“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to day.” (Exod. 14:13)
Most people know that the ten plagues upon Egypt resulted in Israel’s deliverance from bondage; but anyone who knows only what is contained in the simple story recognizes only the shell, and not the kernel of the lesson. In the type it was typical Israel alone that was delivered by Moses and the first-born; in the antitype it will be all among the groaning creation who will accept deliverance under the leadership of Christ and the elect Church of the Gospel Age, the antitype of Moses. (Rom. 8:21-22)
In the type it was Pharaoh and his helpers who were struck by the plagues and subsequently destroyed in the Red Sea. Their antitype is Satan and all his helpers, all who profit by evil. In the beginning this will include many who unwittingly are under his blinding influence; but ultimately it will include only the willful and deliberate servants of sin and lovers of unrighteousness.
As we saw in our last paper, Moses received instruction and encouragement from the Lord respecting his future work as the deliverer. The angel of the Lord appeared to him at the burning bush, telling him that God was sending him to Pharaoh to bring the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. We saw his reverence for the Lord and yet his need of being thoroughly convinced that God, with His infinite power, would go with him. (Exod. 3:2-12)
Because Moses questioned his own ability to make the people listen to him, the Lord gave him a miraculous sign as evidence of his commission: his rod or walking stick turned into a serpent and then changed back to a stick. He was given another sign: he put his hand inside his cloak and when he removed it, it was leprous. He then put it back inside his cloak and it was instantly healed.
The Lord then told Moses that if he showed these two signs to the people and they still were not convinced of his authority to be their leader, he was to take water from the Nile River, in sight of his countrymen, and pour it upon the dry land, where it would become blood, the Lord assuring him that by means of some or all of these signs the people would be convinced and accept his leadership. (Exod. 4:1-9)
These three signs, which were so convincing to the Israelites, doubtless symbolize certain truths which will be convincing to the Lord’s true people at the proper time, demonstrating to them that there is to be a great deliverance from the power of Satan and the bondage of sin and death of all who trust in the Lord.
God commissioned Moses to go with Aaron before Pharaoh and make a demand that the Israelites be permitted to go on a three day journey into the wilderness to worship God and do sacrifice to Him. (Exod. 5:1-3) They did not mention their intention of not returning, nor was it necessary for them to do so. The Israelites were not slaves in the strictest sense. They had not forfeited their liberties, either through war or debt; they had the same right to depart that they had to come into Egypt; and, if their request for a temporary absence were granted, they could later determine whether or not they would return to Goshen, the area in the eastern delta of the Nile that they occupied.
Pharaoh’s refusal to even grant the Israelites this holiday proved conclusively that he would have refused to grant them full liberty. Instead, Pharaoh gave instructions to the overseers to increase the labor burdens upon the Hebrews, declaring that if they were working hard enough they would have no time to think and speculate about holidays, etc. By Pharaoh’s instructions, the Israelites were required to turn out their full quota of brick per day without having straw furnished them as had previously been the custom, straw then being used as a binder for bricks, which were sun-dried. (Exod. 5:4-18)
The effect of this move was at first to discourage the Hebrews and to lead them to complain to Moses, through their elders, that instead of being a deliverer and a helper he was bringing increased miseries. (Exod. 5:19-21) Likely it will so be with many of the groaning creation in the near future. Their first efforts and aspirations toward the deliverance which the Lord has promised them will be opposed by “the powers that be,” and for a time their efforts to attain the blessings they desire will seem to work to their disadvantage. Nevertheless, the effect in the end will be to more deeply impress upon them the evils of the present reign of sin and selfishness. They will be more determined to be obedient to the Lord and to follow Him to the liberty which they seek, and more appreciative of the Millennial blessings and liberties of righteousness when they come.
PHARAOH’S HEART HARDENED
The Lord instructed Moses to again go before Pharaoh and formally demand that he let the people go. (Exod. 6:11) Nevertheless, the Lord said to him, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exod. 7:3-5)
In what sense did the Lord “harden” Pharaoh’s heart? Consider the Apostle’s words on the subject: “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” (Rom. 9:17,18; Exod. 9:16)
The Lord had raised up to the throne of Egypt a man of iron will and perverse spirit, who would not readily yield and upon whom, therefore, repeated and severe judgments would be necessary, demonstrating divine power on behalf of Israel. These judgements would at the same time constitute retribution against the whole people of Egypt, as participators in the unjust oppression exercised over Israel. In short, divine power would be better demonstrated, justice better rendered, and a lesson for all time better written, by the raising up to the throne of Egypt of this man, as opposed to any of the others who might have been heirs to the throne.
God does not interfere with the freedom of will of any individual, whether among those who profess obedience to Him, or others. As respects the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart: as we look carefully into the narrative we find that it was accomplished through God’s mercy only, and hence that no charge could be laid against divine justice on this account.
