ページの画像
PDF
ePub

but it hardened his heart the more against every proper impression. A.M. 2513. Moses was consequently directed to adopt a larger scale of miraculous B.C. 1491. operations, in the distinct mention of which, we propose to give the reader a brief illustration of the peculiar adaptation of each of these PLAGUES OF EGYPT (as they have been designated,) to the idolatries of the people upon whom they were inflicted.

The first plague consisted in the river being turned into blood, of First plague which the account is preserved in the VIIth chapter of the book of of Egypt. Exodus. This was effected by Moses striking the waters with that rod which had once been converted into a serpent; and as a rebuke to the obduracy of the Egyptian monarch, the river immediately became putrid, and the fish perished. A very powerful blow was thus aimed at one of their most deeply rooted idolatrous prejudices. No nation carried their reverence of the Nile to such a pitch of extravagance. On solemn occasions, they invoked it as their chief guardian and protector; and imagined, that it gave birth to all their deities—70Tapòv Nairov (says Diod. Siculus,) Tipos que nad tas tāv dzīv YEVégeis útdoğal. This opinion spread extensively amongst other nations, and produced a very general veneration for all Rivers amongst the Pagans. It was, therefore, calculated to strike a salutary conviction of their folly into the minds of the Egyptians, and to have proved a warning to the Israelites, when they perceived the insufficiency of this divinity, and the baseness of this now desecrated stream. Nor was it merely polluted, but changed into blood; than which nothing was more abhorred by the priests, who pretended to extraordinary sanctity. The destruction of the fish is particularly specified, for in some cases, they too were worshipped as real deities; and to complete the absurdity, there was a city built in honour of one species called Oxurunchus, and a temple wherein these fish were publicly worshipped. (Strabo, i. 7.)

The second plague was that of the frogs, which was accomplished Second by Aaron, who, by the direction of Moses, stretched out his hand plague. over the waters; upon which the frogs came up and overspread the land, where they died in immense multitudes, filling the air with pestilential exhalations. This was a second disgrace inflicted upon their sacred river; and it prevented the natives from performing their usual ablutions. It is not absolutely certain, whether the frog were an object of worship, or of abhorrence in Egypt, possibly of both—as in other instances, where religious adoration was offered from sentiments of terror; and if so, they were punished as well by what they venerated, as by what they abominated. Most aquatic animals, however, were in Egypt sacred and emblematical; and as frogs were engraved upon the basis of Apollo's statue at Delphi, the seat of prophecy, they were, it is probable, characteristic of the priests and prophets, and sacred to the Nymphs and Muses. This animal is notorious for swelling itself up, and hence it became an emblem of Apollo, the god of inspiration, and of priests, and pro

A.M. 2513. phets in general, particularly of the magicians of Egypt. The B.C. 1491. present miracle, therefore, constituted an appropriate punishment

inflicted upon them, and their royal patron. Third

The third plague was that of lice. This was inflicted by the rod plague.

of Aaron, under the express direction of Moses, who, as before, received the command from God. The Egyptians were peculiarly solicitous of external purity ; for which purpose they were continually bathing themselves, and observed the utmost nicety in their clothing. Herodotus has furnished ample evidence of their care in this respect. “ The priests,” says he, - wear raiment of linen only.

-And the linen garments which they put on are continually fresh washed : concerning which they take particular care.” It was usual for the people to wear a woollen garment over a linen one; but the former was thrown off when they approached their deities, from an apprehension of its harbouring vermin. It was also dispensed with at burials, from considering it as an impurity. The priests had their heads and bodies shaved every third day for the same reason. Plutarch furnishes a similar testimony, stating, that they abhorred all woollen as foul, and extolling flax, for notnu de to depexet malo radapan go Onta, nx60ta de QBeipomo10rit affords a delicate and pure covering, and is not at all liable to produce lice. As, therefore, these infatuated worshippers made the essence of religion to consist in external cleanliness, to the utter neglect of internal sanctity, (for their temples were defiled with the most abominable practices,) the present judgment was peculiarly adapted to confound their superstition ; and so obvious was the interposition, that the magicians appealed to Pharaoh in the language of astonishment and conviction, “this is the finger of God!”.

