Three millions of people were in slavery. They were treated with the utmost rigor, and so fearful were their masters that they might, in time, increase in numbers sufficient to avenge themselves. that they took from the arms of mothers all the male children and destroyed them. If the account given is true, the Egyptians were the most cruel, heartless and infamous people of which history gives any record. God finally made up his mind to free the Hebrews; and for the accomplishment of this purpose he sent, as his agents, Moses and Aaron, to the king of Egypt. In order that the king might know that these men had a divine mission, God gave Moses the power of changing a stick into a serpent, and water into blood. Moses and Aaron went before the king, stating that the Lord God of Israel ordered the king of Egypt to let the Hebrews go that they might hold a feast with God in the Wilderness. Thereupon Pharaoh, the king, enquired who the Lord was, at the same time stating that he had never made his acquaintance, and knew nothing about him. To this they replied that the God of the Hebrews had met with them, and they asked to go a three days journey into the desert and sacrifice unto this God, fearing that if they did not he would fall upon them with pestilence or the sword. This interview seems to have hardened Pharaoh, for he ordered the tasks of the children of Israel to be increased; so that the only effect of the first appeal was to render still worse the condition of the Hebrews. Thereupon, Moses returned unto the Lord and said, "Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name he hath done evil to this people: neither hast thou delivered thy people at all."
Apparently stung by this reproach, God answered:--
"Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand shall he let them go; and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land."
God then recounts the fact that he had appeared unto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that he had established a covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, that he had heard the groanings of the children of Israel in Egyptian bondage; that their groanings had put him in mind of his covenant, and that he had made up his mind to redeem the children of Israel with a stretched-out arm and with great judgments. Moses then spoke to the children of Israel again, but they would listen to him no more. His first effort in their behalf had simply doubled their trouble and they seemed to have lost confidence in his power. Thereupon Jehovah promised Moses that he would make him a god unto Pharaoh, and that Aaron should be his prophet, but at the same time informed him that his message would be of no avail; that he would harden the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not listen; that he would so harden his heart that he might have an excuse for destroying the Egyptians. Accordingly, Moses and Aaron again went before Pharaoh. Moses said to Aaron;--"Cast down your rod before Pharaoh." which he did, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh not in the least surprised, called for his wise men and his sorcerers, and they threw down their rods and changed them into serpents. The serpent that had been changed from Aaron's rod was, at this time crawling upon the floor, and it proceeded to swallow the serpents that had been produced by the magicians of Egypt. What became of these serpents that were swallowed, whether they turned back into sticks again, is not stated. Can we believe that the stick was changed into a real living serpent, or did it assume simply the appearance of a serpent? If it bore only the appearance of a serpent it was a deception, and could not rise above the dignity of legerdemain. Is it necessary to believe that God is a kind of prestigiator--a sleight-of-hand performer, a magician or sorcerer? Can it be possible that an infinite being would endeavor to secure the liberation of a race by performing a miracle that could be equally performed by the sorcerers and magicians of a barbarian king?
Not one word was said by Moses or Aaron as to the wickedness of depriving a human being of his liberty. Not a word was said in favor of liberty. Not the slightest intimation that a human being was justly entitled to the product of his own labor. Not a word about the cruelty of masters who would destroy even the babes of slave mothers. It seems to me wonderful that this God did not tell the king of Egypt that no nation could enslave another, without also enslaving itself; that it was impossible to put a chain around the limbs of a slave, without putting manacles upon the brain of the master. Why did he not tell him that a nation founded upon slavery could not stand? Instead of declaring these things, instead of appealing to justice, to mercy and to liberty, he resorted to feats of jugglery. Suppose we wished to make a treaty with a barbarous nation, and the President should employ a slight-of-hand performer as envoy extraordinary, and instruct him, that when he came into the presence of the savage monarch, he should cast down an umbrella or a walking stick, which would change into a lizard or a turtle; what would we think? Would we not regard such a performance as beneath the dignity even of a President? And what would be our feelings if the savage king sent for his sorcerers and had them perform the same feat? If such things would appear puerile and foolish in the President of a great republic, what shall be said when they were resorted to by the creator of all worlds? How small, how contemptible such a God appears! Pharaoh, it seems, took about this view of the matter, and he would not be persuaded that such tricks were performed by an infinite being.
