Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
13. Pharaoh’s Compromises
Our plan in this series of papers is not to furnish a verse by verse exposition of the book of Exodus, but rather to treat its contents topically, singling out the more important incidents and concentrating our attention upon them. The most serious disadvantage of this method is, that after we have followed out one topic to its conclusion, we are obliged to retrace our steps to begin a new one. Yet, perhaps, this is more than offset by the simplicity of the present plan and by the help afforded the reader to remember, substantially, the contents of this second book of Scripture. It is much easier to fix details in the mind when they are classified and conveniently grouped. Having gone over the ten plagues, we are now to contemplate the effect which they had upon Pharaoh. This will require us to go back to the earlier chapters.
In the course of the revelation which Jehovah made to Moses at the burning bush, we find Him saying, "And thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us; and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God" (3:18). And while Moses was responding to the Divine call, the Lord said unto him again, "When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all these wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand; but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is My son, even My firstborn; And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve Me" (4:21-23). In this last-quoted scripture the Lord furnished a reason why He desired His people to go into the wilderness to serve Him—"Israel is My son, My firstborn". Two truths were here enunciated. To Israel pertained "the adoption" (Rom. 9:4). This adoption was not individual (as with us), but as a nation. The use of this term denoted that Israel had been singled out as the objects of God’s special favors—"I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn" (Jer. 31:9). The title of "firstborn" speaks of dignity and excellency (see Genesis 49:3; Psalm 89:27). Israel will yet occupy the chief place among the nations, and be no more the "tail", but the "head". The place of the "firstborn", then, is that of honor and privilege. To the firstborn belonged a double portion.
The terms of this demand upon Pharaoh call for careful consideration. First, God had said that His people must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that they might "sacrifice to the Lord their God" (3:18). Then the Lord added, "that he (His "firstborn") may serve Me" (4:23). Finally, when Moses and Aaron delivered their message unto Egypt’s king, we find them, saying, "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let My people go that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness" (5:1). The order of these three statements is very significant. The thought of "sacrifice" comes first! This is required to avert God’s judgment. Only as the sinner places blood between himself and the thrice holy God, can he stand in His august presence. Nothing but simple faith in an accomplished atonement enables the heart to be quiet before Him. "Without shedding of blood is no remission (Heb. 9:22). Following this, comes service. None can serve God acceptably till they are reconciled to Him. "Whose I am, and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23) is the Divine order. Following this, comes "the feast", which speaks of fellowship and gladness. But this cannot be until the will is broken and the "yoke" has been received—for this is what true ‘service implies. These three things, in the same beautiful order are strikingly illustrated in connection with the Prodigal Son. First the wayward one was reconciled, then he took his proper place—"make me as one of Thy hired servants"; and then came the feasting, over the "fatted calf".
When God’s demand was first presented to Pharaoh, the king repulsed it in most haughty fashion; "And Pharaoh said, 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" (5:2). How the "enmity" of the carnal mind is evidenced here! How the awful depravity of the unregenerate heart was displayed! The natural man knows not the Lord, neither does he hear or heed His voice. And, too, can we not clearly discern here the Arch-rebel, the "god of this world", whom Pharaoh so strikingly adumbrated? Surely we can; and as we shall yet see, this is by no means the only trace of the Adversary’s footprints which are to be detected on the face of this record.
The answer of God to this defiant refusal of Pharaoh was to visit his land with sore judgments. As pointed out in a previous paper, the first three plagues fell upon Israel as well as the Egyptians. But in the fourth God said, "I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there" (Ex. 8:22). This seems to have deeply impressed the king, for now, for the first time, he pays attention to Jehovah’s demand.
1. "And Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land" (8:25). At first sight it would appear that at last Pharaoh was amenable to reason, recognizing the futility of fighting against the Almighty. But a closer glance at his words will show that he was far from being ready to comply with Jehovah’s requests. God’s command was couched in no uncertain terms. It called for the complete separation of His people unto Himself. Three things made this clear. First, "The God of the Hebrews" said Moses, "hath met with us" (5:3). This title always calls attention to the separate character of His people (cf. 9:1; 9:13; 10:3). Second, "Let us go three days’ journey". From Genesis onwards, the third day speaks of resurrection. God would have His people completely delivered from the land of darkness and death. Third, "Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness", that is, apart from Egypt, which speaks of the world. Only one sacrifice was offered to the Lord in Egypt, namely, The Passover, and that was to deliver from death in Egypt; all others were reserved for the tabernacle in the wilderness.
The original response of Pharaoh was, "Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, hinder the people from their work? Get you unto your burdens" (5:4). As another has said, This is "typical of the world’s attitude towards spiritual service. The ‘burdens of Egypt’ are far more important than the service of the Lord, and even among the Lord’s people Martha finds more imitators than Mary, so much of Egypt do we all carry with us".
