SERMON: Exodus Homily 3, by Origen

Exodus Homily 3 Origen

On that which is written: “I am feeble in speech and slow in tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)

While Moses was in Egypt and “was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” he was not “feeble in speech” nor “slow in tongue” nor did he profess to be ineloquent (cf. Acts 7:22; Exodus 4:10).  For, so far as concerned the Egyptians, his speech was sonorous and his eloquence incomparable.  But when he began to hear the voice of God and recognize divine communications, then he perceived his own voice to be meager and feeble and he understands his own tongue to be slow and impeded.  When he began to recognize that true Word which “was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1), then he announces that he is mute.  But let us use an analogy that what we are saying may be more easily understood.  If a rational man be compared to the dumb animals, although he may be ignorant and unlearned, he will appear eloquent in comparison to those who are devoid of both reason and speech.  But if he be compared to learned and eloquent men who are most excellent in all wisdom, he will appear ineloquent and dumb.  But if someone should contemplate the divine Word himself and look at the divine wisdom itself, however learned and wise he be, he will confess that he is a dumb animal in comparison with God to a much greater extent than the cattle are in comparison with us.  The blessed David was doubtless contemplating this and weighing himself in the balance of the divine wisdom when he said, “I became like a beast of burden before you.”  (Psalm 72:22)  It is in this sense, therefore, that Moses also, the greatest of the prophets, says to God in the present text that he is “feeble in speech” and “slow in tongue” and that he is not eloquent. (Exodus 4:10)  For all men, in comparison to the divine Word must be considered not only ineloquent, but also dumb.

(2) Divine dignity, therefore, recompenses him because he advanced into self-understanding where lies the greatest portion of wisdom.  Hear how rich and magnificent were his gifts.  “I,” the text says, “will open your mouth and instruct you what you must say.” (Exodus 4:12)  Blessed are those whose mouth God opens that they might speak.  God opens the prophets’ mouth and fills it with his eloquence, just as he says in the present text: “I will open your mouth and instruct you what you must say.” (Exodus 4:12)  But God also says through David, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Psalm 80:11)  Paul likewise says, “That speech might be given to me in the opening of my mouth.” (Ephesians 6:19)  God, therefore, opens the mouth of those who speak the words of God.

I fear, however, that, on the contrary, there are some whose mouth the devil opens.  For it is certain that the devil has opened the mouth of the man who speaks falsehood to speak falsehood.  The devil has opened the mouth of the man who speaks false testimony.  He has opened the mouth of those who bring for the scurrility, foulness, and other things of this kind from their mouth.  I fear that also the devil opens the mouth “of the whisperers and disparagers,” (cf. Romans 1:29-30), and also of those who “bring forth idle words for which an account must be given in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36)  Now indeed who doubts that the devil open the mouth of those who “speak iniquity against the Most High,” (Psalm 72:8), “who deny that my Lord Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” (cf. 2 John 7), or “who blaspheme the Holy Spirit” for whom “there will be forgiveness neither in the present nor in the future age”? (cf. Luke 12:10; Matthew 12:32)

Do you wish that I show you from the Scriptures how the devil opens the mouth of men of this kind who speak against Christ?  Note what has been written about Judas, how it is reported that “Satan entered him,” (John 13:27), and that “the devil put it in his heart to betray Him.” (cf. John 13:2)  He, therefore, having received the money, opened his mouth that “he might confer with the leaders and the Pharisees, how he might betray him.” (cf. Luke 22:4)  Whence it seems to me to be no small gift to perceive the mouth which the devil opens.  Such a mouth and words are not discerned without the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, in the distributions of spiritual gifts, it is also added that “discernment of spirits” is given to certain people. (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:10)  It is a spiritual gift, therefore, by which the spirit is discerned, as the Apostle says elsewhere, “Test the spirits, if they are from God.” (cf. 1 John 4:1)

