After the history of the patriarchs follows here the history of the people of Israel, when they grew into a nation.
I. Their affliction in Egypt (Ps. 105:25): He turned the heart of the Egyptians, who had protected them, to hate them and deal subtilely with them. God’s goodness to his people exasperated the Egyptians against them; and, though their old antipathy to the Hebrews (which we read of Gen. 43:32; 46:34) was laid asleep for a while, yet now it revived with more violence than ever: formerly they hated them because they despised them, now because they feared them. They dealt subtilely with them, set all their politics on work to find out ways and means to weaken them, and waste them, and prevent their growth; they made their burdens heavy and their lives bitter, and slew their male children as soon as they were born. Malice is crafty to destroy: Satan has the serpent’s subtlety, with his venom. It was God that turned the hearts of the Egyptians against them; for every creature is that to us that he makes it to be, a friend or an enemy. Though God is not the author of the sins of men, yet he serves his own purposes by them.
II. Their deliverance out of Egypt, that work of wonder, which, that it might never be forgotten, is put into the preface to the ten commandments. Observe,
1. The instruments employed in that deliverance (Ps. 105:26): He sent Moses his servant on this errand and joined Aaron in commission with him. Moses was designed to be their lawgiver and chief magistrate, Aaron to be their chief priest; and therefore, that they might respect them the more and submit to them the more cheerfully, God made use of them as their deliverers.
2. The means of accomplishing that deliverance; these were the plagues of Egypt. Moses and Aaron observed their orders, in summoning them just as God appointed them, and they rebelled not against his word (Ps. 105:28) as Jonah did, who, when he was sent to denounce God’s judgments against Nineveh, went to Tarshish. Moses and Aaron were not moved, either with a foolish fear of Pharaoh’s wrath or a foolish pity of Egypt’s misery, to relax or retard any of the plagues which God ordered them to inflict on the Egyptians, but stretched forth their hand to inflict them as God appointed. Those that are instructed to execute judgment will find their remissness construed as a rebellion against God’s word. The plagues of Egypt are here called God’s signs, and his wonders (Ps. 105:27); they were not only proofs of his power, but tokens of his wrath, and to be looked upon with admiration and holy awe. They showed the words of his signs (so it is in the original), for every plague had an exposition going along with it; they were not, as the common works of creation and providence, silent signs, but speaking ones, and they spoke aloud. They are all or most of them here specified, though not in the order in which they were inflicted. (1.) The plague of darkness, Ps. 105:28. This was one of the last, though here mentioned first. God sent darkness, and, coming with commission, it came with efficacy; his command made it dark. And then they (that is, the people of Israel) rebelled not against God’s word, namely, a command which some think was given them to circumcise all among them that had not been circumcised, in doing which the three days’ darkness would be a protection to them. The old translation follows the LXX., and reads it, They were not obedient to his word, which may be applied to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, who, notwithstanding the terror of this plague, would not let the people go; but there is no ground for it in the Hebrew. (2.) The turning of the river Nilus (which they idolized) into blood, and all their other waters, which slew their fish (Ps. 105:29), and so they were deprived, not only of their drink, but of the daintiest of their meat, Num. 11:5. (3.) The frogs, shoals of which their land brought forth, which poured in upon them, not only in such numbers, but with such fury, that they could not keep them out of the chambers of their kings and great men, whose hearts had been full of vermin, more nauseous and more noxious-contempt of, and enmity to, both God and his Israel. (4.) Flies of divers sorts swarmed in their air, and lice in their clothes, Ps. 105:31; Exod. 8:17, 24. Note, God can make use of the meanest, and weakest, and most despicable animals, for the punishing and humbling of proud oppressors, to whom the impotency of the instrument cannot but be a great mortification, as well as an undeniable conviction of the divine omnipotence. (5.) Hail-stones shattered their trees, even the strongest timber-trees in their coasts, and killed their vines, and their other fruit-trees, Ps. 105:32, 33. Instead of rain to cherish their trees, he gave them hail to crush them, and with it thunder and lightning, to such a degree that the fire ran along upon the ground, as if it had been a stream of kindled brimstone, Exod. 9:23. (6.) Locusts and caterpillars destroyed all the herbs which were made for the service of man and ate the bread out of their mouths, Ps. 105:34, 35. See what variety of judgments God has, wherewith to plague proud oppressors, that will not let his people go. God did not bring the same plague twice, but, when there was occasion for another, it was still a new one; for he has many arrows in his quiver. Locusts and caterpillars are God’s armies; and, how weak soever they are singly, he can raise such numbers of them as to make them formidable, Joel 1:4, 6. (7.) Having mentioned all the plagues but those of the murrain and boils, he concludes with that which gave the conquering stroke, and that was the death of the first-born, Ps. 105:36. In the dead of the night the joys and hopes of their families, the chief of their strength and flower of their land, were all struck dead by the destroying angel. They would not release God’s first-born, and therefore God seized theirs by way of reprisal, and thereby forced them to dismiss his too, when it was too late to retrieve their own; for when God judges he will overcome, and those will certainly sit down losers at last that contend with him.