Because Pharaoh begged forgiveness after each plague, the Lord stayed one after another of the plagues brought upon him, and the nation which he represented. But this goodness and mercy of God, which should have led Pharaoh to repentance, led him in an opposite direction, to greater hardness of heart, and after each plague he again refused to let the Israelites go.
And so it is with the world in general today: when the judgments of the Lord fall severely upon the world there is a tendency to contrition, humility and repentance; but when the Lord’s blessings abound the rebellious of heart are more likely to become hardened and unappreciative. As it was with Pharaoh, so it will be with “the powers that be” in the end of this age; but it must not be so with those who are truly the children of God. To them God’s mercies and blessings should and do lead to greater appreciation, thankfulness and loving obedience, because they are His.
It is thought that these ten plagues upon Egypt began about the first of July and lasted until the following April, about nine months. This supposition is based on the types of the different plagues and the climate and usual conditions of Egypt. The first three plagues – the waters changed to blood, the frogs, and the lice (gnats) (Exod. 7:19-21; Exod. 8:5-6,16-17) – appear to have affected the Israelites as well as the Egyptians. The land of Goshen was spared from the remaining seven plagues – flies or winged pests; murrain, or cattle disease; blains, or festering boils; hail and fire; locusts; darkness; and finally the death of the first-born. (Exod. 8:21-24; Exod. 9:3-6,23-26; Exod. 10:13-15, 22-23; Exod. 12:29)
During this series of plagues Pharaoh relented a little on occasion. At one point he agreed to let the males of the Hebrews go to sacrifice in the wilderness, the females and children being held as hostages for their return. At another point he agreed to let men, women and children go without taking their livestock. Moses answered that they must all be allowed to go, including all their livestock. Pharaoh would not hear of this, and finally Egypt was struck with the tenth plague, and all the first-born of Egypt (human and animal) died; then he urged them to go. The chastisement was sufficient.
So it will be in the end of the time of trouble that is approaching, and which is figuratively represented by these plagues, especially “the seven last plagues.” (Rev. 15) When the last plague has been poured out as a vial of divine wrath, “the powers that be” will realize that it is useless to fight against God. Through the plagues, Pharaoh and his people received severe retribution for every evil they had inflicted upon the Israelites. The death of their first-born became retribution for the Israelite babies they had caused to be put to death.
Likewise, we may suppose that the great troubles and losses which will come upon “the powers that be” of the present time will, in some sense or degree, be retribution for not being sufficiently benevolent and just in their treatment of those under their control, when the blessings and inventions of our time should be to the benefit all instead of just a few.
Before their departure from Egypt, the Lord (through Moses) instructed the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold. (Exod. 12:35) The King James Version improperly translates this as “borrowed of the Egyptians,” implying that the Israelites deceptively took the Egyptians’ valuables, knowing they would not return them. In most other translations, however, the word is rendered “ask” or “request.” It should also be noted that according to the customs of that time and region, a servant leaving his master’s employ could ask for whatever he desired as a parting favor.
The Egyptians were anxious to be rid of the Israelites for fear the Pharaoh would change his mind and further plagues would be visited upon them, so they willingly gave these items. The antitype of this is to be found in the “gold, silver, precious stones” (1 Cor. 3:12) which spiritual Israel has built in their characters during the Gospel Age, as a result of the abuse that has come to them through the antitypical Egyptians.
The lesson of Israel’s deliverance from bondage applies specifically to the overcoming Church, the “Church of the First-born,” represented by Moses and the first-born of Israel, spared during the night of the Passover. The Lord is especially with this class, the “little flock,” the “elect,” “the body of Christ,” who shortly shall lead the people out of bondage into the liberty of the sons of God.
There is also, however, a general lesson, applicable to all persons and at all times: Justice should be done; none should be oppressed; the Lord cherishes the cause of the oppressed, especially if they are His people; and He will deliver them and will permit the wrath of man to exact retributive justice and punishment upon all oppressors. He loves and deeply feels for His people. “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” (Isa. 63:9)
CROSSING THE RED SEA
Skeptics have railed greatly against the truthfulness of the Bible record of Israel’s deliverance by the crossing of the Red Sea. They object that so rapid an exodus of such a large number of people, with their flocks and herds, would be an impossibility; and they object, secondly, to the testimony that God miraculously delivered them by making a path for them through the sea.
