Thursday, June 8th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 33". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ numbers-33.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 33". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
In this chapter we have a list of the places at which the Israelites encamped from their departure from Egypt unto their arrival at the Jordan (Numbers 33:1-49), and directions as to the conquest and distribution of Canaan (Numbers 33:50-56).
Numbers 33:1-2, form the introduction to the list of encampments.
Numbers 33:3. Rameses, a city in “the western part of the land of Goshen.”—Bibl. Dict.
Numbers 33:4. Buried. “Rather, ‘were burying.’ ”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 33:5. Succoth—“booths” or “tents:” situated probably “nearly due east of Rameses, and fifteen miles distant in a straight line.”—Bibl. Dict.
Numbers 33:6. Etham, which is in the edge of the wilderness. “It is reasonable to place Etham where the cultivable land ceases, near the Seba Biár, or Seven Wells, about three miles from the western side of the ancient head of the gulf.”—Ibid.
Numbers 33:7. Pi hahiroth. The word is most probably Egyptian, and signifies, “the bed of reeds.”
Baal zephon, or “Typhon, a name of Baal as representative of the opposite of mundane order and harmony, or of the god ruling in winter”—(Fuerst). But Mr. Stuart Poole in Bibl. Dict gives as its meaning “place of Zephon;” and he says, “We place Baal-zephon on the western shore of the gulf of Suez, a little below its head, which at this time was about thirty or forty miles north ward of the present head.”
Migdol = “a tower.” Sometimes, a military watch tower, or a look-out in a vineyard. “Migdol and Baal-zephon,” says Mr. Poole. “must have been opposite to one another, and the latter behind Pi-hahiroth with reference to the Israelites.”
Numbers 33:8. Wilderness of Etham; “i.e., that part of the great wilderness of Shur which adjoined Etham.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Marah. “A satisfactory site has been found for Marah. Howârah, at the head of Wady Amârah, where even now caravans halt in their journey to Sinai, possessing a spring at times so bitter that neither men nor camels can drink of it.”—Alford.
Elim “is generally acknowledged to be the present Wady Ghurundel, two and a-half hours S.E. of Mara, and even now a famous watering-place of the Arabs.”—Ibid.
Numbers 33:10. By the Red Sea. This “must almost certainly be at the descent of the Wady Taiyibeh on the sea, or in some portion of the plain of Mŭrkhâh, before they again turned up into the mountains.”—Stanley.
Numbers 33:11. Wilderness of Sin. “The whole of this district between Elim and Sinai is probably the wilderness of Sin” (Alford). Knobel, however, maintains, and with him Keil agrees, “that the wilderness of Sin is the great sandy plateau Debbet er Ramleh, between the desert of Et-Tih and Sinai. This plateau begins near Elim and stretches S. Eastwards towards the range in which Sinai must be included.”—Ibid.
Numbers 33:13. Dophkah.… Alush, not mentioned in Exodus, were most probably situated somewhere in the northern portion of the wilderness of Sin; but their respective sites have not been identified.
Numbers 33:14. Rephidim = “rests” or “stays,” was most probably situated in Wady Feiran (see Sinai and Palestine, pp. 38–42).
Numbers 33:15. The wilderness of Sinai. The Sinai of the Law was most probably the Râs Sŭfsâfeh, which is not a distinct mountain, but the northern portion of Jebel Mûsa, and is thus described by Dean Stanley: “The cliff rising like a huge altar in front of the whole congregation, and visible against the sky in lonely grandeur, from end to end of the whole plain, is the very image of ‘the mount that might be touched,’ and from which the ‘voice’ of God might be heard far and wide over the stillness of the plain below.” The people were most probably assembled in er-Râhah, “the most suitable spot imaginable for the assembling of many thousands of people. It is upwards of two miles long and half a mile broad” (see Sinai and Pal., pp. 39, 44; Alford on Exodus 19:1; and Dr. Smith’s Bibl. Dict. art. Sinai).
Numbers 33:17. Kibroth-hattaavah (see on Numbers 11:34; p. 181).
Hazeroth (see on Numbers 11:35, p. 181).
Numbers 33:18. Rithmah, derived from retem, the broom plant, was in the desert of Paran (Numbers 12:16), and probably the same locality as “the Wady Abu Retemat, which is not very far to the south of Kadesh, ‘a wide plain with shrubs and retem,’ i.e., broom. This spot was well adapted for a place of encampment for Israel, which was so numerous that it might easily stretch into the desert of Zin, and as far as Kadesh” (Numbers 13:21; Numbers 13:26).—Keil and Del.
Numbers 33:19-36 give the names of the places of encampment “during the years of penal wandering. The determination of their position is difficult, because during the period there was no definite line of march pursued.”—Speaker’s Comm. “Of all the seventeen places not a single one is known, or can be pointed out with certainty, except Ezion-geber.”—Keil and Del.
Rimmon-prirez = “the pomegranate of the breach.” The locality has not been identified.
Numbers 33:20. Libnah = “whiteness.” “Probably the Laban of Deuteronomy 1:1, and situated on or near either the Elanitic gulf or the Arabah.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 33:21. Rissah = “heaps of ruins.” Probably identical with Rasa of the Roman tables, “32 Roman miles from Ailah (Elah), and 203 miles south of Jerusalem.”—Bibl. Dict.
Numbers 33:22. Kehelathah = “assembling.” Nothing is known of the place.
Numbers 33:23. Mount Shapher = “beautiful mountain.”—Fuerst. Perhaps “the hill now known as Jebel-esh-Shureif, about 40 miles north-west of Râs-el-Kâ’a, north-west of Ezion geber, and west or south-west of el-Beyâneh.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 33:24. Haradah = “place of terror.”—Fuerst. “Probably Wady-el-Khâraizeh, about 15 miles south-east of Jebel-esh-Shureif.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 33:25. Makheloth = “Places of meeting.” Unknown.