But as God opens the mouth of the saints, so, I think, God also may open the ears of the saints to hear the divine words.  For thus Isaias the prophet says: “The Lord will open my ear that I may know when the word opened Agar’s eyes and she saw a well of living water.” (Genesis 21:19)  But also Eliseus the prophet says: “‘Open, O lord, the eyes of the servant that he may see that there are more with us than with the enemy.’  And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant and behold, the whole mountain was full of horses and chariots and heavenly helpers.” (4 Kings 6:16-17)  For “the angel of the Lord encircles those who fear him and will deliver them.” (Psalm 33:8)

As we said, therefore, God opens the mouth, the ears and the eyes, that we may either speak, or discern or hear what words are of God.  But I also take this which the prophet says to be meaningful: “The instruction of the Lord has opened my ear.” (Isaiah 50:5)  This, I take it, pertains to us, that is commonly to the whole Church of God.  For if we live in the instruction of the Lord, “the instruction of the Lord” opens our “ear” also.  But the ear which is opened by the instruction of the Lord is not always opened, but is sometimes opened, sometimes closed.  Hear the lawgiver saying, “Do not receive a vain report.” (Exodus 23:1)  If ever, therefore, vain things are said, if ever things are brought forth which are empty, improper, shameful, profane, wicked, he who knows “the instruction of the Lord,” closes his ears and turns away from listening and says: “I, however, as one deaf, did not hear, and I was as one dumb who has not opened his mouth.” (Psalm 37:14)  But if what is said is useful for the soul, if it is a word from God, if it teaches morals, if it invites virtues, if it restrains vices, the ears ought to stand open to teachings of this kind, and not only the ears, but also the heart and mind and every entrance of the soul should be thrown open to such a report.

The Law, nevertheless, has used great moderation in stating the precept, “You shall not receive a vain report.” (Exodus 23:1)  It did not say, “You shall not hear a vain report,” but “You shall not receive such.”  We frequently hear vain words.  What Marcion says is vain.  What Valentinus says is vain.  All who speak against the creator God speak vain words.  Nevertheless, we frequently listen to those words so that we can respond to them lest they secretly snatch away by their embellished speech some of the simple who are also our brothers.  Therefore, we hear these words, but we do not receive them.  For they are spoken by that mouth which the devil has opened.  And, therefore, we should pray that the Lord may think it proper to open our mouth that we might be able to refute those who contradict us and to close the mouth that we might be able to refute those who contradict us and to close the mouth which the devil opens.  We have said these things about the statement: “I will open your mouth and instruct you what you must say.” (Exodus 4:12)

It is promised not only to Moses, however, that his mouth will be opened by the Lord, but also to Aaron.  For it is said of him also, “I will open your mouth and his mouth, and I will instruct you what you shall do.” (Exodus 4:15)  For Aaron also “went to meet” Moses and he departed from Egypt.  Where, however, did he go to meet him; to what sort of place? For it is of interest where he whose mouth is to be opened by God “meets” Moses.  “He went to meet him,” it says, “on the mountain of God.” (Exodus 4:27)  Do you see that his mouth is opened deservedly who can “go to meet” Moses “on the mountain of God”?  Peter, James, and John ascended the mountain of God that they might be worthy to see Jesus transfigured and that they might see Moses and Elias with him in glory.  And you, therefore, unless you ascend the “mountain of God” and “go to meet” Moses there, that is unless you ascend the lofty understanding of the Law, unless you mount up to the peak of spiritual understanding, your mouth has not been opened by the Lord.  If you stand in the lowly place of the letter and connect the text of the story with Jewish narratives, you have not gone to meet Moses “on the mountain of God,” nor has God “opened your mouth” nor “instructed you in what you must say.” (cf. Exodus 4:12)  Unless, therefore, “Aaron had gone to meet Moses on the mountain,” (Exodus 4:27), unless he had seen his sublime and elevated mind, unless he had perceived his lofty understanding, never would Moses have spoken the words of God to him nor delivered to him the power of signs and wonders nor have decreed him a participant in such a great mystery.