3. The mercies that accompanied this deliverance. In their bondage, (1.) They had been impoverished, and yet they came out rich and wealthy. God not only brought them forth, but he brought them forth with silver and gold, Ps. 105:37. God empowered them to ask and collect the contributions of their neighbours (which were indeed but part of payment for the service they had done them) and inclined the Egyptians to furnish them with what they asked. Their wealth was his, and therefore he might, their hearts were in his hand, and therefore he could, give it to the Israelites. (2.) Their lives had been made bitter to them, and their bodies and spirits broken by their bondage; and yet, when God brought them forth, there was not one feeble person, none sick, none so much as sickly, among their tribes. They went out that very night that the plague swept away all the first-born of Egypt, and yet they went out all in good health, and brought not with them any of the diseases of Egypt. Surely never was the like, that among so many thousands there was not one sick! So false was the representation which the enemies of the Jews, in after-ages, gave of this matter, that they were all sick of a leprosy, or some loathsome disease, and that therefore the Egyptians thrust them out of their land. (3.) They had been trampled upon and insulted over; and yet they were brought out with honour (Ps. 105:38): Egypt was glad when they departed; for God had so wonderfully owned them, and pleaded their cause, that the fear of Israel fell upon them, and they owned themselves baffled and overcome. God can and will make his church a burdensome stone to all that heave at it and seek to displace it, so that those shall think themselves happy that get out of its way, Zech. 12:3. When God judges, he will overcome. (4.) They had spent their days in sorrow and in sighing, by reason of their bondage; but now he brought them forth with joy and gladness, Ps. 105:43. When Egypt’s cry for grief was loud, their first-born being all slain, Israel’s shouts for joy were as loud, both when they looked back upon the land of slavery out of which they were rescued and when they looked forward to the pleasant land to which they were hastening. God now put a new song into their mouth.
4. The special care God took of them in the wilderness. (1.) For their shelter. Besides the canopy of heaven, he provided them another heavenly canopy: He spread a cloud for a covering (Ps. 105:39), which was to them not only a screen and umbrella, but a cloth of state. A cloud was often God’s pavilion (Ps. 18:11) and now it was Israel’s; for they also were his hidden ones. (2.) For their guidance and refreshment in the dark. He appointed a pillar of fire to give light in the night, that they might never be at a loss. Note, God graciously provides against all the grievances of his people, and furnishes them with convenient succours for every condition, for day and night, till they come to heaven, where it will be all day to eternity. (3.) He fed them both with necessaries and dainties. Sometimes he furnished their tables with wild fowl (Ps. 105:40): The people asked, and he brought quails; and, when they were not thus feasted, yet they were abundantly satisfied with the bread of heaven. Those are curious and covetous indeed who will not be so satisfied. Man did eat angels’ food, and that constantly and on free-cost. And, as every bit they ate had miracle in it, so had every drop they drank: He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out, Ps. 105:41. Common providence fetches waters from heaven, and bread out of the earth; but for Israel the divine power brings bread from the clouds and water from the rocks: so far is the God of nature from being tied to the laws and courses of nature. The water did not only gush out once, but it ran like a river, plentifully and constantly, and attended their camp in all their removes; hence they are said to have the rock follow them (1 Cor. 10:4), and, which increased the miracle, this river of God (so it might be truly called) ran in dry places, and yet was not drunk in and lost, as one would have expected it to be, by the sands of the desert of Arabia. To this that promise alludes, I will give rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen, Isa. 43:19, 20.
5. Their entrance, at length, into Canaan (Ps. 105:44): He gave them the lands of the heathen, put them in possession of that which they had long been put in hopes of; and what the Canaanites had taken pains for God’s Israel had the enjoyment of: They inherited the labour of the people; and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just. The Egyptians had long inherited their labours, and now they inherited the labours of the Canaanites. Thus sometimes one enemy of the church is made to pay another’s scores.
6. The reasons why God did all this for them. (1.) Because he would himself perform the promises of the word, Ps. 105:42. They were unworthy and unthankful, yet he did those great things in their favour because he remembered the word of his holiness (that is, his covenant) with Abraham his servant, and he would not suffer one iota or tittle of that to fall to the ground. See Deut. 7:8. (2.) Because he would have them to perform the precepts of the word, to bind them to which was the greatest kindness he could put upon them. He put them in possession of Canaan, not that they might live in plenty and pleasure, in ease and honour, and might make a figure among the nations, but that they might observe his statutes and keep his laws,—that, being formed into a people, they might be under God’s immediate government, and revealed religion might be the basis of their national constitution,—that, having a good land given them, they might out of the profits of it bring sacrifices to God’s altar,—and that, God having thus done them good, they might the more cheerfully receive his law, concluding that also designed for their good, and might be sensible of their obligations in gratitude to live in obedience to him. We are therefore made, maintained, and redeemed, that we may live in obedience to the will of God; and the hallelujah with which the psalm concludes may be taken both as a thankful acknowledgment of God’s favours and as a cheerful concurrence with this great intention of them. Has God done so much for us, and yet does he expect so little from us? Praise you the Lord.
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