Pharaoh’s Compromises, pt. 1
by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
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” (Ex. 3:18, AV). 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” (Ex. 4:21-23, AV). 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” (see Romans 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” (Jeremiah 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” (Ex. 3:18). Then the Lord added, “that he” (His “firstborn”) “may serve Me” (Ex. 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” (Ex. 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” (Hebrews 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” (Ex. 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 previous articles, 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” (Exodus 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” (Ex. 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” (Ex. 5:3). This title always calls attention to the separate character of His people (cf. Ex. 9:1; 9:13; Ex. 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” (Ex. 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” (Ex. 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 Corinthians 2:11, AV). 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 subtlety 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 Corinthians 10:11, AV). 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” (Galatians 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” (Hebrews 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?” (Ex. 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 Corinthians 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 (Romans 8:3) ; announce that by the Cross of Christ believers are crucified to the world (Galatians 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” (Ex. 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.
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