As to the first objection: We can readily see that if the Egyptians had been opposed to their going the difficulties would have been much greater. We are to remember, on the contrary, that after suffering the chastisement of the plagues they were willing, in fact anxious, for the departure of the Israelites, Pharaoh himself sending a message to Moses, even in the night in which the first-born were slain, saying, “Rise up, and get you forth from amongst my people, both you and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.” (Exod. 12:31-32)
We are to remember that the Israelites had maintained their tribal and family relationships and were therefore fairly organized. The narrative states that “the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt,” that is, they went in military formation. (Exod. 13:18) Evidently all were under the command of the heads of the tribes, “the elders of the people,” and they were led and protected by the Lord: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” (Exod. 13:21-22)
Several days elapsed before their journey brought them to the Red Sea (in Hebrew, literally the “Sea of Reeds”). It is supposed that the Israelites were hindered from taking a more direct route by the Wilderness of Shur, a sandy desert where there would be no sustenance, either for themselves or for their livestock. The Egyptians had also erected a wall (Shur means wall) there at the western border of Egypt which may have been a further hindrance.
Although Pharaoh, stinging from the last plague, was anxious for the Israelites to depart, as his grief subsided he considered the loss his empire was sustaining in the departure of these intelligent, ingenious and docile subjects. He reasoned further that they were unarmed and impeded in traveling by their flocks and herds. He evidently felt that he had been too generous in permitting them to go, and surmised that in the few days’ march they had already experienced difficulties and trials and by that time they were not only discouraged, but hemmed in by the northern tongue of the Red Sea and the Egyptian wall, while surrounded on either side by mountains. He concluded that they could be easily retaken, and perhaps would return to their labor more docile than ever. Consequently, the Egyptian troops set out in pursuit. (Exod. 14:3-9)
When the Israelites learned the Egyptians were pursuing them, they cried out to Moses despairingly, saying, “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” (Exod. 14:12)
Moses replied to them, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” (Exod. 14:13-14)
Moses evidently prayed to the Lord on behalf of the people and the Lord’s response to his prayer is striking, providing a lesson for spiritual Israelites: “Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” (Exod. 14:15) There is a time to pray and also a time to act and thus to cooperate with God who is answering our prayers. When the Lord’s time for answering our prayers has come and we know it, it is for us to manifest our faith in Him by going forward. Too many spiritual Israelites, after hearing the Lord’s message, instead of going forward in obedience are disposed to tarry and pray to the Lord for some special message not given to others. Such through weakness of faith are in danger of losing their standing before God. “Without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6), and obedience is merely a demonstration of faith.
The pillar of fire by which the Israelites were miraculously led moved behind, between them and the Egyptians. It was a pillar of cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, and a pillar of fire or light to the Israelites. Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and the waters divided leaving dry land over which the Israelites passed, with the waters on each side being “a wall unto them.” (Exod. 14:19-22) This scene is popularly depicted as the water standing upright in perpendicular walls, but that is not the thought. The word “wall” is used here in the sense of a protection or shield. God does not make His miracles more stupendous than necessary.
Various comparatively shallow places near the head of the Red Sea are possible sites of the crossing. The description given would indicate that the passage was made on a sandbar, which perhaps ordinarily would have from five to twelve feet of water upon it, according to the condition of the tides. Apparently there was a great storm that night, with the east wind blowing furiously. Other accounts, such as that of Josephus, declare that there was severe rain, thunder and lightning, but whether this was merely upon the Egyptians, from the pillar of cloud, or whether it was also upon the Israelites, we cannot know. What we do know is that during that night the windstorm blew across the upper neck of the Red Sea, operating with the tides so as to leave the sandbar bare for a considerable breadth, permitting the rapid passage of that large body of people. (Exod. 14:21-22)
The Israelites knew through Moses and their elders that a miracle had been performed, and hastened to escape from their pursuers. The Egyptians were probably totally unaware that they were crossing the sea bed, and therefore, pursued without trepidation. They no doubt concluded that where the Israelites had gone they could go, but they were impeded by various accidents to their chariots, which sank into the comparatively soft sand of the sea bottom. Finally realizing that these were not accidents but divine providence on Israel’s behalf, they decided to turn back, to give up the pursuit saying, “Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.” (Exod. 14:25)
By this time it was nearly daybreak, and Israel having crossed over, Moses stretched forth his rod over the sea, and with favorable winds and tide, etc., the waters came again upon the Egyptians and they were drowned. (Exod. 14:27-28) It is said that such storms frequently occur in this vicinity, and that when Napoleon and his troops marched against the Turks in 1798 they crossed the Red Sea but were very nearly overtaken by rising tides at about the same place that Pharaoh’s chariots were lost.
A DUAL FULFILLMENT OF THE TYPE
As a type this story appears to have a dual fulfillment. There will be a partial fulfillment at the end of the Gospel Age where the overthrow of Pharaoh’s army by the sea corresponds to the fact that many of the present enslaving agencies will be overthrown by anarchy in the great “time of trouble,” now so near at hand. The deliverance of typical Israel from Egypt illustrates the deliverance from sin and its bondage of all who desire to be God’s servants and to have the blessing promised to be fulfilled after the plagues (Rev. 16), in the utter destruction of all the systems born of sin and selfishness which hinder human prosperity and advancement toward God. Already the storm is approaching which will eventually overthrow all evil-doers; but a way of escape is provided for all who seek God and put their trust in Him, following the course which His wisdom has marked out.
