APOCALYPSE OF THE EXODUS
THE narrative of the Exodus as recorded in Exod. 1-15 contains so many impressive pictures both of the goodness and severity of God that we do well to call attention to some of the more remarkable passages. Criticism finds in these chapters, as in Genesis, a combination of various ancient documents, but no analysis of them need concern our present purpose or materially affect the great religious lessons which they are adapted to inculcate. In searching in them for whatever has an apocalyptic aspect we may conceive the entire picture, from the call of Moses to his song of triumph, as a magnificent drama.
1. The first act is the vision of the burning bush, and is accompanied with the divine call of Moses to deliver Israel out of the cruel bondage of Egypt (Exod. 3). The symbolism of the bush, burning with fire but not consumed, was significant of the fact that the burning judgments of God never destroy anything that is pure and good. The oppressions of Egypt could not consume Israel; the wrath of Pharaoh cannot harm Moses. God’s people are imperishable. This idea may be traced in many subsequent revelations. God Almighty is a consuming fire. He burns up what is worthless and perishable; but “the remnant according to the election of grace” shall never be destroyed. God’s fires of trial only purify and make them more conspicuous and wonderful. In connection with this symbol we read the verbal revelation to Moses of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God who calls himself I AM WHO AM, and who assures Moses and the elders of Israel that he will smite the land of Egypt and lead his people forth with a mighty hand.
2. In Exod. 6:1-8, we have what purports in the connection to be another and later call of Moses, coming to him in Egypt after he had asked permission of Pharaoh for Israel to go forth out of Egypt. He again receives assurance that Israel shall be redeemed from their bondage, led in triumph out of Egypt, and given possession of the land promised to their fathers. Furthermore, the Holy One now reveals himself by a new name, the profound significance of which was unknown to the fathers: “I am Jehovah. And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shadday, but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them.”
3. In Exod. 7:1-13, we have a third oracle, assuring Moses and Aaron of Jehovah’s presence and help in leading out the children of Israel. The oracle was followed by the miracle of the rod of Aaron becoming a serpent and swallowing the rods of the magicians, who imitated the wonderful sign by their secret arts. This sign was significant and suggestive. It was a kind of prelude to the ten plagues, symbolizing Jehovah’s triumph in the realm of Egyptian superstition, and disclosing the helplessness of all the gods of Egypt.
4. The ten plagues may be regarded as so many scenes in the fourth act of this sublime drama. They increased in power and horror as one followed rapidly after another, and the last plague was followed by “a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there hath been none like it, nor shall be like it any more “ (11:6). Nowhere in all literature is there to be found a sublimer exhibition of Jehovah’s power over the forces of nature and the superstitions of men. The imagery of these plagues is largely appropriated in the New Testament Apocalypse of John to portray the “terrors and great signs from heaven,” which there figure as trumpets of woe and bowls of wrath—visitations of judgment on the enemies of God.
5. The passover was instituted (Exod. 12, 13) to symbolize and commemorate the redemption of Israel from Egypt, and the salvation of their firstborn at the awful hour when all the firstborn of the land of Egypt died. How this sacred feast became a type and symbol of “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” as well as “the communion of the body of Christ,” is well known.
6. Then followed the march of Israel out of the land of bitter oppression, and their complete deliverance at the Red Sea. The obdurate king of Egypt is portrayed as fiercely pursuing the people of Jehovah, and as overwhelmed with his army in the midst of the sea. How like the vision of the dragon in John’s Apocalypse (12:13-16), who poured out of his mouth a river of water after the woman that fled into the wilderness, “and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the river!”
7. The final act in this drama of the Exodus is the picture of redeemed Israel, standing in triumph on the further shore of the sea, land singing “the song of Moses.” This entire picture was evidently in the mind of John when he wrote of the glassy sea mingled with fire and of the victorious multitude standing by it with the harps of God, singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb (Rev. 15:2, 3).
These plagues of Egypt are called Jehovah’s “great judgments (Exod. 6:6; 7:4; Num. 33:4). They stand out in Holy Writ as signal examples and illustrations of the manner in which God executes judgment (Exod. 12:12) on wicked men and nations. Compare the use of the word judgments in Ezek. 16:41; 25:11; 28:22; 30:19, and Isa. 34:5. The prophetic way of speaking of such visitations of judgment is to call them a “great and terrible day of Jehovah” (comp. Isa. 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15, 2:1, 2, 11, 31; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:14-16). These awful judgments on Egypt were a great and terrible day of the Lord. It is common to conceive the day of judgment as a formal assize, in which God sits as Ruler and Judge to hear testimony and pronounce decisions of merit and demerit, according to the works of men. Under a like figure we might speak of Jehovah as sitting in judgment upon the cruelties and idolatries of the Egyptians. Pharaoh and all his guilty associates in the oppression of Israel were brought to the bar of God. They stood before the judgment seat of Jehovah, and received just recompense for their deeds. But we should not forget that the imagery of throne, and bar, and judgment seat, and trial, and sentence is but the drapery of human conceptions of judgment. The great essential truth in all this imagery is that God condemns and punishes his enemies and causes them that obey him to triumph. And whether the visitation of wrath come in the form of a flood of waters to drown the world, or in fire and brimstone to destroy the wicked cities of the plain, or in the plagues of Egypt, it is in every case a coming of God to judgment; or, if one adopt the other form of statement, a bringing of both the just and the unjust before the tribunal of the Supreme Judge of the heavens and the earth.