Again, Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh as he was going to the river's bank, and the same rod which had changed to a serpent, and, by this time changed back, was taken by Aaron, who, in the presence of Pharaoh, smote the water of the river, which was immediately turned to blood, as well as all the water in all the streams, ponds, and pools, as well as all water in vessels of wood and vessels of stone in the entire land of Egypt. As soon as all the waters in Egypt had been turned into blood, the magicians of that country did the same with their enchantments. We are not informed where they got the water to turn into blood, since all the water in Egypt had already been so changed. It seems from the account that the fish in the Nile died, and the river emitted a stench, and there was not a drop of water in the land of Egypt that had not been changed into blood. In consequence of this, the Egyptians digged "around about the river" for water to drink. Can we believe this story? Is it necessary to salvation to admit that all the rivers, pools, ponds and lakes of a country were changed into blood, in order that a king might be induced to allow the children of Israel the privilege of going on a three days journey into the wilderness to make sacrifices to their God?
It seems from the account that Pharaoh was told that the God of the Hebrews would, if he refused to let the Israelites go, change all the waters of Egypt into blood, and that, upon his refusal, they were so changed. This had, however, no influence upon him, for the reason that his own magicians did the same. It does not appear that Moses and Aaron expressed the least surprise at the success of the Egyptian sorcerers. At that time it was believed that each nation had its own god. The only claim that Moses and Aaron made for their God was, that he was the greatest and most powerful of all the gods, and that with anything like an equal chance he could vanquish the deity of any other nation.
After the waters were changed to blood Moses and Aaron waited for seven days. At the end of that time God told Moses to again go to Pharaoh and demand the release of his people, and to inform him that, if he refused, God would strike all the borders of Egypt with frogs. That he would make frogs so plentiful that they would go into the houses of Pharaoh, into his bed-chamber, upon his bed, into the houses of his servants, upon his people, into their ovens, and even into their kneading troughs. This threat had no effect whatever upon Pharaoh. And thereupon Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. The magicians of Egypt did the same, and with their enchantments brought more frogs upon the land of Egypt.
These magicians do not seem to have been original in their ideas, but so far as imitation is concerned, were perfect masters of their art. The frogs seem to have made such an impression upon Pharaoh that he sent for Moses and asked him to entreat the Lord that he would take away the frogs. Moses agreed to remove them from the houses and the land, and allow them to remain only in the rivers. Accordingly the frogs died out of the houses, and out of the villages, and out of the fields, and the people gathered them together in heaps. As soon as the frogs had left the houses and fields, the heart of Pharaoh became again hardened, and he refused to let the people go.
Aaron then, according to the command of God, stretched out his hand, holding the rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man and in beast, and all the dust became lice throughout the land of Egypt. Pharaoh again sent for his magicians, and they sought to do the same with their enchantments, but they could not. Whereupon the sorcerers said unto Pharaoh: "This is the finger of God."
Notwithstanding this, however, Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrews go. God then caused a grievous swarm of flies to come into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants' houses, and into all the land of Egypt, to such an extent that the whole land was corrupted by reason of the flies. But into that part of the country occupied by the children of Israel there came no flies. Thereupon Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and said to them: "Go, and sacrifice to your God in this land." They were not willing to sacrifice in Egypt, and asked permission to go on a Journey of three days into the wilderness. To this Pharaoh acceded, and in consideration of this Moses agreed to use his influence with the Lord to induce him to send the flies out of the country. He accordingly told the Lord of the bargain he had made with Pharaoh, and the Lord agreed to the compromise, and removed the flies from Pharaoh and from his servants and from his people, and there remained not a single fly in the land of Egypt. As soon as the flies were gone, Pharaoh again changed his mind, and concluded not to permit the children of Israel to depart. The Lord then directed Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him that if he did not allow the children of Israel to depart, he would destroy his cattle, his horses, his camels and his sheep; that these animals would be afflicted with a grievous disease, but that the animals belonging to the Hebrews should not be so afflicted. Moses did as he was bid. On the next day all the cattle of Egypt died; that is to say, all the horses, all the asses, all the camels, all the oxen and all the sheep; but of the animals owned by the Israelites, not one perished. This disaster had no effect upon Pharaoh, and he still refused to let the children of Israel go. The Lord then told Moses and Aaron to take some ashes out of a furnace, and told Moses to sprinkle them toward the heavens in the sight of Pharaoh; saying that the ashes should become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and should be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and upon beast throughout all the land.
