Part I: chapters 1-18
THE following chapters are very simple and purely expository. In dealing with the Tabernacle and its sacred vessels, the subject might have been made more attractive if embellished with illustrations. It may be questioned, however, if pictorial representations, though they may have their value in an educational point of view, whether for the young or for the student, do not really hinder rather than aid in the apprehension of spiritual teaching. Now that the veil is rent, and believers have access, in virtue of the precious blood of Christ, into the holiest, into the immediate presence of God, the meaning of the Tabernacle is best understood by looking back upon it through the light of the fulfilment of all in Christ. For He, and He alone, is the key wherewith to unlock these sacred mysteries. In a word, it is Christ who explains the Tabernacle, and not the Tabernacle which explains Christ. The Tabernacle indeed was not a type, but an antitype, and was only "a figure for the time then present," "the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing." (Heb. 9: 8.) It is therefore the earnest hope and prayer of the writer that the perusal of these pages may, by the blessing of God, help the reader to discover more of the beauties and the excellencies of the person of Christ, and to understand more fully the nature and perfection of His work, as well as the blessed place of privilege and grace into which believers have consequently been brought.
E. Dennett LONDON, 1882.
ISRAEL IN EGYPT
THE grand subject of the book of Exodus is that of redemption. In Genesis we have creation, and then, after the fall, and the announcement of a Deliverer in the seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent's head (Gen.3:15) - the revelation, in fact, of the second Man, of whom Adam was a figure (Rom.5:14), and in whom all God's counsels should be established - "all the great elementary principles which find their development in the history of the relationships of God with man, which is recorded in the following books." The book of Genesis has therefore been aptly termed the seed-plot of the Bible. But in Exodus the subject is one - redemption with its consequences, consequences in grace, and when the people, showing their insensibility to grace, as well as ignorance of their own condition, had put themselves under law, consequences of government. Still the grand result of redemption, the establishment of a people before God, in relationship with Him, is achieved; and this it is that lends such an interest to the book, and makes it so instructive for the Christian reader.
The first five verses contain a brief statement of the names of Jacob's sons who came into Egypt with their father - they and their households, numbering, together with Joseph and his house already in Egypt, seventy souls. The particulars, of which this is a brief summary, are found in Genesis 46. The immediate occasion of their going down to Egypt was the famine; but by the famine, as by the wickedness of Jacob's sons in selling their brother to the Ishmaelites (Gen.37:28), God was but accomplishing the fulfilment of His own purposes. Long ere this He had said unto Abram, "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years: and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance" (Gen.15:13,14). This is the history of the first twelve chapters in Exodus; and it fills us with admiration to reflect that, whatever the actings of men even in wickedness and high-handed rebellion, they are made subservient to the establishment of the divine counsels of grace and love. As Peter indeed said, on the day of Pentecost, concerning Christ, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23 ). Thus even the wrath of man is yoked to the chariot wheels of God's decrees.
There is undoubtedly a reason for the children of Israel being shown to us, at the opening of the book, in Egypt. In Scripture Egypt is a type of the world, and hence Israel in Egypt becomes a figure of man's natural condition. Thus, after the statement that "Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation" (v.6), the narrative passes rapidly on to describe their circumstances and condition. First, their increase and, indeed, prosperity are indicated. They "were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them" (v.7). They were the children of promise, albeit in Egypt, and as such God's favour was resting upon them. Hence this picture of earthly prosperity. God never forgets His people, although they may forget Him.
Now another figure appears on the scene "a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph" (v.8). The statement that he "knew not Joseph" is exceeding significant. Joseph in Egypt was a type of Christ in His earthly glory and consequently not to know him is characteristic of a moral state. Pharaoh in fact is the god of this world, and as such must of necessity be in antagonism to the Lord's people. Accordingly we read at once of his crafty devices and malicious designs to destroy their prosperity, and to reduce them to helpless and hopeless bondage (v.9-12). And what was his motive? "Lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land" (v.10). Satan knows, what we are apt to forget, that the world must hate the children of God, and that they, if faithful, must be in antagonism to the world, and hence he in the person of Pharaoh seems to provide for the contingency of war, and to prevent their deliverance. He therefore "set over them taskmasters, to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses."
Note: Not even the site of these cities - although many conjectures are offered - can with any certainty be now identified.
Thereby they are brought under bondage to the world, "and the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage" (v.13,14). The other side of the picture is, "The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (v.12). This arose from the fact already pointed out, that, whatever their condition, they were the people of promise, embraced in the purposes of God, and as such were watched over, shielded, and blessed; so that Pharaoh, as the god of this world, was powerless to accomplish their destruction. The real question was, as the issue shows, between God and Pharaoh; and the king of Egypt was, in his schemes against the children of Israel, fighting against God. Hence his failure on every side. On the other hand, the condition of the Israelites portrays most strikingly the condition of the sinner - the sinner rather who has been made to feel the iron yoke of his slavery to sin and Satan. As with the prodigal, who falls lower and lower, until he is at the point of death and in utter degradation, before he comes to himself, so here God makes the children of Israel feel the weight of their burdens, and to taste the bitterness of their vile servitude, to awaken in them a desire for deliverance before He commences to act on their behalf. There is such a thing as the sinner being insensible to his degradation, and contented, if not happy, in his alienation from God; but if he is to be saved he must pass through the experience which is foreshadowed by this account of the condition of the Israelites. Until then, he never knows his real state, or desires deliverance.
The rest of the chapter (v.15-22) is taken up with a description of another attempt to enfeeble, and in time to destroy, the children of Israel. But again there is the activity of another on their behalf. Pharaoh was an absolute king, and none of his subjects dared to oppose his will; but even these feeble women are sustained in their disobedience, because they judged it their first duty to fear God. The mightiest monarch in the world is powerless as against God, and equally so against those who are identified with God and His people. Hence Shiphrah and Puah "did not as the king of Egypt commanded" (v.17), and God dealt well with them, and because they feared God, He made them houses (v.17-21). "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom.8:31). We may therefore learn, first, the utter impotence of the enemy to frustrate the purposes of God; secondly, the invincibility of those who are connected with His purposes; thirdly, how the fear of God can lift the feeblest and humblest above the fear of man; and then, last of all, how grateful to the heart of God is every sign of fidelity to Him in the midst of a scene where Satan reigns, as the god of this world, and oppresses and seeks to destroy His people.
But Pharaoh's enmity increases, and he "charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive" (v.22). The next chapter will show us how God used this very decree of the king to prepare a deliverer for His people.
THE BIRTH OF MOSES
THIS chapter, full of interest, is made more attractive to the spiritual mind by the divine commentary which is given in Hebrews 11 upon its main incidents. Here it is a simple record of the human side of the actions recorded; there it is rather the divine side, or the estimate which God formed of the deeds of His people. It is only, therefore, by the combination of these two aspects that we can glean the instruction which is thus afforded. As in the case of the birth of our blessed Lord at Bethlehem, so here, little did the parents or the world around understand the significance of the birth of the son of Amram and Jochebed. It is thus that God always works, noiselessly laying the foundation of His purposes, and preparing His instruments until the moment, before determined, arrives for action, and then He makes bare His arm in the display of His presence and power in the face of the world.
But we must trace the events of the chapter. "And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months" (v.1,2). How simply beautiful this natural scene! And how well our hearts can enter into the feelings of this Jewish mother! The king had commanded that every son that was born should be cast into the river ( 1:22 ); but what mother could con sent to give up her child to death? All the affections of her heart would revolt from it. But, alas! there was the inexorable decree of this despotic king; and how could she, a poor, feeble woman, and a feeble woman of a despised race, resist the will of an absolute monarch? Turn to the inspired comment in the New Testament: "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment" (Heb.11:23). True, they owed allegiance to their earthly sovereign, but they also owed allegiance to the Lord of lords, and trusting in Him they were lifted above all fear of the king's commandment, and concealed their child - the child whom God had given to them - for three months. They counted upon God, and they were not confounded; for He never leaves or forsakes them that put their trust in Him. This is a most blessed action of faith, and in a twofold way. With their eye upon God, they dared to be disobedient to the king's wicked command, and they were fearless of the consequences. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in a later age, they believed that the God whom they served was able to deliver them out of the king's hand (Daniel 3:16,17). The rulers of this world are powerless in the presence of those who are linked with God by the exercise of faith.
The time, however, came when this "proper child" could no longer be hid (v.3); showing the increasing vigilance of the enemy of God and His people. But faith is never wanting in resources. We accordingly find that "she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink. And his sister stood afar off to wit what would be done to him" (v.3,4). As with Isaac and Samuel, so likewise with Moses, death must be known, at least in figure, by the parents, both for themselves and for their child before he can become an instrument in service for God. It is not a little remarkable, in this connection, that the word here used for ark is not found elsewhere in the Scriptures, except for the ark in which Noah and his house were brought through the flood. There is another resemblance. The ark of Noah was pitched within and without with pitch. Jochebed daubs this ark with slime and pitch. Noah acted under divine direction, and hence the word there used for pitch means also a ransom (Exodus 30:12; Job 33:24, etc.), shadowing forth the truth that a ransom must be found to deliver from the waters of judgment; but this Hebrew mother used pitch of another kind, and therefore did not know the full truth. Yet she thereby confessed the need of redemption, her faith owned it, and thus her ark of bulrushes, containing its precious freight, floated in safety amid the flags upon this river of death. There may not have been divine intelligence, but there was true faith, and this ever finds a response in the heart of God. Remark, also, that the sister, and not the mother, watches for the issue. This might easily be explained on human grounds, but is there not another solution? The mother believed, and could consequently rest in peace, although the child, dearer to her than life itself, was exposed upon the river. In like manner, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is not found at the sepulchre in which the Lord of glory lay, because she had entered into the mystery of His death (John 12:7).
We now pass on to consider the action of God in response to the faith of His people. "And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it," etc (v.6). It is exceedingly beautiful and instructive to see God thus behind the scene arranging all for His own glory. The daughter of Pharaoh was acting from her own inclination, and for her own pleasure, and knew not that she was an instrument of the divine will. But everything - her going down to the river to bathe, the time of her doing so - all was according to the purpose of God in respect of the child who was to be the deliverer of His people. Accordingly she saw the ark, had it fetched, opened it, and saw the child; "and, behold, the babe wept" (v.6). Even the tears of the babe had their object, and they were not shed in vain; they excited the compassion of this royal woman, as she said, comprehending the secret, "This is one of the Hebrews' children" (v.6). The sister who had been anxiously watching to see what might become of her baby-brother, receives the word of wisdom at this critical juncture, and said, "Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child's mother" (v.7,8). The child Moses, who had been exposed on the river in consequence of the king of Egypt 's decree, is thus restored to his mother under the protection of Pharaoh's daughter. And there he remained until he had grown, and then Jochebed "brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water" (v.10). His very name shall declare the power of Him who had saved him from death, brought him out of the waters of judgment in His sovereign grace and love. Thus the man of God's choice, the one He had marked out as His chosen instrument for the deliverance of His people, and to become the mediator of His covenant with them, finds shelter under the roof of Pharaoh. During this period he became "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds" (Acts 7:22 ).
Another epoch of his life is now presented to us. Forty years had passed away before the incident occurred which is described in the eleventh and following verses. "And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and, when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian : and he sat down by a well" (v11-15; see also Acts 7:23 ). As we read this narrative, it might be supposed that the act of Moses, in killing the Egyptian, was nothing beyond the impulse of a generous heart, feeling the injustice which was done, and interfering to avenge it. But what is the interpretation of this act by the Spirit of God? "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb.11:24-27).
We must, however, carefully guard ourselves from concluding that the Spirit of God endorses all that the narrative records in Exodus. No doubt Moses acted in the energy of the flesh; but though he had not as yet learned his own nothingness and incompetency, he yet desired to act for God; and it is from the epistle to the Hebrews we learn the true character of his actions before God. That there was failure is clear; but it was the failure of a man of faith, whose actions were precious in the sight of God, because he was enabled, in the exercise of faith, to refuse all that might have tempted the natural man, and to identify himself with the interests of God's people. But this passage in his life demands a more particular notice. First, then, it was by faith that he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. What else, indeed, could have led to the renunciation of such a splendid position? Besides, he might have argued, he had been placed in it by a most singular and striking providence. Might it not be therefore that he should occupy it, and use the influence connected with it, on behalf of his downtrodden brethren? Why, he might succeed in securing the whole influence of the court on behalf of his nation; would it not be, then, to fly in the face of Providence, to forsake such a vantage-ground? But Providence, as has been often remarked, is no guide to faith. Faith deals with things not seen, and hence seldom agrees with the conclusions that are drawn from providential events and circumstances. No; the influence of the god of this world (Pharaoh) can never be employed to deliver the Lord's people; and faith can never be sheltered by or identified with it. Faith has God for its object, and must therefore be identified with what belongs to God, and be in antagonism with all that is opposed to God. As another has said, "How many reasons might have induced Moses to remain in the position where he was, and this even under the pretext of being able to do more for the people; but this would have been leaning on the power of Pharaoh, instead of recognizing the bond between the people and God: it might have resulted in a relief which the world would have granted, but not in a deliverance by God, accomplished in His love and in His power. Moses would have been spared much affliction, but lost his true glory; Pharaoh flattered, and his authority over the people of God recognized; and Israel would have remained in captivity, leaning on Pharaoh, instead of recognizing God in the precious and even glorious relationship of His people with Him. God would not have been glorified; yet all human reasoning, and all reasoning connected with providential ways, would have induced Moses to remain in his position; faith made him give it up." And giving it up, he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God. Identification with them had more attractions for his faithful heart than the pleasures of sin; for faith views everything in the light of God's presence. Yea, he rose still higher; he esteemed the reproach of Christ - the reproach arising from identification with Israel - greater riches than the treasures in Egypt ; for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. Faith thus lives in the future, as well as in the unseen. It is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen; and hence it governed, controlled, the heart and path of Moses.
It was faith, then, that actuated him when "he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens" (v.11). And even when, stirred by "seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian," he "supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them" (Acts 12:24,25). And so it was to be, but the time had not yet arrived, nor could God yet employ Moses - precious as his faith was in His sight. As Peter had to learn that he could not follow Christ in the energy of nature, whatever the affections of his heart (John 13:36 ), so Moses had to be taught that no weapon could be employed in the deliverance of Israel save the power of God. When, therefore, he went out the second day, and seeing two Hebrews striving together, sought to reconcile them, he is taunted with killing the Egyptian, and is himself rejected (v.13,14). Pharaoh too heard of what he had done, and sought to slay him. He is thus rejected by his brethren, and persecuted by the world. From this point he becomes a type of Christ in his rejection; for he is rejected by the people whom he loved, and becomes in his flight separated from his brethren. "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible." He still trod the path of faith, though that path led him into the desert amongst a strange people. But God provided His servant a home, and a wife in one of the daughters of Jethro (Reuel). Zipporah is thus in figure a type of the church, for she is associated with Moses during the time of his rejection by Israel. But the heart of Moses is still with his people, and hence he names his son Gershom; "for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land" (v.22). Joseph, on the other hand, names his sons Manasseh - "for God hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house;" and Ephraim - "for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." The comparison is most instructive, and shows in what special aspects Joseph and Moses are types of Christ. If Joseph presents us with Christ as raised through death to the right hand of the throne over the Gentiles, and thereon disclosing Himself to, and receiving His brethren, Moses gives us Christ more exclusively as the Redeemer of Israel; and hence, though he marries during the time of his rejection, and is thus in some sort a figure of Christ and the church in this dispensation, his heart is still with the children of Israel, and therefore he is a stranger in a strange land.
The last three verses bring before us the condition of the people, and reveal at the same time the faithfulness and compassion of God. They belong rather to the next chapter.
THE COMMISSION OF MOSES
Exodus 3, 4
MOSES was no less than forty years in the wilderness, learning the lessons he needed for his future work, and being qualified to act for God as the deliverer of His people. What a contrast to his former life at the court of Pharaoh. There he was surrounded with all the luxury and refinement of his age; here he is a simple shepherd, keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law. Forty is the number of probation, as seen, for example, in the forty years in the wilderness of the children of Israel ; also in the forty days' temptation of our blessed Lord. It was therefore a time of testing - testing what Moses was, as well as a time for him to prove what God was; and these two things must ever be learnt before we are qualified for service. Hence God always sends His servants into the wilderness before employing them for the accomplishment of His purposes. Nowhere else can we be brought so fully into the presence of God. It is there, alone with Him, that we discover the utter vanity of human resources, and our entire dependence upon Himself. And very blessed is it to be withdrawn from the busy haunts of men, and to be shut in, as it were, with God, to learn in communion with Himself His own thoughts concerning ourselves, concerning His interests and service. Indeed it is a continual necessity for every true servant to be much alone with God; and where this is forgotten, God often brings it about, in the tenderness of His heart, by the disciplinary dealings of His hand.
The time at length arrives when God can begin to interfere for His people. But let us recall the connection. In the first chapter the people are seen in their bondage; in the second, Moses is born, and introduced into the house of Pharaoh. Then he casts in his lot with the people of God, and in the warmth of his affection seeks to remedy their wrongs; but, rejected, he flees into the desert. After forty years, being now eighty years old, he is to be sent back into Egypt. The third and fourth chapters contain the account of his mission from God, and of his unwillingness to be thus employed. But before this is reached, there is a short preface at the end of the second chapter - which really belongs to the third as to its connection - which reveals the ground on which God was acting for the redemption of His people. First, it tells us that the king of Egypt died, but his death brought no alleviation of the condition of the children of Israel. On the other hand, they "sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God, by reason of the bondage." They were thus reduced to the lowest extremity. But God was not insensible, for He "heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob: And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them" ( 2:23 -25). Their condition touched the heart of God, drew forth His pitying mercies, but the ground on which He acted was His own sovereign grace, as expressed in the covenant He had made with their fathers. It was this same mercy, and His faithfulness to His ward, which both Mary and Zacharias celebrated in their songs of praise in connection with the birth of the Saviour, and of His forerunner John. "He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever." And again, He "hath raised up an horn of salvation for us... to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant; the oath which He sware to our father Abraham," etc. (Luke 1:54,55,68-73). It is impossible that God should forget His word, and if He delay to accomplish it, it is only for the brighter display of His unchanging grace and love.
Having, then, laid the foundation in these few words, the next scene brings before us the dealings of God with Moses.
"Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed" (3:1,2).
It is most interesting to trace the appearings of God to His people, and to note how the manner of each is related to the special circumstances of the case. (See Gen.12, 18, 32; Joshua 5, etc.) Here it is strikingly significant as connected with the mission on which Moses was about to be sent. There are three parts to the vision thus vouchsafed - the Lord, the flame of fire, and the bush. Observe, first, that it is said the angel of the Lord appeared unto Moses (v.2); and then the Lord saw that he turned aside, and God called unto him out of the midst of the bush (v.4. Compare Gen.22:15,16). The angel of the Lord is thus identified with Jehovah, yea, with God Himself; and there is no doubt that in all these appearings of the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament Scriptures, we behold the shadowing forth of the coming incarnation of the Son of God, and hence that, in all these cases, it is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity - God the Son. The flame of fire is a symbol of the holiness of God. This is shown in various ways, especially in the fire on the altar, which consumed the sacrifices; and in the epistle to the Hebrews we have the express statement that "our God is a consuming fire;" i.e. testing everything according to His holiness, and thus consuming everything which does not answer its requirements. The bush was meant to be a figure of Israel. There is nothing more easily consumed by fire than a bush; and it was chosen on this very account to represent the nation of Israel - the nation of Israel in the furnace of Egypt - the fire burning fiercely round about it, and yet not destroying it. It was therefore a consolatory assurance to the heart of Moses - if he could read it aright - that his nation would be preserved however fiercely the fire might burn. In the language of another, "it was meant to be an image of that which was presented to the spirit of Moses - a bush in a desert, burning, but unconsumed. It was no doubt thus that God was about to work in the midst of Israel. Moses and they must know it. They too would be the chosen vessel of His power in their weakness, and this for ever in His mercy. Their God, as ours, would prove Himself a consuming fire. Solemn, but infinite favour! For, on the one hand, as surely as He is a consuming fire, so on the other the bush, weak as it is, and ready to vanish away, nevertheless remains to prove that, whatever may be the siftings and judicial dealings of God, whatever the trials and searchings of man, yet where He reveals Himself in pitifulness, as well as in power (and such it certainly was here), He sustains the object, and uses the trial for nothing but good, no doubt for His own glory, but consequently for the very best interests of those that are, His."
Moses was attracted, as well he might be, by " this great sight," and "he turned aside to see" (v.4). Then it was that God called to him out of the bush, and called him by name. But he must be reminded of the holiness of the divine presence. "Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (v.5. Compare Numbers 5:1-3; Joshua 5:15, etc.). This is the first lesson which all who approach God must learn - the recognition of His holiness. True, He is a God of grace, of mercy, and also that He is love; but He is all these because He is a holy God, and He could never have manifested Himself in these blessed characters, had it not been that in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ mercy and truth met together, and righteousness and peace kissed each other. But unless our feet are unshod - remembering the holiness of Him with whom we have to do - we can never receive the gracious communications of His mind and will. Hence the very next thing we find here is that He reveals Himself to Moses as the "God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (v.6). This revelation was designed to act upon the soul of Moses, and it does - for he is bowed in heart before Him who spake - and he "bid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God" (See 1 Kings 19:13 ). Thereon Jehovah announces the purpose of His manifestation to Moses. "And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters: for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto Me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt " (v.7-10).