Numbers 33:26. Tahath = “a depression or valley.”—Fuerst. The site has not been identified.
Numbers 33:27. Tarah = “station.” Situation unknown.
Numbers 33:28. Mithcah = “sweet fountain” (Fuerst); or “place of sweetness”—Bibl. Dict. Unknown.
Numbers 33:29. Hashmonah. The meaning of this word is doubtful; it may be “fat” or “fertile soil.” Probably it is the Heshmon of Joshua 15:27, and identical with “the fountain Ain Hasb, in the north-west of the Arabah.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 33:30. Moseroth = “place of chastisement.”—Fuerst. In Deuteronomy 10:6, we have the singular form of the word (Moserah) instead of the plural, as in this place. In that place it is said, “there Aaron died.” Its site has not been identified.
Numbers 33:31. Bene-jaakan = “the children of Jaakan” (see Genesis 36:27; 1 Chronicles 1:42). In Deuteronomy 10:6, “Beeroth (i.e. wells) of the children of Jaakan.” There it is stated that “the children of Israel took their journey from Beeroth of the children of Jaakan to Mosera;” whilst here, it is said, “they departed from Moseroth, and pitched in Bene-jaakan.” The two passages probably relate to different journeys. This one to a journey during the thirty-seven years of penal wanderings; and that in Deut. to the march in the fortieth year, when they journeyed from Kadesh to Mount Hor, where Aaron died (Numbers 20:22-29). Beeroth-bene-jaakan “may be identical with the wells of sweet water now known as el-Mayein, which lying up high among the hills, more than 60 miles due west of Mount Hor, would be likely to be visited by the Israelites either immediately before or after their encampment at Moserah.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 33:32. Hor-hagidgad. “If the initial letter be Kheth (as in Tex. Recep., Syr., and later Targum) the name will denote the cavern of Gidgad; if He (as some few MSS., Samaritan text, earlier Targ., LXX., Vulg read) it will denote the summit of Gidgad. In Deuteronomy 10:7, we read simply Gudgodah or Gudgod.”—Ibid. The situation has not been identified.
Numbers 33:33. Jotbathah = “goodness.” “In Deuteronomy 10:7, ‘Jotbath (Heb. Jotbathah) a land of rivers of waters.’ This place is perhaps to be identified with Wady Tâbah, six miles south-west of the head of the Elanitic gulf; where is a broad plain running down to the sea, containing many palm trees and tamarisks, and well supplied with water.”—Ibid.
Numbers 33:34. Ebronah; “i.e. ‘passage.’ This station apparently lay on the shore of the Elanitic gulf, at a point where the ebb of the tide left a ford across. Hence the later Targum renders the word ‘fords.’ ”—Ibid.
Numbers 33:35. Ezion Gaber = “the giant’s back bone.” “Ezion Geber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom” (1 Kings 9:26). Dean Stanley says, “There is nothing to fix the precise site of Ezion Geber.” But it seems almost certain that it was at what was then the northern extremity of the Elanitic gulf, some miles north of the present head of the gulf, at Ain-el-Ghudyân.
Numbers 33:36. The wilderness of Zin, which is Kadesh. See on chaps. Numbers 12:16; Numbers 13:21; Numbers 13:26; Numbers 20:16.
Numbers 33:37. Mount Hor, &c. See on chap Numbers 20:22.
Numbers 33:37-40. See on chaps. Numbers 20:22 to Numbers 21:3.
Numbers 33:41-43. Zalmonah, … Pa-non, … Oboth. See on Numbers 21:10.
Numbers 33:44. Ije-abarim. See on Numbers 21:11.
Numbers 33:45. Dibon-gad. See on Numbers 21:30.
Numbers 33:46. Almon-diblathaim is almost certainly identical with Beth diblathaim mentioned by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 48:22), in connection with Dibon and Nebo. Its site is unknown; but “it is to be sought for to the north or north-west of Dibon.”
Numbers 33:47. The mountains of Abarim, before Nebo, “is only another name for the ‘valley of the field of Moab upon the top of Pisgah.’ ” See on Numbers 21:20.
Numbers 33:48. The plains of Moab, &c. See on chap Numbers 22:1.
Numbers 33:49. Beth-jesimoth = “house of the wastes,” a town situated on the north-eastern border of the Dead Sea (Joshua 12:3). Later it was allotted to the Reubenites (Joshua 13:20).
Abel-shittim. See on Numbers 25:1.
Numbers 33:50—Numbers 36:13. “This last portion of the book concludes the record of the long wandering of the people by certain directions respecting that conquest and allotment of the Promised Land, with which the wandering terminated. These regulations are divided into two sections by the re-insertion at Numbers 35:1 of the introductory formula with which Numbers 33:50 opens. Of these portions the former contains commands concerning
(1) the extermination of the Canaanitish nations, Numbers 33:50-56;
(2) the boundaries of the Promised Land, Numbers 34:1-15;
(3) the names of the men who should allot the land, Numbers 34:16-29.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 33:52. Pictures. Rather, “idols of stone” (comp. Leviticus 26:1).
Molten images; “idols cast from brass.”
High places, where altars were erected for the worship of idols.
THE ITINERARY OR ISRAEL FROM EGYPT TO THE PROMISED LAND
Moses kept this record of the marches and encampments of Israel “by the commandment of the Lord.” There must, therefore, have been some good and sufficient reason for it. And it seems to us that it was intended for a memorial, which was calculated in many ways to benefit primarily the Israelites, but also all others who might make acquaintance with the history. It is probable that the history of every station and march had its suggestions for the instruction, or encouragement, or admonition of the people. Of many of these encampments we know nothing except the name; but of others we know something of the occurrences and events connected with them, and in these instances we shall endeavour to briefly point out their moral suggestions. The verses before us, which are the introduction to the record, lead us to consider its general uses, and these as suggested by the fact that it was commanded by God.