But now, when the fifth plague fell upon Egypt, Pharaoh said, "Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land (8:25). The Lord had said, A three days’ journey into the wilderness. Pharaoh temporized. He grants Israel permission to worship their God; he does not insist that they bow down to his; but he suggests there is no need for them to be extreme: "sacrifice to your God in the land".
This proffer was very subtle and well calculated to deceive one who was not acquainted with the character of God. "It might with great plausibility and apparent force, be argued: Is it not uncommonly liberal on the part of the king of Egypt to offer you toleration for your peculiar mode of worship? Is it not a great stretch of liberality to offer your religion a place on the public platform? Surely you can carry on your religion here as well as other people. There is room for all. Why this demand for separation? Why not take common ground with your neighbors? There ~s no need, surely, for such extreme narrowness" (C.H.M.)
Writing to the Corinthians, the apostle said, "We are not ignorant of his (Satan’s) devices" (2 Cor. 2:11). Nor need any Christian be with the Word of Truth in his hands. One merciful reason why God has given to us the Scriptures is to inform us of Satan’s wiles, uncover his subtility and expose his methods of attack. They are to be sought not only in those verses where he is referred to by name, but also in passages where he is only to be discovered working behind the scenes. Referring to some incidents in the history of Israel, the apostle declared, "Now all these things happened unto them for types; and they are written for our admonition" (1 Cor. 10:11). In the light of these scriptures, then, we are fully justified in regarding these compromises of Pharaoh as samples of the temptations which the Devil now brings to bear upon the people of God.
"Sacrifice to your God in the land", that is, Egypt. And Egypt represents the world. But God’s people have been delivered "from this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4). Said the Lord to His apostles, "Ye are not of this world, but I have chosen you out of the world". (John 15:19). And again, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world". (John 17:14). "The friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4), how then can believers worship God "in the land"? They cannot. God must be worshipped "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24), and to worship God "in spirit" means to worship Him through the new nature. It means to take our place, by faith, outside of the world which crucified the Son of God! It means "going forth without the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13). It means being separated, in spirit, from all that is of the flesh.
This is just what Satan hates. He aims to get the believer to mix the world and the church. Alas! how well he has succeeded. Professing Christians have, for the most part, so assimilated their worship to Egyptian patterns, that instead of being hated by the world, they have taught the men of the world to join in with them. Thus far has the offense of the cross ceased. Of few indeed can it now be said, "the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not (1 John 3:1).
Insidious was Pharaoh’s proposal. Moses was not deceived by it. His answer was prompt and uncompromising: "And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the Lord our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes and will they not stone us?" (8:26). It is not meet or proper for God’s people to worship Him in the midst of His enemies: "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord" (2 Cor. 6:17) has ever been His demand. Moreover, to worship God "in the land" would be to "sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians". Light is thrown upon this expression by what we are told in Genesis 46:34—"For every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians". If every "shepherd" was an abomination to the Egyptians, certainly to present a lamb in sacrifice to God would be equally abominable to them. Nor have things changed since then. Christ crucified—which condemns the flesh, and makes manifest the total depravity of man—is still a "stumbling-block". Again; "shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?" Press upon men the Divine need of the Cross—God’s judgment of sin (Rom. 8:3) ; announce that by the Cross of Christ believers are crucified to the world (Gal. 6:14), and the world’s enmity is at once aroused. Said the Lord Jesus, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also" (John 15:19, 20).
One more reason Moses gave why he would not accept Pharaoh’s proposal; "We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God, as He shall command us" (8:27). Here Moses reveals the real point of the Enemy’s attack—it was the Word of God which he sought to neutralize. The Lord had said "in the wilderness". To have worshipped God ‘in the land" would, therefore, have been rank disobedience. When God has spoken, that settles the matter. No room is left for debating or reasoning. It is vain for us to discuss and dispute. Our duty is to submit. The Word itself must regulate our worship and service, as well as everything else. Human opinions, human traditions, custom, convenience, have nothing to do with it. Divine revelation is our only Court of Appeal.
2. His first compromise firmly repulsed, Pharaoh resorts to another, even more subtle. "And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness". (8:28). Ah, that sounded promising. It appeared as though the king was now ready to yield. But mark well his closing and qualifying words—"only ye shall not go very far away". Pharaoh was ready to lengthen the chain, but it was still a chain. Complete liberty he was not ready to grant the Israelites. The point at issue was the complete separation of God’s people from Egypt (the world), and this Pharaoh (representing Satan) contested to the bitter end.
"Only ye shall not go very far away" is one of the favorite and most successful of the Devil’s temptations. Avoid extremes; do not be fanatical; be sane and sensible in your religious life; beware of becoming narrow-minded, are so many different ways of expressing the same thing. If you really must be a Christian, do not let it spoil your life. There is no need to cut loose from your old friends and associations. God does not want you to be long-faced and miserable. Why then abandon pleasures and recreations innocent in themselves? With such whisperings Satan beguiles many a soul. Young believers especially need to be on the guard here.