The order of this communication is most instructive. (1) God reveals Himself as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. His own character is the foundation of all His actings. It is exceedingly strengthening to the soul to learn this lesson - that God ever finds His motive within Himself. It is on the ground of what He is, and not on the ground of what we are. (Compare Eph.1:3-6; 2 Tim.1:9,10). (2) The occasion of His action was the condition of His people. "And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows," etc. (v.7 seq.) What infinite tenderness! There is not a word to show that the children of Israel had cried to the Lord. They had sighed and cried by reason of their bondage, but it does not appear that their hearts had turned to the Lord. But their misery had touched His heart, He "knew their sorrows, and was come down to deliver them." So "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom.5:8). (3) His purpose was to deliver them out of Egypt, "and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites" (v.8). There is nothing here between Egypt and Canaan. The wilderness does not appear. In like manner, in Romans we read, "Whom He justified, them He also glorified." We thus learn, as has been often remarked, that the wilderness is no part of the purpose of God. It belongs to His ways, and not to His purposes; for it is in the wilderness that the flesh is tested, that we learn what we are as well as what God is. (See Deuteronomy 8). But as far as God's purposes are concerned, there is nothing between redemption and glory. So in the actual fact, there were only eleven days' journey from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea (Deut.1:2), but the children of Israel were forty years through their unbelief in accomplishing the distance. (4) Moses is thereon commissioned as their deliverer. The Lord had heard the cry of the people, though not addressed to Himself, and seen their oppression, and therefore He will send Moses unto Pharaoh that he may bring them forth out of Egypt (v.9,10).
We now come to a most sad exhibition of failure on the part of Moses. When in Egypt he ran before he was sent; he thought that, in the energy of his own will, he could emancipate his brethren, or at least redress their wrongs. But now, after forty years spent in "the flesh-subduing solitudes" of the desert, he not only is unwilling to be employed upon the magnificent mission with which the Lord would entrust him, but he raises objection after objection until he wearies the tender patience and long-suffering of Jehovah, and His anger is kindled against Moses (4:14). But every fresh failure of Moses proves the occasion for the display of greater grace - even though in the event Moses suffered through his whole life from his backwardness in obeying the voice of the Lord. Miserable history of the flesh! Now it is too forward, and now it is too backward. There is only One who was ever found equal to all God's will - who always did the things that pleased Him - and that was the perfect servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us glance at this series of difficulties which Moses raises.
"And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt ?" (v.11).
"Who am I?" It is quite right that we should have the sense of our own utter nothingness; for we surely are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves. But it is also right that we should think much of God. For when He sends it is not a question of what we are, but of what He is - and it is no small thing to be invested with His authority and power. David had learnt this lesson when he advanced against Goliath; for, in reply to his taunts, he said, "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied" (1 Sam.17:45). This objection therefore was nothing but distrust. This is distinctly shown out in the answer he received, " CERTAINLY I WILL BE WITH THEE: and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (v.12). The presence of the Lord was to be both the warrant for his mission and the source of his strength. As the Lord said in after days to Joshua, "I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage" (Josh.1:5,6). The Lord knows the need of His servant, and provides for his weakness by giving a token which should reassure him - should the subtlety of his heart lead him into doubt, - so that he might be able to say, "Now I have a proof of my divine mission." Surely this was enough to scatter his hesitation and fear. Listen to his answer:
"And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His name? what shall I say unto them?" (v.13).
God had already revealed Himself to Moses as the God of his fathers - and this might have been enough, but nothing can ever satisfy doubts and fears. And what an incidental glimpse is thus given of the condition of Israel, so as to render the supposition possible that they might not know the name of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob! God bears in grace with his feeble, hesitant servant, and replies, "I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (v.14). This is the expression of the essential being of God - His name as the self-existent One; and thereby affirms His eternal being. It was this name the Lord Jesus claimed when He said to the unbelieving Jews, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58 ). But this is not all. Having revealed Himself as to His essential existence, He adds, "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is My name for ever, and this is My memorial unto all generations" (v.15). This is pure grace on the part of God. "I AM, is His own essential name; but as regards His government of, and relationship with, the earth, His name - that by which He is to be remembered to all generations - is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. This gave Israel, now visited and taken up of God under His name, a very peculiar place." It points indeed to their election by the sovereign grace of God, and to their being beloved for their fathers' sake; and at the same time reveals the fact that Israel shall be for ever the centre of God's ways, and the key to His purposes upon the earth. Hence, as long as Israel is under judgment, scattered throughout the world, the period of earthly blessing is still postponed.
It was consequently in this name that God was come down to deliver; for as soon as He assumes it, He graciously allows that the people, whom He has thus brought into relationship with Himself, have a claim upon His mercy and compassion. Hence the detailed instructions which are now given to Moses (v.16-22), in which the whole history of God's controversy with Pharaoh is given, with its final issue in the redemption of His people. First, Moses is enjoined to assemble the elders of Israel, that he may announce to them, that the Lord God of their fathers had appeared to him, and communicated to him the purposes of His grace towards them, in bringing them up out of the affliction of Egypt unto a land flowing with milk and honey (v.16,17). He is foretold that they would hearken to his voice, and that he and they should no together unto Pharaoh, to ask for permission to go three days' journey into the wilderness, that they might sacrifice unto the Lord their God (v.18). He then is forewarned of the stubborn opposition of Pharaoh; but he is likewise told that God would Himself deal with the Egyptian king, and compel him to let them go; and, furthermore, that when they went out they should not go empty, but that they should spoil the Egyptians (v.19-22).
Note: As there has been some controversy upon the statement, here and in v.2, that the Israelites were commanded to borrow the valuables of the Egyptians on the eve of their exodus, it may be well to point out that the word has been wrongly translated. There is no idea of "borrowing" in it. It means simply "to ask." The context shows that owing to God's manifest interposition the children of Israel would be in "favour in the sight of the Egyptians;" and being made to feel that they had suffered wrong at their hands, they gladly gave them whatever they desired - it may be as a kind of propitiation - with the full knowledge that they would see the Israelites no more. What they gave was therefore an unconditional gift.
These instructions are important for all time; for they place beyond a doubt the exact foreknowledge of God. He knew with whom He had to deal, the resistance to be met with, and how it was to be overcome. He saw all things from the beginning to the end. How consolatory to our feeble hearts! Not a difficulty or trial can befall us which has not been foreseen by our God, and for which in His grace provision has not been made! Everything has been prearranged in view of our final triumph, and of our victorious exit from this scene, through the display of His redeeming power, to be for ever with the Lord? Surely Moses might now have been contented.
"And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee" (4:1).
Could unbelief be more presumptuous? The Lord had said, "They shall hearken to thy voice." Moses replies, They will not believe me." What wonder if the Lord had utterly rejected His servant when he thus dared to contradict Him to His face? But He is slow to anger and of great mercy; and truly this scene is full of beauty as revealing the depths of the tenderness and long-suffering of His patient heart. He will therefore bear with His servant, condescend still more, and give even miraculous signs to strengthen him in his weakness, and to dispel his unbelief. "And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And He said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand: that they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee" (4:2-5). Two more signs are even added. His hand, on putting it into his bosom and taking it out, became "leprous as snow;" and on repeating the act "it was turned again as his other flesh" (v.6,7). Then, in case they should not hearken to the first, or to the second sign, a third was added. He was to take water out of the river, and pour it upon the dry ground, and it should become blood upon the dry land (v.9). These signs are significant, and especially so, it should be observed, in relation to the matter in hand. A rod in Scripture is the symbol of authority - power. Cast down, it became a serpent. A serpent is the well-known emblem of Satan; and hence it was power become Satanic, and this was exactly what was seen in Egypt in the oppression of the children of Israel. But Moses puts forth his hand, at the word of the Lord, and takes the serpent by the tail, and again it becomes a rod. The power that had thus become Satanic, resumed by God, becomes a rod of chastening or judgment.
Hence this rod, in the hands of Moses, becomes henceforward the rod of God's authority and judicial power. Leprosy is a figure of sin in its defilement, sin in the flesh breaking out and defiling, with its pollutions, the whole man. The second sign therefore presents us with sin and its healing, effected, as we know, only by the death of Christ. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth from all sin. Water represents that which refreshes - source of life and refreshment as coming from God; but, as poured out on the earth, become judgment and death. Armed with such signs, Moses might surely return and convince the most hardened doubter. Nay, he is not yet himself convinced; and hence he now replies,
"O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue" (v.10).
This objection shows most conclusively that self was the beam in his eye that obstructed the vision of faith. For was it his eloquence or the Lord's power that would effect the emancipation of Israel ? He speaks as if all depended upon the persuasive words of human wisdom, as if his appeal was to be made by human art to the natural man. How common the mistake, even in the Church of God ! Hence eloquence is that which even Christians desire - giving it a place beyond the power of God. The pulpits of Christendom are thus filled with men who are not of a slow tongue, and even the saints who in theory know the truth are beguiled and attracted by splendid gifts, and take pleasure in their exercise apart from the truth communicated. How different was the thought of St Paul. "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God." And again, "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor.2:1,4). It is on this account that God often uses the "slow of speech" far more than those who are eloquent; for there is no temptation in such cases to lean upon the wisdom of men, all beholding that it is the power of God. It is this lesson - a lesson which contains at the same time a withering rebuke - that Jehovah now teaches Moses. "Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say" (v.11,12). The servant could not require more; but the danger lies in forgetting that the mode in which the Lord may employ us may not bring honour to ourselves. On the contrary, we may be regarded as the apostle was, as weak in bodily presence, and in speech contemptible (2 Cor.10:10); but what of this if we are made the vehicles of the power of God? The servant must learn to be nothing that the Lord alone may be exalted. But Moses evidently desired to be something himself, and overwhelmed by the prospect, and, it may also be, borne down by the sense of his incompetency, notwithstanding all the grace and condescension of the Lord, he desires to be excused from so difficult a mission. He therefore says,
"O my Lord, send, I pray Thee, by the hand of whom Thou wilt send" (v.13).
That is, "Send any one, but not me." Five times did he thus raise objections to the Lord's commands, presuming upon His forbearance and long-suffering. But now "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses; and He said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee; and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, where with thou shalt do signs" (v.14-17). Thus the halting of Moses was overcome, but not until the anger of the Lord was kindled against him on account of his unwillingness to obey His word; but he lost much. Aaron was henceforward to be associated with him, and indeed was to have the most prominent place before man; for he was to be the spokesman of his brother. In tender grace, however, the Lord reserves to His servant Moses the chief place before Him, giving him the honour and privilege of being the medium of communication between Himself and Aaron. Aaron was to be a "mouth" for Moses; Moses was to be to Aaron "instead of God;" i.e. he was to impart to Aaron the message to be delivered. The purposes of God cannot be frustrated; but we may suffer from our obstinacy and disobedience. It was so with Moses. How many times afterwards, during the forty years' sojourn in the wilderness, must he have bewailed the unbelief that led him to refuse the trust which the Lord desired to commit to his hands alone! Finally, the rod of authority is given to Moses - the rod wherewith he was to display the power of God in miraculous signs as an attestation of his mission. This rod plays a most important part throughout the career of Moses, and it is most instructive to trace the occasions of its appearance and use. Here it becomes, as it were, the seal of his mission, as well as the sign of his office; for in very truth he was invested with the authority of God to lead His people out of the land of Egypt.
Moses now returns to seek the permission of Jethro to return into Egypt. God had prepared the way, and hence Jethro consents, saying to Moses, "Go in peace:" (v.18). The Lord watches over His servant, notes the feelings of his heart, and even anticipates his fears by saying, "Go, return into Egypt : for all the men are dead which sought thy life." (Compare Matt. 2:20). "And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt : and Moses took the rod of God in his hand" (v.19,20). Thereupon the Lord further instructs him, and even reveals to him the character of the final judgment through which He would compel Pharaoh to let His people go. Even more: He now teaches him the true relationship into which He had by grace taken Israel. For the first time is this revelation made: " Israel is My son, even My firstborn;" and it is this which decides the character of the stroke which should fall upon Egypt. "And I say unto thee, Let My son go, that he may serve Me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn" (v. 22,23; compare Num. 8: 14 -18).
One thing now only remains to qualify Moses for his mission. There must be faithfulness within the circle of his own responsibility before he can be made the channel of divine power. Obedience at home must precede the display of power to the world. This explains the following incident: "And it came to pass, by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So He let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision" (v.24-26). Moses had neglected, from what cause we know not - it may be through the influence of his wife - the circumcision of his child; and hence the Lord had a personal controversy with him, which must be settled before he could appear before Pharaoh with divine authority. The Lord thus laid him low, dealt with him, brought his failure to remembrance that he might judge it, and return to the path of obedience. To borrow the language of another: "God was going to put honour on Moses; but there was a dishonour to Him in the house of Moses already. How came it that the sons of Moses were not circumcised? How came it that there lacked that which typifies the mortifying the flesh in those who were nearest to Moses? How came it that God's glory was forgotten in that which ought to have been prominent in a father's heart? It appears that the wife had something to do with the matter.... In fact she at last was obliged to do what she most hated, as she herself said in her son's case. But more than that, it endangered Moses; for God had the controversy with him, not with his wife. Moses was the responsible person, and God held to His order." The words we have ventured to italicise convey a most important principle, and explain fully the ground of God's dealing with Moses. But he received grace to bow before His chastening hand; and most blessed is it where we are enabled to acknowledge with St Paul, "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Cor.1:9). The two parts of Moses' qualification, then, were divine authority and personal condition; and these two ought never to be disjoined. For all who would speak in the name of the Lord, or be employed by Him in any service whatever, it is of the utmost importance that they should remember this. Nothing can compensate for the lack of condition of soul. Herein lies in fact the secret of our feebleness in service. If our ways, or, as in the case of Moses, our houses, are unjudged, the Spirit of God is grieved, and as a consequence we are not used for blessing. It is not enough therefore to have the words of God in our mouth; but we must be walking with their power in our own souls, if we are to speak with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
All is now ready; and accordingly we have a beautiful scene at the end of the chapter - a scene which must have gladdened the heart of Moses, and, with the blessing of God, nerved him for the arduous path on which he had entered. First, however, the Lord sent Aaron "into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him:" (v.27,28). The place of their meeting is most significant. It was in the mount of God (3:1), i.e. Horeb, that the Lord appeared to Moses; here now Aaron meets him; and it was in this same place that Moses afterwards received the two tables of stone, with the Ten Commandments written with the finger of God. Leaving this, however, now, it may be remarked - for it contains a most practical lesson - that it is ever most blessed when relatives can meet in the mount of God. Then, as with Moses and Aaron, the conversation will be upon "the words of the Lord," and the meeting will issue in blessing. If, on the other hand, we descend to a lower level, as is too often the case, our communications will be rather concerning ourselves and our own doings, and this will result neither in glory to God nor in profit to ourselves.
Remark, too, that it is from the mount of God they proceed on their mission. Blessed are those servants who go directly from the presence of God to their labours. Coming into Egypt, they "went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel : and Aaron spake all the words which the Lord had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that He had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped" (v.29-31). The word of the Lord was thus fulfilled. Moses had said, "They will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice." But the people did believe, according to the word of the Lord; and touched by His grace, as they heard how He had visited them, and looked upon their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped. True that afterwards, when their difficulties increased, they murmured in their unbelief; but this cannot diminish from the beauty of the picture before us, wherein we see the word of the Lord, in all its freshness and power, reaching the hearts of the elders, and bowing them in adoration in His presence.
FIRST MESSAGE TO PHARAOH
Exodus 5, 6
THESE two chapters occupy a special place in the narrative. They are really of a prefatory nature, introductory to Jehovah's conflict with Pharaoh by judgments. They are at the same time most instructive as illustrating the ways of God. The message is delivered in grace, the opportunity for obedience is proffered - God waiting in patience and long-suffering before His hand is lifted up in judgment. It is even so with the world at the present time. Now is the time of God's forbearance and grace, during which the message of His mercy is proclaimed far and wide, and whosoever will may hear, believe, and be saved. But this day of grace is hastening on to its close, and the moment the Lord Jesus rises from His seat at the Father's right hand, the door will be shut, and judgments will begin to fall. In like manner these two chapters describe, so to speak, the day of grace for Pharaoh. But while the king of Egypt was a man, he was also, in the position he occupied, as already pointed out, a type of Satan as the god of this world. There is, therefore, further instruction to be gleaned from these chapters in this aspect, and it is this aspect indeed that occupies the prominent place. This will be seen as we proceed.
"And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness and Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go. And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest He fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword. And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let (hinder) the people from their works? get you unto your burdens. And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and we make them rest from their burdens" (v.1-5)
The question, be it remembered, is that of the redemption of Israel ; and hence it is one in which the people could have no part. God must act for them; and He it is consequently that enters into controversy with Pharaoh. Pharaoh, as the god of this world, Satan, holds the people in bondage. It is God's purpose to deliver them; the message therefore entrusted to Moses is for the ear of the Egyptian king. And what is the object of God in the emancipation of Israel ? "That they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness." It is for His own joy, His own joy in the joy of His redeemed. It is for the satisfaction of His own heart. How marvellous that the joy of God is concerned in our salvation! The delivery of the message brings out the true character of Pharaoh: " Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." He thus places himself in direct and complete antagonism with God. Solemn position! And this antagonism was never lessened, but went on until it ended in the overthrow and destruction of Pharaoh and his legions. A warning lesson, surely; for all who are unreconciled to God, as well as a revelation of the awful corruption of human nature, which can thus impiously confront, and audaciously defy, the power of God. Nor was this the transient expression of an irritated mind. For, in reply to the continued appeal of Moses and Aaron, he charged them with interfering with the work of the people. The god of this world is the incarnation of selfishness, and must therefore hate God. This was exemplified at Philippi. The moment the preaching and action of the apostle interfered with the gains of the masters of the damsel who was possessed with the spirit of divination, it drew down upon him and his companion their bitterest enmity. So with Pharaoh. The prospect of losing the service of his slaves fills him with anger. The effect was that he increased the tasks of the people, laid upon them heavier burdens, in order to rivet more firmly than ever the fetters of their bondage. It is ever so. But spite of the power and subtlety of Satan, he always defeats himself. Indeed he has no foresight. He cannot see into the future any more than ourselves, and as a consequence he is continually overreaching himself. The people were idle (Pharaoh said), and "therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God" (v.8). He desired accordingly that increased work should drive all such thoughts out of their minds. Ah! Satan will compass land and sea to prevent even one of his poor slaves escaping from his service. Hence if a soul is convicted of sin, and begins to yearn after liberty and peace with God, to escape from Egypt and to be saved, Satan will surround that soul with a thousand snares, fascinations, and entanglements. He will seek, just as Pharaoh did with the children of Israel, by increased occupation, by decoying him into a whirl of excitement or activity, to expel all such desires from his mind. If one such should read these pages, let him beware of these subtleties of the evil one, and let him turn resolutely away from all these wiles which are but intended to lure him to destruction; yea, let him, in the consciousness of all his need, and all his helplessness, look away to Him who through death has abrogated the rights of him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, that He might deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb.2:14,15). Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, all such will be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.
The officers of Pharaoh were faithful, and mercilessly discharged their merciless duty (v.10-14). The iron of oppression entered into the souls of the children of Israel, and in the bitterness of their hearts they "cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?" etc (v.15-18). But they cried in vain; for mercy is unknown to Satan, to him whose pleasure is found even in the sorrows of his servants. Disappointed in not finding relief at the hands of Pharaoh, they turned in their anger upon Moses and Aaron, and charged them with being the occasion of increasing the pressure of their servitude. "The Lord look upon you, and judge" (they said), "because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us" (v.21). How true this is also in individual experience. In the bitter exercises through which the awakened sinner often passes, when he is overwhelmed by the sense of his guilt, and is made at the same time to feel the heavier weight of Satan's hand, how often he is tempted to wish for the days when he was free from all such conflicts and sorrows, not seeing that they are the pathway to deliverance.
Even Moses bows for the moment before the storm. Yearning, as he doubtless did, for the welfare and redemption of his people, and stung by their reproaches, doubt springs up before this new phase of Pharaoh's policy, and becoming impatient, he said, "Lord, wherefore hast Thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that Thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast Thou delivered Thy people at all" (v.22,23). Moses thus shared in the disappointment and impatience of the people. He had not yet learned to walk by faith and not by sight, nor to rest in the Lord and to wait patiently for Him. But yet even his failure arose from sympathy with the oppressed Israelites; and one of the first qualifications to help others is identification with their condition.
So far Moses had fellowship with the mind of the Lord; and He understood the thoughts of His servant's heart. He therefore commissions him anew, and again declares His purposes of grace and mercy, announcing His immutable fidelity to His covenant Already He had accomplished two things; He had taught both Moses and the people the character of their oppressor, and the nature of their yoke. He had seemingly shut them up into Pharaoh's hand, and thereby produced in them a conviction of the hopelessness of their condition. This is uniformly His method. He never presents Himself as a Saviour until men know that they are guilty and undone. The Lord Jesus said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." As soon as men are willing to acknowledge themselves lost, then the Saviour stands before their souls. It is so here. The children of Israel are apparently in a worse case than before; they are despairing, and so is Moses. Thereon we have the blessed presentation and announcement of chapter 6. The Lord therefore was but bringing His people through necessary discipline in chapter 5. He does this for two reasons; to separate His people from the Egyptians, to produce between them an irreparable breach, and to pave the way for the display of His own power, that the children of Israel, indeed, might know that it was His hand alone that could bring them out of the land of Egypt. First, He declares that Pharaoh shall, under His hand, drive them out of his land (v.1). Next, we have a revelation of great significance:
"And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am JEHOVAH: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; but by My name JEHOVAH was I not known to them" (v.2,3).