It was calculated to be useful as—
I. An incentive to gratitude to God.
His goodness and mercy to the Israelites are manifest throughout the entire history. They are especially seen in His—
1. Emancipating them from bondage in Egypt. “With a strong hand the Lord brought them out of Egypt.”
2. Repeatedly delivering them from their enemies. From the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Amalekites at Rephidim, the Canaanites at Arad, &c.
3. Infallibly guiding them in their journeys. “In the day time He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.” “He led them forth by the right way,” &c. (a)
4. Constantly providing for them in the desert. “He rained down manna upon them to eat, and gave them of the corn of heaven. Man did eat angels food; He sent them meat to the full He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like the sand of the sea.” “He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths;” &c. (b)
5. Inviolably guarding them from dangers. Excepting on those occasions when they forfeited His protection by their aggravated offences, He shielded them from the perils both of the desert through which they passed and of the enemies whom they encountered. (c)
The record which, by suggestion, reminded them of so much goodness and mercy, was eminently adapted to inspire their warm and deep gratitude to Him from whom these blessings flowed. And can we survey the path of our pilgrimage without discovering many and cogent reasons for gratitude to God? “What shall I render unto the Lord?” &c. “Bless the Lord, O my soul;” &c. (d)
II. An encouragement to obey and trust God.
The history makes it clearly manifest that in obedience to the Divine will Israel realized peace, security, and prosperity. This was a reason for continued and complete obedience And since God in His dealings with them had displayed so much kindness and wisdom, faithfulness and power, He had surely proved Himself to be worthy of their unlimited and hearty confidence. He is unchangeable; therefore His past doings are examples of what we may expect Him to do in the future. History, properly studied, will be the nurse of faith and hope (comp. Psalms 78:3-8). (e)
III. A monitor against sin.
Very impressively the history reveals—
1. Man’s proneness to sin. The Israelites sinned at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11-12), in the wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:2-3), at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1-4), at Sinai (Exodus 32:0), at Kibroth-hattaavah (chap. 11), at Kadesh (chap. 14), &c. How sadly in human life to day is the history of Israel in this respect reproduced!
2. God’s antagonism against sin. See this at Sinai, at Kibroth hattaavah, at Kadesh, in the rebellion of Korah and his company (Numbers 16:31-50), in the sin “in the matter of Peor” (Numbers 25:1-9). God is the unrelenting foe of sin. (f)
3. The great evil of sin. This itinerary shows by intimation how it had cursed Israel. All their sorrows and afflictions had resulted from sin. Many of these stations would never have been visited but for their sins. More than thirty-seven years of their wanderings were caused by them. They had painfully proved that sin “is an evil thing and bitter” (comp. Jeremiah 2:19). (g) All this was calculated to warn them against committing it. This use of history is distinctly mentioned in Psalms 78:9. And this, we think, was one of the ends why Moses was commanded to keep this diary of travel. Let the miseries which sin has caused us check every inclination to it. (h)
Every man should remember his own history, and profit by his own experiences.
(a) This point is illustrated on pp 152–154, 164
(b) Illustrations on the Divine provision are given on pp. 154, 189, 190, 202.
(c) The Divine protection is illustrated on pp. 105, 154, 164, 176.
(d) For illustrations on this point see pp. 101, 276.
(e) This point is illustrated on pp. 407, 416, 417
(f) and (g) For illustrations on these points see p. 327.
(h) An illustration on Discouragements to sin is given on p. 288.
MOSES’S DIARY OF TRAVELS, AND ITS TEACHINGS
This chapter is a compilation from Moses’s diary, recording the journeys on the way from Egypt to Canaan. The text tells us that God told Moses to keep this record, and to publish it. Human life is not to be forgotten; it is a thing of interest and moment to the person living it, and it is full of instruction to others observing it. God wished the people to remember these journeys; and He wishes all ages to know of them and to learn from them. Let us notice a few of the lessons God intends these journeys to teach us.
I. They impress upon us the great fact of God’s continued presence and interest in human life.
As we read the incidents recorded of these journeys, we see God feeding, guiding, protecting the people. In the census taken at His command, we see that He knows every individual and keeps a record of every life. Then we see Him giving the people laws, sanitary and moral, tending to health and comfort, purity and holiness. These journeys show us that God knew all, was interested in all, and was the best Friend of all. He is still the same, &c.
II. They point out to us that God is the one safe and true Guide through life.
The people in the wilderness were ignorant of the way, exposed to many dangers, and quite helpless in themselves. These journeys show that God with them was more than equal to all emergencies. They prove that while they trusted God, they were never in want; while they followed Him, they never missed the way; and while they obeyed Him, they never suffered harm. To us, as to them, the journey of life is a perilous one: the way is unknown to us, and we need a guide. Let the record of these journeys commend to us Israel’s Guide. He knows the way; He never errs; He can ever protect; He is one we can wholly trust; and He is willing to be our Guide.
III. They present to us a picture of human life and thus tend to give us correct views of life.
What is life as seen from these records? A pilgrimage of varied and chequered experiences. In no place had they a “continuing city”; and in their mysterious wanderings to and fro, they met with all kinds of experiences. They were constantly finding fault with God; and yet He was leading them in a straight, the best way. Such is life to us all; and it is well for us to know it, so as to have right views of life. “Here have we no continuing city;” this is not our rest. God is often leading us in a way which is mysterious to us; His paths are to us often in the deep waters; and we are often perplexed. But let us look at these journeys. He is ever doing right—doing all things well. And the way He leads His people now, as then, is the best way to rest. As in these journeys so in our life; we have Marah and Elim, storm and calm, trouble and comfort; and let us not forget that God led the people to both. Let none then build their hopes on the earth; let none despair in passing through trials and afflictions. Our life here is a mingled one.
