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The Death of the Firstborn, pt. 2

by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)

 

It now remains for us to say something about the spiritual condition of this people here so signally favored of God. Comparatively little is told us in the earlier chapters of Exodus concerning the relations which Abraham’s descendants sustained toward Jehovah, but one or two details of information are supplied in the later scriptures. We propose, then, to bring these together that we may contemplate, briefly, the picture which they furnish us of the moral state of the Children of Israel at the time that the Lord delivered them from the House of Bondage.

In Leviticus 17:7 we read, “And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto demons unto whom they have gone a whoring”. Mark the words “no more”: the implication is plain that previously to coming out into the wilderness, Israel had practiced idolatry. Plainer still is Joshua 24:14, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.” Here we learn that the patriarchs served false gods before Jehovah called them, and that their descendants did the same thing in Egypt.

And the Lord says through Ezekiel:  “In the day that I lifted up my hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; then said I unto them, ‘Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’ But they rebelled against Me, and would not hearken unto Me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt; then I said, ‘I will pour out My fury upon them, to accomplish My anger against them, in the midst of the land of Egypt.’ But I wrought for My name’s sake that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made Myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:6-9). Very pointed is this, supplying us with information that is not furnished in the book of Exodus.  First, this passage tells us that Israel worshiped the idols of Egypt.  Second, it shows how God expostulated with them.  Third, it informs us that Israel heeded not God’s reproval, but instead, blatantly defied Him.  Fourth, it intimates how that the earlier plagues were also visitations of judgment upon the Hebrews, as well as the Egyptians.  Fifth, it shows that the Lord delivered Israel, not because of any worthiness or fitness He found in them, but simply for His name’s sake.

As we turn to the book of Exodus — everything in it being typical in its significance — we find how accurately the physical condition of the Israelites symbolized their spiritual state. First, they are seen in bondage, at the mercy of a cruel king, — apt portrayal of the condition of the natural man, the “captive” of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26). Second, we read that they “sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried” (Ex. 2:23). But nothing is said about them crying unto God! They were conscious of their hard lot, but not yet did they know the Source from which their deliverance must proceed. How like the natural man, when he is first awakened by the Holy Spirit! His spiritual wretchedness, his lost condition, make him to sigh and groan, but as yet he is unacquainted with the Deliverer. Beautiful is it to mark what follows in Ex. 2:23: “And their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage”. Yes, God heard their cry, even though it was not addressed to Himself. And God “remembered His covenant”. Ah, that was the ground of His action. Not their faith, for they had none. Nor was it pity for their wretchedness, for there were many others in different parts of the earth equally wretched, whom God ignored. God had respect to them for His covenant’s sake. And it was precisely thus with us, Christian readers. God made a covenant with Christ before the foundation of the world and it was this, which made Him have “respect” unto us!

And what do we next read of in Exodus? This: that all unknown to the enslaved and groaning Israelites, God had raised up for them a savior. Exodus 3 records the appearing of Jehovah to Moses at the burning bush, and the appointing of him to be the deliverer of God’s people. But at that time Israel knew it not; they were in total ignorance of the wondrous grace which God had in store for them. How truly accurate the picture! When we were first made conscious of our woeful condition, when our consciences groaned beneath the intolerable load of guilt, at that time we knew nothing of God’s appointed Deliverer.

Next we are told of the Lord sending Aaron into the wilderness to meet his brother, and together they entered Egypt, gather the elders of Israel, and tell them of God’s promised deliverance. We are told, “And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that He had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Ex. 4:31). But it is clear from what follows that this was not a genuine heart believing, and their worship was evidently very superficial. Nor does the analogy fail us here. How many of us became very religious when the Deliverer was first presented to our view! But, alas, how superficial was our response!

The sequel is very striking! As soon as Pharaoh learned of God’s intentions toward Israel he at once increases their burdens and says, “Let more work be laid upon the men” (Ex. 5:9). How clearly Pharaoh foreshadows Satan here! As soon as the great Enemy of souls discerns the spirit of God commencing His operations of grace within the sinner, he makes the spiritual lot of that one more miserable than ever. He sets the poor soul to work the harder. He tells such an one that he must labor with increased zeal if ever he is to find favor with God. “They were in evil case” says the record (Ex. 5:19), and so is the poor guilt-burdened, conscience-smitten, convicted sinner.

Next, we read that the people came to Moses complaining of their increased misery. Even now they did not put their trust in the Lord, but instead, leaned upon the arm of flesh. So, too, the convicted sinner — with very rare exceptions — instead of turning at once to Christ for relief, seeks out the Sunday-school teacher, the evangelist, or the pastor. Similarly did the “prodigal son” act. When he “began to be in want”, he did not return at once to the Father, but “went and joined himself to a citizen of that country” (Luke 15:15). How slow, how pathetically slow, is man to learn the great truth that God alone is able to meet his deep, deep need! Moses sought the Lord, and the Lord in tender patience bade His servant to go unto the Israelites and say, “I am the Lord and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you of their bondage, and I will redeem you with stretched out arm, and with great judgments; And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God. which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord” (Ex. 6:6-8). Wondrous grace was this! Sad indeed is what follows “And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel, but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage” (v. 9).

How this goes to show that their earlier bowing down and “worshipping” (4:31) was merely an evanescent thing of the moment. And again we say, How true to life is the picture presented here! While Israel groaned under the burdens of the brick-kilns of Egypt, even the promises of God failed to give relief. So it was with each of us. While we continued to justify ourselves by our own works, while we sought to weave a robe of righteousness by our own hands, even the promises of the Gospel failed to comfort us. Ah, it is not until the soul turns away from everything of self and puts his trust alone in the Finished Work of Christ, that peace will be obtained.

“To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). “And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage” (Ex. 6:9). This is the last thing which we are told about the Israelites before the Angel of Death visited the land of Egypt. How clear it is then, that when the Lord “put a difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites” (Ex. 11:7), it was not because of any merit which He discovered in the latter. They, too, were idolaters, rebellious and unbelieving. The more clearly we perceive the spiritual wretchedness of Israel at this time, the more shall we recognize the absolute sovereignty of that grace which redeemed them. So, too, the more fully we are acquainted with the teaching of Scripture concerning the utter corruption and total depravity of the natural man, the more shall we be made to marvel at the infinite mercy of God toward such worthless creatures, and the more highly shall we value that wondrous love that wrought salvation for us. May the Holy Spirit impart to us an everdeepening realization of the terrible extent to which sin has “abounded”, and make us perceive with ever-increasing gratitude and joy the “superabounding” of grace.

 

 

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