This by no means implies that the name Jehovah was not used before; on the contrary, it is often found. But He had never yet taken it in relationship with His servants. Now He formally adopts it as His name of relationship with Israel, and it is only with Israel that it is thus employed. Believers of this dispensation know Him as their God and Father; and hence it would betray ignorance of their true position and relationship, as well as a confusion of dispensations, for them to use the term Jehovah. It is a name reserved for Israel, and consequently it will again be employed when they are brought back to a knowledge of their relationship with God in the millennium. That Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New is another question, but a question of exceeding moment and importance. He was really Jehovah in the midst of Israel, and as such forgave their iniquities and healed their diseases (Ps.103:3); but He is never Jehovah for Christians. He has deigned to bring them into more intimate relationships; as indeed He revealed to Mary, and to His disciples through her, when He said, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17).
Having now formally entered into relationship with the children of Israel, He recalls the covenant, with its terms, which He had established with their fathers (v.4; compare Genesis 17:7,8); and then expressly states that it is in pursuance of His covenant (for He is faithful) that He has "heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage" (v.5). It is on this foundation that He will deliver; viz., on what He is for them as Jehovah in the covenant which He made with their fathers, and the message which He now sends is accordingly most complete and comprehensive. It embraces His whole purpose for the nation. It gives, first of all, the name He has taken, Jehovah - "I am Jehovah;" it declares redemption - they shall be emancipated and redeemed, they shall be brought into relationship with Himself, - they shall be His people, and He will be their God; they shall know Him as their Redeemer, as the Lord their God, which brought them out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and they shall be brought into the land which He had sworn to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and they should possess it for an heritage. And everything is made to depend upon what He is, the whole concluding with the repetition of the announcement, "I am Jehovah." He is thus both the Yea and the Amen, the Alpha and Omega, of their redemption. Surely a message of exceeding beauty. As everything is founded upon, so everything is completed by, what He is in Himself. All that He is therefore guarantees the commencement, and also the accomplishment of the redemption of His people.
Moses carried and delivered the message he had received unto the children of Israel : "but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage" (v.9). Thus reduced to utter hopelessness, with their misery darkening all their souls, they are deaf to the gracious voice that proclaimed liberty and blessing. Moses is then sent again to Pharaoh to demand the liberty of the people; but disappointed at the fruitlessness of his mission to the Israelites, he replies, "Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?" (v.12). There is therefore nothing but failure. Pharaoh had rejected the Lord's demand; the children of Israel, stupefied by their heavy yoke, will not hearken to the glad tidings of grace, and Moses is unwilling to proceed; for he recalls his old objection, showing that, while he knew something of his own natural incompetency, he had not yet learnt that his all-sufficiency was to be found in the Lord. It is ever a fatal mistake when we measure the difficulties of service by what we are. The question is what God is; and the difficulties that appear as mountains, looming through the mists of our unbelief, are nothing to Him but the occasion for the display of His omnipotent power.
The section ends, as far as appearances are concerned, with utter failure. But the Lord is not affected by human weakness or human resistance; His purposes, flowing from His own heart, and accomplished by His own power, are unchangeable. It is therefore exceedingly beautiful to note the action recorded in verse 13. "And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt." Unmoved by the deafness of His people, the failure of His servant, or the open antagonism of Pharaoh, He calmly proceeds to effect the redemption of His people. It will be observed that from the thirteenth to the thirtieth verse is a parenthesis. It would seem to be introduced for two reasons. It constitutes, in the first place, a new point of departure. Chapter 5, and the first part of chapter 6 are, as we explained, preliminary - a kind of preface. On the one hand, the period embraced in it is a kind of day of grace for Pharaoh, when looked at simply as a man; on the other, it brings to light the real character of the conflict on which Jehovah was about to enter, and reveals the exact position and condition of all the parties concerned - Pharaoh, the children of Israel, and Moses. At the same time, the foundations on which Jehovah was about to act for His people, are laid broad and deep in His own character and covenant. That period now passed, the Lord commences anew, and hence the repetition of the charge to Moses and Aaron, embracing the object and scope of their mission. This gives the opportunity, in the second place, for the introduction of the genealogy of the people to be redeemed. The point of interest for us lies in the parentage of Moses and Aaron. "And Amram took him Jochebed, his father's sister, to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses" (v.20). "These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the Lord said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, according to their armies. These are they which spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt : these are that Moses and Aaron" (v.26,27). Aaron was thus the elder brother, and it is interesting to notice that pious Amram and Jochebed were blessed in the preservation of both their children spite of the edict of the king. Aaron had in nature priority over Moses; but grace never follows the order of nature. It recognizes all the natural relationships which God has formed, and it can only bring sorrow if not dishonour where this truth is not tenaciously held; but as it is above, and outside nature altogether, it acts in its own sphere and according to its own laws. God therefore, acting according to His own sovereign rights, chose Moses, and not Aaron, though in consequence of the failure of Moses, and from tenderness to his weakness, He afterwards associated his brother with him in his work. But the divine order is, Moses and Aaron, while the natural order, as seen in the genealogy and in verse 26, is Aaron and Moses. The last three verses simply connect the narrative with verse 10. For the objection of Moses in verse 30 is evidently the same as that in verse 12. And yet there is reason for its repetition. In chapters 3 and 4 Moses makes five difficulties in reply to the Lord; here in the sixth are two, making seven together. It was therefore the perfect exhibition of the weakness and unbelief of Moses. How it magnifies the grace and goodness of the Lord; for if in His presence man is revealed, it also brings to light what He is in all the perfection of His grace, love, mercy, and truth. Blessed be His name!
JUDGMENTS UPON EGYPT
Exodus 7 - 11
THESE chapters cannot be divided, as they form one continued narrative - a narrative of awful significance, containing, as it does, the record of the successive judgments which fell, with ever increasing severity, upon Egypt, until God thereby compelled Pharaoh to release the children of Israel from the iron bondage in which they had been held. We have therefore at the commencement a restatement of the mission of Moses and Aaron, of the purpose of Jehovah, and the manner in which He would effect, spite of the opposition of Pharaoh, the redemption of His people.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee; and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay My hand upon Egypt, and bring forth Mine armies, and My people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the E gyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth Mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them. And Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them, so did they" (7:1-6).
The Lord thus communicated to His servants what He intended to do, and how it would be accomplished. He unrolled the scroll of the future before their eyes to prepare them for their task, and to strengthen their faith. In like manner He has revealed to us the course of this world's history, warned us of the impending judgments, with the certain destruction of the world, and all who belong to it, if they heed not the monitions of His word, and the invitations of His grace; and, at the same time, He cheers us also with the sure prospect of redemption by power out of it, when the Lord returns to receive His people unto Himself He thus desired that Moses and Aaron, as He also desires for us, should have fellowship with His own purposes concerning both the world, the god of this world, and his poor, abject slaves. How it strengthens the heart and braces the soul to be filled with the thoughts of God! And what grace on His part to communicate them to us, that we may speak to others with authority and power!
Before we proceed to analyse these chapters there is one point - inasmuch as it often occasions difficulty to the believer, as well as draws forth the attacks of the enemy - that cannot be omitted. It lies in the words, "And I will harden Pharaoh's heart" (7:3). The doubt that Satan would suggest in connection with this is, Where was the sin of Pharaoh if his heart was thus hardened? Or, How could God righteously destroy one whom He had hardened to resist Him? If the place in which these words occur had been carefully observed, the difficulty would have vanished. The fact is, the practice is so common of citing single verses of Scripture, apart from their context, that difficulties are created which would be dissipated in a moment, if the context were carefully examined. Be it then noted, that this is not said of Pharaoh until after he had contemptuously rejected the claims of Jehovah. He had said, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go" (v.2). He rejected the word of the Lord, placed himself in open antagonism to Him and His people; and now his heart is judicially hardened. And God still acts upon the same principle. We thus read in 2 Thessalonians of some on whom He will send strong delusion that they should believe a lie. But wherefore? Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved (2:9-12). Let the warning sink deep into the hearts of any unconverted ones whose eyes may fall upon these pages. There will be a time even for them, if they continue to refuse the gospel of God's grace, when it will be impossible for them to obtain salvation: God has fixed a limit even to His day of grace, even as He did for Pharaoh; and when that limit is overstepped there remains nothing but judgment. "To-day," then, "if ye hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb.3:15). There is yet a pause. Moses and Aaron go in unto Pharaoh and present their credentials - attested by a miraculous sign, the sign which the Lord had taught Moses at Horeb. "Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent" ( 7:10 ). The wise men of Egypt, the magicians, did the same with their rods; but "Aaron's rod swallowed up theft rods" (v.12) - the Lord thus vindicating the mission of His servants. As, however, He had foretold, Pharaoh was not convinced; for "He hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said" (v.13). Now God Himself appears on the scene, and a succession of terrible judgments falls upon Pharaoh and his land - judgments which will be known while time shall last as "the plagues of Egypt " They are ten in number. First, the waters of the Nile are turned into blood (7:14-25); then follow the plagues of frogs (8:1-15), of lice (8:16-19), of the swarms of flies (8:20-32), of the murrain of the cattle (9:1-7), of boils (9:8-12), of thunder and hail (9:18-35), of the locusts (10:1-20), of darkness (10:21-29), and finally that of the death of the firstborn of man and beast (11,12). The Psalmist recounts them more than once in graphic language when celebrating the mighty works of the Lord in song - describing "how He had wrought His signs in Egypt, and His wonders in the field of Zoan" (73:43; see also Psalm 105:25-36).
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to give a detailed interpretation of these several plagues. Their general object is clear if we remember the character of the controversy which God had with Pharaoh. He dealt thus with Pharaoh as the oppressor of His people, as being in figure the god of this world; and hence His conflict was with Pharaoh and all that wherein Pharaoh trusted. We therefore read that He executed judgment upon the gods of Egypt (Ex.12:12; Num.33:4). It was consequently the brilliant display of God's victorious power in the stronghold of Satan; for if Satan rise in conflict with God, the issue can only end in his utter defeat. First, therefore, the waters of Egypt - specially that of the sacred Nile, source of life and refreshment to Egypt and its people, from the monarch to the humblest of his subjects - are turned into blood, the symbol of death and judgment. As a consequence, "the fish that were in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river: and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt " ( 7:21 ) Thus the river in which they boastfully gloried as an emblem of God, became an object of distaste and loathing. The plague of frogs followed. The frog was regarded with veneration by the Egyptians, being included by them among their sacred animals. Under the judicial hand of God these now "came up, and covered the land of Egypt," They were - even to come into the house of Pharaoh, into his bedchamber, and upon his bed, and into the house of his servants, and upon his people, and into the ovens and kneading-troughs (8:3-6). The objects of their sacred admiration were thus turned into a pest - beheld with horror and detestation; and for the moment the heart of Pharaoh was so bowed under the affliction that he was constrained to sue for respite (8:8). The neat blow was of a different kind - aimed more at the persons of the Egyptians. This was the plague of lice. Both ancient and modern historians testify to the scrupulous cleanliness of the Egyptians. Herodotus (2:37) says that so scrupulous were the priests on this point that they used to shave the hair of their heads and bodies every third day, for fear of harbouring vermin while occupied in their sacred duties.
Note: Cited from Dr. BwTH's Dictionary of the Bible. See Article " Lice," and for other testimonies.
This stroke would therefore humble their pride and stain their glory, rendering themselves objects of dislike and disgust. The swarms of flies come next ( 8:20 -32). It would seem to be impossible to fix with any precision an exact meaning to the word translated "flies," many contending that "beetles" are indicated. Be this as it may, the plague shows an increasing severity by the effect produced. It is also in connection with this that we find, for the first time, a formal division put between the children of Israel and the Egyptians ( 8:22,23). The Lord in the neat place dealt with the cattle - sending a grievous murrain, so that "all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one" (9:6). Pharaoh verified for himself the destruction made (v.7); but his heart was still hardened. This blow fell upon one of the sources of Egypt 's wealth and prosperity. Bodily sufferings, both for man and beast, followed - arising from "a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt " (9:9). The destruction of the growing crops of the field by hail and thunder formed the neat plague; and this was succeeded by the locusts; and they "went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt " ( 10:14,15). This blow reached the sources of supply for bodily needs. The locusts gone, at the entreaty of the Egyptian king, and he still hardened, there was now "a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings" ( 10:22,23). "In Egypt the sun was worshipped under the title of Re or Ra: the name came conspicuously forward as the title of the kings, Pharaoh, or rather Phra, meaning 'the sun.'"
Note: Wilikinon's Ancient Egyptians (iv.287-289), cited from SMITH'S Dictionary of the Bible under article "Sun."
Not only therefore was the source of light and heat eclipsed for the Egyptians; but the god they worshipped was obscured - and his powerlessness demonstrated - a proof, had they but eyes to see, that a mightier than the sun, yea, the Creator of the sun, was dealing with them in judgment.
The death of the firstborn was the final blow. But comment upon this may be reserved until the twelfth chapter. Looking, however, at these plagues as a whole, one cannot fail to be struck with their correspondency with those that will be visited upon the world at a later day, during the sway of the antichrist (See Revelation 16:1-14). Pharaoh indeed is no mean adumbration of this last antagonist of God and His Christ. But as God was glorified in His controversy with the one, so will He be in that with the other; for if Pharaoh rushed to his doom, and was whelmed in the waters of the Red Sea, he and all his host, the antichrist, rising to a still greater height of daring impiety, will, together with the "beast" whose false prophet he had been, be "cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Rev.19:20). Well then might the Psalmist cry, "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little" (Psalm 2:12 ). It would be folly, indeed, to be deaf to the lessons which God's controversy with Pharaoh so loudly proclaims. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom.8:7). Every unconverted one is therefore in open antagonism with God - an enemy of God. What grace on His part to send such repeated messages of grace, such fervent entreaties of love, beseeching, by the gospel, sinners to be reconciled to Him. He has given His only begotten Son to die, and on the foundation of the atonement which He has made for sin by His death, He can righteously save every one that believeth. But if His grace is refused, "how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb.2:3). What folly, then, on the sinner's part to rest for a single day in his unsaved condition, knowing not how soon he may be called to a doom as irrevocable as that which fell upon the Egyptian king.
It may be interesting now to trace for a little the opposition of the Egyptian magicians to the wonder-working power of Moses and Aaron in the presence of Pharaoh. The chief of these are mentioned by name in the New Testament. We read, "As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth" (2 Tim.3:8). This reference is highly important as showing that a principle of Satan's acting is embodied in the conduct of the magicians. What, then, it may be asked, was its especial character? It was, in one word, IMITATION. Thus when Aaron cast down his rod, and it became a serpent, "they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents" (Ex.7:11,12). So also when the waters of Egypt were smitten with the rod of God, and they became blood, the magicians "did so with their enchantments" ( 7:22 ). It was the same in the case of the frogs (8:7). Their action was thus an imitation of the action of Moses and Aaron. In Timothy also the men who are said to resist the truth, as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, are described as "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim.3:5). This is one of Satan's most dangerous subtleties. If he can succeed in open opposition to the truth, he will not conceal himself; but if this door of antagonism is closed, he will transform himself into an angel of light. It was so in St Paul 's days; and it is especially the case at the present moment. Professing Christians would scarcely be led away by the open exhibition of Satanic power; but how many are seduced by it because outwardly it is an imitation of the divine. Take one of the grossest examples of this. If Roman Catholicism, with all its vile profanations of the truth, were not dressed up in the outward garb of Christianity, could it by any possibility deceive souls? But claiming to be able to dispense every blessing, which has been secured by the death of Christ, it seduces the souls of men by thousands, and brings them under the complete dominion of its falsehoods and corruptions. It is therefore, as a system, one of Satan's most successful instrumentalities. But there are greater dangers. There is not a single operation of the Spirit of God, nor a single form of His working, that Satan does not imitate. His counterfeits are around us on every hand, within and without. But thanks be to God, He has provided us with sufficient safeguards, and with the means of the detection of every phase of his ensnaring arts. "These things," says St John, "have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him" (1 John 2:26,27). The Spirit and the word of God are sufficient to preserve us from the most dangerous simulations of the truth that Satan may present to our souls.
More than this, if there is but the steadfast adherence to God and His truth, the workings of Satan will in due time be exposed. Three times did these instruments of his "withstand" Moses. But when the plague of lice was brought in, a question of producing life from the dust of the earth, the magicians were powerless, and compelled to confess that it was "the finger of God" (8:18,19). Life belongs to God; He only is its source; and hence here the efforts of Satan are baffled, and we read of no further attempt on the part of his instruments to intercept the force of the divine signs. In the next chapter, indeed, we find that they "could not stand before Moses because of the boils" ( 9:11 ). They themselves have fallen under the punitive hand of God. We may therefore rest confidently, whatever the present seeming success of the evil one; for "the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom.16:20).
It will give a more complete view of this section if the effects of these judicial plagues on Pharaoh's mind are also noticed. A momentary impression was produced by the scourge of the frogs. "Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Entreat the Lord, that He may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the Lord" (8:8). Moses responded to this request, and fixed the time for the entreaty, that, in the divine answer to it, Pharaoh might as certainly recognise the hand of the Lord as in the infliction of the judgment. It is beautiful to notice God's tender ways of grace, even with a hardened sinner. If there be but the slightest turning of heart to Him, although He knows that it is not real, there is readiness to hear - a striking testimony to the fact that He willeth not the sinner's death, that indeed He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The Lord thus heard, and "did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields" (8:13). But what was the consequence? "When Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said" (v.15). What a picture of the evil heart of man! Bowed down under the hand of God, alarmed for the consequences, he cries for relief, and promises that if it be granted he will certainly conform himself to the divine commands. The relief is bestowed, and he straightway forgets both his fears and his vows. Many a sinner has thus been brought by sudden sickness down to the door of death, and he has cried aloud for mercy. God heard his prayer, and restored him to health. But instead of devoting himself, as he thought and purposed, to the service of God, he returns to his former course of forgetfulness and sin. The fact is, in all such cases, the conscience has never been really awakened; there has been no sense of guilt before God, no acceptance of His testimony to man's lost and ruined condition, and consequently no recourse to His saving grace as revealed in Christ Jesus as the Saviour; and the vows that were made, were really made as a kind of propitiatory offering to obtain the removal of the hand of God. When relieved, therefore, since there has been no change, no conversion to God, the stream of their lives, diverted for a moment, naturally returns to its former channels. Oh, how many there are of whom this is true! how many of whom it may be said, when they saw that there was respite, they hardened their heart! If these words should meet the eyes of any such, let them sink deep into their hearts; if so be that, awakened to their true condition, they may, while the opportunity still lingers, confess before God that they are guilty, undone sinners, and look alone to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. "Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. But, after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath" (as Pharaoh did), "against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Rom.2:4,5).
The fourth plague - that of the swarms of flies -seemed to produce a deeper impression. "Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land." This was a most subtle offer, and one that might easily have ensnared Moses and Aaron if they had not known the character and mind of God. Satan has no objection whatever to his servants being religious if they will still continue under his away. They may profess to serve God as much and as loudly as they may, if they will but recognise his authority. If they will but fall down and worship him, as in the temptation presented to our blessed Lord in the wilderness (Matt.4), he will grant them all the desires of their heart. If they will but remain of the world, the world and its god will love their own. Hence Satan will continually advise - "Serve me and God. Sacrifice to your God, but remain in the land." One word of Scripture will unravel all such specious reasonings: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt.6:24). Moses, who has true discernment, because he has the mind of God, perceives this, and accordingly replies, "It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the Lord our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the Lord our God, as He shall command us" ( 8:26,27). Moses was not deceived; he knew that Christ was, and must be, an object of contempt to the Egyptians [" to the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (1 Cor.1:23)] and that there must be irreconcilable antagonism between them and His people. "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20 ). Egypt therefore could not be a place for the people of God. Moses thus adds two things: First, they must go three days' journey into the wilderness. The number three is significant in this connection - three days' journey being the distance of death. (Compare Num.10:33). They must moreover sacrifice to the Lord their God, as He should command them. Here are truly grand and fundamental principles. Nothing but death - death with Christ - can separate us from Egypt. Hence St Paul says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world" ( Egypt ) "is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" ( Egypt ) (Gal.6:14). No outward change or reformation will bring us out of the house of bondage - nothing but the cross - the death of Christ, made ours through faith in His name. Secondly, there must be obedience to the Lord. No other authority must for one moment be allowed or accepted. Obedience is the first duty, and covers the whole ground of the responsibility of the Christian. Hence indeed the necessity of a total break with, separation (by death) from, the world. Had Moses consented to remain in Egypt, he would have acknowledged Pharaoh's government, and this would have been inconsistent with Jehovah's complete and absolute claims. These two principles - separation from the world, and obedience to Christ - should be engraven upon the hearts of the Lord's people. For they are the basis of their true position and responsibility. Everything indeed flows from these two sources. One thing more may be learned from these words of Moses. No service, or so- called service, can be acceptable to God unless according to His word. Worship and service must be governed by the Lord's own mind. It is therefore not what we deem good and pious, not what we may term worship or good works, but what He considers such. The word of God is consequently the test of everything, and must have the supreme place in the heart and conscience of the Christian, and regulate his whole life. All the corruptions of Christendom, all the failure and ruin of the church, are to be traced back to the neglect of this vital principle. The word of God is the only lamp to our feet, and light to our path (Ps.119:105). The moment a single human regulation is accepted, whether by the individual or the church, declension and corruption ensue; for another authority is conjoined with that of Christ. It is, as a consequence, our responsibility to test everything around by the word of God. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev.2:11 etc).