“Bits of gladness and of sorrow,
Strangely crossed and interlaid:
Days of fever and of fretting,
Hours of kind and blessed calm.
Tears of parting, smiles of meeting;
Paths of smooth and rugged life.
Such are our annals upon earth,
Our tale from very hour of birth,
The soul’s true history.—Bonar.
IV. They show to us that the greatest evils of life and its only dangers come from sin.
Journeying through this world cannot be all pleasant. In the nature of things, trials and troubles must and do come; for we are in an enemy’s land, we are passing through a course of discipline, &c. But the greatest evils and the only dangers of life come from sin. Look at these journeys. Nothing really injures man but sin. God led the people to the Red Sea, to Marah, to the wilderness, &c.; it was often trying to them; but God never failed them; He was equal to all; they lost not a man; they wanted nothing while they were faithful to Him. Invariably we find that sin was their curse. So with us. There is nothing to fear in poverty, illness, death, &c. They are hard to bear; we need patience under them; but they cannot hurt us. Yea! God can turn them into blessings for us. But as for sin, it is ever a curse, and nothing but a curse; it ruins body and soul; injures us for time and eternity. Yet people love sin, &c. O that all such would read the record of these journeys! &c.
V. They suggest the comforting though that by trusting in God and following Him we are sure to possess the inheritance which He has promised to His people.
Difficulties, trials, opposition are met on the way to heaven; but following after God, we shall safely reach the “good land beyond Jordan,” as did the people the record of whose journeys God commanded Moses to write.
We are all jouneying through life; soon, soon the journey will end. Let each ask himself, Whither am I going? Who is my guide? What will the end be? And let these journeys of Israel urge us all to seek for Israel’s God.—David Lloyd.
THE DEPARTURE FROM THE HOUSE OF BONDAGE
Concerning the departure of Israel from Egypt, the text sets forth the following facts—
I. Their departure succeeded the observance of a significant and sacred memorial.
“They departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month, on the morrow after the Passover.” See pp. 139, 141.
Learn: The importance of commemorating the Divine mercies to us. Such commemorations tend to foster our gratitude to God, to encourage our confidence in Him, &c. (a)
II. Their departure was public and triumphant.
“The children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians.”
1. It was public. “In the sight of all the Egyptians.” There was no thing clandestine or ignominious in the way in which they left the land of their oppressors (comp. Isaiah 52:12).
2. It was triumphant. “With an high hand.” God had displayed a little of the awful might of His strong right hand to the Egyptians. He effected the deliverance of Israel, &c.
Learn: The certainty of the accomplishment of the Divine purposes, and the fulfilment of the Divine promises. Notwithstanding the most powerful and persistent opposition, He carries forward His plans to triumphant issues. A reason for trusting Him, &c. (b)
III. Their departure took place when their oppressors were engaged in the most mournful occupation.
“For the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, which the Lord had smitten among them.” How deep and keen must have been the anguish of the Egyptians! The sorrow of “one that is in bitterness for his firstborn,” is spoken of in the sacred Scriptures as the most sharp and sore. And how universal was this sorrow! “There was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.”
Learn: The greatest sorrows are the result of our sins. The anguish of the Egyptians arose from their oppression and cruelty to the Israelites, and their persistent refusal to comply with the demand of God, and let them go. Shun sin, &c. (c)
IV. Their departure had been brought about by the most awful displays of the Divine judgments.
“All their firstborn, which the Lord had smitten among them: upon their gods also the Lord executed judgments.”
1. On the Egyptians. “The whole kingdom of Egypt,” says Dean Milman, “had been laid waste by successive calamities: the cruelty of the oppressors had been dreadfully avenged; all classes had suffered in the indiscriminating desolation. Their pride had been humbled; their most sacred prejudices wounded; the Nile had been contaminated; their dwellings polluted by loathsome reptiles; their cleanly persons defiled by vermin; their pure air had swarmed with troublesome insects; their cattle had perished by a dreadful malady; their bodies broken out with a filthy disease; their early harvests had been destroyed by the hail, the later by the locusts; an awful darkness had enveloped them for three days;” and, finally, they were smitten with a calamity more dreadful than all these, the instant death of all their firstborn, both of man and cattle.
2. On their idols. “Upon their gods also the Lord executed judgments.” The meaning of this clause is very doubtful. From the fact that the words are here connected with the burying of the firstborn, “it has been supposed,” says Dean Alford, “that the destruction of the firstborn is meant by the phrase, seeing that among them would be many animals worshipped by the Egyptians. Calvin supposes that the judgment would consist in the demonstration of the worthlessness of the help and guardianship of Egypt’s gods. But it must be confessed that both these explanations fall short of any satisfactory elucidation of the words. The Pseudo Jonathan gives a perhaps more likely interpretation, when he refers it to a destruction of the images of Egypt’s gods: ‘The molten images shall liquefy, those of stone shall be smitten in pieces, those of earth be broken up, those of wood shall be burnt to ashes’ (comp. 1 Samuel 5:3, f.). We have very similar denunciations in Isaiah 19:1; Jeremiah 43:13; Jeremiah 46:25; Ezekiel 30:13, in three of which places is a distinct reference to the destruction of the images. But if this is meant, there is, of course, far more beneath it: the gods of Egypt are demoniac powers, and Jehovah’s discomfiture of them, beginning with the failure of the magicians, was consummated” in the destruction of the firstborn.