(3) But since it would take too long to speak about the individual things one after another, let us see what “Moses and Aaron” said “when they went in” to Pharaoh.  “Thus says the Lord, ‘Send my people out that they may serve me in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 5:1)  Moses does not wish the people to serve God while they are in Egypt, but to go out into the desert and serve the Lord there.  This means, without doubt, that as long as anyone remains in the gloomy activities of the world and lives in the darkness of daily business he cannot “serve the Lord,” for he is not able “to serve two Lords.”  He cannot “serve the Lord and mammon.” (cf. Luke 16:13; Matthew 6:24)  Therefore, we must go forth from Egypt.  We must leave the world behind if we wish “to serve the Lord.”  I mean, however, that we must leave the world behind not in space, but in the soul; not by setting out on a journey, but by advancing in faith.  Hear John saying these same things: “Little children, do not love the world nor those things which are in the world, since everything which is in the world is the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes.” (1 John 2:15-16)

And what, however, does Moses say?  Let us see how or to what extent he orders us to set out from Egypt.  “We will go,” he says, “a journey of three days into the wilderness and there we will sacrifice to the Lord our God.” (Exodus 3:18)  What is the “journey of three days” which we are to go, that going out from Egypt we can arrive at the place in which we ought to sacrifice?  I understand “way” to refer to him who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)  We are to go this way for three days.  For he who “has confessed with his mouth the Lord Jesus and believed in his heart that God raised him from the dead” on the third day, “will be saved.” (cf. Romans 10:9)  This, therefore, is “the way of three days” by which one arrives at the place in which the “sacrifice of praise” (cf. Psalm 49:14) is sacrificed and offered to the Lord.  What we have said pertains to the mystical meaning.

But if we also require a place for the moral meaning which is very useful for us, we travel a “journey of three days” from Egypt if we thus preserve ourselves from all filth of soul, body, and spirit, that, as the Apostle said, “Our spirit and soul and body may be kept whole in the day of Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)  We travel a “journey of three days” from Egypt if, ceasing from worldly things we turn our rational, natural, moral wisdom to the divine laws.  We travel a “journey of three days” from Egypt if, purifying our words, deeds, or thoughts – for these are the three things by which men can sin – we would be made “pure in heart” so that we could “see God.” (cf. Matthew 5:8)

Do you wish to see, however, that this is what the Holy Spirit indicates in the Scriptures?  When this Pharaoh, who is the prince of Egypt, sees that he is strongly pressed to send the people of God out, he wishes to effect by this inferior place that “they not go farther away,” that they not travel the full three days.  He says, “Go not far away.” (Exodus 8:24)  He does not wish the people of God to be far from himself.  He wishes them to sin, if not in deed, certainly in word: to fail, if not in word, certainly in thought.  He does not want them to travel a full three days from himself.  He wishes to have one day at least in us as his own.  In some he has two days, in others he possesses the full three days.  But blessed are those who withdraw a whole three days from him and he possesses no day in them as his own.

Do not suppose, therefore that Moses led the people out of Egypt only at that time.  Even now Moses, whom we have with us – “for we have Moses and the prophets” (cf. Luke 16:29) – that is, the Law of God, wishes to lead you out of Egypt.  If you would hear it, it wishes to make you “far” from Pharaoh.  If only you would hear the Law of God and understand it spiritually, it desires to deliver you from the work of mud and chaff.  It does not wish you to remain in the activities of the flesh and darkness, but to go out to the wilderness, to come to the place free from the confusions and disturbances of the world, to come to the rest of silence.  For “words of wisdom are learned in silence and rest.” (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:17)  When you come to this place of rest, therefore, you will be able “to sacrifice to the Lord” there.  You will be able to know the Law of God and the virtue of the divine voice there.  For that reason, therefore, Moses desires to bring you out of the midst of vacillating daily business and from the midst of noisy people.  For that reason he desires you to depart from Egypt, that is from the darkness of ignorance that you might hear the Law of God and receive the light of knowledge.