Pharaoh does not openly reject the demand of Moses; he temporizes, dissembles, to obtain the removal of the stroke. His cry is, "Entreat for me" ( 8:28 ). Moses assents, but adds the solemn warning, showing that he saw through the king's flimsy veil of hypocrisy, "Let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord" (v.29). But the trouble gone, the usual record is made, "And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go" (v.32). Thereon followed another judgment; but Pharaoh was impervious to the stroke. At least there was no outward sign of any relenting. This led to a most solemn and, we may say, awful message as a preface to the next infliction - the plague of thunder and hail ( 9:13 -19). The king staggered under the blow, and again besought relief. He even confessed that he had sinned, and that the Lord was righteous, etc., and once more promised that he would let the people go, provided there might be no more mighty thunderings and hail (9:27,28). The iniquity of Pharaoh is thus brought to light. He sees and avows his guilt, and yet persists in his evil course - his open antagonism to the Lord. For, spite of his confession, no sooner had the Lord answered the entreaty of Moses than he reverted to his hardened ways. But again and again are we reminded that this was no surprise to God. All this happened "as the Lord had spoken by Moses" (v.35). He saw the end from the beginning; but He removed His hand at the intercession of Moses on behalf of the Egyptian king. God is never impatient even in the presence of open rebellion. He waits His own time - bearing with the wickedness and impiety of men in long-suffering and grace. If He is thus forbearing, we surely might learn to be so also - turning our eyes to Him, confident that in His own time He will vindicate His righteous government before the eyes of the world. "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him" (Ps.37:7).
A new action took place in connection with the threat of the locusts. The servants of Pharaoh, alarmed at the prospect, now interfered. They said unto him, "How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?"(v.7). At their instance "Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve the Lord your God: but who are they that shall go?" (v.8). This reveals once again the wretched heart of this most wretched king. If compelled, he will relax his grasp, but even then he will retain all that he can. He clings tenaciously to what he possessed, and so tenaciously that he will bargain, if possible, with Moses concerning those who should depart. But "Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go: for we must hold a feast unto the Lord. And he said unto them, Let the Lord be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you. Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the Lord; for that ye did desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence" (v.9-11). This was surely a cunning wile of Satan - professing willingness to let the men go if they would but leave their little ones behind in Egypt. Thereby he would have falsified the testimony of the Lord's redeemed ones, and retained a most powerful hold upon them through their natural affections. For how could they have done with Egypt as long as their children were there? Satan knew this, and hence the character of this temptation. And how many Christians there are who are entangled in the snare! Professing to be the Lord's, to have left Egypt, they allow their families to remain still behind. As another has said, "Parents in the wilderness, and their children in Egypt. Terrible anomaly. This would only have been a half deliverance; at once useless to Israel, and dishonouring to Israel 's God. This could not be. If the children remained in Egypt, the parents could not possibly be said to have left it, inasmuch as their children were part of themselves. The most that could be said in such a case was, that in part they were serving Jehovah, and in part Pharaoh. But Jehovah could have no part with Pharaoh. He should either have all or nothing. This is a weighty principle for Christian parents.... It is our happy privilege to count on God for our children, and to 'bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.'" (Eph.6:4). These admirable and weighty words should be deeply pondered in the presence of God. For nowhere does our testimony so manifestly break down as in our families. Godly parents, whose walk is blameless, are seduced into permitting their children practices which they would not for one moment allow for themselves, and thus to flood their houses with the sights and sounds of Egypt. This all springs from not recognizing, as Moses did, that the children, together with their parents, belong to God, and form His people on the earth; that therefore it would be a denial of this blessed truth to leave them in the place out of which they themselves, by the grace of God, through the death and resurrection of Christ, have been delivered. It cannot therefore be too strongly urged, that the parent's responsibility covers the whole family; that he is bound before God to hold his children as belonging to the Lord, or otherwise he can never train them up in the way they should go, counting upon Him to show that they are manifestly His by the work of His grace and Spirit.
Pharaoh was angered by these demands, and Moses, together with Aaron, is driven from the king's presence. The locusts are thereon called for by the power of God, and "they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened" (v.15). Under the pressure of this grievous stroke, Pharaoh once again summoned Moses and Aaron into his presence, confessed his sin against the Lord their God, and against them - besought forgiveness, and asked that they would entreat the Lord their God "that He may take away from me this death only" (v.16,17). The Lord heard the intercession of Moses, and the locusts were removed, and cast into the Red Sea ; "there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt " (v.19).
Forgetting immediately his terror and his word, darkness was brought over the land of Egypt for three days (v.22,23). Once again "Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you. And Moses said, Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt-offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the Lord our God. Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind : for thereof must we take to serve the Lord our God; and we know not with what we must serve the Lord until we come thither" (v.24-26).
The question was one of leaving Egypt to serve the Lord. He therefore not only claimed the people as His, but also all their possessions. On this account Moses repudiated Pharaoh's title to anything. To have done otherwise would at once have been the acknowledgment of his authority. Pharaoh was indeed the enemy of the people of God, holding them in captivity in opposition to His will. As such he is treated by Moses in the rejection of his claims. Besides, they were going forth to sacrifice to the Lord their God, and until delivered from Egypt they knew not with what they must serve the Lord. Pharaoh's stipulation therefore could not for a single moment be allowed. There lies in the words of Moses a principle of the first importance - that God claims all that we have as well as ourselves. Everything must on this account be held at His disposal. He gives, and He demands from us. This was beautifully exemplified in the case of David when providing materials for the temple. "Of Thine own have we given Thee" (1 Chron.29:14). We must not, as the people of God, take from the world, even as Abraham refused to be made rich by the king of Sodom (Gen.14:22,23); neither must we own the world's claims upon what the Lord has given us. Not a hoof must be left behind, or it might be that very hoof the Lord would demand for sacrifice. It is also striking to observe that, according to the words of Moses, the Lord's mind could not be learned in Egypt. They must be redeemed out of it, and be separated, through death and resurrection, unto God before they could be instructed as to the nature of His service. Though Pharaoh thus opposes every demand upon him concerning the Lord's people, we see that he temporizes with his subtleties; for Jehovah's hand is lifted up in judgment, and is falling in its successive strokes upon Pharaoh and his land, so that he would fain escape their power. Now, however, he is roused to a higher pitch of stubbornness, rushing headlong to his doom, spite of grace, warning, and judgment. "The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go. And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more: for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die. And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more" (v.27-29).
The Lord thereon proceeds to instruct Moses preparatory to their march out of Egypt. "Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt ; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether. Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow" (i.e. "ask;" see footnote 2) "of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the sight of the people" (8:1-3).
Everything was thus prepared; and Moses accordingly delivers his final message - a message full of solemnity and dignity, suited indeed to the majesty of Him whose messenger he was. The contents of the message will be considered in the next chapter. Moses having ended his mission, "went out from Pharaoh in a great anger" (11:8). He was now in full communion with the mind of God, filled as he was with a holy indignation against Pharaoh's sin. (Compare Mark 3: 5.) All his timidity has vanished, and he stands before the king calm and fearless, consciously invested with the authority of Jehovah. But as the Lord had foretold, and now repeats, Pharaoh would not yield. "Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land" (v.9, 10).
THE PASSOVER LAMB
Two things contained in the eleventh chapter may be recalled. First, the announcement of the judgment upon the firstborn; and, secondly, the difference made "between the Egyptians and Israel " (11:4-7). It is in the passover lamb that the reconciliation of these two things lies. For God now raises the question of sin, and thus necessarily presents Himself in the character of Judge. But the moment He does this, both the Egyptians and the Israelites alike are obnoxious to His judgment, inasmuch as both are sinners in His sight. True it was His purpose to redeem Israel out of Egypt and it is also quite true that in the exercise of His own sovereign rights He can make a difference between the one and the other. But God can never cease to be God, and all His actions must be the expression of what He is in some aspect or character; and hence if He spare Israel - they being equally guilty with the Egyptians, both alike being sinners - while He destroys Egypt, He can only do so in harmony with His own nature. In other words, His righteousness must be as much displayed in the salvation of the one as the destruction of the other. And it is of immense moment to perceive that grace itself can only reign through righteousness (Rom.5:21). Now this is the very problem solved in this chapter - how God could righteously spare Israel when He destroyed the firstborn of Egypt. He appears to both alike as a Judge; and it will be seen that the only ground of the difference made, lay not in any moral superiority of Israel over Egypt, BUT WHOLLY AND SOLELY IN THE BLOOD OF THE PASCHAL LAMB. It was grace that made the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it was grace too that provided the lamb; but the blood of that lamb - type as it was of the Lamb of God, Christ our Passover (1 Cor.5:7) - met every claim which God had upon Israel because of their sins, and hence He could righteously shelter them while the destroyer was carrying death into every household of the Egyptians. It was in the blood of the Lamb that mercy and truth met together, and righteousness and peace kissed each other. This will be fully seen as we pursue the details of the chapter.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you" (v.1,2).
Before God time counts for nothing as long as the sinner is in his sins. Until we are sheltered under the blood of Christ we have not begun to live in His sight. We may have lived thirty, forty, or fifty years; but if we have not been born again, it is all waste time. Waste time? Waste as far as God is concerned; but, oh, how pregnant with results for eternity, should we continue in that condition! Every day of that period has added to our guilt, to the number of our sins, all of which are recorded in the book that will be opened at the judgment of the great white throne, should we pass into eternity unsaved. What a verdict upon the world's strivings and activities, upon the hopes and ambitions of men! They tell us of the nobility of life, speak of deeds of glory and fame, and seek to inspire our youth with the desire to emulate the deeds of those whose names are enrolled in the historic page. God speaks, and by one word dispels the illusion, proclaiming that not yet have such begun to live. Without life towards Him, however great such may loom in the eyes of men, they are dead, their true history has not yet commenced. So with the Israelites. They have been hitherto the servants of Pharaoh, slaves of Satan; they have not yet commenced to serve the Lord, and hence the month of their redemption was to be the first month of the year to them. From this point their true life's history began.
"Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: and if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls: every man, according to his eating, shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year; ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: and ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts, and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning, ye shall burn with fire.
"And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall sat it in haste; it is the LORD'S passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread, even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this self-same day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt : therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.
"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one-and-twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread" (v.3-20).
In the midst of judgment God remembers mercy. If He will smite the Egyptians, and if He cannot (cannot consistently with the attributes of His character) spare Israel, unless His claims upon them are fully and adequately met, He will Himself, acting from His own heart, in the exercise of His sovereign rights, according to the riches of His grace, provide the lamb whose blood should form the foundation on which He could righteously exempt His people from the stroke, and bring them out of the house of their bondage. Observe it well, that in the matter of our salvation, as in the redemption of Israel, the question is not what we are, but what God is. It is grounded therefore upon the immutable basis of His own character; and hence as soon as atonement has been made (as will be seen in the progress of this history) all that God is, is pledged for our security.
There are several features in this Scripture demanding distinct and separate notice. First, the lamb. As already pointed out, the whole value of this passover lamb springs from its being a type of Christ. St Paul thus says, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast" (1 Cor.5:7,8). We are warranted therefore, on divine authority, in seeing the Lamb of God under the shadow of this interesting type; and it is on this account that every detail of this chapter becomes invested with such exceeding interest. On the tenth day of the month the lamb was to be taken - a male of the first year, and without blemish - and it was to be kept up until the fourteenth day of the same month. This has generally been thought to correspond with the setting apart of the lamb in the counsels of God; i.e. on the tenth day, and the actual sacrifice in time on the fourteenth day. But another suggestion has been made, which is given and commended to the judgment of the reader. The tenth day, according to this, will correspond with the entrance of Christ upon His public ministry, when He was marked out by John the Baptist, in a most striking way, as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Then if the Lord's ministry embraced the term of three years, made up of two whole years and parts of two more, this would, according to Jewish reckoning, be four years, and the time of His death would therefore correspond with the fourteenth day. But why, it may be asked, is the number ten taken for the setting of the lamb apart? Because it is the number of responsibility Godward, and it thereby teaches that ere our blessed Lord was publicly owned as the Lamb of God, He had met every responsibility before God, and was thus proved to be without blemish, qualified by what He was in Himself, to be the sacrifice for sin. He was God's lamb, and it is full of blessed consolation that the lamb was of God's providing. Man could have never known what sacrifice would have been acceptable. Israel would have remained in bondage until this day, had it been left to them to devise a means of satisfying the claims of God on account of their sins. Hence God in His mercy and grace furnished a lamb whose blood would suffice to take away the sin of the world. There can never be therefore any other method of cleansing from sin, any other means of shelter from the just judgment of God: the blood of Christ, inasmuch as it is provided by God, is exclusive of all other methods.
The lamb was to be killed on the fourteenth day of the month. "The whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening" (v.6). All must be identified with the slain lamb. It was for the whole assembly it was to be killed. As a matter of fact every household had its lamb, for every family must be specifically under its shelter; on the other hand, "the assembly of the congregation" is looked upon as a whole. These two unities were ever preserved in the Jewish economy - that of the assembly, and that of the household. That of the family runs throughout the patriarchal age; and now that God is calling a people out of Egypt for Himself, while He establishes the unity of the whole, that of the household is still preserved. They are combined in the ordinance of the passover - the families apart, and the congregation as a whole.
In the next place the sprinkling of the blood is enjoined. The slain lamb would not have ensured the protection of a single household. Had the people rested in the fact that the lamb was killed, the destroyer would have found no bar to his entrance into their houses. There would not have been a house in all their tribes without its dead, equally with those of the Egyptians. No; it was not the death of the lamb, but the sprinkling of the blood, that secured their safety (v.7,13,23). Let the reader ponder it well. Is there no danger of his resting in the fact of Christ's death for protection - without a moment's concern whether he is under its blessed efficacy and value before God? The death of Christ will not save a single soul (we do not speak of infants) apart from faith in Himself. It is quite true that He has made a propitiation for sin - a propitiation which has glorified God in every attribute of His character, on the ground of which He can righteously, and with glory to Himself, bestow a full, complete, and an everlasting salvation upon every sinner that approaches Him through faith in its value. For God hath set forth Christ "a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, at this time, His righteousness: that He might be just, and 'the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom.3:25,26). But there must be the personal identification with the shed blood through faith, or it will have been, as far as such an one is concerned, shed in vain. How then, let it be inquired, did the Israelites come under its protection and value? It was simply and solely through the obedience of faith. They were enjoined to "take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts, and on the upper door-post of the houses," to "take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning" (v.7,22). They thus had nothing whatever to do excepting to believe and obey. It was not theirs to discuss the method provided, its reasonableness or otherwise, or its probable value. Everything depended upon the heed they gave to the word of God. So now God requires nothing from the sinner but faith - faith in His testimony to his own condition and guilt which expose him to judgment, and faith in the provision made for his need through the death of Christ. If an Israelite, from any pretext whatever, had disregarded the divine command, he could not have escaped the destroyer's stroke. In like manner if a sinner now refuses, on any plea, to bow to God's word respecting his condition, and also concerning Christ, nothing can avert the stroke of eternal judgment. But the moment the Israelite, in simple obedience, sprinkled the blood upon his dwelling, he was inviolably secure through that night of terror and death. The moment, too, a sinner believes in Christ, he is everlastingly safe, for he is protected by all the unspeakable value of His precious blood. Then he may sing with exulting confidence -
Though the restless foe accuses,
Sins recounting like a flood;
Every charge our God refuses;
Christ hath answered with His blood."
Remark, also, to emphasize this truth still more, that the safety of the people depended in no degree whatever upon their own moral state, nor upon their own thoughts, feelings, or experiences. The sole question was, whether the blood was or not sprinkled as directed. If it were, they were safe; if it were not, they were exposed to the judgment then passing through the land of Egypt. They might have been timid, fearful, and despondent; they might have spent the whole night in questionings; but still, if the blood was upon their dwellings, they were effectually shielded from the destroyer's stroke, It was the value of the blood, and that alone, which afforded them protection. Again, if they had been the best people in the world, as men speak, they would have perished equally with the vilest of the Egyptians, if without the sprinkled blood. The foundation of their safety, be it repeated, lay alone in the blood of the Passover lamb. It is the same now with every one in this land. Very soon judgments, far transcending those of Egypt, will descend upon this world, and these will be but the precursors of the last judgment of all before the great white throne, the certain issue of which is the second death (Rev.20), and no one will escape these unless sheltered by the blood of Christ. Can the reader, then, wonder if the question is pressed upon him with earnestness, nay, even with affectionate vehemence, Art thou safe through the blood of Christ? Give thyself no rest day or night until this question is settled, until thou knowest, on the foundation of God's immutable word, that thou art as safe as the Israelites were in their sprinkled dwellings on this dark and terrible night.
It should be remarked, moreover, that the sprinkled blood was for the eye of God. As another has observed, "It is not said, When you see it, but, When I see it. The soul of an awakened person often rests, not on its own righteousness, but on the way in which it sees the blood. Now, precious as it is to have the heart deeply impressed with it, this is not the ground of peace. Peace is founded on God's seeing it. He cannot fail to estimate it at its full and perfect value as putting away sin. It is He that abhors and has been offended by sin; He sees the value of the blood as putting it away. It may be said, But must I not have faith in its value? This is faith in its value, seeing that God looks at it as putting away sin; your value for it looks at it as a question of the measure of your feelings. Faith looks at God's thoughts." It would save anxious ones from many weary days and nights of perplexity and anguish if this point were remembered. There is nothing beyond accepting God's own testimony as to the value of the blood. "When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." All that God is, is against sin, and consequently all that He is, is satisfied with the blood of Christ, or He must still punish sin. His declaration, therefore, that He will spare when He sees the blood, is a distinct testimony to the fact that it has made a full and perfect expiation for sin. If, then, He is satisfied with the blood of Christ, cannot the sinner be also satisfied? And remember that the sinner's unworthiness cannot be pleaded as a bar to its efficacy. If it might, then the blood alone were not sufficient. The moment God's eye rests upon the blood, His whole moral nature is satisfied; and He as righteously spares those who are under its protection and value, as He smites the Egyptians.
The question, however, may be preferred, In what way can we now be brought under the efficacy of the blood of Christ? The Israelites were brought under the shelter of the blood of the passover lamb through faith. They received the message, believed its import, sprinkled the blood according to the directions given, and were thus secured against the judgment-stroke. It is simpler now. The glad tidings of redemption through the blood of Christ are proclaimed, the message is received; and immediately it is received, the eye of God beholds the soul under all its efficacy and value. Every one, therefore, who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is delivered from the wrath to come. Peace with God is thus founded upon the blood of Christ. For "the blood signified the moral judgment of God, and the full and entire satisfaction of all that was in His being. God, such as He was, in His justice, His holiness, and His truth, could not touch those who were sheltered by that blood. Was there sin? His love towards His people had found the means of satisfying the requirements of His justice; and at the sight of that blood, which answered everything that was perfect in His being, He passed over it consistently with His justice, and even His truth." Peace with God, therefore, we repeat, is based upon the blood of Christ.
There is yet another thing. The passover lamb, whose blood had been sprinkled upon the dwellings of Israel, was to be eaten, and eaten in a special manner with its accompaniments, and in a prescribed attitude. Each of these points has its own interest and instruction. "They shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire." It must not be eaten "raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof" (v.9). Fire is a symbol of the holiness of God applied in judgment; and hence the lamb on which they fed told, in figure, that Another had borne the fire of judgment, passed through it, on their behalf. "Roast with fire" speaks thus of Christ who bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and was made sin for us, when He was exposed to the full, unsparing, and searching action of fire - God's judgment against sin. If therefore He spared His people, it was only on the ground of Another bearing what was their righteous due. What love then was expressed in delivering up His Son to such a death! Well might the Spirit of God say, He spared not His own Son, when He devoted Him to receive the stroke of the sinner's judgment.
"To us, our God His love commends,
When by our sins undone;
That He might spare His enemies,
He would not spare His Son."
And how gratefully must the children of Israel have fed upon this lamb roast with fire. If their eyes were opened they would surely say, "The blood of this victim is screening us from the awful judgment which is falling upon the Egyptians; the flesh we are eating has passed through the fire, to which we otherwise must have been exposed." And the thought, as they expressed it, could not fail to move their hearts to thanksgiving and praise to Him who had in His grace provided such a mode of escape and safety.