Learn: The utter folly of any creature opposing himself to God. “He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered?” “Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like Him?” (d)
(a) For illustrations on this point, see pp. 407, 416, 417.
(b) For an illustration on this point, see p. 460.
(c) Illustrations on this point are given on pp. 97, 258, 327.
(d) Illustrations on this point appear on pp. 252, 312.
SUCCOTH AND ETHAM: THE DETERMINATION OF THE ROUTE
“Succoth, their first station, seems to have been the general rendezvous after their hasty flight, and from thence their journey proper began.” Here various Divine instructions seem to have been given to the Israelites, the consideration of which is beyond the scope of our work. There is, however, one question connected with the encampment at Succoth, which cannot be overlooked in any satisfactory treatment of this itinerary, viz., the determination of the route to be pursued; for it is in the account of their brief stay here that we first read of that route. From Succoth to Palestine, through the land of the Philistines, the usual caravan way, is comparatively a short journey. “From Rameses to Gaza,” says Kalisch, “is a straight and much frequented way of eight or ten days, either northwards, through the pass of Djebel-el-Tih, or more eastwards, through that of Djebel-el-Edshmeh; and the sons of Jacob journeyed, in not many days, from Palestine to Egypt to buy corn.” Why then were the Israelites led by the long and trying “way of the wilderness of the Red Sea”? The answer is given in Exodus 13:17.
The following homiletic sketch on the determination upon this route as illustrating The tender consideration of God for His people is taken from Buddicom’s Christian Exodus.
The Christian life is a growth, and if assailed by some temptations in its infancy, the consequences might be fatal. He, therefore, who commences and maintains the process of our salvation, gradually accustoms His soldiers and servants to the difficulties of their warfare. Their faith, love, zeal, and self-denial are thus exercised rather than oppressed.
I. The circumstances of the Israelites.
They had been redeemed from bondage. They were commencing their journey to the Promised Land, every spirit filled with pleasure. They were confident of their power to endure the trials of the way. The heart-searching God knew their deficiencies; and a variety of circumstances connected with their feeble faith determined Him in wisdom to divert their feet towards Canaan by a devious path.
1. The Philistines, who lay between them and the promised inheritance, were a brave and warlike people, against whom the sons of Jacob, numerous as they were, could not hope to succeed in battle. Wisely, therefore, did the Lord judge that they would shrink from such enemies. Such are the Christian’s foes. Satan has triumphed over man in every age. And thinkest thou, Christian, that the enemies of the soul are enfeebled? What, then, would be the consequences if God led thee past them to Canaan? Wisely and graciously are you led by the wilderness.
2. The Israelites were unarmed, and therefore utterly unable to cope with the Philistines, who were prepared with every means of offence and defence which a people whose delight was in war could invent. The young believer just escaped from the house of bondage is defenceless. His enemies are armed. He cannot expect to wield the sword of the Spirit with the full energy of one who has been accustomed to fight with it.
3. In thus estimating the goodness of God towards the children of Israel, we must add that their spirits were bowed down by long captivity. The hard bondage in mortar and brick was not the school in which to learn courage. Hence Israel was not fitted to match against the free soldiers of Philistia. The slavery of Satan unfits for conflict with the foes of the soul.
II. The dealing of God towards them.
God might have made Israel at peace with the Philistines; or have given them courage to defeat their foes. But this would have comprehended less of moral discipline.
1. He avoided the nearest way to the Promised Land, and led them by the way of the wilderness. The Israelites would be astonished at the line of march; they would be disposed to murmur. Has not God often contradicted your desires? The passenger ignorant of navigation cannot direct the course of the ship. The ship-master knows the rocks: God knows our path best.
2. He saw fit that they should pass through the dangers of the Red Sea, and sojourn in the wilderness of Sin. Could this be the result of wisdom? “Clouds and darkness are round about Him.” It is the exclusive province of unerring wisdom to draw an exact line between the discipline necessary for our moral good, and that severity of affliction which might overwhelm us. We must confide in our Heavenly Father.
3. Although the journey of the Israelites was contrary to their expectations, their wishes, and their clouded judgment, it was the safest and the best path to Canaan. “He led them forth by the right way.” Let us learn, then, to leave the choice of our course simply and solely to God.
PI-HAHIROTH; OR, STANDING STILL IN THE MIDST OF DANGER
Departing from Etham, “on a sudden,” to quote the words of Dean Milman, “the march of the Israelites is altered; instead of pressing rapidly onwards, keeping the sea on their right hand, and so heading the gulf, they strike to the south, with the sea on their left, and deliberately encamp at no great distance from the shore, at a place called Pi-hahiroth. The king, recovered from his panic, and receiving intelligence that the Israelites had no thought of return, determined on pursuit: intelligence of this false movement, or at least of this unnecessary delay on the part of the Israelites, encouraged his hopes of vengeance. The great caste of the warriors, the second in dignity, were regularly quartered in certain cities on the different frontiers of the kingdom, so that a considerable force could be mustered on any emergency. With great rapidity he drew together 600 war chariots, and a multitude of others, with their full equipment of officers. In the utmost dismay the Israelites beheld the plain behind them glittering with the hostile array; before them lay the sea; on the right, impracticable passes. Resistance does not seem to have entered their thoughts; they were utterly ignorant of military discipline, perhaps unarmed, and encumbered with their families, and their flocks and herds. ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt,’ they exclaimed, in the bitterness of their despair, ‘hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?’ Their leader alone preserved his calmness and self-possession.”