But Pharaoh resists.  “The ruler of this darkness” (cf. Ephesians 6:12) does not wish you to relax; he does not wish you to be dragged away from his darkness and to be led to the light of knowledge.  And hear what he says, “Who is he whose voice I shall heed?  I do not know the Lord, and I will not send Israel out.” (Exodus 5:2)  Do you hear what “the prince of this world” responds (cf. John 16:11)?  He says he does not know God.  Do you see what crude pride does?  Pride controls him as long as “he does not share in human sufferings and is not scourged with men.” (cf. Psalm 72:5)  A little later you will see how much he advances by scourgings, how much better he is made having been chastised.  He who now says, “I do not know the Lord,” (Exodus 5:2), will say later, when he shall have felt the force of the whip, “Pray to the Lord for me.” (Exodus 8:8)  And not only this, but he will also admit with his own magicians as witnesses that “it is the finger of God” (cf. Exodus 8:19) in the power of the signs.  Let no one, therefore, be so ignorant of divine discipline that he thinks the divine scourgings to be destruction or believes the chastisings of the Lord to be penal annihilation.  Behold even Pharaoh, a most hard man; nevertheless, he profits when he has been scourged.  He does not know the Lord before the scourgings; after being scourged he asks that Moses pray to the Lord for him.  He has advanced by punishments to recognize why he deserves punishment.  Therefore, he said, “I do not know the Lord and I am not sending Israel out.” (Exodus 5:2)  But notice how, having been scourged, he corrects this statement in the Gospels.  For it is written that the demons cried out to the Lord and said, “Why have you come to torment us before the time?  We know who you are.  You are the Son of the living God.” (cf. Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; Matthew 16:16)  When they have experienced torments they know the Lord.  Before the scourgings he says: “I do not know the Lord and I am not sending Israel out.” (Exodus 5:2)  But he will send Israel out and not only will he send them out, but he himself will urge them to depart.  For there is no “fellowship between light and darkness,” no “sharing between faith and unbelief.” (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-15)

But what does he add further to his responses?  “Why,” he says,” O Moses and Aaron do you turn my people aside from their work?  Each of you go off to your work.” (Exodus 5:4)  While the people are with him and work in “mud” and “brick,” while they are occupied in “chaff,” he does not think them perverted, but to be traveling the right way.  But if the people say, I wish to go “a way of three days” and “serve the Lord,” (cf. Exodus 3:18), he says they are perverted by Moses and Aaron.

This indeed “was said to the ancients.” (cf. Matthew 5:24)  But even today, if Moses and Aaron, that is the prophetic and priestly word, stir a soul to the service of God, invite it to depart from the world, to renounce all things which it possesses, to give attention to the divine Law and to follow the word of God, immediately you will hear it said by those who are of one mind with Pharaoh and his friends: “See how men are seduced and perverted.  Like youths, they do not work, they do not serve as soldiers, they do not do anything, which profits them.  They abandon necessary and useful things and follow silliness and leisure.  Is this what serving God means?  They do not wish to work and they seek opportunities for idle leisure.”  These were Pharaoh’s words at that time, and now his friends and close associates say these things.