Two things were to accompany the eating of the lamb - unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Leaven is a type of evil, and hence the unleavened bread speaks, as on the one hand of the absence of evil, so on the other of purity and holiness. The apostle Paul speaks of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. This may be entered into more fully when we speak more at large of the feast of unleavened bread associated with the passover (v.14-20). It will suffice now to have marked its character. "Bitter herbs" represent the effect of entering into the sufferings of Christ in our behalf; repentance, self-judgment in the presence of God. These two things therefore portray the state of soul in which alone we can truly feed upon the lamb roast with fire. And it is beautiful to notice, how that the One who has borne the righteous judgment of God against their sins now becomes the food of His people. Remark, too, that nothing was to be left until the morning. Should there be any remaining it was to be burnt with fire (v.10). The same direction was given afterwards for most of the sacrifices that were to be eaten. (See Leviticus 11:15.) This was a provision undoubtedly against the danger of its being consumed as common food. It could only be eaten in association with the judgment through which it had passed. "The flesh" of Christ cannot be eaten except in the apprehension of His death. So here on the passover night, together with the morning, when the judgment had passed, they might forget the import of the lamb roast with fire; but the direction to burn what was left would recall its character, as well as prevent its degradation to common food. It was only around the passover table that they could properly feed upon the passover lamb.
Their attitude was to be in harmony with the position into which they had been brought. "And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste; it is the Lord's passover" (v.11). All bespeaks the character to be assumed consequent upon their redemption - for they were about to leave Egypt for ever to march through the wilderness as pilgrims to their promised inheritance. Their loins were girded - in readiness for service, detached from the scene in which thou had so long been held as captives, so that nothing might detain or impede them when the signal for the journey should be given; their shoes on their feet - prepared, shod for the march. ; their staff in their hand - the sign of their pilgrim character, for they were quitting what had been their home, to become strangers in the wilderness; and they were to eat the passover in haste - for they knew not at what moment the summons might be given, and hence they were to be ready - watching and ready. A true picture of the believer's attitude in this world. Would that we all more entirely answered to it! Again and again are we exhorted to have our loins girded; and to have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Eph.6) is necessary if we would have on the whole armour of God. To maintain indeed the pilgrim character belongs to one of the first lessons of our Christian life, seeing that this is not our rest; and to be in the attitude of waiting for Christ belongs to our expectation of His return. This is true, but it is another thing to ask if these things characterize believers now as they should. What we need is a deeper sense of the character of the scene through which we are passing - that it is a judged scene, that God has already judged it in the death of Christ "Now," said He, "is the judgment of this world." Having the sense of this in our souls, we shall have no temptation to linger in it; but as true pilgrims, with our loins girded about, and our lights burning, we should ourselves be like unto men that wait for their Lord (Luke 12:35,36).
The feast of unleavened bread is appointed in connection with the passover (v.14-20). It was not kept in the land of Egypt, for on the same night that God smote the firstborn the children of Israel commenced their journey. But the connection is preserved to show its true typical significance. It is the same in 1 Cor.5, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (Rev.7,8). Leaven, as before explained, is a type of evil - evil which spreads and assimilates the mass through which it spreads to its own character. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Cor.5:6). To eat unleavened bread therefore will signify separation from evil - practical holiness. Mark, too, that the feast was to last for seven days - i.e. a complete period of time. The lesson, then, in its interpretation is that holiness is incumbent upon all who are sheltered by the blood of the Paschal Lamb throughout the entire period of their lives on earth. This is the import of the connection of the feast with the passover. If we are saved by the grace of God through the sprinkled blood of Christ, our wretched hearts might reason we might indulge in sin that grace may abound. "No!" says the Spirit of God, "but as soon as you are under the value of the death of Christ, you are under the responsibility to be separate from evil." God thus looks for an answer in us, in our walk and conversation, to what He is, and to what He has done for us. It was to enforce this truth that the Israelites were enjoined to keep this feast "by an ordinance for ever;" first, indeed, to remind them that God had on this self-same day brought their armies out of the land of Egypt, and then to teach them the obligations under which they were thereby brought to maintain a walk in accordance with their new position. And may we not add that believers of the present day need to have this obligation recalled to their minds? The one thing to be pressed upon the consciences of all now is the responsibility of keeping this feast of unleavened bread. Looseness of walk, evil associations, and worldliness, are ruining on all sides the testimony of God's people. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth" (John 17:16,17). May this prayer of our blessed Lord be more manifestly answered in the increasing separation and devotedness of His people!
From the 21st to the 28th verse the account is given of the assembling of the elders by Moses to receive the directions already considered. The people on hearing the message "bowed the head, and worshipped. And the children of Israel went away, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they" (v.27,28). One interesting particular is added. Provision is made to keep the children instructed as to the meaning of the passover (v.26,27); and thus from generation to generation the account should be transmitted of the Lord's delivering grace and power when He smote the Egyptians.
The Lord having thus marked off His people in His grace, and secured their exemption from judgment through the sprinkled blood, proceeds to smite Egypt as He had declared.
"And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt ; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
"And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both you and the children of Israel ; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also. And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men. And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading-troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them [such things as they required]: and they spoiled the Egyptians" (v.29-36).
The blow, so long threatened, but delayed in long-suffering and mercy, at length fell, and fell with crushing effect upon the whole land; for "the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne, unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle." The hearts of all were wrung with anguish under this sore and bitter stroke, darkening every home in the land, "and there was a great cry in Egypt ; for there was not a house where there was not one dead." Pharaoh's stubborn heart was reached, and for the moment bowed before the manifest judgment of God. He "rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians;" and sending for Moses and Aaron, bid them depart. He made no conditions now, but granted all they had claimed, and even sought a blessing at their hands. His people went further, and were urgent to send the children of Israel away; for they said, "We be all dead men." Hence, too, when asked they gave them anything and everything they desired, and thus, according to the word of the Lord, "they spoiled the Egyptians."
"And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot, that were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.
"Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt : this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations (v.37-42).
God thus emancipated His people from the thraldom of Egypt ; and they took the first stage of their journey from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. But, alas! they were not alone. They were accompanied by a "mixed multi tude." This has been the bane of the people of God in every age; source of their weakness, failure, and at times of open apostasy. St Paul warns the believers of his day of this special danger (1 Cor.10); as also St Peter (2 Peter 2) and Jude. The church at the present moment is likewise afflicted; nay, it would be hardly too much to say that the church in one aspect is composed of this "great mixture." Hence the importance of the apostle's words to Timothy, "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ" (Lord, it should be) "depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:19 -21). Their departure was in haste, for they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual. No! they were cast wholly on God. He had separated them off from the Egyptians, sheltered them by the blood of the Lamb, and now it was His care to lead them forth and to provide them food by the way. Leaven must not be brought out with them.
" Rise, my soul, thy God directs thee,
Stranger hands no more impede;
Pass thou on, His hand protects thee,
Strength that has the captive freed.
Is the wilderness before thee,
Desert lands where drought abides?
Heavenly springs shall there restore thee,
Fresh from God's exhaustless tides."
For centuries God's eye had been upon this moment (see Genesis 15:13,14); and on the self-same day - the day He had before ordained - His people went forth. They have not as yet crossed the Red Sea ; but in the statement that "all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt," the Spirit of God anticipates their full and perfect deliverance. The blood that sheltered was the foundation of their complete redemption. It is no wonder therefore that it is added that the night of their exodus was to be much observed unto the Lord, and indeed to be held in perpetual remembrance. It was to be observed, remark, unto the Lord, in order to bring continually before their minds the source of that delivering grace and power which had brought them out of Egypt. So now in another way. In the same night in which the Lord Jesus was betrayed He took bread and gave thanks, instituting for His people the precious memorial of His death; so that as often as we eat the bread, and drink the cup, we might show forth the Lord's death until He come. Throughout the whole of our pilgrimage He would have us to remember Him - to remember Him on that "dark, betrayal night," when, as our Passover, He was sacrificed for us.
The chapter concludes with "the ordinance of the passover," which contains mainly two things. First, as to the persons who might partake of it: "There shall no stranger eat thereof: but every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof." Again, "All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no un circumcised person shall eat thereof" (v.43-45,47,48). There were then three classes who might keep the passover. (1) The Israelites, (2) Their servants bought with money, and (3) The stranger sojourning with them. But the condition for all these alike was circumcision. None could have a place at the passover table unless they had been circumcised. Only thus could they be brought within the terms of the covenant which God had made with Abraham (see Gen.17:9-14), and on the ground of which He was now acting in bringing them out of Egypt, and taking them to Himself for a people. Circumcision is a type of death to the flesh, and has its antitype, as to the thing signified, in the death of Christ. Thus St Paul writes to the Colossians, "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead" (Col.2:11,12). Unless therefore all these specified classes were brought on to the ground of the covenant, they could not enjoy the privilege of this most blessed feast - a feast which derived all its meaning from the blood-shedding of the Paschal Lamb. It is exceedingly interesting to notice the special provision made for two of these classes. The Israelites, as such, were entitled to the passover, if they were circumcised. But outside of these were two other classes. A hired servant might not, but a servant bought with money might, if circumcised, be at the feast. It should be remembered that this feast possessed essentially a household character. Hence a servant bought with money became, as it were, incorporated with the family, an integral part of the household, and on this account was included. But a hired servant had no such place or standing, and was consequently excluded. In the "stranger sojourning with thee," we may see a promise of grace to the Gentiles, when the middle wall of partition should be broken down, and the gospel be proclaimed to the whole world.
Then, lastly, there is a provision as to the lamb itself. "In one house shall it be eaten: thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof" (v.46). Both the meaning of the type, and the unity of the household, or of Israel, if the whole congregation be considered, would have been lost if this injunction had been disregarded. The blood was upon the dwelling, and the passover lamb was only for those under the shelter of the blood - for no other, and thus it must not be carried forth out of the house. The sprinkled blood is an indispensable condition for feeding on the lamb roast with fire. Neither must a bone be broken, because it was a type of Christ. Hence St John says, "These things were done, that the Scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of Him shall not be broken" (John 19:36 ). It is clear therefore that Christ was before the mind of the Spirit in the paschal lamb; and very blessed is it for us as we read the narrative when we have fellowship with His own thoughts and discern nothing but Christ. May He anoint our eyes ever more fully, that Christ alone may fill the vision of our souls as we read His words!
THE narrative of the exodus from Egypt is suspended to bring in certain consequences - responsible consequences for the children of Israel - consequences which flowed from their redemption out of the land of Egypt. For although they are still in the land, the teaching of the chapter is founded upon their having been brought out, and is indeed anticipative of their being in Canaan. If God acts in grace for His people, He thereby establishes claims upon them, and it is these claims that are here unfolded. A redeemed people become the property of the Redeemer. We thus read, "Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price" (1 Cor.6:19,20). It is on the same principle that the Lord here speaks unto Moses, saying, "Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine" (v.1). But another thing is introduced in this connection. The feast of unleavened bread was enjoined in the last chapter immediately after the sprinkling of the blood. That was to show that the two things - shelter by the blood, and the obligation of a holy life - can never be separated. It is now given again, with instructions for its observance when the Lord should have brought them into the land of the Canaanites, (v.5), in connection with the sanctification of the firstborn.
"And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten. This day came ye out, in the month Abib.
"And it shall be, when the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which He sware unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee; neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters. And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes; that the Lord's law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.
"And it shall be, when the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as He sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, that thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou bast; the males shall be the Lord's. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.
"And it shall be, when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt " (v.3-16).
Two or three remarks may be added upon the feast of unleavened bread to include the additional particulars here given. It was to be connected for ever with the remembrance of two things. First, with the day of their redemption. "Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (v.3). The Lord would ever have His people remember the day of their deliverance, the day in which they were brought out of darkness into light, out from under the judgment due to their sins into the perfect favour of God in Christ. Secondly, they were not to forget the source of their deliverance. "For by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place" (v.3). To Him alone had they been indebted. No other arm could have riven their fetters, smitten their oppressor, protected them from the destroyer, and given them deliverance. He alone could have ransomed them from the hand of the enemy. Thus the Lord Jesus read, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18,19). It is therefore exceedingly significant to find that, immediately upon these two things being recalled to their minds, it is added, "There shall no leavened bread be eaten." If the Lord acts for His people, it is to redeem them from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Titus 2:14 ). Since He is holy, He looks for holiness in His redeemed, and throughout the complete period (seven days) of their lives. No leaven must be seen in any of their quarters. Not only so; but upon every recurring festival the father was instructed to teach his son the significance of the feast. Responsible for his children, he must carefully explain to them why no leaven could be permitted. It would be inconsistent with the ground of redemption on which he stood. "This is done," he should say, "because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand," etc. (v.8, 9); and all this that the Lord's law might be in his mouth. Here is the secret, both of separation from evil and separation unto God. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word." Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee" (Psalm 119:9,11). It is thus that believers now can truly keep the feast of unleavened bread, by heeding and obeying the word of God.
Thereon follow the directions for the sanctification of the firstborn. Devotedness, consecration, must also mark the redeemed, and will be ever a fruit of true separation; and hence the feast of unleavened bread precedes the setting apart of the firstborn. First, we may notice the exception to this general law. "Every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem" (v.13). The conjunction of the firstling of an ass with the firstborn of man is most striking, and the more so that both alike were to be redeemed. There is also another thing. The firstling of the ass was to be redeemed with a lamb; the firstborn of Israel were redeemed with a lamb on the passover night. Add, that the ass was to be destroyed if not redeemed, as the Israelites would surely have been when the Lord smote the Egyptians, and the parallel is complete. What then do we learn by it? That man, as he is born into the world, is classed with the firstling of an ass; that both alike are unclean, and as such doomed to destruction, unless redeemed with a lamb. Can anything be more humbling to the pride of the natural man? Boasting of what he is, and of his intellectual capacities, let him here behold the divine estimate of his condition. A more degrading comparison could not be made, and yet it is a comparison to which every believer readily sets his seal as divinely true. For that was our state by nature - lost and helpless - and we had surely perished if, in the riches of God's grace, we had not been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. On the other hand, how it magnifies the grace of God in condescending to such as we were, in meeting us when in that state, bringing us to Himself, and associating us for ever with the Lamb by whom we have been redeemed! If by nature we could not have fallen lower, by grace we could not have been raised higher; for He has predestinated us "to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren" (Rom.8:29).
It is important to observe the ground on which God claimed the firstborn. It is expressly connected with the destruction of the firstborn in the land of Egypt (v.15). As we have seen, Israel was spared on that dreadful night solely on the ground of the sprinkled blood of the slain lamb - on the ground of the death of another. It was therefore on the principle of substitution; and this in fact is the ground of God's claim in this chapter. If God spared the firstborn because of the Paschal Lamb, He thereafter claimed them as His own. It is so now. We belong to Him who has redeemed us, because He took our place, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. He died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor.5:15). It is well to ask ourselves frequently if we are recognizing His claim - His claim upon us, upon all that we are, and upon all that we have? This truth also the father was to impress upon his son (v.14-16); for thereby he would be taught the Lord's claims upon him equally with his father - that both alike, as redeemed ones, owed their service to the Redeemer. It is an immense point gained when the believer looks upon himself and his family as belonging to the Lord. Whether they are individually owning that claim is another matter, and it cannot be pressed too much that there is no salvation apart from individual faith; but it is of great moment that the head of the household should continually remember that he and all his are the Lord's. Only then will he be able, by God's blessing, to bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to govern them for Him, and as in His sight; and it is only as the children perceive this truth that they will look upon parental rule as expressive of the authority of the Lord. Let believers, therefore, not weary in telling their children of the Lord's claims upon the ground of redemption.
The narrative is now resumed.
"And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you. And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people" (v.17-22).
The first thing this part of our chapter brings before us is God choosing the way for His people through the wilderness. If He lead His people out into the wilderness, He will undertake for them in every respect; He will expect nothing from them but obedience to His word. Mark, moreover, the tenderness He displayed in choosing their path. He had respect to their weakness and timidity. He "led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt."
Note: Much discussion has been raised upon the statement that the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt (v.18) - as if of necessity the word meant, armed as warriors. But this is a mistake. It does not seem to imply more than that they were in regular marching order, as would be necessary in conducting the movements of so large a host.
Beautiful exhibition of His tender compassion - revealing to us how fully He enters into and feels for His people in all their feebleness and fears. True He had other purposes for them; but it is sweet beyond expression to notice that He determined the particular way by which He would lead them out of regard to their condition. " Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" (Ps.103:13,14).
After the statement of the manner of their march, mention is made of the bones of Joseph. This is most beautiful. Turning back to the deathbed of Joseph, we read that he "took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence" (Gen.1.25). In the epistle to the Hebrews God's estimate of this action is recorded. "By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel ; and gave commandment concerning his bones" (Heb.11:22). In our chapter we find God's response to His servant's faith. There was surely enough to occupy the mind of Moses on this passover night - in arranging for the departure of so large a multitude. What leisure could he have had to care for the bones of Joseph? But Joseph had taken an oath of the children of Israel in dependence upon God. He believed, and therefore he spoke; and putting his trust in God it was impossible that he could be ashamed. To the natural eye there was little probability indeed - when Joseph was dying - of his people leaving Egypt. But this dying saint rested upon the sure word and promise of God, and therefore with confidence "gave commandment concerning his bones." Years had passed away - nearly four hundred (for the Israelites were in Egypt altogether four hundred and thirty years; Ex.12:41) - and God did visit His people, and the oath was remembered, so that the bones of the patriarch accompanied them in their exodus. It is surely a noteworthy example of the faithfulness of God, as well as the preciousness in His sight of the faith of His servant.
The next verse (20th) records the names of their first camping places. "They took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness." They started from Rameses ( 12:37 ), then came to Succoth, etc., as here described. These places were all in Egypt, and although much learning and research have been expended upon the subject, their identification has scarcely reached the limits of conjectural probability. What is of more importance is to notice that they were divinely guided on their march. He who selected their path, guided them in it, went before them in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, in all their wanderings. These gracious symbols of His presence He never took from them as long as they were in the wilderness. This is only an illustration of the truth, that the Lord is ever the guide of His people. He who leads them out of Egypt may ever be seen before them in the path on which they have entered. He never says, "Go;" but His word is always, "Follow me." He has left us an example that we should follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21 ). He Himself is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). It is quite true that we have not the visible guidance which the children of Israel enjoyed; but it is no less discernible and certain to the spiritual eye. The Word is a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path (Ps.119:105).
It is interesting to remark that there was no such guidance in Egypt or in the land. This brings out the important truth, that it is only in the wilderness that the indication of a way is needed. And there it is in His tenderness and mercy that the Lord takes the lead of His own - showing them the way in which they should walk - where they should rest, and when they should march, leaving nothing to them, but Himself undertaking all for them, only requiring that their eyes should be kept fixed on their Guide. Happy are the people who are thus led, and who are made willing to follow, who by grace are enabled to say -
"Only Thou our Leader be,
And we still will follow Thee."
GOD AS THE DELIVERER OF HIS PEOPLE
IN chapter 12 God appears as a Judge, because when once the question of sin was raised, the holiness of His nature necessitates that He should deal with it - and deal with it righteously. God therefore was there against His people on account of their sin, although means were found, in His gracious provision and according to His direction, to satisfy, through the blood of the Paschal Lamb, His righteous claims. But in this chapter, He who was against the people because of their sin, is now for them because of the blood. His righteousness, His truth, His majesty - yea, all that He was, had been satisfied by the sprinkled blood.
Note: When we say, "a propitiation," it will be understood that we are speaking of the typical value of the blood. Propitiation proper was made by the blood sprinkled on the mercy-seat. (Compare Lev.16:14 and Rom.3:25).
A propitiation had been made on the ground of which He could undertake the cause of those who had been brought under its value. Consequently He appears here as a Saviour - a Deliverer. Historically there is an interval between these two characters. He was a Judge on the passover night, and a Deliverer at the Red Sea ; and this is the order of apprehension in the case of the majority of awakened souls. When first convicted of sin, when it is really the work of the Spirit of God, God appears to the soul as a Judge because of guilt. But when there is peace of conscience through the apprehension by faith that the blood of Christ has met God's claims, and cleansed from guilt, then the soul perceives that God Himself is on its behalf; and sees the proof of it in His raising the Lord Jesus from the dead. These two stages are clearly marked in Romans 3 and 4. Thus in Romans 3 it is faith in the blood, believing in Jesus (v.25,26); while in chapter 6 it is faith in God (v.24). And there is no settled peace until this second stage is reached. But while these two things are separated historically in connection with the children of Israel, and generally in the experience of souls, it must not be forgotten that they are but two parts of one and the same work. The Red Sea, therefore, in this aspect, while it presents more striking effects in the display of God's power, on the one hand in the redemption of His people, and on the other, in the destruction of Pharaoh and his host, is but the consequence of the sprinkled blood on the passover night. The blood was the foundation of all God's subsequent actings for Israel. Hence, while it is quite true that redemption was not known until the Red Sea was crossed, the blood-shedding was a deeper work, because it was that which glorified God concerning the question of the people's sin, and enabled Him, in harmony with every attribute of His character, to work for their complete deliverance. It is only when this distinction between the two things, and, at the same time, their connection, are remembered, that this chapter can be understood. Bearing it in mind, the key to its interpretation will be possessed, and it will be seen that every action it records is in relation to the truth thus explained.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahimth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them: and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so" (v.1-4).
The first thing which the Lord did was to shut up His people, as far as man was concerned, in a perfectly hopeless position. Encamped by the sea, and surrounded by the wilderness, He so placed them that if Pharaoh followed after them, as He purposed he should, that there would be positively no human way of escape. This was done to entice Pharaoh to his destruction, and to reduce the children of Israel to entire dependence upon Himself. Both things were accomplished; for the Egyptians were to know that He was the Lord, and the Israelites were to confess that He was their salvation. This will be brought before us in the narrative.