How these boils braking out with blains, upon cattle that were already dead, should affect Pharaoh, is a little hard to understand. It must not be forgotten that all the cattle and all beasts had died with the murrain before the boils had broken out.
This was a most decisive victory for Moses and Aaron. The boils were upon the magicians to that extent that they could not stand before Moses. But it had no effect upon Pharaoh, who seems to have been a man of great firmness. The Lord then instructed Moses to get up early in the morning and tell Pharaoh that he would stretch out his hand and smite his people with a pestilence, and would, on the morrow, cause it to rain a very grievous hail. such as had never been known in the land of Egypt. He also told Moses to give notice, so that they might get all the cattle that were in the fields under cover. It must be remembered that all these cattle had recently died of the murrain, and their dead bodies had been covered with boils and blains. This, however, had no effect, and Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder, and hail and lightning, and fire that ran along the ground, and the hail fell upon all the land of Egypt, and all that were in the fields, both man and beast, were smitten, and the hail smote every herb of the field, and broke every tree of the country except that portion inhabited by the children of Israel; there, there was no hail.
During this hail storm Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and admitted that he had sinned, that the Lord was righteous, and that the Egyptians were wicked, and requested them to ask the Lord that there be no more thunderings and hail, and that he would let the Hebrews go. Moses agreed that as soon as he got out of the city he would stretch forth his hands unto the Lord, and that the thunderings should cease and the hail should stop. But, when the rain and the hail and the thundering ceased, Pharaoh concluded that he would not let the children of Israel go.
Again, God sent Moses and Aaron, instructing them to tell Pharaoh that if he refused to let the people go, the face of the earth would be covered with locusts, so that man would not be able to see the ground, and that these locusts would eat the residue of that which escaped from the hail; that they would eat every tree out of the field; that they would fill the houses of Pharaoh and the houses of all his servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians. Moses delivered the message, and went out from Pharaoh. Some of Pharaoh's servants entreated their master to let the children of Israel go. Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and asked them, who wished to go into the wilderness to sacrifice. They replied that they wished to go with the young and old; with their sons and daughters, with flocks and herds. Pharaoh would not consent to this, but agreed that the men might go. There upon Pharaoh drove Moses and Aaron out of his sight. Then God told Moses to stretch forth his hand upon the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they might come up and eat every herb, even all that the hail had left. "And Moses stretched out his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind all that day and all that night; and when it was morning the east wind brought the locusts; and they came up over all the land of Egypt and rested upon all the coasts covering the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left, and there remained not any green thing on the trees or in the herbs of the field throughout the land of Egypt." Pharaoh then called for Moses and Aaron in great haste, admitted that he had sinned against the Lord their God and against them, asked their forgiveness and requested them to intercede with God that he might take away the locusts. They went out from his presence and asked the Lord to drive the locusts away, "And the Lord made a strong west wind which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red Sea so that there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt."
As soon as the locusts were gone, Pharaoh changed his mind, and, in the language of the sacred text, "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would not let the children of Israel go."
The Lord then told Moses to stretch out his hand toward heaven that there might be darkness over the land of Egypt, "even darkness which might be felt."
And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven, and there was a thick darkness over the land of Egypt for three days during which time they saw not each other, neither arose any of the people from their places for three days; but the children of Israel had light in their dwellings."
It strikes me that when the land of Egypt was covered with thick darkness--so thick that it could be felt, and when light was in the dwellings of the Israelites, there could have been no better time for the Hebrews to have left the country.
Pharaoh again called for Moses, and told him that his people could go and serve the Lord. provided they would leave their flocks and herds. Moses would not agree to this, for the reason that they needed the flocks and herds for sacrifices and burnt offerings, and he did not know how many of the animals God might require, and for that reason he could not leave a single hoof. Upon the question of the cattle, they divided, and Pharaoh again refused to let the people go. God then commanded Moses to tell the Hebrews to borrow, each of his neighbor, jewels of silver and gold. By a miraculous interposition the Hebrews found favor in the sight of the Egyptians so that they loaned the articles asked for. After this, Moses again went to Pharaoh and told him that all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh upon the throne, unto the first-born of the maid-servant who was behind the mill, as well as the first-born of beasts, should die. As all the beasts had been destroyed by disease and hail, it is troublesome to understand the meaning of the threat as to their first-born.
