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LET MY PEOPLE GO!
‘Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let My people go.’
The history of the deliverance of God’s people from the bondage of Egypt, their pilgrimage through the wilderness, and their ultimate settlement in the Land of Promise, bear a striking analogy to the history of the human soul.
I. The words ‘Let My people go,’ regarded as spoken concerning human souls, may be said to contain in themselves the whole gospel history of our redemption. Even the small word ‘My’ is emphatic. We are God’s people; not Satan’s people. When God claims us we should remember that He claims His own, and that we are bound to support His claim. (2) The summons to let the people of God go implies a bondage from which they are to be delivered. That which forms the basis of Holy Scripture is the fact that man committed sin. He rebelled against his Maker, and became the slave of one to whom he owed no obedience. (3) If the words ‘Let My people go’ imply the existence of slavery, they still more emphatically imply the way and the promise of redemption. The Gospel of Christ, as preached throughout the whole world, is just this—‘Let My people go.’
II. The whole system of ordinances and sacraments, in which we find ourselves by God’s providence, like the system of ordinances and sacrifices which was given to Israel when they came out of Egypt, is intended to insure and perfect and turn to the best account the liberty which the Lord has given us, for the soul of man may not be content with emancipation once and for all.
III. The consideration of what Jesus Christ has done for us is the chief means of moving our hearts to seek that liberty which God designs us all to possess.
—Bishop Harvey Goodwin.
‘The great fact for us is this, that the very first step towards liberty taken by God’s own servants, in His time and way, not only failed apparently, but actually intensified the horrors of the situation. To a believing Israelite only one refuge was possible, viz. the promise of God. He has said it, and would He do it, despite all appearances to the contrary? So did God seek, kindly but sternly, to discipline them to naked faith in His word. Of set purpose, circumstances were made so forbidding that hope could find nothing whatever to rest on. Israel was thus shut up to faith.’
THE UNFAILING RESOURCE
‘And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said,’ etc.
Some lessons are embedded in this story of perennial value.
I. We are reminded of the difficulties encountered by those who engage in God’s service.—The forces against which we set ourselves in engaging in this service will not abandon the control which they have secured without a fierce struggle. They will be roused into fiercer and more determined activity to retain that control when it is to be threatened in any way. A glimpse at the forces will reveal the magnitude and the difficulty of the task undertaken by the servant of God. There is, behind all others, the mighty unseen power of the Prince of Darkness. ‘There is something,’ as has been said, ‘very awful in the thought that Satan, whom we so slight or forget, is an angel—a spiritual being of the highest order—endowed, therefore, with energies and gifts of superhuman power—with intelligence as great as his malice—lofty, majestic, terrible even in his fall.’ Not infrequently, as in the case of Egypt, have earthly authorities opposed the work of God’s servants in seeking to free men from the bondage of evil and to lead them into liberty. The wisdom of men, too, has been pressed into the service of keeping men back from true freedom. The idea that they who have been slaves can be transformed into a nation of freemen is held up to ridicule and scorn. Not the least difficulty is found in the degraded condition of those whose welfare is sought and who are unwilling to endure the hardships necessary to the enjoyment of freedom. When trouble comes to them through the efforts of those who seek their highest good they do not look beyond this to the blessing ready for them. They grumble, and cast the blame upon their benefactors. When we take these things into account we can understand the difficulties encountered by those who engage in this service.
II. There are the discouragements and perplexities that come to them.—To meet with failure at the beginning of any task is a most trying experience. It is dispiriting, depressing, and perplexing. Yet it is an experience from which few escape. There are some things by the remembrance of which the trial may be mitigated. One is that we have been forewarned of this. Moses was told before he left the land of Midian that Pharaoh would resist his demands. Had he remembered this now his depression would not have been so great. Jesus told his disciples that the first result of their proclamation of His message would be severe persecution, and told them beforehand that the remembrance of His work might be support to them. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Another thing is that these failures at the beginning have a salutary effect upon ourselves. They are better for us than the highest success could have been. We learn to rise on the stepping stones of our dead selves to higher things.
Our blasted hopes, our aims, and wishes crossed,
Are worth the tears and agonies they cost.
A third thing is that these failures to them who persevere pave the way to success. The door that has been shut against us at our first approach will open widely when, picking up courage, we again come to it.
Freedom’s battle once begun,
Bequeathed from bleeding sire to son,
Though baffled oft, is ever won.
III. We have the unfailing refuge of the servant of God.—When Moses encountered these difficulties, and was discouraged and perplexed by them, he betook himself to God, who had called him to the work (v. 22–23). ‘He turned aside unto Jehovah.’ He turned aside from man and his counsel. We must cease from man, his greatest wisdom and his greatest power, and place our dependence upon God. He turned aside to God. He retired to the place, perhaps, in his own dwelling, where he had been in the habit of holding communion with God. He there laid before God the whole situation that had been brought about by his first effort at the liberation of his countrymen. Augustine, commenting on his words to God, says: ‘These are not the words of contumacy or indignation, but of inquiry and prayer.’ Having put his hand to the plough he has no thought of looking back, but he comes in faith to God that he may better understand the situation, and may be rightly guided and strengthened to deal with it.
‘Shortly after the young disciple has accepted the Lord (as, e.g., in Confirmation) he is called to pass through the fiery ordeal of a furnace of temptation, heated tenfold. The river of baptism and its opened heaven is followed by the temptation in the wilderness conducted by the devil. But the wrath of men and devils fails to stay for a moment the execution of the Divine plan; the only thing which affects that is the long-suffering which desires that none should perish in His longing to enrich his suffering people. We never get so low in the dust of self-abasement as when we find ourselves discredited in the eyes of those whom we have proposed to help.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Exodus 5". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany