Read Exodus XII. 1-39.
R ECAPITULATE. Give list of plagues? How did Pharaoh behave during plagues? Now keep in mind that Moses began gently, with an easy demand—that the oppressors were warned of the plagues beforehand—that the plagues only gradually increased in severity—that every time they repented the plague was withdrawn, and every time it was withdrawn they withdrew their repentance. So Pharaoh was growing very despicable; a coward when he was in danger, a bully and promise-breaker when danger removed.
At length, as they continued hardening their hearts through more plagues, there came at last the final terrible threat to Egypt. What? Yes. "Every firstborn in Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh," etc., etc. Think of the terror of that threat to the fathers and mothers in Egypt. Don't you think it extraordinary that they should dare to harden their hearts in face of that? Nine times already judgment had been threatened, and nine times the judgment had unfailingly come. Perhaps things did not seem so bad now that they were over and the land was recovering itself; or they thought they could repent again and escape as before. So they hardened their hearts and hoped things somehow would come right. Just what men do to-day when future result of evil-doing is pointed out. That is why the story is so valuable to us. Human nature is the same in days of our own as in the days of King Pharaoh, and God and God's dealings with men are of the same kind. God is behind American and English history, so He was behind Egyptian history, and so from the warnings of that day we must learn lessons for our own day.
How long do you think was occupied by the nine plagues? Perhaps a year or so; at any rate, many months. Probably months elapsed between warning and infliction of the last plague, and no one knew the exact time it would fall. Was Moses to inflict it? No; see ch. xi. 4, 5. Picture the interval. Nine plagues come and gone, and the terrible tenth still in the future.
Ever noticed the dread sullen stillness of pause before thundershower? Like that—the two peoples waiting. The Egyptians in doubt and perplexity, not knowing when or whence this dread terror would strike them; the Israelites—how do you think they felt about it? Perhaps a little frightened, but on the whole confident and hopeful, with increasing trust in God, who hates oppression, and in their great leader sent by God. Don't you think they were exciting times in Egypt those weeks of waiting?
Week after week passed in anxious suspense. Then in some way Moses had another Divine revelation. The month Abib, our April, was approaching. This month shall be in future beginning of year. This year the beginning of history for the nation. The day of Freedom is near (ch. xii. 1, 2).
Then came the strange awesome directions which Moses repeated briefly to people. (Read vv. 21-24.) Choose a lamb on the 10th, kill it on the 14th, sprinkle blood on door-posts; then get in to their huts and shut tight the doors, for the dread pestilence should pass through whole land at midnight of 14th, and all the first-born should die—except? except those guarded by the blood. Pharaoh's own boy should die. In the terror of that night Pharaoh and his people would thrust them out with haste, and that night should be for Israel the birthnight of the nation. Do you think any other nation ever got such an extraordinary message? Describe the extraordinary way in which they were to show their faith in God's promise. Most wonderful exhibition of faith. This horde of poor slaves, whose powerful masters had absolutely determined not to let them go—when they had shut the blood-marked door—were to do what? Dress in travelling order, with loins girded, shoes on feet, staff in hand, ready to go away at the word of command into their unknown future. And thus girded, at midnight, when the awful blow was falling outside, they were to stand round the table eating of the paschal lamb, ready for the start. Were ever such directions given to any nation in the world beside? Is it any wonder that their whole after history is full of the references to it?
Now shut your eyes and make this picture in your minds. The night of the 14th. I see the inside of a slave hut. The group round the table, girt for a journey—baggage packed, kneading-troughs on shoulders, staff in hand, eating hastily. I see them trying not to be frightened—trying to force themselves to have faith in God, with the shuddering feeling over them that the Plague Angel was just passing. Then I hear shouts and cries outside, and then a united wild wail of agony ringing out on the midnight through the whole land of Egypt. That startles them. I see the father uneasily watching his firstborn, the mother stooping to listen to the breathing of her baby, the frightened sisters clinging to their brothers, the silent breathless terror as they wait for the dawn. (Pause.) And then the great sigh of relief as the midnight passes and the grey dawn appears through the windows, and they timidly venture to open the blood-stained door, and they hear the neighbours whispering that all are safe; and they see then the frightened hope is changed to trusting certainty, and all over the slave quarters of Goshen has been learned the first great lesson of religion—what? "Have faith in God." The most necessary of all lessons for them just then. Could there be a better way of teaching it?
