impious monarch, vainly imagining that the artillery of divine vengeance was now exhausted, unfaithfully broke his word, and still refused to let the Israelites depart.
This breach of promise so offended the Almighty, that he resolved to treat the haughty tyrant in a more severe manner than he had hitherto done. As yet God had given him previous notice of the judgments he intended to denounce, that he might have the opportunity of escaping them; but now, without giving him the least intimation of his design, he commanded Moses to direct Aaron to stretch out his rod, and strike the dust with it, that it might become lice throughout all the land of Egypl. Aaron had no sooner obeyed the divine command, than ihe aniinated dust was inmediately turned into swarms of vermin, which not only infested the human species, but also the beasts of the field. Pharaoh again had recourse to his magicians, who (though they had faintly imitated the former plagues) now attempted this in vain: they owned their art outdone, and acknowledged this to be the inimitable work of a divine hand.
But notwithstanding this, Pharaoh's heart was so hardened, that he would not pay the least attention to the solicitations of Moses ; upon which the Almighty was pleased to give him another summons, in words to this effect : “Rise up,” says he to Moses, * early in the morning, and meet Pharaoh as he comes to the river: tell him, Thus saith the Lord : let my people go, that they may serve me, or I will send swarms of fies upon thee and thy people, which shall fill their houses, and cover the face of the earth. And that thou mayest know, that this is brought as a judgment upon thee and thy subjects, for oppressing my people, I will, on that day, separate the land of Goshen, in which my servants dwell, from the rest of Egypt, thai the flies shall not moJest them."
MI ses, in conformity to the divine command, delivered this message to Pharaoh, whose obstinacy and perverseness were so great, that he still refused the Israelites 10 depart. In consequence of this, the next day, clouds of swarming insects filled the air, which in numberless troops descended to the earth, and, wiih their unusual noise, surprised and affrighied the wretched inhabitants. All attempts to remove this dreadful calamity proved vain and fruitless; their most private recesses could not secure them from the poisonous stings of these obnoxious animals, and a succession of painful misery invaded them on all sides. The magicians beheld, with confusion, this direful plague, and no more attempted to ofier any imitation. A general horror was spread throughout the whole country, and every part echoed with the cries of tortured men and cauile.
Not being able longer to endure this dreadful calamity, and finding no likelihood of its being removed, the obstinate Pharaoh seni for Moses and Aaron, and, in a sullen dissatisfied tone, bade them go and sacrifice to their God; but with this injunction, that they should not pass beyond the bounds of Egypt. He was desirous of obtaining relief, but, at the same time, was unwilling to part with a people, from whose slavery he had reaped such great advantage. Being a stranger to the true God, he did not conceive that the Israelites could not acceptably sacrifice to their God while under Egyptian bondage.
Moses, desirous of convincing rather than inflaming, the infidel prince, prudently answered: “We can noi sacrifice to our God in this land, for that would be an affront to the Egyptians,* and they will be revenged on us. Permit us, therefore, to avoid their resentment, by going three days' journey into the wilderness, where we can sacrifice to our God in the manner he haih commanded."
In reply to this, the haughiy monarcha said, “ If nothing else will serve you but to go into the desert, I will let you go; but remember, it must not be far. And in return for this concession, I desire you will entreat your God to remove the plague.”.
Moses promised to intercede for him, but at the same time cautioned him to be sincere in what he said, and not violate his engagements as he had before done. Leaving Pharaoh, Moses retired to a proper place, where he addressed himself to God, be
* The meaning of this expression is, that the animals which they were to sacrifice to the Lord, being those which were worshipped by the Egyptians, it would be such an affront and abomination to thein, as would endanger the lives of the Israelites. Herodotus tells us, that the Egyptians esteemed it a profana. tion to sacrifice any kind of cattle except swine, buils, calves, and goese ; and that heifers, rams, and gouts (the usual sacrifices of the Israelitos), were, by them, held sacred. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Israelites should wish to offer up their sacrifices in a place detached from the sight of the Egyptians, justly suspecting, that had they not, it might have been attended with fatal consequences,
seeching him to remove the plague of the flies. His prayers were accordingly heard, and the insects soon took their flight. But this obstacle was no suoner renoved, than the haughty tyrant reassumed his former obstinacy, and peremptorily forbid the Israelites worshipping their God in the way and manner he had directed.