We may reasonably understand that the last or tenth plague upon Egypt symbolizes the bitter experiences of the world at the close of the present age, and that these experiences will be favorable to the Lord’s people, and unfavorable to those who oppose the Lord’s people. At a certain point the contest will be abandoned, and those in authority in the world will agree to the full liberty of all who love righteousness and who desire to walk in the Lord’s way.
However it is quite possible that “the powers that be,” like Pharaoh, will concede for a time to the demands of the weak and the helpless but then subsequently reverse course and attempt their recapture under the slavery of selfishness. Then through a Red Sea of trouble the Lord will administer a final chastisement upon all those who oppose His deliverance of the poor and the needy and they that have no helper, and who cry for righteousness, and follow the leadings of His representative, Messiah.
The second and greater antitype of the passage of the Red Sea and the overthrow of the Lord’s enemies will be at the end of the Millennial Age. Then Satan and all on his side, enemies of righteousness, will be forever destroyed in the second death, typified by the Red Sea. All who love righteousness and hate iniquity, availing themselves of the Lord’s favors and privileges, will then be saved to the powers of an eternal life (they will pass over the Red Sea), under the leadership of the great antitypical Moses, as it is written: “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear [obey] that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:22,23)
When the new dispensation has been opened up and the silver trumpets of the Jubilee sound release and Restitution throughout all the world, there will surely be great rejoicing among all who love righteousness. In the language of the song sung by the Israelites: “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously.” (Exod. 15:1) The spiritual Israelite can already rejoice, realizing by faith his release from sin and death.
This chapter in the history of God’s ancient people is an illustration of the unlimited power, wisdom and love of God. It is a warning to all to beware of undertaking to contend with the Almighty. The hand that is lifted against the weak, the poor or despised among men defies the power of God, and will surely come to grief.
God has promised us that if we are His, and will follow the leadings of our Master, the anti-type of Moses, all things shall work together for good to us. We are to learn that nothing is too wonderful for our God to accomplish, and our joys will increase in proportion as our faith increases. We will have the full assurance of faith, the full assurance of victory: “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
We are to learn that while the wicked may triumph for a time, the Lord is against them. He is on the side of the poor and oppressed, who are seeking to know His will and to do it. Although He seems to delay, as depicted in the parable, He will ultimately avenge them of their Adversary: their enemies shall then become the enemies of the Lord, and the enemies of the Lord shall bite the dust – they will be destroyed. (Luke 18:7; Micah 7:17)
“THE SONG OF MOSES AND THE LAMB”
The Israelites were joyful, realizing their deliverance from bondage, and the Divine Power exercised on their behalf in the overthrow of the Egyptian army. Moses, their great leader, composed a beautiful and forceful poem which the men chanted after him; and the women, under the leadership of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, took timbrels, or tambourines, and joined in a refrain, or chorus, their bodies swaying and their feet moving rhythmically in what is described as a dance. (Exod. 15:1-21) The deliverance and the Song of Moses are described by the Psalmist (Psa. 106:7-12) and corroborated by our Lord in His last message to the Church: “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” (Rev. 15:3)
If it was appropriate for the Israelites to sing and give praise and glory to God for their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, how much more appropriate is it for us to recognize the still greater deliverance from the power of Satan and sin accomplished for us through the blood of the Lamb of God who died for us. The Lord has lifted us up and has put a new song in our mouths: “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.” (Psa. 40:2,3)
This song can now be sung by those who can exercise faith in the Lord, in His Word, in His providence, but it is not its complete fulfilment. That fulfilment will be attained when all the people of God have been found – when the Lord’s mercy during the Millennial Age will have opened the blind eyes of the world, unstopped the deaf ears, and caused the knowledge of the Lord to fill the whole earth. (Isa. 35:5; Isa. 11:9) All who are truly the Lord’s will be gathered to Him when during the Millennial Age they have been lifted out of the bondage of sin and death and brought into full harmony with the divine standard by “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:19-21)
(Based on several writings of Pastor Russell, including Reprints 1657, 2910, 2919, and 3996)
 Although scientific explanations should not be necessary for us to have faith in Bible miracles, scientists have proposed plausible explanations for the ten plagues. The river turning to blood may have been the result of a toxic fresh water algae, which may have set in motion the events that led to the plagues of frogs, lice and flies, which in turn may have led to the plagues of disease in livestock and boils. The plagues of hail, locusts and darkness may have been triggered by the volcanic eruption at Thera, about 400 miles away. It has been suggested the plague affecting the first born may have been the result of a fungus which poisoned the grain supply, of which the first born males would have the first portion.
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