Oh, what a wonderful night it was, that birthnight of the Israelite nation. What does the Bible say of it? (v. 42). "A night to be much observed unto the Lord." No wonder the whole history of the Jews is stamped with the memory of it. No wonder that this very year and every year the descendants of the Israelites, wherever they are to-day—in America or England or Germany—have been repeating at Easter-time that old Passover celebration. Something like that scene that you have just been picturing will be enacted next Easter all over the world wherever there are Jews. Things do not thus get stamped into the memory of a people and continue for 3000 years unless they really occurred and made a deep impression long ago. In next lesson we shall see how this story belongs to us all, Christians and Jews. But just now we must go on with the history of that night.
Think of the excitement all through that night, and from early dawn the sounding of trumpets, the gathering of the tribes from Memphis and Tanis and Tel es Maskouteh and the Wall of Egypt and the Works at the Canal. Six hundred thousand men, besides women and children, moving towards the appointed meeting-place at Succoth. How cleverly Moses must have planned it all beforehand.
In the late war the most difficult thing was the handling of great bodies of men and converging them on a given place at the appointed time. How much harder for Moses. Why? All untrained slaves. How well all his old training in Egypt would come in now, the wisdom and prudence and skill in leading men, which he had learned when he led Pharaoh's armies to victory in Ethiopia. Wonderful how God had been training him, though he did not know it then.
It is the most wonderful march in all history. About 100 years ago it was a somewhat similar event: 400,000 Tartars in a single night starting from the confines of Russia to migrate to the Chinese borders. But this March of the Slaves more wonderful still. Why did not Pharaoh stop them? Ah, yes. Pharaoh had something else to think of, with his dead son lying in the palace, and the whole land filled with mourning and the crowds of Egyptian parents clamouring at his gates. What did they cry out? "Send them out, send them out. We be all dead men." (v. 33). The whole night was full of dread and excitement in the royal city. What happened next? A hurried council held; a hurried message to Moses from the king. What message (vv. 30-32). Ah! that was the complete surrender of Pharaoh. "Rise up. Get you forth. Take your herds and flocks and be gone; and bless me also!" Not much fear of any hindrance to their departure now!
So from early dawn Moses and his officers were directing the march. One band marched off to the tomb of Joseph. Why? (ch. xiii. 19). To carry off the mummy of the old dead chieftain, around which their hopes had been clustering for 400 years. Tell me Joseph's prophecy. "God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence."
What especially do you think the Israelites learned from all this? To have faith in God. What great purpose had God in view for the Israelites? For this purpose what was most important? Surely faith. All this experience would teach them of a great personal God ruling the world, caring for the oppressed, watching men's conduct, loving righteousness—that this God was very near them. This was the gist of their message to the world. They never could believe it or teach it fully unless their own experience had taught them.
Do you think Pharaoh with his dead son in the palace that night was thinking of God as good, and kind, and righteous? Surely not. It is an awful pain to lose one's firstborn son. But would his hard thoughts be justified? First remember God had warned him, but he would not yield. He forced God to send the punishment. But beside that, if Pharaoh could but know it, that young prince and all these Egyptian children were but removed into the great Waiting Life beyond the grave, with probably far better surroundings and chances of being good. Many a man since Pharaoh has lost his son by sudden stroke like that without thinking hard thoughts of God. For beyond the veil in that Waiting Land the dear ones are alive in God's presence, God's blessed training and discipline are around them. They are not dead—they have lost nothing for which we loved them. We may love them still and look forward to the hope of meeting them. Perhaps Pharaoh did not know it. But God did. And, therefore, we who know it too will understand that things which men think hard and cruel of God are not necessarily so.
What was the last and worst of the plagues?
Would God do that if He could help it?
To show this tell what had happened after each of the plagues.
Try to make a picture in words of that awful night of the Deliverance.
What was the mark that saved the Israelite families?
What does it remind us of in our religion?
Tell of the march of the slaves.