This additional provocation so incensed the Almighty against Pharaoh, that he again sent Moses to him with this message: “Tell him," said he, “ Thus saith the God of the Hebrews, lei my people go, that they may serve me, or be assured I will visit al! thy catile that are in ihe tield with a grievous murrain; and to make thee suill more sensible of my Omnipotence, I will, by a wonderful distinction, preserve the cattle of my people, while I destroy those of the Egyptians.”
Pharaoh paid no more atienticn to this message than he had done to the former, in consequence of which, the very next day, this awful threat was most severely execuied. The generous horse loathed his full manger and loved pastures, and sunk beneath his rider; the ass and camel could no longer support their burdens, or bear their own weight; the laboring ox fell dead before the plough; the harmless sheep died blearing, and the faithful dogs lay gasping by them.
Though this was certainly a most horrid spectacle, yet it made not the least impression on the hardened Pharaoh, who sull resolved to brave Heaven with his impious perverseness. Remembering what Moses had said of the preservation of the Israelites' catile, he sent to Goshen to learn how it had fared with them, and was assured that not one of their catile had died, or received the least infection. This circumstance was certainly sufficient to have convinced him that it was no casualiy, but a direct judgment upon him, seeing that it exactly answered the divine prediction. But notwithstanding this, his heart was so callous, that he still preserved the resolution of not suffering the Israelites to depart.
These means proving ineffectual, the Almighty, in order to make some impression on the mind of this impious monarch, determined to afflict him and his people with a plague, and that without giving him the least notice of his intentions. He accordingly commanded Moses and Aaron to take ashes of the furnace, and throw them into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. This was accordingly done, upon which the ashes soon spread the dire contagion, and the tainted air infected the Egyptian blood with its pernicious influence. The most inveterate biles and ulcers appeared on their flesh, and their whole constitution became a noisome spring of sores. So universal was this plague, that even the magicians (who, it is probable, would willingly have once more tried their skill) were affected, and that in such manner, that they dared not appear in public.
Pharaoh's obstinacy, which before proceeded from an implacable hatred to the chosen people of God, now arose from the mere hardness of his heart, and notwithstanding he must be sensible that the present plague was the immediate effect of a divine and supernatural direction, yet he continued firm in his resolution of detaining the Israelites. But the Almighty, deiermined to make some impression on him, rendered the very powers of Heaven subservient to his divine purpose, giving this charge to his servant Moses : “Go,” says he, “ early in the morning, to the king of Egypt, and iell him, that I, the God of the Hebrews, demand the liberty of my people, ihat they may worship me; which, if he refuse, he may be assured that I will shower my plagues upon him and his people; and I will make him know that I am the only God on earth. Say farther to him: If, when lately I smote the cauile with a murrain, I had smitten thee and thy people with pestilence, thou hadst been cut off from the earth. But I have reserved thee to show my power, and by the judgments I shall inflict will I make known my name to all the world. Oppress noi, nor detain my people; for if thou dost, to-morrow, by this time, unless ihou submitteth thyself, I will send such a storm of hail from heaven upon Egypt as never was known since it has been a nation. And that thou mayest not lose what cattle the murrain left, which being not in the field escaped that plague, send ihy servants, and let them drive them under shelter ;-for upon every man and beast, which shall be found in the field, the storm shall fall, and they shall surely die."
So careless, as well as impious, was Pharaoh, that even this declaration would not make him submit, though his own lise, as well as those of his people, was in imminent danger. But some of them, who had been witnesses of the dreadful wrath of God, made a prudent use of the divine caution, and, housing their cattle in time, they were preserved from the general destruction.