The king, however, remaining obdurate, he was visited with the plague.

plague of flies, the fourth of this melancholy series. Moses went out in the early morning to meet Pharaoh when he was taking his walk upon the banks of the Nile, and repeated his request for the liberation of Israel, threatening, in case of his persistence in the refusal, that his own house, the houses and premises of his courtiers, and of all the people, should be covered with swarms of flies ; while, as a certain indication of the power that accomplished this judgment, the land of Goshen should be exempted from the calamity. The appeal was received as before, and the predicted evil filled the country. The Egyptians had allotted to several deities the office of driving away flies, and many heathen temples were supposed to be free from these troublesome insects, in consequence of the influence of the presiding deity. Nor was this all : they were even worshipped in various places. Ælian mentions, that in his time, an ox was sacrificed to them in the temple of Apollo, at Actium ; Clemens confirms the statement; and Antiphanes, in Athenæus, alludes to a similar observance at Olympia, in Elis. There was anciently a deity styled Deus Musca and Accaron, who was worshipped under

Fourth

the semblance of a fly. This idolatry originated in Egypt, whence A.M. 2513. it was brought by the Caphtorim to Palestine, and by the Phenicians B.C. 1491. to Sidon, Tyre, and Biblus, and thence diffused into other regions. Hence, the Egyptians must be led to perceive, by the miraculous multiplication of the flies which they so absurdly revered, that instead of being able to defend them from mischief, they were under the control of a superior will, and their punishment was inflicted in the very track of their superstition.

The fifth plague was the murrain of beasts, which was attended Fifth with two striking peculiarities :-the speediness of the execution, plague for it was to be on the morrow after the denunciation by Moses ; and the exemption of the people of God from the visitation ;—“ All the cattle of Egypt died, but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one." Their idolatrous attachment to animals is universally known, and is ridiculed with great keenness of satire by Lucian : “In Egypt,” says he, “the temple itself is found to be beautiful and ample in its dimensions, built with choice stones, and ornamented with gilding and hieroglyphics. But if you pry within to find out the god, you meet with a monkey or a crane ; or else a goat or a cat.” The lion, wolf, and dog, were also objects of adoration ; but the greatest reverence was shown for the ox, the cow, the heifer, and the ram. The Apis, or sacred bull, was worshipped at Memphis, and the mnevis at Heliopolis; both of them being esteemed gods. This judgment, therefore, was very appropriate and significant; for their imaginary deities were seen to yield to the God of Israel, without the capacity of offering the least resistance. In vain did the soul of Osiris, as they believed, reside in the body of Apis; the infection spread far and wide, in defiance of his power, exhibiting the despicable imbecility of their divinities.

To the murrain of beasts succeeded the sixth plague of boils and Sixth blains. Handfuls of ashes being taken by Moses and Aaron, and plague sprinkled towards heaven in the sight of Pharaoh, they became dust, producing a boil, breaking forth with blains upon man and beast! It is particularly stated, that the boil was upon the magicians as well as on the Egyptians in general. This was another evidence of the impotency of their gods, who could neither prevent nor alleviate the calamity. Many of them were supposed to possess extraordinary skill in pharmacy and medicine, among whom, Esculapius was regarded with singular esteem and confidence. The action of Moses was highly significant. The ashes were to be taken from the fiery furnace, which is referred to perpetually as a type of the miseries suffered by Israel during the period of their Egyptian bondage; and it contained an allusion to a cruel rite to which they were addicted. In several of their cities they sacrificed men, who were foreigners, for the good of the people. At the end of the ceremony, the priests collected the ashes of the victims, and scattered them upwards in the air, probably with an idea of entail

Seventh plague.

Eighth

A.M. 2513. ing a blessing wherever the particles descended. Moses did the B.C. 1491. same with an opposite purpose, diffusing plagues and a curse around

in every direction, and thus confronting the operations of providence with the superstition of the age.

