I. The intention of issuing new orders and decrees from time to time was that the spirit of the Israelites might be broken.—But how shortsighted the policy! If they had desired to create a unity of hatred to themselves on the part of Israel, what policy could have been adopted more conducive thereto? Evil often outwits itself. Man plans as he will, but as to the results, how often is it true, ‘He meaneth not so!’
II. Centuries afterwards, the martyr Stephen referred to this cruel edict.—‘They dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil-entreated our fathers, so that they should cast out their babes to the end they might not live’ (Act_7:19). Israel never forgot the anguish of that hour. But on Pharaoh’s side what a stroke of policy! To deal with the babes was to go to the very springs of national life, and ultimately to affect the entire nation.
III. There is nothing which so closely and instantly touches the national existence as the treatment of child life.—What that is, the nation will become in thirty years. How important that every effort should be made to preserve the springs from the contaminating influence of bad parents and designing teachers! How well worth while it is for Christians to spend time and thought in the instruction of the young! The teachers of a small Sunday-school are probably touching a larger number of the coming years than the minister of a great congregation. Speaking generally, each child stands for more years than any adult in middle-life can do. Besides which the child’s mind is so much more retentive and impressionable than the adult’s. It is a wonder, indeed, that more of the best people in our churches do not join the ranks of Sunday-school teachers, and paint on this immortal canvas.
(1) ‘The chronology is by no means easy. The question turns upon the length of the bondage. By “430 years” (Exo_12:40-41; Gal_3:17) we may understand either the whole period from the call of Abraham to the giving of the law on Sinai, or simply the period which was spent by the children of Israel in Egypt itself. The first explanation is more in harmony with other passages of Scripture; the second is more easily reconciled with the rapid increase of the people.’ Edersheim says, ‘Three centuries and a half intervened between the close of the Book of Genesis and the events with which that of Exodus opens.’
(2) ‘Persecution is not only cruel, but it is weak as well. It fails in its purpose. In the history of nations luxury has undermined oftener than hardship. In the history of character compliance has enervated while opposition has braced up. In the history of religion the years of toil and conflict have been the richest in results. In the history of the Bible the endeavour to burn or suppress it has only led to its wider circulation.’
(3) ‘Times of suffering and persecution have always been the growing days of the Church. There never were such days for the spread of the truth as when Diocletian’s persecutions swept over the followers of Jesus or the dragoons of Claverhouse the moors of Scotland. And if ever those days should come again, they would probably add a marvellous increase to the true followers of Jesus. And so it is in the case of the individual. We make our best progress, not when all our circumstances are favourable, but when they are adverse.’