Ye shall cast into the river - As the Nile, which is here intended, was a sacred river among the Egyptians, it is not unlikely that Pharaoh intended the young Hebrews as an offering to his god, having two objects in view: To increase the fertility of the country by thus procuring, as he might suppose, a proper and sufficient annual inundation; and
To prevent an increase of population among the Israelites, and in process of time procure their entire extermination.
It is conjectured, with a great show of probability, that the edict mentioned in this verse was not made till after the birth of Aaron, and that it was revoked soon after the birth of Moses; as, if it had subsisted in its rigour during the eighty-six years which elapsed between this and the deliverance of the Israelites, it is not at all likely that their males would have amounted to six hundred thousand, and those all effective men.
In the general preface to this work reference has been made to Origen's method of interpreting the Scriptures, and some specimens promised. On the plain account of a simple matter of fact, related in the preceding chapter, this very eminent man, in his 2d Homily on Exodus, imposes an interpretation of which the following is the substance.
"Pharaoh, king of Egypt, represents the devil; the male and female children of the Hebrews represent the animal and rational faculties of the soul. Pharaoh, the devil, wishes to destroy all the males, i.e., the seeds of rationality and spiritual science through which the soul tends to and seeks heavenly things; but he wishes to preserve the females alive, i.e., all those animal propensities of man, through which he becomes carnal and devilish.
Hence," says he, "when you see a man living in luxury, banquetings, pleasures, and sensual gratifications, know that there the king of Egypt has slain all the males, and preserved all the females alive. The midwives represent the Old and New Testaments: the one is called Sephora, which signifies a sparrow, and means that sort of instruction by which the soul is led to soar aloft, and contemplate heavenly things; the other is called Phua, which signifies ruddy or bashful, and points out the Gospel, which is ruddy with the blood of Christ, spreading the doctrine of his passion over the earth. By these, as midwives, the souls that are born into the Church, are healed, for the reading of the Scriptures corrects and heals what is amiss in the mind. Pharaoh, the devil, wishes to corrupt those midwives, that all the males - the spiritual propensities, may be destroyed; and this he endeavors to do by bringing in heresies and corrupt opinions. But the foundation of God standeth sure. The midwives feared God, therefore he builded them houses. If this be taken literally, it has little or no meaning, and is of no importance; but it points out that the midwives - the law and the Gospel, by teaching the fear of God, build the houses of the Church, and fill the whole earth with houses of prayer. Therefore these midwives, because they feared God, and taught the fear of God, did not fulfill the command of the king of Egypt - they did not kill the males, and I dare confidently affirm that they did not preserve the females alive; for they do not teach vicious doctrines in the Church, nor preach up luxury, nor foster sin, which are what Pharaoh wishes in keeping the females alive; for by these virtue alone is cultivated and nourished. By Pharaoh's daughter I suppose the Church to be intended, which is gathered from among the Gentiles; and although she has an impious and iniquitous father, yet the prophet says unto her, Hearken, O daughter, and consider, incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house, so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty, Psalms 45:10, Psalms 45:11. This therefore is she who is come to the waters to bathe, i.e., to the baptismal font, that she may be washed from the sins which she has contracted in her father's house. Immediately she receives bowels of commiseration, and pities the infant; that is, the Church, coming from among the Gentiles, finds Moses - the law, lying in the pool, cast out, and exposed by his own people in an ark of bulrushes, daubed over with pitch - deformed and obscured by the carnal and absurd glosses of the Jews, who are ignorant of its spiritual sense; and while it continues with them is as a helpless and destitute infant; but as soon as it enters the doors of the Christian Church it becomes strong and vigorous; and thus Moses - the law, grows up, and becomes, through means of the Christian Church, more respectable even in the eyes of the Jews themselves, according to his own prophecy: I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation, Deuteronomy 32:21. Thus taught by the Christian Church, the synagogue forsakes idolatry; for when it sees the Gentiles worshipping the true God, it is ashamed of its idols, and worships them no more. In like manner, though we have had Pharaoh for our father - though the prince of this world has begotten us by wicked works, yet when we come unto the waters of baptism we take unto us Moses - the law of God, in its true and spiritual meaning; what is low or weak in it we leave, what is strong and perfect we take and place in the royal palace of our heart. Then we have Moses grown up - we no longer consider the law as little or mean; all is magnificent, excellent, elegant, for all is spiritually understood. Let us beseech the Lord Jesus Christ that he may reveal himself to us more and more and show us how great and sublime Moses is; for he by his Holy Spirit reveals these things to whomsoever he will. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever! Amen.
Neither the praise of piety nor the merit of ingenuity can be denied to this eminent man in such interpretations as these. But who at the same time does not see that if such a mode of exposition were to be allowed, the trumpet could no longer give a certain sound? Every passage and fact might then be obliged to say something, any thing, every thing, or nothing, according to the fancy, peculiar creed, or caprice of the interpreter.
I have given this large specimen from one of the ancients, merely to save the moderns, from whose works on the sacred writings I could produce many specimens equally singular and more absurd. Reader, it is possible to trifle with the testimonies of God, and all the while speak serious things; but if all be not done according to the pattern shown in the mount, much evil may be produced, and many stumbling blocks thrown in the way of others, which may turn them totally out of the way of understanding; and then what a dreadful account must such interpreters have to give to that God who has pronounced a curse, not only on those who take away from his word, but also on those who add to it.