The seventh plague was that of rain, hail, and fire, attended with thunder. The Egyptians could scarcely fail of perceiving the drift of these complicated judgments. Rain is extremely rare in that country, and not to be met with at all in Delta, or Egypt Proper. Hence Claudian designates the country, Ægyptus sine nube ferax

-Egypt, fruitful without a cloud. In addition to this, hail and fire mingled with it, as it ran along upon the ground, to the great annoyance of their characteristic superstition respecting portents and prodigies. This visitation was distinctly foretold, and none of their gods were able to afford them deliverance. It should be observed also, that they were strangely addicted to the worship of the elements of fire and water, as deities: and the former they even believed to be a living creature, endowed with a soul-vevoj isted to Tue Onglov ervar suyuxov.Herod. And hence, not only the presiding deity, but the elements themselves were adored: consequently the present judgment was a formidable attack upon their vain and idolatrous confidence.

Locusts constituted the eighth plague; which, as on other occaplague.

sions, Moses inflicted after a plain and solemn warning. They overspread the whole country, devouring every herb, and all the fruit trees which remained after the hail. It is scarcely possible to conceive a more terrible calamity than that of swarms of locusts, who speedily convert a paradise into a desert, eating up the very bark and roots of vegetation. They are known to come in clouds, extending in length fifteen or eighteen miles, and ten or twelve in breadth; and wherever they settle, all the corn vanishes in two hours. Moreover, of the present swarm it is said, “ Before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.” The Egyptians cherished great confidence in some of their gods, who were supposed to be able to preserve their country from these invading insects, especially Isis and Osiris, the gods of plenty; but Moses so confounded their misplaced dependence by this desolating miracle, that Pharaoh sent in haste to solicit deliverance from death. A strong west wind was accordingly brought over the land, which carried off these terrible assailants to the Red Sea.

It was not long before it became requisite to inflict a new calamity on Pharaoh, in the form of thick darkness, for the space of three days, which constituted the ninth plague. The Egyptians, in common with the Persians, Phenicians, Syrians, and other nations, esteemed themselves as descendants of the Sun, which they worshipped as their sovereign and parent, believing it to be the soul of the world, the mundi caput, the principal being in the universe.

Ninth plague.

Thus Homer, who took his theology from Egypt, ascribes intellect A.M. 2513. to the Sun :

B.C. 1491. Hɛnos, og Tavt spoga, xao tarT' ET AXOVEI.

Odyss. B. XII. v. 108. Originally, indeed, they viewed the light and the fire as proper emblems only of deity, on account of their being the purest of all the elements, and because of their salutary influence upon created nature; but this specious sentiment soon degenerated into an adoration of them as primary sources of being, to the dishonour of the universal Creator: nothing, consequently, could be more significant, nothing more illustrative of their crime, nor better calculated to warn others, than to fill the land with palpable darkness. Their god arose, but could not afford them the least assistance in this perplexing and preternatural obscuration.

The tenth and last plague, which consisted in the infliction of Tenth death upon all the first-born in the land, exceeded, both in terror plague. and effect, the preceding. This was accomplished at midnight, and after Moses had given them a full warning: in consequence of which the calamity must have been considerably aggravated by anticipation. The Egyptians were addicted, above most nations, to extravagant mourning, running through the streets, smearing their faces, beating their breasts, and rending the air with cries, not only at the funeral of a friend or relative, but even at the death of any sacred animal. They were accustomed, moreover, to scourge themselves, and to conduct most of their ceremonies with stripes and lamentations in honour of Isis, and Adonis, or Osiris: but now they were supplied with a real cause of the deepest grief, in the deprivation, by a single stroke of the sword of Omnipotence, of every first-born in the country; so that there was a cry,“ such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.” This was surely a just retaliation for their disobedience, and a proper expression of the divine displeasure for their cruel behaviour to Israel, who is represented as God's first-born, the object of his special favour, and Exod. iv. 22. the family whence Christ, “the first-born of every creature,” was Col. i. 15. to proceed. This judgment, besides, was attended with another significant purpose. The Israelites were liable to lose their elder children by the destroying angel, unless they observed a particular conservatory regulation, in consequence of which the passover was instituted, not only with a view to their present security, but as containing secret intimations of the blessings to be hereafter dispensed by the Saviour of the world.

It was worthy of the infinite God to punish the Egyptians by that series of calamitous visitations which have now been briefly stated and illustrated; because they prostituted the noblest talents, and the best attainments in general knowledge and learning, to the very basest purposes; and after the preservation of their nation by one

« 前へ次へ »