"And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us? And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him: and he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel : and the children of Israel went out with an high hand. But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon" (v.5-9).
What a revelation of the possibilities of the human heart is seen in the case of Pharaoh! Though the Lord had made bare His arm in successive judgments, and at length had extorted a cry of anguish from every household in the land of Egypt, we yet find the king and also his servants recovering from the blow which had for the moment overwhelmed them with sorrow, repenting of the release of Israel, and daring to follow after to bring them back to their former servitude. They thus pursued them, "all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon." This, as explained, had been arranged of the Lord. To Pharaoh and his people, it would appear utter folly to occupy such a position, and an evidence, it might be, that they were guided by human folly rather than divine wisdom. They march on therefore in full confidence of an easy victory. For what could rescue a nation of fugitives, encumbered with women and children, from their grasp? So also it appeared to the unbelieving children of Israel. They were sheltered by the blood, they were guided by the pillar of cloud, and they surely might have said, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" But sight was stronger than faith. The sea was before them, and Pharaoh and his mighty armies behind. To the natural eye escape was impossible, and captivity or death certain. This was the effect produced on their minds.
"And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord. And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt ? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (v.10-12).
Unbelief marked every word they uttered, and because they were judging according to the sight of their eyes. They were sore afraid; they would die in the wilderness; they had known it would be so, and servitude in Egypt was far better than the death that now awaited them. The mistake they made was in leaving the Lord out of their calculations - as unbelief ever does - and thus making it a question between themselves and the Egyptians. Moses was sustained; his faith was unfaltering, and he could therefore encourage their hearts as well as rebuke their unbelief.
"And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you to-day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace" (v.13, 14).
In truth a work was to be wrought that day in which the people could have no part. For there were two things from which they needed to be delivered - Satan's power as represented by Pharaoh and his host, and death and judgment which were shown in figure by the Red Sea. And these two are connected. For through man's sin Satan has acquired rights, and wields death as the just judgment of God. It is quite true that the children of Israel were already sheltered by the blood of the paschal lamb, and that they might therefore have rested in perfect peace. But they knew not the value of that blood. That it had saved them from the stroke of judgment, that their houses escaped when God smote the firstborn of Egypt they knew; but they had not yet learned, that this same blood had secured everything for them, deliverance from their foes, guidance through the wilderness, and even the possession of the promised inheritance. Hence the moment Pharaoh appears on the scene they "were sore afraid," and "cried out unto the Lord." The Lord met them in their weakness and doubt, and reminds them by this message which Moses delivered that the work was His, both to save them from the land of Egypt 's king, and from the waves of the Red Sea. They were to cease from their fears, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord; for their enemies should disappear for ever from their eyes, the Lord would fight for them, and they should hold their peace. Blessed truth, that salvation is of the Lord! It is one, however, that we are slow to learn. How many become entangled in the thought that they must do something. But no; He who has provided the Paschal Lamb, whose blood cleanses us from our sin, will do all the rest. Salvation is His own perfect, finished work. To add to it in any way by our own doings or strivings is only to mar its beauty and completeness. Nay, what is there that man can do when Satan and death are in question? Man is helpless in the presence of such foes. He cannot escape, he cannot overcome them, and hence perforce - if he would but learn the lesson - he must stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord. How quieting to the heart of the timid and the anxious! Let them then enter upon the full enjoyment of this precious message, if terrified by Satan's power in the prospect of death: "The Lord shall fight for you and ye shall hold your peace."
Following the record we shall perceive how the Lord verified the words of His servant.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: but lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen" (v.15-18).
There is no inconsistency between the command of Moses, "Stand still," and that now given, "Go forward." They had truly to be reminded that they could do nothing; but faith should have perceived that the work was done, and marched boldly forward through the sea which seemed to bar their advance. Death, and the power of death, had been overcome, the salvation had been completed, and hence they were to go forward. The order and the teaching of the order are beautiful. The Lord completes the work, and by the finished work of salvation a way of escape from Satan's power through death has been opened. Being opened, it is for the believer to walk through it, to go boldly forward in confidence in Him who, having been their Judge, has now become their Saviour. This the Lord proceeds to unfold by the further command addressed to Moses. He will show His power over the sea before the eyes of His people, to pacify their fears, and to assure them of His protection and care. But this must be explained more fully. Together with the command to the children of Israel to go forward, Moses was directed to lift up his rod, and stretch his hand over the sea, and divide it, so that the children of Israel might go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. The Egyptians should be hardened to follow, and to follow for their own destruction, and God would be glorified both in the salvation of His people and the destruction of their foes. Having thus directed Moses, the Lord proceeds to act.
"And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left.
"And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them: there remained not so much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore, And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and His servant Moses" (v.19-31).
The several points in this miraculous deliverance may now be noted. First, the angel of God removed and went "between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel." God thus interposed between His blood-bought people and their pursuers. For indeed all that He was, in every attribute of His character, was engaged on their behalf. That panic-stricken multitude might well be scorned by the flower and chivalry of Egypt, but they were under the ægis of Omnipotence, and before they could be reached God Himself must be met and overcome. Oh, what strength and consolation lie in this precious truth, that God Himself undertakes the cause of the feeblest of those who are under the shelter of the blood of Christ! Satan may set all his legions in battle array, and seek to terrify the soul by the display of his power, but his vauntings and threats may alike be disregarded, for the battle is the Lord's. It is therefore not what we are, but what God is. And it should be observed, that He that is for the believer is against the enemy. That which gave light to the children of Israel was a cloud and darkness to Pharaoh and his army. The presence of God terrifies all but those who are cleansed from sin by the precious blood. Hence the camp of Egypt was shut off from Israel, and "the one came not near the other all the night" (v.20). How fearless, then, we ought to be, when this truth, God for us, is so plainly revealed. Elisha knew its power when, in answer to the expressed fears of his servant, he said, "Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them;" and then, when in answer to the prophet's prayer the young man's eyes were opened, "he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:15-17). Be it, however, repeated, that the alone foundation of God being for us is the precious blood of Christ. This, then, is the first thing here taught, that God protects His people as against the power of Satan. The second thing to be remarked is, the division of the waters of the Red Sea. Moses was to lift up his rod, and stretch out his hand over the sea. (v.16). The rod is a symbol of the authority and power of God; and hence it was before it that the waters retired. The strong east wind was used as an instrumentality, but in connection with the mandate of His power as expressed in the use of the rod. Thus God opened a way through death for His people. As, on the one hand, He shielded them from Satan's power, so, on the other, He through death delivered them from death. This is the typical significance of the Red Sea - death, and also resurrection - inasmuch as the people were brought through to the other side. "As a moral type," therefore, to use the language of another, "the Red Sea is evidently the death and resurrection of Jesus, so far as the real effecting of the work goes, in its own efficacy as deliverance by redemption, and of His people as seen in Him; God acting in it, to bring them through death out of sin and this present world, giving absolute deliverance from them by death, into which Christ had gone, and consequently beyond the possibility of being reached by the enemy." This is beautifully illustrated by two particulars. They "went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground." Wherefore? Because - we speak of the typical teaching - Christ had gone down into death, and exhausted its power. He "death by dying slew," and in death met and vanquished the whole power of Satan. Through death He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb.2:14, 15). All the force and power of death were therefore expended upon Christ, and as a consequence believers pass through on dry ground. Then, moreover, we find that "the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left" (v.22). Not only had death no power over them, but it became a defence. Thus "the very sea they dreaded, and which appeared to throw them into Pharaoh's hands, becomes the means of their salvation." It was the way of their deliverance from Egypt, and instead of being their enemy had become their friend. How blessedly all this is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ, every believer should know. It is not only that we have been sheltered from judgment through the sprinkled blood, but through the death and resurrection of Christ, and our death and resurrection in Him, we have been brought out from Egypt, and delivered both from the power of Satan and of death. Already we have passed from death unto life, have been brought completely out of our old condition on to new ground in Christ Jesus. We might still go farther, and point out how this type will be fulfilled in another way. Death, which is the enemy of the sinner, has become the friend of the believer, and will but prove the means of our passage, should we depart before the Lord returns, into His presence.
" The last thing to be noted is the destruction of the Egyptians. In the temerity of their daring presumption they "pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the - sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horse-men." That pillar of fire even did not keep them back, but, in vain confidence in their own strength, they pressed onward, but to a sure and certain doom. "And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily." They were now convinced of the hopelessness of the contest, and would fain have fled; but it was all too late. At the Lord's bidding, once again Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and it returned and covered all Egypt's host, so that "there remained not so much as one of,them" (v.28)."By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do, were drowned" (Heb.11:29). The solemn lesson is thus conveyed, that to face the power of death in human confidence is certain destruction. Only the blood-bought people can pass through in safety. All others will surely be overwhelmed; and yet how many a soul dares to meet death and judgment in its own strength. Let all such be warned by the fate of Pharaoh and his army. There can be no escape apart from Christ. He only is the way of safety, because He alone has met and overcome death, is the One who has died, has risen again, and is alive for evermore, and has the keys of hades and death.
Three things conclude the chapter. There is first the repetition of the fact that Israel walked through the sea upon dry land, and found the waters a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. It is the contrast emphasized between the salvation of Israel and the destruction of the Egyptians. There are only then two classes. There could be no other - the lost (the Egyptians) and the saved (the Israelites). The former were swallowed up in death and judgment, while the latter were brought through in safety, because they were covered with the value of the blood of the Lamb. We then read that "the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians" (v.30). He had before sheltered them from judgment, but now He saved them from the foe. Satan's power was brought to nought, and they were consequently delivered. The full meaning of this term will appear in the next chapter; but it may be remarked that it is here for the first time that the word "saved" acquires its full significance. Lastly, the effect produced upon the minds - in the souls of the children of Israel - is noted. They "saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and His servant Moses." Such a display of power - destructive on the one hand, and redemptive on the other - had bowed their hearts, and begotten reverent fear in their souls. In Egypt they had no doubt feared the Lord in the sense of dread - dreading Him as a holy Judge; but now it was fear of another kind - fear begotten by the manifestation of His wonder-working power, and which led them to look upon Him as their Lord. It was the fear of an intimate relationship - the fear which would desire to please, and dread above all things to offend. It was the offspring of recognizing the holiness of God in their salvation. This is shown by the fact that they also believed the Lord, and His servant Moses. The testimony of what and who He was had been unfolded before their eyes. They received it, and now not only had Jehovah chosen them to be His people, but they also by faith recognized and owned Him as their Lord. They also believed Moses - as their divinely-appointed leader. Indeed they were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor.10:2). There was therefore both a work wrought for them and in them - and both alike proceeded from the power and grace of God. He who so marvellously brought them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, produced a response in their hearts to what He was, and what He had done for them. Salvation is never entered into or enjoyed until these two things are united. Thus the work, on the foundation of which God can save sinners, has long been completed; but until it can be said that the sinner believes he is not saved. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation ("the judgment"); but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24).
THE SONG OF REDEMPTION
THIS chapter occupies a most important place - both as marking the new position into which the children of Israel were now brought, and as expressive of the feelings - begotten in them undoubtedly by the Holy Spirit - which were suited to it. It is really a song of redemption; and at the same time it is prophetic in its character, embracing as it does the purposes of God with respect to Israel until the millennium - when "the Lord shall reign for ever and ever" (v.18). It has therefore a twofold character, applying primarily to Israel, and then, inasmuch as the passage of the Red Sea was pre-eminently typical in its character, also to the position of the believer. Bearing this in mind, its interpretation will be the more easily apprehended.
"Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation: He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation;
Note: This translation is more than questionable. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, Luther, and the French version, agree in rendering it, "He is my God, and I will praise (or glorify) Him, my father's God, and I will exalt Him."
my father's God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is His name. Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath He cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of Thine excellency Thou hast overthrown them that rose up against Thee: Thou sentest forth Thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of Thy nostrils the waters were gathered together: the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Thou stretchedst out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation. The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them: all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them: by the greatness of Thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till Thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which Thou hast purchased. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in; in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever. For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them: but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea" (v.1-19).
The first thing to be remarked upon this outburst of joy is, that we have no singing mentioned in Scripture, except in connection with redemption. Angels even are never said to sing. At the birth of our blessed Lord "there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13,14). So in the Revelation John says, "I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing" (Rev.5:11,12). It is only therefore redeemed ones who can sing, and we learn therefrom the true character of Christian song. It should express the joy of salvation, the accents of praise and gladness produced in the soul by the knowledge of redemption. "Is any merry?" says James, "let him sing psalms" (James 5:13 ). That is, if any one is overflowing with true joy, joy consequent upon known redemption, joy in the Lord as the Redeemer, it should be expressed in psalms - psalms of praise to God. "Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord." It was then, when they knew for the first time what redemption was, that they poured forth the gladness of their hearts in song. And there should be no other, indeed there is no other, song for the Christian. To take another into his lips is to forget his true character as well as the only source of his joy.
The song itself may be considered in two aspects - its general subject, and the truths it contains. As to its general subject, it is simply the Lord Himself, and what He has done. But this embraces a great deal. It is the Lord Himself as apprehended and known in redemption. "The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation" (v.2). For it is only in redemption that He can be known. Thus, until the cross of Christ He was not, could not be, fully revealed. He was revealed to the children of Israel in the character of the relationship into which they were brought, but it was not until the redemption was accomplished, of which this recorded here was but the type, that He made Himself fully known in all the attributes of His character. But whatever the measure of His manifestation in each succeeding dispensation, He could not be apprehended, even so far, except through redemption, typical or otherwise, and the consequent relationship into which the redeemed were brought. The children of Israel knew Him as Jehovah; we, by grace, know Him as our God and Father, because the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; but whatever the dispensation, He Himself, as so revealed, is ever the subject of song, for it is in Him alone that His people in every age rejoice. As, however, we have remarked, there is another thing, and that is, what He has done, and this is fully brought out in the song of Moses and the children of Israel. There are necessarily two aspects of this - the salvation of His people, and the destruction of their enemies. This is expressed in every variety of phrase, and with all the sublimity of expression which beseemed the majesty of Him who had thus wrought on their behalf. It is not what they had accomplished, but what the Lord has done. It was not their, but His triumph that they celebrated.
They have lost sight of themselves in the presence of such an astounding display of redemptive power. "I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (v.1). They thus magnify the Lord, for they perceive, as divinely inspired, that the work which He had achieved redounded to His own exaltation and glory. "Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power;" and again, "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (v.6,11). Surely believers of this dispensation might learn from this primal redemptive song, what should be the character of their praise when gathered for worship in the power of the Holy Ghost. As it is the first song of redemption, it contains the principles of praise for all future generations. It deserves, on this account, the prayerful consideration of every believer.
It is, however, when we consider the truths it contains, that we learn its fulness and variety. The first is that they were now redeemed - redemption being, as pointed out, the burden of their song. "The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation." And again, Thou hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed. Until now they were not redeemed, they did not know salvation. They had been perfectly sheltered from the destroyer in Egypt, but they could not be said to be saved until they were brought out of Egypt, and delivered from Pharaoh - from Satan's power. There is the same difference observable now in the experience of souls. There are many who know the forgiveness of their sins through the blood of Christ; but afterwards not knowing themselves - the nature of the flesh still in them - or the power of Satan to harass and disturb - they not only lose their joy consequent upon pardon, but sometimes fall, through the difficulties which surround them on every hand, into a state of despondency and alarm. Brought into the consciousness of their utter inability to do any thing, or to resist the enemy, they are made to cry, as in Romans 7, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (v.24). It is then they are taught that the Lord Jesus has not only provided cleansing for their sins through His precious blood, but that also, through His death and resurrection, He has brought them out of their old condition, and put them in a new place in Him on the other side of death and judgment. Their eyes are now opened to see that in Him they have been completely delivered from all that was against them, and therefore that Satan has lost his rights over, and consequently has no further claim upon, them. They are thus set free; their evil nature has already been judged, and Satan's power has been vanquished, in the death of Christ, and hence, delivered, their hearts are filled with thanksgiving and praise. That many stop short of this full blessing is only too true, but it is, nevertheless, the portion of every believer. And there never can be full assurance of salvation - firm and solid peace - until this complete deliverance is known. No doubt it must be learned experimentally, but it depends entirely and alone upon what Christ is and has done; and accordingly the whole of this blessing is presented to sinners in the gospel of God's grace. It may be that the soul learns forgiveness of sins first; but it is no less the fact that a full redemption is provided for, and preached to, every one who will receive the message of the gospel. It is of the first importance that this truth should be known; for through ignorance of it, there are thousands who are a prey to doubts and fears, instead of rejoicing in the Lord as the God of their salvation. Souls in such a state have little freedom in prayer, or worship, or service; but when once the truth of redemption dawns upon them, like the children of Israel in the scene before us, they are constrained to give vent to their new-found joy in songs of praise.
But there is more. Their position is changed. "Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation." They were brought to God as to the new standing they occupied. In the desert, just indeed entering upon it - this marked their character as pilgrims - they were yet brought unto God's holy habitation. This corresponds with our position as believers in the Lord Jesus. He once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. This is our place as His redeemed. That is, we are brought to God according to all that He is; His whole moral nature, having been completely satisfied in the death of Christ, can now rest in us in perfect complacency. The hymn therefore does but express a scriptural thought, which says -
"So near, so very near to God,
I cannot nearer be,
For in the person of His Son
I am as near as He."
The place indeed is accorded to us in grace, but none the less in righteousness; so that not only are all the attributes of God's character concerned in bringing us there, but He Himself is also glorified by it. It is an immense thought, and one which, when held in power, imparts both strength and energy to our souls - that we are even now brought to God. The whole distance - measured by the death of Christ on the cross, when He was made sin for us - has been bridged over, and our position of nearness is marked by the place He now occupies as glorified at the right hand of God. In heaven itself we shall not be nearer, as to our position, because it is in Christ. It will not be forgotten that our enjoyment of this truth, indeed even our apprehension of it, will depend upon our practical condition. God looks for a state corresponding with our standing - i.e. our responsibility is measured by our privilege. But until we know our place there cannot be an answering condition. We must first learn that we are brought to God, if we would in any measure walk in accordance with the position. State and walk must ever flow from a known relationship. Unless therefore we are taught the truth of our standing before God, we shall never answer to it in our souls, or in our walk and conversation.
The third thing to be observed is, that their present position was the pledge of the fulfilment of all the rest. "Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in; in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever" (v.17,18). The power God had displayed at the Red Sea was the guarantee; first, that He would accomplish all His purposes respecting Israel ; and, secondly, that that power would finally be exhibited in His everlasting reign. Faith, begotten through the knowledge of redemption, lays hold of this - embracing the whole scope of the purposes of God, and looking upon them as if already accomplished. It is so in the epistle to the Romans. "Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom Re justified, them He also glorified" (Rom.8:30). If indeed the purposes of God could be frustrated, He were not God. There may be enemies in the way - and they may set themselves against the execution of His declared will. But faith says, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Thus Israel could sing, "The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them: all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them: by the greatness of Thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till Thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which Thou hast purchased" (v.14-16). In like manner, the apostle cries, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" No - nothing, for he is "persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom.8:35-39). The efficacy of the blood secures the completion of all God's counsels, brings in all that He is - His majesty, His truth, His mercy, His love, His almighty power - on behalf of His people. It is therefore not presumption, but simplicity of faith, to anticipate the consummation of our redemption. It is not to overlook the character and might of our foes; but, measuring these by what God is, the soul is immediately certified of being more than a conqueror through Him that loved us. It is to derive the full and blessed consolation of the truth, that God is acting by His own power outside of us, and for His own glory. The legions of Satan - the dukes of Edom, the mighty men of Moab, and the inhabitants of Canaan, may seek to bar the way to the inheritance, but when God arises in His strength on behalf of His blood-besprinkled host, they will be scattered as chaff before the wind. Thus the end is sure from the beginning, and hence our triumphant song of victory may be raised before a single step has been taken in the wilderness path. And the issue will be to the glory of the One who has redeemed us. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever. So we read in the epistle to the Philippians, that it is according to God's purpose and decree, "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (2:9-11). What joy it should be to the heart of the believer to contemplate that while we are brought into unspeakable blessing, yet that the result of redemption will be the exaltation of the Redeemer. In this Scripture the reign spoken of has undoubtedly primary application to the earth. It is the everlasting kingdom of Jehovah - the millennial sway of the Messiah, who must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. But in principle it goes further - for He shall reign for ever and ever; and this too will be the fruit of the cross. There He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, and as a consequence He is now, and will be for ever, exalted.
There is another thing demanding our notice. So far, everything that has been considered is connected with the purposes of God. But in the second verse there is an exception. No sooner can they say, "The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation," than they add, "He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation;
Note: It may well be doubted if the Hebrew word is here properly translated. (See the note on the translation of this verse, earlier in this chapter). The comments made upon the English text may, however, stand; for the truth is of all importance.
The thought of building a sanctuary came from God, and not from Israel. (See ch. 25:8.) It was His desire to dwell in the midst of His redeemed.
my father's God, and I will exalt Him." This is different from The sanctuary which Thy hands have established, in the seventeenth verse. That looks on to the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the establishment of the kingdom and the temple at Jerusalem. But this was to be a present thing: "I will prepare Him an habitation." It is in fact the tabernacle. This will come more properly before us in subsequent chapters; but it may be noted here that this is the first time mention is made of a habitation for the Lord with His people. He had saints before this, but not a people; and until redemption was accomplished He never dwelt on earth. He visited His saints, and appeared to them in many ways, but He never had His dwelling-place in their midst. But as soon as expiation for sin has been made by the blood of the lamb, and His people have been brought forth out of Egypt, saved through death and resurrection, then He inspires their hearts to build Him a habitation.