The appointed time being come, Moses, in obedience to the divine command, waved his rod in the air, which soon began to murmur in imperfect sounds, till the full charged clouds, with impetuous force, burst and discharged themselves in such horrid peals of thunder, as to shake the whole frame of nature. This was succeeded by a stormy shower of hail, which covered the ground with the scattered remains of trees and houses, and the dead bodies of men and beasts. Nor did the divine vengeance stop here: the heavens discharged a body of liquid fire, which, darting on the ground, glided over the waters, and filled every place with the most dreadful horror.
The haughty tyrant began now to be impressed with those sensations to which he had hitherto been a siranger. Seeing all nature, as he imagined, ready to dissolve, he melted into penitence, and, sending for Moses and Aaron, confessed himself guilty. “I have sinned this time," said he; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Entreat the Lord that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.” Moses promised to comply with this request, but at the same time assured him, he knew there was no sincerity in his heart; and that his seeming repentance was only the effect of his fright.
Moses, however, in conformity to his promise, addressed himself to the Almighty, beseeching him to remove the plague; which was no sooner done, than his prediction was verified : for, when Pharaoh found the storm was ceased, and all was calm and serene, his fears to!ally vanished, his perverseness returned, and he resolved still to keep the Israelites in a state of bondage.
The Almighty was now pleased to make another trial, and to send his servant Moses to apprize the haughty and perfidious tyrant of his intentions. The message he delivered to Moses was prefaced by his reasons (as, indeed, he had done before) why he permitted Pharaoh to continue in his obstinacy; the substance of which, together with the message itself, was to this effect: “I have,” says he, “ hardened Pharaoh's heart, and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these my wonders before them, and that thou mayest tell, in the hearing of thy sons, and the Israelites to succeeding generations, what prodigies I have wrought in Egypt, that ye may all know that I am the Lord, the Almighty Jehovah. Wherefore, go to Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Why dost thou persist in thy obstinacy? Let my people go, that they may serve me, or I will bring the locusis into thy land to-morrow, which shall come in such swarms, as to cover the surface of the earth, and devour all the products of it that have escaped the former plagues. And this shall prove such a plagne as none of thy predecessors ever saw.”.
This message Moses carefully delivered to Pharaoh in the presence of his nobles, and, not receiving any answer to it, he retired. As soon as he was gone, Pharaoh's courtiers, suill sensibly impressed with the late calamities, and fearful that he was about to call down more plagues upon them, very roughly accosted their king, desiring him to let the Israelites go and serve their God, lest, for his obstinacy, not only limself, but also the whole people of his kingdom, should be totally destroyed.
The importunity of Pharaoh's courtiers prevailed more than God's threats and judg. ments. He immediately despatched a messenger afier Moses and Aaron, who accordingly returning, he told them they might go and serve their God; but under this limitation, that it should only be the men, for ihat all the women and children should be left behind. This, however, would not do for Moses: he insisted that all the Israelites should go, both old and young, sons and daughters; nay, and their flocks and herds; “ for,” said he, “ we must hold a feast to the Lord, and all must be at it.” Pharaoh considered this demand as not only peremptory, but insolent: he therefore bade them look to it, and consider well whai they insisied on; after which, in a very threatening manner, he dismissed them.
This repulse occasioned another judgment to be inflicted on the miserable subjects of an infidel king; for Moses, by the divine command, stretched out his hand, with the rod in it, and immediately a scorching wind blew all that day and the succeeding night; the consequence of which was, the next morning there appeared endless legions of locusts, which, in a short time, so devoured the fruits of the earth, that it became, as it were, quite naked: the happy productions arising from the fertile Nile, and all that bountiful na:ure afforded, were carried off by these airy pillagers, and nothing appeared but horror and desolation throughout the land of Egypt.