"Not very far away" is incompatible with the first law of the Christian life. The very purpose for which the Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh was to lead His people out of Egypt, and to bring them into the land of Canaan. And in this Moses was a type of the Lord Jesus. The Son of God left heaven for earth that He might take a people from earth to heaven.—bring them there first in spirit and heart, later in person. Set your affection upon things above (Col. 3:1) is God’s call to His children. "Holy (separated) brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1) is one of our many titles, and Heaven is "very far away’ from the world! Separation from this world in our interests, our affections, our ways, is the first law of the Christian life. "Love not the world, neither the things which are in the world. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
But bow can the Christian be happy if he turns his back upon all that engaged his mind and heart in the unregenerate days? The answer is very simple: By being occupied with that which imparts a deeper, fuller, more lasting and satisfying joy than anything which this poor world has to offer. By being absorbed with the infinite perfections of Christ. By meditating upon the precious promises of the Word. By serving the Lord. By ministering to the needy. God did not propose to bring His people out of Egypt and give them nothing in return. He would lead them into the wilderness in order that they might "hold a feast unto the Lord". True, the "feast" (fellowship) is now "in the wilderness", but the wilderness is Heaven begun when we are delighting ourselves with Christ; in His presence there is "fullness of joy".
After all, Pharaoh was only dissembling. As soon as the plague of flies was removed, he "hardened his heart neither would he let the people go" (8:32). But he reckoned without God. Heavier judgments were now sent upon his land, which brought the king to his knees, yet not in genuine repentance and submission.
3. "And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh; and he said unto them, Go, serve the Lord your God; but who are they that shall go? And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord. And he said unto them, Let the Lord be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones; look to it; for evil is before you. Not so; go now ye that are men, and serve the Lord; for that ye did desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence" (Ex. 10:8-11).
This was surely a cunning wile of Satan—professing willingness to let the men go if they would but leave their little ones behind in Egypt’ Thereby he would have falsified the testimony of the Lord’s redeemed ones, and retained a most powerful hold upon them through their natural affections. For how could they have done with Egypt as long as their children were there? Satan knew this, and hence the character of this temptation. And how many Christians there are who become entangled in this snare! Professing to be the Lord’s, to have left Egypt, they allow their families to remain behind. As another has said, "Parents in the wilderness, and their children in Egypt—terrible anomaly! This would only have been a half deliverance; at once useless to Israel, and dishonoring to Israel’s God. This could not be. If the children remained in Egypt, the parents could not possibly be said to have left it, inasmuch as their children were part of themselves. The most that could be said in such a case was, that in part they were serving Jehovah, and in part Pharaoh. But Jehovah could have no part with Pharaoh. He should either have all or nothing. This is a weighty principle for Christian parents It is our happy privilege to count on God for our children and to bring them up in the nurture of the Lord! These admirable words should be deeply pondered in the presence of God. For nowhere does our testimony so manifestly break down as in our families. Godly parents, whose walk is blameless, are seduced into permitting their children practices which they would not for one moment allow in themselves, and thus to flood their houses with the sounds and sights of Egypt" (Ed. Dennett).
Be a Christian, says Satan, if you really must, but do not force religion upon the members of your family, and especially do not tease your children with it. They are too young to understand such things. Let them be happy now; time enough for serious concerns when they grow up. If you press spiritual things upon them today, you will nauseate them, and drive them to infidelity. Thus the Devil argues, and only too many professing Christians heed his siren voice. Family discipline is relaxed, the Scriptures are not given their proper place, the children are allowed to chose their own companions, and no real effort is made to bring them out of Egypt.
The training of children is a most solemn responsibility, and in these days of laxity and lawlessness, an increasingly serious problem. No little grace is needed to defy the general trend of our day, and to take a firm stand. But the Word of God is plain and pointed. "Train up a child in the way he should go" (Prov. 22:6). For this the parent needs to be daily cast upon God, seeking wisdom and strength each hour from Him. The "training" cannot start too early. Just as a wise gardener begins, while the trees are young and tender to train the branches along the wall, so should we begin with our children in their most tender years. God has declared, "Them that honor Me, I will honor" (1 Sam. 2:20). The first lines the Christian’s children should be taught are not nursery rhymes and fairy tales, but short and appropriate verses of Scripture. The first truths which need to be pressed upon the little one are the claims that God has upon all His creatures—that He should be revered, loved, obeyed. That the child is a lost sinner, in need of a Savior, cannot be taught him too early. If it be objected that he is too young to understand such things, the answer is, Salvation does not come to any through understanding, but—through FAITH, and faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. And to give the children God’s Word is the binding and daily duty of every parent. You cannot lawfully transfer this duty to someone else. Not the Sunday-School teacher but the parent is the one whom God holds responsible to teach the children.