Note: The thought of building a sanctuary came from God, and not from Israel. (See ch. 25:8.) It was His desire to dwell in the midst of His redeemed.
He led them by the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, as soon as they commenced their exodus; but He could not have a dwelling-place in Egypt, in the territory of the enemy. But when they are brought on to new ground, He can identify Himself with them, dwell in their midst, and be their God, and they His people. It is so also in Christianity. Not until atonement had been made, and Christ had risen from the dead and ascended up on high, did God form His present habitation on earth through the Spirit. (Acts 2; Eph.2). It is so with the individual believer. It is not until he is cleansed by the blood of Christ that his body is made a temple of the Holy Ghost. The truth therefore is, that God's dwelling upon earth is founded upon a completed redemption. And what an immense privilege. Although the wilderness was no part of the purpose of God, yet, in His ways with His people, they wandered there forty years. How blessed, then, for these weary pilgrims, looking onward to the inheritance, to have the habitation of God in their midst; a place where they could approach Him, through the appointed priests, with sacrifices and incense; the centre, too, of their encampment. How it would inspire the hearts of the godly with courage to behold that tabernacle, with the cloud resting upon it, the symbol of the divine presence. Hence the agonizing cry of Moses, after the people's failure, "If Thy presence go not, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us?" (Exod.33:15,16). Nor should it be forgotten that God has also now His dwelling-place on earth. This truth is, amid the confusions of Christendom, in danger of being ignored. But, spite of our failure, God does dwell in the house which He has formed, and will dwell in it until the return of the Lord. This truth should inspire us also with strength and consolation; for it is no mean privilege to be brought out of the sphere, and from under the power, of Satan into the scene of the presence and the power of God. It is the only place of blessing on earth, and happy are they who have been made sharers of it through the grace of God in the power of the Holy Ghost.
This was no common joy which found expression in this song of jubilant praise. It evidently pervaded the whole host; for "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances" (v.20). And Miriam cried, as she led the chorus of their song, "Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (v.21). It is the first mention of Miriam by name, and it is exceedingly interesting to notice that she was a prophetess. It was she, most probably, who watched over the ark of bulrushes in which her infant brother Moses was laid, and who was the means of his restoration to his mother. Thus she also becomes prominent in Israel, not only from her connection with Moses, but also from her own distinct gift. It is the way of the Lord to bless all connected with the man of His counsels; and at the same time it reveals to us how sacred is the family tie in His sight. But in the scene before us it was her honour and privilege to be the leader and mouthpiece of the joy of the women of Israel. The hearts of all were filled with gladness, and found their utterance in music, dancing, and song. They were redeemed and they knew it on this happy morn; and laden with the joy of their salvation, they tell it out in these accents of gratitude and praise.
MARAH AND ELIM
FROM this point to the end of the eighteenth chapter is a distinct section of the book. To understand it aright, it must be remembered that as yet Israel was not under law, but under grace; and hence this brief period closes, in figure, with the millennium. The careful reader will find in this statement the key of many of the events recorded. For example, the murmurings recorded in chapters 15, 16 and 17 are borne by the Lord with long-suffering and tenderness, and their needs are ministered to out of the fulness of His unwearied love. But after Sinai, murmurings of the same character are the occasion of judgment, for the simple reason that the people had been, at their own request, put under law. Being therefore under the reign of righteousness, transgressions and rebellion are instantly dealt with according to the requirements of the law which formed the basis of Jehovah's righteous rule; whereas before Sinai, being under the reign of grace, they are borne with, and their sins and iniquities are covered.
The wilderness journey of Israel had now to be entered upon. The strains of their song had scarcely died away before they commenced their pilgrim journey.
"So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea ; and they went out into the wilderness of Shur: and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee. And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters" (v.22-27).
This, then, was their first experience: "They went three days in the wilderness, and found no water." The expression - "three days," is always significant in Scripture. Numberless examples may be gleaned from a concordance; and it will be found that very frequently it is associated with death; and so here the three days will mean the distance of death. They had in figure passed through death, and now they must learn it practically. If God in His grace gives us a perfect standing before Him, if He associates us with Christ in His death and resurrection, the object of all His ways with us will be to bring us into practical conformity with our new position. The children of Israel must thus be taught that, as a consequence of deliverance from Egypt, the world had become a desert to them, and that this must be entered into by the acceptance of death. This is the fundamental necessity for every believer. There can be no progress, no real break with the past, until death is accepted, until he reckons himself dead to sin (Rom.6), dead to the law (Rom.8), and dead to the world (Gal.6). Hence the character of God's dealings with souls. He will teach them experimentally - as in the case of Israel before us - and thus enable them to apprehend the true character of the path on which they have entered. And what was the first experience of Israel ? They found no water. Like the Psalmist, they were in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is (Psalm 63). No; every spring of earth is dried up for those who have been redeemed from Egypt. There is not a single source of life - nothing that can minister in any way to the life we have received in Christ. And how blessed it is for the soul to apprehend this truth. Starting on our pilgrimage, elated with the joy of salvation, how often are we surprised to find that the sources at which we had drunk before - and drunk with delight - have now run dry. We ought to expect this; but never is the lesson learned until we have gone the three days' journey in the wilderness. It is indeed a startling experience to discover that earth's resources are exhausted; but it is an indispensable requisite if we would know the blessedness of the truth that "all our springs are in Thee."
They passed onward and came to Marah. Here there was water; but they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. This is the further application of the same principle. First, there was no water to drink; and, secondly, when it is found it is so bitter that it could not be drunk. This is the application to the soul of the power of that death by which they have been delivered. The flesh shrinks from it - and would refuse it altogether. But for those who have been delivered from Egypt, and are pilgrims journeying on to the inheritance, it is absolutely necessary. Truly it is Marah - bitterness; and accordingly it troubled the people, and they murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? What a contrast! A few days ago, as with one heart, they sang, with exultant joy, the praises of their Redeemer; and now the song is silent, and discordant murmurs take its place. So is it with the believer - now filled with praise, and immediately after the flesh complains and murmurs because of the trials of the wilderness. But Moses intercedes for them, and the Lord showed him a tree, which, when cast into the waters, made them sweet. This is a beautiful figure of the cross of Christ - which utterly changes the character of the bitter waters. "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." Or, as St Paul cries, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal.6:14). Bring the cross into the bitterness of Marah waters, and at once they become sweet to the taste - are welcomed as the means of deliverance and blessing.
Thereon follows a most important principle - a principle ever applicable to the walk of the believer. It is one found throughout the Scriptures, and in every dispensation; viz., that blessing is dependent upon obedience; that is, the blessing of believers (for the children of Israel were now redeemed) is dependent upon their walk. They were to be guarded from the diseases of Egypt, if they would diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord their God, and would do that which was right in His sight, etc. (v.26). In the same way our blessed Lord says, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23 ). This principle cannot be too much insisted upon. There are many believers who have known the joy of salvation, and who are yet without the conscious enjoyment of a single blessing. The reason is that they are careless of their walk They do not study the Word, or "give ear to His commandments," and are consequently walking as seems right in their own eyes. What wonder is it, therefore, that they are cold and indifferent, that they are not in the conscious enjoyment of the love of God - of fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ? No; it is to the obedient ones that God comes, and delights to come, in the sweetest manifestations of His unchanging love; it is to those who have a conscience about every precept of the Word, and are seeking, in the power of the Spirit, to be found in obedience in every particular, to those whose delight it is to be doing the will of their Lord, and whose one aim it is to be at all times acceptable to Him, that He can draw near and bless according to His own mind and heart. Nothing can compensate for the lack of an obedient walk. All our blessing - as to its apprehension and enjoyment - is made dependent upon it. It is moreover the means of growth, and the condition of communion.
It is on this account that it is immediately added, "And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters." That is, they at once found refreshment, rest, and shade - the wells and the palm trees being, as one has said, "types of those living springs, and of that shelter which had been provided, through instruments chosen of God, for the consolation of His people." How welcome the rest to the already weary pilgrims I and how tender of the Lord to provide such grateful refreshment for His people in the wilderness! As the Shepherd of Israel, He thus led them, as it were, into green pastures, and made them to lie down by the still waters, to comfort and strengthen their hearts.
Note: Doubtless the numbers twelve and seventy are significant. Twelve is administrative perfection in government in man ( Israel ). Seventy is not so clear. But it will be remembered that the Lord adopted both of these numbers, in the twelve disciples, and in the seventy (Luke 9,10); and thus it would seem to point to the fact that through these He would minister these blessings to Israel.
THE enjoyments of Elim were but transient, however blessedly they unfolded the loving, tender care of Jehovah. The children of Israel were pilgrims; and as such it was their vocation to travel and not to rest. The next stage of their journey therefore is immediately recorded.
"And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: and the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full! for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (v.1-3).
The wilderness of Sin lay "between Elim and Sinai." It occupied therefore, as indeed has already been indicated, a very special place in the history of the children of Israel. Elim would ever remind them of one of their most blessed experiences, and the journey likewise to Sinai would recall to their minds a period distinguished by long-suffering and grace in God's dealings with them; whereas Sinai would be ever engraven on their memories in connection with the majesty and holiness of the law. Up till Sinai, it was what God was for them in His mercy and love; but from that time the ground, by their own action, was changed into what they were for God. This is the difference between grace and law; and hence the peculiar interest attaching to the journey between Elim and Sinai. But whether under grace or law, the flesh remained the same, and took every opportunity of revealing its corrupt and incurable character. Again the whole congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. (v.2). They had done so at Pi-hahiroth, when they saw the army of Pharaoh approaching; they repeated their sin at Marah, because the waters were bitter; and now they complain again because of their pilgrim fare. "They soon forgat His works; they waited not for His counsel; but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert" (Psalm 106:13,14). The recollection of Egypt and Egypt 's food possessed their hearts, and forgetful of the bitter bondage with which this had been connected, they looked back with longing eyes. How often this is the case with newly-emancipated souls. There must always be hunger in the wilderness; for the flesh can find no gratification for its own desires, or satisfaction in its toils and hardships. It is the place where the flesh must be tested. The Lord "humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know, that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live" (Deut.8:3). This is the conflict. The flesh craves that which will meet its desires, but if we are delivered from Egypt this cannot be allowed: the flesh must be refused, looked upon as already judged in the death of Christ; and therefore we are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh, for if we live after the flesh we shall die: but if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body we shall live (Rom.8:12,13). But the Lord, as we have seen in Deuteronomy, has His object in suffering us to hunger; it is to wean us from the flesh pots of Egypt, and to attract us to Himself - to teach us that true satisfaction and sustenance can only be found in Himself and His word. The contrast is therefore between the flesh pots of Egypt, and Christ; and very blessed is it when the soul learns that Christ is enough for all its needs. In their unbelief the children of Israel charged Moses with the design of killing them with hunger. But their hunger was intended to create in them another appetite, by which alone their true life could be sustained. The Lord, however, gave them their request, even though He sent leanness into their soul. For, as will be seen, He gave them the quails as well as the manna.
"Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the Lord hath brought you out from the land of Egypt ; and in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the Lord; for that He heareth your murmurings against the Lord: and what are we, that ye murmur against us? And Moses said, This shall be, when the Lord shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against Him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.
"And Moses spake unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before the Lord; for He hath heard your murmurings. And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel : speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God" (v.4-12).
Before we speak of the manna, two or three particulars have to be noted. The first is the grace with which God meets the desires of the people. In Numbers 11 He also meets their desire under similar circumstances; but "the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague" (v.33). Here there is no sign of judgment - only patient and forbearing grace. The difference springs, if we may so describe it, from the dispensation. In Numbers they were under law, and they were dealt with accordingly; here they are under grace - and hence grace reigned spite of their sin. Secondly, their murmurings were the occasion of the display of the glory of the Lord (v.10). Thus the display of what man is brings out of the depths of the heart of God the revelation of what He is. It was so in the garden of Eden, and indeed all down the line of His dealings with man. This principle is seen in perfection in the cross - where man was exhibited in all the utter corruption of his evil nature, and God was fully revealed. The light shineth in darkness, even if the darkness comprehends it not; and indeed the glory of the Lord shines out all the brighter because of the darkness of man's iniquity, which becomes the occasion of its display. Mark, moreover, that murmuring against Moses and Aaron was murmuring against the Lord (v.8). All sin is really against God. (See Psalm 51:4; Luke 15:18-21.) Hence it is that the Lord says, "I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel " (v.12). It is not enough remembered that all our complaints, our expressions of unbelief, our murmurings, are against the Lord, and come immediately into His ears. How often would our sinful words die away on our lips if this thought were in our minds. If the Lord were visibly before our eyes, we should not dare to utter what we often permit ourselves now to say in the hastiness of our unbelief. And yet we are really before Him, His eyes are upon us, and He hears our every word.
Note: See, for an example of this, John 20:26,27.
Lastly, remark the difference between the quails and the manna. The quails have no special teaching connected with them, whereas it will be seen that the manna is a very striking type of the Lord Jesus. The quails therefore were given to satisfy the desires of the people, but brought no blessing. It is in connection with these, indeed, that the Psalmist says, "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." God may hear the cry of His people, even in their unbelief, and grant them their desires - but for discipline rather than for present blessing. Thus many a believer, forgetting his true portion in Christ, has desired the things of this world, the flesh pots of Egypt, and he has been allowed to attain his object, but the consequence has been barrenness of soul - and such barrenness of soul, that he has only been restored through the disciplinary trials of the Lord's loving hand. If we turn back in heart to Egypt, and are permitted to gratify our desires, it can only lead to sorrow in days to come. As, for example, St Paul writes to Timothy, "They that will be rich, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim.6:9,10). This is only one form of turning back to Egypt, but the principle is applicable to every object which the flesh can desire.
The account of the actual bestowment of the quails and the manna is now given.
"And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp; and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat. This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating; an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons: take ye every man for them which are in his tents. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack : they gathered every man according to his eating. And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them. And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted" (v.13-21).
It will be observed, and the significance of the fact has been indicated, that there is the barest mention of the quails, but a full description of the manna. It is with the manna therefore that we are specially concerned. When the dew was gone up, "behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat" (v.14, 15). This then is the meaning of the manna: the bread which God gave the Israelites to eat in the wilderness. It is consequently the proper wilderness food for the Lord's people. Hence when the Jews said to our Lord, "Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat," He replied, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world" (John 6:32,33. Read especially from 48th to 58th verses). The manna then, it is clear, is a type of Christ - of Christ as He was in this world - as the One who came down from heaven, and who as such becomes the food of His people while passing through the wilderness. It must be especially noted that until we have life by feeding on His death - eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:53,54) - we cannot feed upon Him as the manna. Having received life, then we are told, "As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by" (because of) "the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by" (because of) "Me" (v.57).
Leaving the reader, however, to study for himself this most significant Scripture, it will suffice now to recall the two points named; first, that the manna of our chapter sets forth Christ; and secondly, that Christ in this character is the food of His people while in the desert. There is a difference between the children of Israel and believers of this dispensation. The former could only be in one place at a time, for we have here an actual historical narrative. The latter - Christians - are in two: their place is in the heavenlies in Christ (see Eph.2); and in their actual circumstances they are pilgrims in the wilderness. As being in the heavenlies, a glorified Christ - typified by the old corn of the land - is our sustenance; but in wilderness circumstances it is what Christ was here, Christ as the manna, that meets our need. And amid the weariness and the toil of our pilgrim path, how blessed and how sustaining it is to feed upon the grace, the tenderness, and the sympathy of a humbled Christ. How our hearts rejoice to remember that He has passed through the same circumstances; that He therefore knows our needs, and delights to minister to them for our sustainment and blessing. It is for such a purpose that the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says, "Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Heb.12:3). As one has said, speaking on this subject, "For instance, something may make me impatient during the day; well, then, Christ is my patience, and thus He is the manna to sustain me in patience. He is the source of grace, not merely the example which I am to copy;" and it is thus as the source of grace, sympathy, and strength to us in the wilderness that Christ is the manna of our souls.
There are some practical directions concerning the gathering of the manna which are of the utmost importance. First, they were to gather it every man according to his eating (v.16-18). As a consequence he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack. The appetite governed the amount collected. How strikingly true this is of the believer! We all have as much of Christ as we desire - no more, and no less. If our desires are large, if we open our mouth wide, He will fill it. We cannot desire too much, nor be disappointed when we desire. On the other hand, if we are but feebly conscious of our need, a little only of Christ will be supplied. The measure therefore in which we feed upon Christ, as our wilderness food, depends entirely upon our felt spiritual need - upon our appetite. Secondly, it could not be stored for future use. No man was to leave of it until the morning; but some disobeyed this injunction, only, however, to find that what they had thus left had become corrupt. No; the food collected to-day cannot sustain us on the morrow. It is only in a present exercise of soul that we can feed upon Christ. Much damage has accrued to souls from forgetting this principle. They have had a rich repast of manna, and they have attempted to feed upon it for days; but it has always issued in disappointment and loss instead of blessing. God only gives the portion of a day in its day (see margin of v.4), and no more. Thirdly, it was to be collected early, for when the sun waxed hot it melted. No time, indeed, is so precious to the believer for gathering the manna, as the first moments of the day when in quiet he is alone with the Lord. He has not yet entered upon the experiences of the day, and he knows not what may be the precise character of his path; but he knows that he will need the sustaining manna. Let him therefore be diligent in the early morning, and let his hand not be slack to gather, and to gather as much as he may need; for even should he seek it afterwards, he will find that it has all disappeared before the glare and the heat of the day. How many a failure may be traced back to neglect on this point! A trial comes - unexpectedly comes, and the soul breaks down. But why? Because the manna was not collected before the sun was hot. All should lay this to heart, and be on the watch against the artifices of Satan to divert our minds from this one necessary thing. Let all diligence be employed that, whatever the emergency throughout the day, there may be no lack of manna.
In connection with the manna the Sabbath is also given.
"And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To-morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to-day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you, to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that to-day, for to-day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to-day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.
"And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore He giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days: abide ye every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day" (v.22-30).
We read in Genesis 2 that "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made" (v.3). This fixes the meaning of the sabbath or the seventh day; for it should be carefully observed that it is the seventh and no other day, showing clearly that it is God's rest. This meaning is asserted most distinctly also in the epistle to the Hebrews. (See Heb.4:1-11.) The sabbath therefore is a type of God's rest, and as given to man expresses the desire of God's heart that he should share with Him in His rest. It is found here for the first time. There is not a trace of it through all the patriarchal age, or during the sojourn of the children of Israel in Egypt, but, as found in this chapter in connection with the manna, it has a most blessed significance.
But a few remarks must be made before this is explained. The object God had in view in its institution has been indicated; but, as is abundantly clear, man in consequence of sin never possessed the thing signified. Nay, more, God Himself could not rest because of sin. Hence, when our blessed Lord was accused of breaking the sabbath, He replied, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17 ). God could not rest in the presence of sin, and of the dishonour done to Him by it, and as a consequence man could not share it with Him. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews develops this latter point. He shows that the children of Israel were shut out from it because of their unbelief and hardness of heart, that Joshua did not give them rest, that in David's time it was spoken of as yet future, and he argues that "there remaineth therefore a rest (a keeping of the sabbath) to the people of God" (Heb.3 and 4). The question arises then, How is it to be possessed? The answer is found in our chapter. The manna, as we have seen, pre-figures Christ, and consequently the connection teaches that it is Christ, and Christ only, who can lead us into the rest of God. He is the only way. The apostle thus says, "We which have believed do enter into rest" (Heb.4:3); that is, it belongs to those who believe in Christ to enter into rest - not by any means, as some have taught, that the rest is a present thing. The context shows distinctly that it is a future blessing. There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God. That believers may have rest of conscience and rest of heart in Christ is most blessedly true; but God's rest will not be reached until we enter upon that eternal scene in which all things are made new, when the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God (Rev.21:1-7).
There are two circumstances connected with the institution of the sabbath in this place which demand a brief notice. The first is the double provision of manna on the sixth day, that the people might rest in their tents on the seventh. If collected thus on any other day in self-will, it became worthless and corrupt; but when done in obedience in view of the sabbath it remained sound and good. The truth taught, however, is that when sharing in God's rest, in His grace, throughout eternity, Christ will be still our food; nay, it might be said that our enjoyment of that rest will consist in feasting with God upon the once humbled Christ. Nothing less will satisfy His own heart than that we should have full fellowship with Himself concerning His beloved Son. There is perhaps another thought. It is that whatever we acquire of Christ here becomes our eternal possession and delight. Gather as much manna as we may, two omers instead of one; if it is kept for the rest that remaineth, it will be a source of strength and joy throughout eternity. The second thing is that some of the people, spite of the injunction they had received, went out on the seventh day to gather manna, but they found none (v.27). Whatever the exhibitions of grace man's heart remained the same. Disobedience is native to his corrupt nature, and displays itself alike, whether under law or grace. The Lord rebuked through Moses the conduct of His people, though He bore with them in His long-suffering and tender mercy. Taking the sabbath, as has been explained, as a type of God's rest, and therefore, since sin has come in, as yet future, it will be at once seen that there is a distinct typical teaching connected with there being no manna on the sabbath. The time for the manna will then be for ever past. Christ will never more be apprehended in that character; for the wilderness circumstances of His people will then have for ever passed away. The store they collected while in the desert may still be enjoyed; but there will be no more to be gathered. The same lesson, in one aspect, may be seen in the direction given by Moses at the commandment of the Lord.