Preparations were accordingly made for carrying this frightful threat into execution. Blood was put on the door-posts of all houses inhabited by Hebrews. So that God, as he passed through that land, might not be mistaken and destroy the first-born of the Jews. "And it came to pass that at midnight the Lord smote all the first- born in the land of Egypt the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on the throne, and the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon.
And Pharaoh rose up in the night, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead."
What had these children done? Why should the babes in the cradle be destroyed on account of the crime of Pharaoh? Why should the cattle be destroyed because man had enslaved his brother? In those days women and children and cattle were put upon an exact equality, and all considered as the property of the men; and when man in some way excited the wrath of God, he punished them by destroying all their cattle, their wives, and their little ones. Where can words he found bitter enough to describe a god who would kill wives and babes because husbands and fathers had failed to keep his law? Every good man, and every good woman, must hate and despise such a deity.
Upon the death of all the first-born Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and not only gave his consent that they might go with the Hebrews into the wilderness, but besought them to go at once.
Is it possible that an infinite God, creator of all worlds and sustainer of all life, said to Pharaoh, "If you do not let my people go, I will turn all the water of your country into blood," and that upon the refusal of Pharaoh to release the people, God did turn all the waters into blood? Do you believe this?
Do you believe that Pharaoh even after all the water was turned to blood, refused to let the Hebrews go, and that thereupon God told him he would cover his land with frogs? Do you believe this?
Do you believe that after the land was covered with frogs Pharaoh still refused to let the people go, and that God then said to him, "I will cover you and all your people with lice?" Do you believe God would make this threat?
Do you also believe that God told Pharaoh, "If you do not let these people go, I will fill all your houses and cover your country with flies?" Do you believe God makes such threats as this? Of course God must have known that turning the waters into blood, covering the country with frogs, infesting all flesh with lice, and filling all houses with flies, would not accomplish his object, and that all these plagues would have no effect whatever upon he Egyptian king.
Do you believe that, failing to accomplish anything by the flies, God told Pharaoh that if he did not let the people go he would kill his cattle with murrain? Does such a threat sound God- like?
Do you believe that, failing to effect anything by killing the cattle, this same God then threatened to afflict all the people with boils, including the magicians who had been rivaling him in the matter of miracles; and failing to do anything by boils, that he resorted to hail? Does this sound reasonable? The hail experiment having accomplished nothing, do you believe that God murdered the first-born of animals and men? Is it possible to conceive of anything more utterly absurd, stupid, revolting, cruel and senseless, than the miracles said to have been wrought by the Almighty for the purpose of inducing Pharaoh to liberate the children of Israel?
Is it not altogether more reasonable to say that the Jewish people, being in slavery, accounted for the misfortunes and calamities, suffered by the Egyptians, by saying that they were the judgments of God?
When the Armada of Spain was wrecked and scattered by the storm, the English people believed that God had interposed in their behalf, and publicly gave thanks. When the battle of Lepanto was won, it was believed by the Catholic world that the victory was given in answer to prayer. So, our fore-fathers in their Revolutionary struggle saw, or thought they saw, the hand of God, and most firmly believed that they achieved their independence by the interposition of the Most High.
Now, it may be that while the Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians, there were plagues of locusts and flies. It may be that there were some diseases by which many of the cattle perished. It may be that a pestilence visited that country so that in nearly every house there was some one dead. If so, it was but natural for the enslaved and superstitious Jews to account for these calamities by saying that they were punishments sent by their God. Such ideas will be found in the history of every country.
For a long time the Jews held these opinions, and they were handed from father to son simply by tradition. By the time a written language had been produced, thousands of additions had been made, and numberless details invented; so that we have not only an account of the plagues suffered by the Egyptians, but the whole woven into a connected story, containing the threats made by Moses and Aaron, the miracles wrought by them, the promises of Pharaoh, and finally the release of the Hebrews, as a result of the marvelous things performed in their behalf by Jehovah.
In any event it is infinitely more probable that the author was misinformed, than that the God of this universe was guilty of these childish, heartless and infamous things. The solution of the whole matter is this:--Moses was mistaken.