"While on this subject of training children, we would, in true brotherly love, offer a suggestion to all Christian parents, as to the immense importance of inculcating a spirit of implicit obedience. If we mistake not, there is a very widespread failure in this respect, for which we have to judge ourselves before God. Whether through a false tenderness, or indolence, we suffer our children to walk according to their own will and pleasure, and the strides which they make along this road are alarmingly rapid. They pass from stage to stage, with more than railroad speed, until at length they reach the terrible goal of despising their parents altogether, throwing their authority entirely overboard, and trampling beneath their feet the holy order of God, and turning the domestic circle into a scene of godless misrule and confusion.
"How dreadful this is we need not say, or how utterly opposed to the mind of God, as revealed in His Holy Word. But have we not ourselves to blame for it? God has put into the parent’s hands the reins of government and the rod of authority; but if parents through indolence suffer the reins to drop from their hands, and if through false tenderness or moral weakness, the rod of authority is not applied, need we marvel if the children grow up in utter lawlessness? How could it be otherwise? Children are, as a rule, very much what we make them. If they are made to be obedient, they will be so; and if they are allowed to have their own way, the result will be accordingly" (C.H.M.)
Here, then, in part at least, is what is signified by the believer leaving his children behind in Egypt. It is permitting them to have their own way. It is allowing them to be "conformed to this world". It is bringing them up without the fear of God upon them. It is neglecting their soul’s interests. It is ignoring the command of God to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). It is failure to follow in the steps of "our father Abraham," of whom the Lord said. "For I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord" (Gen. 18:19). The standard which God sets before Christian parents now is certainly not a lower one than what He placed before Israel of old, and to them He said, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou riseth up" (Deut. 6:6,7). May Divine grace be earnestly sought and freely granted those of our readers who are fathers and mothers to enable them to turn a deaf ear to Satan who pleads that the little ones may be left behind in Egypt!
4. "And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed" (Ex. 10:24). "With what perseverance did Satan dispute every inch of Israel’s way out of the land of Egypt! He first sought to keep them in the land, then to keep them near the land, next, to keep pert of themselves in the land, and finally, when he could not succeed in any of these three, he sought to send them forth without any ability to serve the Lord. If he could not keep the servants, he would seek to keep their ability to serve, which would answer much the same end. If he could not induce them to sacrifice in the land, he would send them out of the land without sacrifices"! (C.H.M.)
"And Pharaoh called unto Moses and said, Go ye, serve the Lord, only let your flocks and your herds be stayed". This was Pharaoh’s last compromise. Mark the word "only" again! The distraction of a divided heart, the vain effort to serve two masters, the miserable attempt to make the best of both worlds are suggested here. Demas was caught in this snare (2 Tim. 4:10); so also were Ananias and Sapphira. The danger is very real. Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also (Matthew 6:21). If our possessions remain in Egypt, so will our affections.
The application of the spiritual principle contained in this fourth compromise is not hard to discover. The flocks and herds of this pastoral people constituted the principle part of what they owned down here. They speak then of our earthly possessions. The issue raised is whether or not God has a title to all that we have. In the light of the Word the issue is decisively settled. Nothing that we have is really ours: all is committed to us as stewards. And it is right here that so many of us fail. "Give yourselves to God if you must; but do not consecrate your possessions to His service" is the Devil’s final plea. And multitudes of professing Christians heed it. Look at the wealth of those who bear the name of Christ. How it has piled up! And where is it all? Surely in Egypt! How much of it is held as a sacred trust for Christ?. Is not the greater part of it used to gratify self! Of old, God charged His people with robbing Him of His tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:8). And the same charge can justly be laid against most of us today.
The answer made by Moses, to this temporizing of Pharaoh is very striking: "And Moses said, Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the Lord our God. Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the Lord our God; and we know not with what we must serve the Lord until we come thither" (10:25, 26). Observe two things; "Not an hoof" must be left behind. The spiritual application of this is far reaching. We may place our money at the Lord’s disposal but reserve our time for ourselves. We may be ready to pray hut not to labor; or labor and not pray. "Not an hoof" means, that all that I have and am is held at the disposal of the Lord. Finally, it is striking to observe that Israel would not know the full Divine claims upon their responsibility until they reached the wilderness. The mind of God could not be discerned so long as they remained in Egypt!
We might easily have enlarged upon these compromises of Pharaoh at much greater length, but sufficient has been said, we trust, to put each Christian reader upon his guard against the specious temptations which the great Enemy of souls constantly brings to bear upon us. Let us faithfully recognize the fullness of God’s claims upon us, and then seek daily grace to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we have been called.