"And Moses said, This is the thing which the Lord commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations. As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited: they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan. Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah" (v.33-36).
There is doubtless an allusion to this in the promise to the overcomer in the church at Pergamos: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna," etc. (Rev.2:17). Thus Christ in His humiliation is never to be forgotten, but always to be remembered, and gratefully to be fed upon throughout eternity by His people.
"There on the hidden bread
Of Christ - once humbled here
God's treasured store - for ever fed,
His love my soul shall cheer."
Hence an omer full of manna was laid up before the Lord, before the Testimony, to be kept for their generations. For forty years, during the whole of their wanderings in the desert, until they came to a land inhabited, this was their daily food; they did eat manna until they came into the borders of the land of Canaan.
REPHIDIM AND AMALEK
ONCE again the children of Israel move forward and meet with other difficulties. But "all these things happened unto them for ensamples" (types): "and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Cor.10:11). There is, therefore, a special interest attaching to all their wilderness sorrows and experiences.
"And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide you with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go: behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb: and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?" (v.1-7).
As in the case of the manna, so with the smitten rock, the people's sin was the occasion for this display of power and grace. In Rephidim there was "no water for the people to drink." And what did the people do? Were they not encouraged, by their past experiences of God's faithfulness and tender care, to turn to Him in the confidence that He would interpose on their behalf? Were not the quails and the manna fresh in their recollection of the evidence of the all-sufficiency of Jehovah to meet their every need? Had they not learnt that the Lord was their shepherd, and that therefore they should not want? All this, indeed, might have been expected; and, were we ignorant of the human heart, of the character of the flesh, it might have been expected as the natural results of what they had seen of the wonderful works of the Lord. But so far from this being the case, they chode with Moses, and said, "Give us water that we may drink." In their sinful murmurings and unbelief, they looked upon Moses as the author of all their misery, and were almost ready to kill him in their anger.
An observation or two may be made upon the character of their sin, before the gracious provision accorded to their need is considered. The people chode with Moses; but in reality, as Moses said, they tempted the Lord (v.2); saying, by their acts, "Is the Lord among us, or not?" (v.17). Moses was their appointed leader, and was, therefore, for the people Jehovah's representative. To chide with him was thus to chide with the Lord; and to complain of their privations was in fact to doubt, if not to deny, the Lord's presence. For had they believed that He was among them, every murmur would have been hushed, and they would have rested in the assurance that He who had brought them out of Egypt, parted for them the waters of the Red Sea, delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh, and guided them in all their journeys by the pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day, would in His own time hear their cry, and supply their need. It shows the very solemn nature of the sin of murmuring and complaints, because of the trials of the wilderness, and teaches us, at the same time, that the essence of all such is doubting whether the Lord is with us. Hence the antidote to all such tendencies, to these common snares of Satan, by which he so often entangles the feet of the Lord's people, and robs them of their peace and joy, even when he does not compass their fall, is a firm, unwavering hold upon the truth that the Lord is among us, that He leads His people like a flock - through every stage of their wilderness journey. How beautiful, in contrast with the conduct of Israel, is the perfect attitude of our blessed Lord. When tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He in immovable dependence, repelled his every suggestion with the simple word of God.
Moses cried unto the Lord, and the Lord heard his prayer, and, spite of the people's sin, "He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant" (Ps.105:41,42).
Thus grace still prevailed, and satisfied the needs of the people. But it is in the typical instruction of this incident that the chief interest lies. Even as the manna, the rock also speaks of Christ. St Paul thus says, "They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor.10:4). But the Rock was smitten before the waters flowed. Moses was directed to take the rod - the rod wherewith he had smitten the river - and there with Jehovah standing before him on the rock in Horeb, he was to smite the rock, "and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink." The rod has been explained to mean a symbol of God's power, and in smiting it will therefore set forth the exercise of His judicial power. We behold then, in this smiting of the rock, the stroke of His judgment falling upon Christ on the cross. The smitten rock is a crucified Christ. It was the people's sin, remark, that led to the smiting of the rock - a striking exemplification of the truth that "He was wounded for our trangressions, He was bruised for our iniquities." Surely this is a sight both for sinners and saints. Sinners may behold Christ on the cross bearing the judgment of sin, and learn, if they will but ponder it, what sin is in the eyes of a holy God; and as they learn this lesson, let them also be warned of their coming doom if they continue in impenitence and unbelief. For if God spared not His own Son, when dealing with the question of sin, that Son, who was the delight of His heart, who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, how can they expect to escape? Saints, moreover, cannot too often look back to the cross. And how will their hearts be touched, humbled, melted, as by grace they are enabled to say, " His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). Throughout eternity they will never forget that their sins necessitated that death; while they will never cease to remember that God was glorified by it in every attribute of His character, and hence that it is the everlasting and immutable foundation of all their blessing. It is indeed a most solemn, as well as precious, truth, that the Rock must needs be smitten before the people could drink. Inasmuch as sin was in question - sin which had dishonoured God before the whole universe - all that God was demanded it for His own glory; and inasmuch as the people would have perished without water, their needs demanded it that they might live. But God only could provide it, and hence in the directions to Moses another beauteous unfolding of the grace of His heart is exhibited.
The Rock was smitten, and "the waters gushed out." Not before - this was impossible; for because of sin God was, as it were, restrained. His mercies and compassions, His grace and His love, were pent up within Himself. But immediately that atonement was accomplished, whereby the claims of His holiness were for ever satisfied, the flood-gates of His heart were opened to pour forth streams of grace and life throughout the world. Hence we read in Matthew, that as soon as the Lord Jesus had yielded up the ghost, "the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom:' (Matt.27:50,51). God was now free in righteousness to come out in grace to a sinful world with offers of salvation, and man - the believer - was free to enter boldly into His immediate presence. The way had been revealed by which man could righteously stand before the full light of the holiness of the very throne of God.
The water which flowed from the Rock is an emblem of the Holy Spirit as the power of life. This is clear from the gospel of John. Our blessed Lord thus said to the woman of Samaria, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). In chapter 7 He uses the same figure, and John adds, "This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified" (v.39). Two things are indeed clear from this passage - first, that the "living water" is a type of the Holy Ghost; and secondly, that this "living water," the Holy Ghost, could not be received until Jesus was glorified. In other words, the Rock must first be smitten, as already seen, before the waters could flow out to quench the thirst of men.
There is one lesson of great practical importance that cannot be overlooked. There is nothing that can satisfy the undying needs of man but the Holy Ghost as the power of life - everlasting life; and this blessing can only be received through a crucified and risen Christ. Hence He cried to the Jews, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (John 7:37 ). And the proclamation still goes forth, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev.22:17). May every one who reads these lines have this truth impressed upon his soul in the power of the Holy Ghost!
Thus the Lord met the murmurings of His people by grace, and gave them water to drink; but the names - Massah and Meribah, given - to the place - remained as the monument of their sin.
Immediately after the waters being fetched out of the rock comes conflict with Amalek. The connection of the incidents is most instructive as illustrating the ways and the truth of God. The manna is Christ come down from heaven; the smitten Rock is Christ crucified, the living water is an emblem of the Holy Ghost; and now together with the reception of the Spirit comes conflict. It must be so; for "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: that ye should not do the things that ye would" (Gal.5:17). Hence the order of these typical events. What then, it may be enquired, is symbolized by Amalek? It is often stated that it is the flesh; but this is only part of the truth. As to Amalek; his real character is readily apprehended from his origin. (See Gen.36:12.) But the point to be discerned here is, that Amalek sets himself in open antagonism to the people of God, and seeks to hinder their progress, and even to destroy them from off the face of the earth. It is therefore the power of Satan - acting through the flesh it may be - that thus challenges the onward march of the children of Israel. And the subtlety of Satan in the time chosen for the attack is plainly apparent. It was just after the people had sinned, at a time, therefore, when an enemy might have supposed that they were under the displeasure of God. This is ever his method. But if God be for His people, He will suffer no foe to accomplish their destruction. The people indeed if left to themselves might easily have been scattered; but He who had brought them through the waters of the Red Sea will not now leave them to perish. The Lord was their banner, and thus their defence was sure. Let us then notice how the defeat of Amalek was accomplished.
"Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur, went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon: and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side: and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword" (v.8-13).
First, then, we find that Joshua, at the commandment of Moses, places himself at the head of chosen men for the battle. Joshua represents Christ, in the energy of the Spirit, leading His redeemed to the conflict. What a consolation! If Satan marshals his forces to assail the Lord's people, Christ, on the other hand, leads out His chosen men to meet the foe. The battle therefore is the Lord's. This is illustrated again and again throughout the history of Israel ; and it is as true in principle of the conflicts of believers of this dispensation. This, if apprehended, would calm our minds in the presence of the sorest difficulties. It would help us to cease from man, and to count upon the Lord. It would enable us to estimate at their proper value the restless activity and the schemes of men, and to look for deliverance alone to the Lord as the Leader of His people. In a word, we should then remember that there can be no successful defence offered to our foes but in the power of the Spirit of God.
There is yet another thing. If Joshua leads his warriors in the plain, Moses - with Aaron and Hur - go up to the top of the hill; and the fight below depends upon the uplifting of the hands of Moses above. Moses, as thus seen, is a figure of Christ above in the value of His intercession. While He leads His people in the power of the Spirit below, He maintains their cause by His intercession in the presence of God; and secures for them mercy and grace for seasonable succour. They have therefore no strength for conflict apart from His priestly intercession; and the energy of the Spirit as leading them onward is in relation to this intercession. St Paul indicates this truth when he says, "It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword" (or, we may add, Amalek)?... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us" (Rom.8:34-37). The Lord Himself taught His disciples the connection between His work above, and the Spirit's action in them below, when He said, "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" (John 16:7). Hence, too, He terms the Holy Ghost "another Comforter" (John 14:16 ); and the apostle John applies to our blessed Lord the same title (i.e. Advocate, but really the same word Paraclete; 1 John 2:1).
But no one man could be a perfect type of Christ. The hands of Moses were heavy, so that they were sustained by Aaron and Hur. This, however, only brings out more fully the truth of the intercession of Christ. Aaron, though not yet formally set apart, represents the priesthood, and Hur, if the significance of the name may guide us, typifies light or purity. Together therefore it will mean the priestly intercession of Christ maintained in holiness before God; and hence an intercession, since it is based upon all that Christ is and has done, which is ever effectual and prevailing. The lesson should be well observed. The battle below depended not upon the strength of the warriors, nor even upon the Holy Spirit, but upon the enduring and efficacious intercession of Christ. For when Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. Hence the necessity of dependence. Apart from it, we may be ready for the conflict; the cause may be a just one, but our failure will be sure and inevitable. But with it, having Christ on high on our behalf, and Christ in the energy of the Spirit as our Leader, "when the wicked, even our enemies and our foes, come against us, they will stumble and fall." Then no foe can stand before the Lord's people.
Amalek was thus discomfited with the edge of the sword. But such a victory - revelation of the source of their strength, and the unchanging character of the enemy - was not to be forgotten. It was to be recorded as a memorial.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi: for he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (v.14-16).
Two things were combined in this memorial - the record of their deliverance from Amalek, and the pledge of his final overthrow. Every display of the Lord's power on behalf of His people bears this double character. If He step in and vindicate them from the assaults of their enemies, He, by that same act, assures them of His continual protection and care. Every interposition therefore of His between them and their foes should be rehearsed in their ears, and written on their hearts, both as the memorial of the past, and as the guarantee of His immutable defence. Hence when the Psalmist celebrates a past deliverance, he exclaims, "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident" (Ps.27:3). In the same confidence Moses built an altar. By it he gratefully owned the divine hand, as well as expressed that the praise of the victory belonged to the Lord. It is precisely here that so many fail. The Lord vouchsafes help and deliverance, but they forget to build their altars. Driven into the Lord's presence in their straits, they too often neglect to praise Him when relieved from their pressure. Not so with Moses. By building the altar he declared before the whole of Israel, It is the Lord who has fought for us and secured the victory. This is proclaimed by the title he affixed to it - "The Lord our banner." He therefore it was who led our hosts, and He it is who will lead our hosts; for His controversy with Amalek will never cease. As long as He has a people on the earth, so long will Satan seek to encompass their overthrow. We need to remember this, but with all the prospect it involves, our hearts will be confident, if we can but grasp in power the truth of Jehovah-nissi. The battle is the Lord's, we fight under His colours, and hence - whatever the stubborn persistence of the foe - the victory is assured.
THIS chapter brings to a close the dispensation of grace in Israel 's history. From Egypt to Sinai all was pure grace. At Sinai they put themselves under law. Hence the special character of chapter 18. The manna, as explained, presented Christ in incarnation, the smitten Rock His death, the streams that flowed from it the gift of the Spirit; and now, following the dispensation of the Spirit, we find in figure the blessing of Jew and Gentile, and the establishment of governmental order in Israel. Indeed, the Church, the Jew, and the Gentile, are all typically delineated. This will be perceived if the several points of the following Scripture are indicated:
"When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt, then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back, and her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land: and the name of the other was Eliezer; For the God of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh. And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God: and he said unto Moses, I thy father-in-law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.
"And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him and they asked each other of their welfare: and they came into the tent. And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel 's sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh; who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them. And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took a burnt-offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God" (v.1-12).
Jethro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, now appears. He had heard of all that God had wrought for His people, and thereon brought Zipporah and her two sons to Moses. The very names of the children explain the typical character of the whole scene. The first is Gershom; "for he said, I have been an alien" or a pilgrim "in a strange land:" It is reminiscent therefore of the weary days of Israel 's absence from their own land when they were scattered as strangers throughout the world. (See 1 Peter 1:1.) The name of the second is Eliezer; "For the God of my father was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh." This undoubtedly recalled the past; but it is also a prophecy of the future, and therefore, interpreted typically, speaks of the final deliverance of Israel, preparatory to their introduction into blessing under the reign of Messiah. The two names thus mark two distinct periods in God's dealings with Israel: the first covers the whole time that will elapse between their being carried away captive into Babylon; while the second points to that momentous hour in which the Lord will suddenly appear and snatch His people from the very jaws of the enemy, when He shall go forth and fight against those nations who will be gathered against Jerusalem to battle (Zechariah 14). But the sorrows of their dispersion, as well as their deliverance from the sword of Pharaoh, are looked upon in this scene as past, and they are now in possession, in figure, of their long-delayed and long-looked-for blessing,
The Church is seen in Zipporah. She was the Gentile wife of Moses, and as such prefigures the Church. All thus is in keeping with the millennial character of the picture; for when Israel is restored, and rejoices in the happy sway of Emmanuel, the Church will have her part in the gladness of that day, associated as she will be in the glories of the reign of the thousand years. It will be a day of unspeakable joy to Him who came of the seed of David, according to the flesh, and every pulse of His joy will awaken a response in the heart of her who will occupy the position of the Lamb's wife. He therefore, and she together with Him, whatever her lesser measure, will have fellowship in gladness over the day of Israel 's espousals.
Next we have the Gentiles, as symbolized by Jethro's blessing, and confessing Jehovah's name. And observe how this is produced. Moses, the Jew, declares to Jethro all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel 's sake, and the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them." This relation bows the heart of Jethro, and he rejoices because of the deliverance of Israel, praises the Lord for it, and confesses His absolute supremacy. We thus read in the Psalms, "Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; Thou hast made me the head of the heathen" (Gentiles): "a people whom I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me" (Ps. 18: 43,44).
Jethro then unites in worship with Aaron, and the elders of Israel, together with Moses, before God. Moses is here the king, and hence he with Israel, and the Gentiles (Jethro) eat bread before God. It is the union of Israel and the Gentiles in worship. It is the scene predicted by the prophet: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob: and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa.2:2,3).
In the remainder of the chapter the establishment of judgment and government is recorded:
"And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening. And when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father-in-law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: when they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another; and I do make them know the statutes of God, and His laws. And Moses' father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to Godward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: and thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness: and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: and let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.
"And Moses let his father-in-law depart; and he went his way into his own land" (v.13-27).
Two things have to be carefully distinguished - the failure of Moses, and the thing symbolized by the appointment of the rulers over the people. To take the latter first, it is evident that this arrangement for judging the people emblematically portrays the order in government which the Messiah will set up when He assumes His kingdom. As the Psalmist speaks, "He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness" (Ps.72:2,3). Hence it is that this section closes with this account. But while this is divinely intended, the failure of Moses in listening to Jethro must not be concealed. Indeed, if it were, some most valuable instruction would thereby be lost. The first mistake he made was in listening to Jethro on such a matter. The Lord had given him his office; and it was to Him he should have had recourse on every subject that concerned His people. The pleas Jethro advanced were indeed specious and subtle. They were grounded upon his anxiety for the welfare of his son-in-law. "Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone." If Moses would but do as he advised, then he said, "So shall it be easier for thyself," etc.; and again, "Then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall go to their place in peace." It was not therefore concern for God, but for Moses, that actuated Jethro. But the arguments he advanced were those most calculated to influence the natural man. Who is there, even among the Lord's servants, that does not at times feel the weight of his responsibility, and who would not rejoice at the prospect of its being lessened? There is indeed no more seductive temptation presented at such a moment than that of the need of a little care for one's self and one's comfort. But, dangerous as it is, and as it was in the case of Moses, if he had remembered the source of his office, as well as his strength, he would not have yielded to it. For if his work in judging the people were of the Lord, and for the Lord, His grace would be all-sufficient for His servant He taught Moses this lesson, as we find in the book of Numbers, when Moses complained to the Lord, and in the very words that Jethro had instilled into his mind, "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me" (11:14). The Lord heard his complaint, and directed him to associate seventy men with himself to aid him in his work, saying, "I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone" (v.17). Though, therefore, the Lord granted him his desire, there was no additional supply of strength for the government of Israel, but Moses was now called upon to share with the seventy the Spirit which he before possessed. According to man, the counsel of Jethro was wise and prudent, evincing much sagacity in human affairs; but according to God, its acceptance was characterized by doubt and unbelief. In reality it left God out of the calculation, and made the health of Moses its chief aim, losing sight altogether of the fact that it was not Moses, but the Lord through Moses, who bore the burden of the people; and hence that it was not a question of the strength of Moses, but of his resources in God. How apt are all to lose sight of this important truth - that in any service, if occupied in it for the Lord, the difficulties in it should be measured, not by what we are, but what He is. We are never sent to warfare at our own charges, but every true servant is sustained by the all-sufficiency of God. Moses might be despondent in the presence of such a task, and Paul might almost faint under the pressure of the thorn in the flesh, but to both one and the other the divine word is spoken, if the ear be but opened to hear, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
Several valuable instructions may be deduced from this narrative. First, it is always exceedingly dangerous to listen to the advice of a relative in the things of God. When our blessed Lord, together with His disciples, was exceedingly occupied with His ministry, "so that they could not so much as eat bread," His friends or relatives "went out to lay hold on Him: for they said, He is beside Himself." They thought not of the claims of God, and could not understand anything of that zeal which was consuming Him in the service which He came to fulfil. Relatives look through the medium of their claims, or their natural affection, and hence the eye, not being single, cannot judge aright in the presence of God. It no doubt called for much self-sacrifice and loss of ease and comfort for Zipporah, and Moses, too, in the work to which he was called. It was nevertheless no small honour and privilege to be thus engaged; and had he been fully alive to it, he would have resolutely closed his ears to the seductive voice of the tempter in the person of Jethro.
Secondly, we gather that when once a word of distrust or complaint is admitted into our hearts, it is not very easily dispelled. As we have seen from Numbers 11, Moses uses the very words in his complaint that were suggested by Jethro. It is exactly here that Satan is so successful. There may be but a half unformed thought, an insinuation, in our minds, and immediately he comes and puts it into words, and presents it to our souls. For example, feeling weary in service, and it may be despondent through weariness, how often will Satan suggest that we are doing too much, going beyond our strength; and if we accept the temptation the thought may hamper us for years, even if it does not find expression in murmurs before God; We need therefore to be very watchful over our hearts as not ignorant of the devices of the enemy.
Lastly, it lies on the surface that man's order by no means represents the mind of God. To human eyes the governmental system advised by Jethro was very orderly and beautiful, and far more likely to secure the administration of justice among the people. Man always thinks he can improve upon the order of God. This has been the secret of the ruin of the church. Instead of adhering to the Scriptures, which reveal the divine mind, man has brought in ideas, plans, and systems of his own; and hence the manifold divisions and sects which characterize the outward form of Christianity. The safety of the Lord's people lies in steadfastly cleaving to the word of God; and in the refusal therefore of all counsel and advice which may be given apart from it by man.
Jethro had done his work, and, by the permission of Moses, he went his way into his own land (v.27). What a contrast with Moses and the children of Israel ! They were going God's way and to His land; and, as a consequence, were pilgrims passing through the wilderness; but Jethro went his (not God's) way, and into his own (not God's) land. Instead, therefore, of being a pilgrim, he had a settled home, where he kept no sabbath, but found his own rest.
See, for an example of this, John 20:26,27.
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