The hardened Pharaoh was more sensibly affecied at this plague, than he had been at any of the former. He plainly saw thai the destruction of the fruits of the earth must be succeeded by the destruction of man and beast. Wherefore, sending for Moses and Aaron, he, in a more suppliant manner, addressed them in words to this effect: “I have, indeed, offended Jehovah your God, in refusing to obey his command, and you, in so often breaking my word with you: forgive me this offence, and entreat your God to avert this judgment, that I and my people perish not by devouring famine."
Moses, once more compassionating the case of the justly afflicted king, addressed himself to the Almighty in his behalf, and the locusts, by the force of a strong westerly wind, were driven into the Red sea. But this plague was no sooner removed than Pharaoh's obstinacy and contempt of God's commands returned, and he again refused the departure of the Israelites.
All these methods to reduce Pharaoh to an obedience of the Divine command proving ineffectnal, the Almighty commanded Moses to stretch forth his hand toward heaven, that there might be a universal darkness, such as before hiad never been known, throughout the land of Egypt.
Moses obeyed the Divine command, immediately on which such solid and thick clouds of darkness invaded the sky, that nature seemed at once to be involved in one dreadful eclipse: the sun no longer enlightened the lower world with his cheerful beans; the moon, with the stars, no more illuminated the air; and so dismal was the aspect of all things, that nature appeared as if about to return to her original chaos.
This dreadful scene of horror lasted three days, and the haughty Pharaoh was so affected at it, that though he had long stood immoveable against the threats and judgments of God, yet he now, fearing a universal dissolution, and frightened at the continual terror of this long night, began seriously to relent, and sending for Moses, thus addressed him:_“Ye may go," said he, “ with your little ones, and serve the Lord; but, for my security, I would have you leave your flocks and herds behind.”
Bui this not being absolutely consistent with the Divine command, Moses would not accept it. He told Pharaoh that it was the express command of their God to remove with all their substance; and that they knew not in what manner they were to offer sacrifice to their God, nor should they till they came into the wilderness.
The baughty tyrant, incensed at the non-compliance of Moses to what he esteemned a distinguished indulgence, commanded him to be gone, and, with great austerity, told him if he ever appeared before him again, it should cost him his life.
Moses promised Pharaoh he should never again see his face; but, by the Divine command, he once more visited him, and that with a message more severe than any he had yet delivered. “Tell him," says the Almighty to Moses, " in the hearing of his people, Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt. And all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the female servant that is behind the mill;* and all the first-born of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was never before, nor shall be again. But the children of Israel shall not be in the least assected, that ye may know the distinction made by the Lord between you and them. And all thy servants shall come down unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee; and after that will I go out myself.”
Moses delivered this message to Pharaoh in the manner he had been commanded. But the haughty tyrant defied his threats, and still persisted in his obstinacy that the Israelites should not depart from Egypt; upon which Moses, finding him inflexible, turned away and left him.
Previous to the carrying of this last sentence into execution, the Almighty instructed Moses and Aaron in what manner to direct the people to prepare the passover, which
* It was usual for the lowest slaves to be emploved in the drudgery of the mill; and therefore the prophet Isaiah uses this idea, to express the abject state of slavery to which Babylon should be reduced : *. Come down, and sit in the dust, o virgin daughter of Babylon : sit on the ground, take the mill-stones and grind meal.” Isaiah lvii. 1, 2. Dr. Slaw observes, that most families in those countries still grind their wheat and barley at home, having two portable mill-stones for that purpose ; the uppermost whereoi is turned round by a small handle of wood, or iron, which is placed in the rin). When the stone is large, or expedi. tion is required, then a second person is called in to assist ; and, it is usual for the women alone to be concerned in this employment, who seat themselves over against each other, with the mill-stones between them. We may sog not only the propriety of the expression in this verse, of siiting behind the mill, but the force of another, Matt. xxiv. 41, that ** Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken), and the other left."