Pharaoh does not limit himself to words; scourgings also follow.  He orders that the Hebrew scribes be beaten, that chaff not be given, that work be exacted.  This is what the fathers endured.  The people of God who are in the church also often suffer in a manner similar to them.  For you will find, if you consider those who have delivered themselves anew “to the prince of this world,” (cf. John 16:11), that they act with prosperous results, that all things, as they themselves think, turn out favorably for them.  Often, however, not even these small and lowly things of human sustenance prosper for the servants of God.  I consider such things to be the chaff which is handed out by Pharaoh.  It often turns out, therefore, that those who fear God lack even this sustenance which is cheap and similar to chaff.  They also often endure the persecutions of tyrants and bear tortures and fierce torments so that some, wearied, say to Pharaoh, “Why do you afflict your people?” (cf. Exodus 5:22)  For some, overcome by the scourgings, fall away from the faith and confess that they are the people of Pharaoh.  “For not all who are of Israel are Israelites; nor because they are seed are they also sons.” (Romans 9:6-7)  Those, therefore, who are doubtful and wearies by the tribulations also speak against Moses and Aaron and say, “from the day which you went in to Pharaoh and went out, you made our odor detestable before him.” (cf. Exodus 5:23, 21)  They speak the truth, although perhaps they do not know what they say, just as Caiphas, when he said, “It is expedient for you that one die for the people,” was speaking the truth, but did not know what he was saying. (John 11:50)  For, as the Apostle says, “We are a good odor of Christ,” but he adds, “To some an odor of life to life, but to others an odor of death to death.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)  So also the prophetic word is “a sweet odor” to those who believe, but to the doubting and unbelieving and those who confess that they are Pharaoh’s people, it becomes a detestable odor.

But Moses himself also says to the Lord, “Ever since I have spoken with Pharaoh, he has afflicted your people.” (cf. Exodus 5:23)  It is certain that before the word of God is heard, before the divine preaching is known, there is no trouble, there is no temptation, because war does not begin unless the trumpet sounds.  But where the trumpet of preaching gives the signal for war, there affliction follows; there every troublesome fight arises.  The people of God are afflicted from the moment that Moses and Aaron began to speak to Pharaoh.  From the moment the word of God has been brought into your soul a struggle is necessarily stirred up within you between virtues and vices.  Before the word which reproves comes, the vices within you continue in peaceful existence, but when the word of God begins to make a division between each, then a great disturbance arises and war without treaty is born.  “For when can there be agreement between justice and injustice,” immodesty and moderation, a lie and the truth? (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14)  And, therefore, let us not be greatly disturbed if our “odor” seems detestable to Pharaoh, for virtue is an abomination to vices.

Nay rather as it says later that Moses stood “before Pharaoh,” let us also stand “against Pharaoh” and let us neither bow nor bend, but let us stand “having girded our loins with the truth and having shod our feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:14-15)  For thus the Apostle exhorts us saying, “Stand, therefore, and do not again submit to the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)  And again he says, “In which we stand, and we glory in the hope of the glory of God.” (cf. Romans 5:2)  We stand confidently, however, if we pray to the Lord that “he set our feet upon the rock,” (cf. Psalm 39:3), lest that happen to us which the same prophet says: “But my feet were nearly shaken, and my steps nearly slackened.” (Psalm 72:2)  Therefore, let us stand “before Pharaoh,” that is, let us resist him in the struggle as also the apostle Peter says, “Whom resist ye strong in the faith.” (1 Peter 5:9)  But Paul also says no less: “Stand in the faith and act like a man.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)  For if we stand strongly, that also which Paul prays for the disciples consequently happens.  “God will swiftly grind Satan under feet.” (Romans 16:20)  For the longer we stand firmly and staunchly the weaker and feebler Pharaoh will be.  If, however, we begin to be either feeble or doubtful, he will become stronger and firmer against us.  And truly that of which Moses gave a figure is fulfilled in us.  For when Moses “lifted his hands” Amalec was conquered.  But if “he cast” them “down” as though weary and put down weak arms, “Amalec would become strong.” (cf. Exodus 17:11)  So, therefore, let us also lift our arms in the power of the cross of Christ and “let us raise holy hands” in prayer “in every place without anger and dispute” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:8) that we might deserve the Lord’s help.  For the apostle James also urges this same thing, saying, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)  Therefore, let us go in full confidence that not only “may he flee from us,” but also “Satan may be ground under our feet,” as also Pharaoh was drowned in the sea and destroyed in the deep abyss.  If, however, we withdraw from the Egypt of vices we will pass over the floods of the world as on a solid road through Jesus Christ our Lord, “to whom belong glory and sovereignty forever and ever.  Amen.” (cf. 1 Peter 4:11)

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