Let us fix upon some of his remarkable words to them as suggesting instructive and helpful considerations: “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you to-day” (Exodus 14:13). Consider—
I. The deplorable effect of slavery upon the Israelites.
This, the first peril which they encountered, revealed their almost utter destitution of manliness. Notice—
1. Their cowardice. Soon as they saw the advancing hosts of Pharaoh “they were sore afraid.” They were in great consternation, prepared for anything mean and unmanly; totally unprepared for anything noble or brave.
2. Their faithlessness. All the signs and wonders of the Divine Hand wrought on their behalf are lost sight of by reason of their present difficulty and danger.
3. Their ingratitude. How disgracefully they reproached Moses! “Because there were no graves in Egypt,” &c What a base return for all his disinterested and noble efforts on their behalf! They go so far as to apostatise in spirit. “Better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” A man would have said: “Better death than slavery; better anything than to again bow our neck beneath the yoke of the oppressor. When freedom and honour are no more, life is not desirable.” But slavery had crushed the manhood out of them. The degradation of their position had done its mischievous work by degrading themselves, and reducing them in spirit to mere serfs. In estimating their conduct, we must thus take into account their previous disadvantages and sufferings. And this principle should be observed in analogous cases in our own day. Apply it in the case of the reclaimed drunkard. It is unreasonable to complain because he is not at once a man of refinement, &c. It will take years to repair the waste and injury of the years of intemperance. Let us be thankful for the transformation of the drunkard into a sober man, and wait with patience for the exhibition of the characteristics of a noble manhood. Apply it to the spiritual life. After we are delivered from the bondage of sin, we shall often discover evil results of our former life clinging to us, and retarding our progress. The strength and courage of mature Christian manhood are not attained at once. Sainthood is a growth. Let us patiently and hopefully persevere, &c.
II. The distinguished heroism of Moses.
Amid all the excitement, danger, alarm, and reproaches of the people, Moses was sublimely calm and magnanimous. He uttered no reproach to his craven-hearted followers; but addressed to them words of lofty inspiration and encouragement. “Fear ye not, stand still,” &c. The crisis that revealed the mean cowardice and base ingratitude of his followers, revealed also the noble generosity and triumphant heroism of the leader. That which brought out their want of faith in God, also brought out the strength and firmness of his faith in Him.
III. The remarkable exhortation of Moses.
“Fear ye not, stand still,” &c. This exhortation warrants the inference, that there are times when our highest wisdom is to “stand still” and wait the Divine directions; when the best thing we can do is to do nothing but look to God to indicate our course. We do not counsel indolence either in temporal or spiritual things. There can be no progress without effort; or attainment without industry; or conquest without conflict. Yet there are seasons in life when it is the part of the wise man and the Christian not to exhaust himself in fruitless efforts, but to “stand still” and wait with all possible calmness for the interposition of God. When we have done all that we can do, and can do no more, and yet the end is not attained, we are not extricated from our difficulties, it is wise in us not to exhaust ourselves in frantic cries and efforts which merely beat the air, but to wait until God shall appear for our help, (a) This principle is applicable to—
1. Our personal salvation. We are commanded to “work out our own salvation;” and only by patient and earnest effort can we advance in the Christian life. But there is a very important part of our salvation in which we can do nothing but “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” Thus it is in relation to our acceptance with God Our part in this is not to endeavour to commend ourselves to His favour, or strive to justify ourselves before Him, or labour to merit His grace. Our part is to accept His grace, to leave ourselves to His mercy, to receive Christ as our Saviour, to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.”
2. The exigencies of life. There are seasons when we find human and earthly resources utterly inadequate to our need. There are burdens which no human friend can help us to bear; difficulties from which no human skill can extricate us; crises in which we are thrown either into unmanly, enforced submission, or into the frenzies of despair, or upon the help of God. In these crises let us “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord;” let us hopefully appeal to Heaven for help. Thus did David (Psalms 60:11; Psalms 142:4-5). We are exhorted in the Scriptures to do so (Psalms 46:10; Isaiah 30:7; Isaiah 30:15). (b) Nor is it less brave, at such times, to “stand still” and wait the help of God. The coward may struggle frantically in the terrible crises of life; but only the heroic can wait the time when action is serviceable, and wait that time calmly. To stand still in the moment of supreme anxiety, and wisely estimate our resources and scan our prospects, and determine the best mode and time for action, and cast ourselves upon God—this demands a brave man, and one whose courage springs from faith. There are times when it is more heroic to “stand still” than to fight, and crises when it is wiser to wait than to work. (c)
The great lesson of our subject is this, trust in God. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” &c.
(a) One of our hardest lessons is to find out the wisdom of our hindrances; how we are to be put forward and upward by being put back and put down; encouraged by being rebuked; prospered by being baffled. When the company in the “Pilgrim’s Progress” had to sit up watching all night at the house of Gaius, Greatheart kept them awake with this riddle, “He that would kill must first be overcome”; and the truth in it has been practically dug out, by trials that broke sleep, through many a hard fortune, in every Christian experience since. It needs wakeful watchers, spiritual eyesight, to read that riddle of life, how defeat helps progress; how a compulsory standing still speeds us on; how humiliation exalts; how putting a cross on the shoulders lightens the burden of the race. But Christ has solved the wonder of His own cross, humbling Himself, becoming obedient unto death, and in His humiliation having His judgment taken away.
