And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let My people go, that they may serve Me.
One of the great paradoxes of the Bible is God's compassionate practice of tempering judgment with mercy. If ever anyone deserved the biting edge of God's wrath, it was the Pharaoh of the exodus. He was cruel, vindictive, and hard-hearted. When Moses and Aaron appeared before him, seeking the release of the Israelites, Pharaoh was insolent and blasphemous. He deserved to be stricken by God. Yet he was spared through the plagues of blood, frogs, lice, flies, malignant livestock and boils.
Now once again the Lord instructed Moses to "rise up early the morning and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let My people go" (Exodus 3). Yet another plague was to be inflicted on the Egyptians unless their king abandoned his insane rebellion against the Lord God. The first six plagues were accompanied by much suffering and humiliation. However, none of these had actually touched the lives of the Egyptians. This time, if Pharaoh did not relent, God would smite the people and their land with pestilence and they would be cut off from the earth.
Characteristic of God's mercy, the pestilence was not to begin immediately. Moses predicted, "Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now." God gave the Egyptian king time for reflection. Judgment was impending; but before it came, the mercy of God allowed the rebellious Pharaoh twenty-four hours to consider the folly of his resistance.
But God's mercy did not stop there. Every God-fearing Egyptian had opportunity to respond to God as well. Those servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord, probably as a result of the previous plagues, quickly sought shelter for their families and cattle. Those who regarded not the word of the Lord remained in the fields.
Wherever the word of God is heralded, the reaction is always the same. Some believe and receive; others ridicule and reject. When the Apostle Paul delivered his compelling address on Mars' Hill, some mocked, others delayed, and a few believed (Acts 17:32-34). Nowhere is this more emphatically stated than in the final chapter of the Acts. "And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not" (Acts 28:24).
When the period of reflection and response was over, judgment came as promised. The thunder cracked, and the Lord sent hail and fire on the land of Egypt. So fierce was the hail and fire that upon impact great balls of fire ran along the ground. This pestilence smote both man and beast in the fields as well as the herbs and trees throughout Egypt. Yet the land of Goshen, where the people of God resided, was not touched. Neither were the Egyptians who had heeded the word of the Lord and took shelter--another instance of God's mercy, even during judgment.
Perhaps the greatest example of God's mercy in the midst of judgment is seen after the plague. Since many Egyptians had lost their lives, Pharaoh made a halfhearted, mock repentance in order to stay the mighty thunderings and hail. The flax and barley crops were completely destroyed, for the barley was in ear and the flax in bud. But the wheat and rye crops were yet in the ground and not destroyed. Those Egyptians who remained were not left without the hope of a harvest. That's the mercy of God!
Though Pharaoh's rebellion and insolence deserved the utter destruction of God's judgment, yet before, during, and after the plague of hail the mercy of God is evident. God's pity rests on men who have none on themselves. "The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalm 145:8-9). Let's thank Him today for His great mercy.
MORNING HYMN There's a wideness in God's mercy, Like the wideness of the sea There's a kindness in His justice, Which is more than liberty.
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