Gradually, to believing eyes, the fact comes out. Standing still at the right time, in the right way, for the right purpose, is the surest advance. Waiting on God brings us to our journey’s end faster than our feet. The failure of our favourite plans is often the richest success of the soul. Let the pressure of trouble drive you down from your heights of health and pride, and you will come upon the primary foundation, and grow strong out of the rock Be exiled from the convivial fellowships of comfort and popularity, and you make new acquaintances with stronger friends,—Christian self-possession, and wholesome repentance, and a mastery of your moral forces, and faith in your Lord.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(b) In the midst of our own houses, there are more secret sorrows than I need to name. Every life has its own. Perhaps there are erring, ungrateful, and ungracious children, with parents’ hearts breaking and bleeding over them, and agonizing in daily prayers for their return. “Have faith in God;” every prayer pierces the Heaven of heavens; the Intercessor and Mediator pleads with it; and its answer is committed to some strong angels at the right hand of the Throne. There are anxieties, alienations, unavailing affections, crossed desires and hopes. There are memories running back from pews in this house of prayer to the graves of those that worship no more in earthly temples. Rest, mourners, in the Lord. Seek not the living among the dead. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all else shall be added. “Let us be still beneath God’s hand; for though His hand be heavy upon as, it is strong and safe beneath us too: and none can pluck us out of His hand.” O, impatient griefs, and sorrows that have no hope, be still; and ye hopes that would outrun the wisdom of a healing Providence and a saving Mercy, be still; all unreasonable and rebellious thoughts, be still; know that the Lord, He is God. Remember that “the darkness is God’s as well as the light”; and “if we cannot walk” and work therein, “we can” at least kneel down and “pray.”—Ibid.
(c) If we learn to measure the bravery of Christian acquirements rather by the inward effort they cost than by their display, if we estimate character more by the standard of Christ’s heatitudes than by what we short-sightedly call “results,” we shall find some of the sublimest fruits of faith among what are commonly called passive virtues: in the silent endurance that hides under the shadow of great afflictions; in the quiet loveliness of that forbearance which “suffereth long and is kind”; in the charity which is “not easily provoked”; in the forgiveness which can be buffeted for doing well and “take it patiently”; in the smile on the face of diseased and suffering persons, a transfiguration of the tortured features of pain brightening sick rooms more than the sun; in the unostentatious heroism of the household, amidst the daily dripping of small cares in the noiseless conquests of a love too reverent to complain; in resting in the Lord, and waiting patiently for Him. Have you yourself never known the time when you found it a harder lesson to learn how to be still in your room than to be busy in the world? Of masculine natures that is apt to be the special cross. And so that may be the point where faith and virtue need to rally their strength, if you would be a triumphant disciple. It is a fact which not all of us may have noticed, that of the nine beatitudes of our Lord, all, unless it be one, pronounce their blessing on what the world would call tame and passive traits, from “the poor in spirit,” to those who are reviled and persecuted without revenge. So does Christianity turn upside down the vulgar vanity of out ambition, and empty our worldliness of blessedness.—Ibid.
PI-HAHIROTH; OR, A LONG SEPARATION
There are other remarkable words of Moses, spoken at this station, which we shall do well to consider before we pass on. Having uttered the words which we have already noticed, he said: “For the Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever” (Exodus 14:13). In these words we have an illustration of—
I. The triumphant faith of Moses.
It rose superior to difficulties and dangers; the abject terror of his followers could not diminish its vitality or vigour; the almost desperate aspect of affairs could not overcome it; it was splendidly victorious over all. Let us emulate Moses in this respect.
II. The suicidal hardihood of the wicked.
Most terrible was the development of Pharaoh’s character. His resistance of the Divine commands although they were authenticated by the most striking and dreadful signs; and his hardening of himself in rebellion against God—how appalling are these! Madly he rushed into ruin; blindly he courted destruction. His is a typical case. Sin seems to infatuate men—drives them mad. Spiritually, men are their own executioners; they of their own accord rush into the sea that engulfs them. Sin is madness. The persistent sinner is beside himself.
III. The working of God in history.
1. Delivering the oppressed. The Israelites had long cried unto Him; and the only result seemed to be that their position became worse. As we reckon time, His interposition was long delayed. Does God hear? Does He judge amongst men? Yes. “He sitteth in the throne judging right.” “He will avenge His own elect,” &c.
2. Retributing the oppressor. Long time had God borne with Pharaoh; but at length His forbearance ceases and He visits him in judgment. “Because sentence against an evil work,” &c. (Ecclesiastes 8:11). “Though hand join in hand,” &c. (Proverbs 11:21). “Thinkest thou that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:3-6). “He that being often reproved,” &c. (Proverbs 29:1).
3. Developing in all His own wonderful purposes. Consider these Israelites,—they were cowardly, ungrateful, preferring to return into slavery than to die fighting for freedom. How unlikely that they should ever become a truly great nation! How unlikely that through them should come to the human race the greatest blessings! the clear revelation of the will and purpose of God, and the Redeemer of men! How unlikely! Yet such was God’s purpose; towards its accomplishment these events were tending; and in due season it was realized. History should be studied reverently, for God is working in it. In all and by all He is developing His own glorious plans.
IV. Separations which are taking place amongst men in the present.
1. There are many persons whom having seen them once we “shall see them again no more for ever.” In the througed thoroughfare, in the railway carriage, at the summer retreat, we see many persons once, and never more in this life. Join to this the fact that we may influence them by act, or word, or look; and how solemn is the consideration! What an argument for a true life at all times!
2. There are persons whom we separate from to “see them again no more for ever” in the same circumstances. We meet them again; but, so changeful are all things here that, the surroundings of their life are altered. The poor have become prosperous; the prosperous, impoverished; the distressed have become happy, and the happy, miserable, &c. This changefulness makes many a separation very anxious. We ask,—“Shall we meet again as well and as happy?” &c.
3. There are persons whom we separate from to “see them again no more for ever” in the same character. We part from a person who is ungodly and profane; years roll away, and we meet him a reverent and religious man A youth leaves home reckless and wild; he returns a thoughtful and earnest man. A young man or woman leaves home comparatively innocent and pure; but the man returns with a blasted character, and the woman a moral wreck. This is the most separating separation. Separation of time, or space, or even of world, does not so painfully separate as division of character.
V. The great separation which will take place amongst men in the future.
See Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:39-43; Matthew 25:31-46.
In that great final separation, where shall we be found?
PI-HAHIROTH; OR, GOING FORWARD IN THE FACE OF DIFFICULTIES
The time for standing still and waiting was soon at an end. Moses sought direction from God; and at once received the Divine answer: “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward” (Exodus 14:15).
It must have seemed strange to the Israelites to be commanded to advance. To “go forward” seemed like rushing from one difficulty into another. Pharaoh and his army were an alarming danger behind them; before them the sea appeared a danger no less to be dreaded. Yet the order was, “Go forward.” Notwithstanding the threatening sea, they were to advance. We regard this as an illustration of Christian Progress in the Face of Difficulties. It is an established fact of the Christian life, that God calls us to advancement though there are immense difficulties in our path. He commands us to “Go forward” in despite of dangers which appear inevitable and fatal.
I. In the Christian life advancement is demanded.
Progress is a great law of the universe. In nature all things move onward. Winds, and streams, and stars, are ever advancing. The history of science, philosophy, and art, is a record of progress The Religion of Jesus Christ also has advanced and grown constantly. Progress is a law of all life. Where progress ends decay begins. So in the spiritual life the command is, forward, upward, heavenward, God ward. Continuance in the same condition is impossible. Advancement to higher attainments, and nobler developments, and more perfect conditions of being, is ever demanded of us. “Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” “Grow in grace,” &c. “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue,” &c. (2 Peter 1:5-7). “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” “Go forward.” (a)
II. In the Christian life advancement is demanded with a full recognition of the obstacles in the way of it.
He who commanded the Israelites to “go forward” was perfectly acquainted with the sea which rolled forbiddingly before them, and all the succeeding difficulties which awaited them; yet He gave the order to advance. He does likewise in the Christian life. He hath forewarned us “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Yet He ever summons us to advance, ever calls us to ascend. The path of Christian progress is seldom an easy one. Dangers and difficulties are numerous. We pass from conquest to renew the conflict. We throw one foe and advance to engage another. We surmount one difficulty, and another challenges us to effort. Yet knowing all these things, the Lord says, “Go forward.” (b)
III. In the Christian life, obstacles to progress, manfully encountered, may be surmounted.
In ordinary life we frequently witness proofs of this principle. Man, by the force of a sound and active understanding, and iron will, and persistent effort, is constantly removing mountains, accomplishing that which is pronounced impossible.
“Who breaks his birth’s invidious bar,
And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
And breasts the blows of circumstance,
And grapples with his evil star,”
he can do wonders—almost “all things are possible to him.” Let the same mind and will and activity be under the guidance of God, and nerved by faith in Him, and difficulties shall melt away before them. “All things are possible to him that believeth.” “Faith laughs at impossibilities.” The Israelites moved forward at the command of God; and before the majesty of such reliant obedience, the sea disparted. The difficulty vanished in the presence of believing obedience. When God saith, “Go forward,” though it be towards the deep sea or trackless mountain, let us advance, and some unseen path will open before us, or the waters will divide at our feet.
“Dark and wide the sea appears,
Every soul is full of fears,
Yet the word is onward still,
Onward more and do His will;
And the great deep shall discover
God’s highway to take thee over.” (c)
IV. In the Christian life, obstacles to progress, manfully encountered, contribute to our advancement.
Obstacles are disciplinary. Every difficulty that has vanished before the obedience of faith is an argument for future and greater reliance. Every conflict, courageously entered upon and continued, must end in conquest; and every conquest fits us for more severe conflicts, and makes our final victory more sure. Through the grace of God, difficulties, dangers, and foes, are all contributing to our progress, (d)
V. In the Christian life we are incited to progress, notwithstanding obstacles, by a host of encouragements.
Here are some of our encouragements.
1. Believing prayer is mighty with God. Moses cried unto the Lord; and the Lord responded to his prayer by dividing the sea. He still attends to the requests of men. (e)
2. Glorious examples incite us onward. Think of Paul: “I count not myself to have apprehended,” &c. And later in life: “I have fought a good fight,” &c. Think of that glorious and ever-increasing multitude who by faith have triumphed over all hindrances, perils, and adversaries. “Be ye followers of them who through faith and patience,” &c. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about,” &c.
3. The character of our great Leader encourages us forward. His path has been one of splendid victories; His career one of constantly increasing glory. He is equal to every emergency. With Jesus at our head we need not fear to advance.
What earnest voices unite in urging us to “Go forward”! Voices of the glorified urge us onward. They who have passed from the semblances of time to the realities of eternity call upon us to advance. The rest that awaits us invites us forward. We do not pine for our rest before God wills it. We long for no inglorious rest. We are thankful rather for the invaluable training of difficulty, the loving discipline of danger and strife. Yet in the midst of it all, the prospect of rest attracts us heavenward. Through all, and above all, God cries, “Go forward;” “Come up hither.”
“Forward I be our watchword,
Steps and voices joined;
Seek the things before us,
Not a look behind:
Burns the fiery pillar
At our army’s head;
Who shall dream of shrinking,
By our Cap ain led?
Forward through the desert,
Through the toil and fight;
Canaan lies before us,
Zion beams with light”—Alford.
(a) Certainly advance is the great law of the Christian life, as well as of the universe. All things in nature and history go forward. The stream moves forward, not a wave of it turns back, its every eddy even is, in reality, advancing. The winds move forward, pausing, indeed, often on their journey, lingering amidst the locks of the pine or in the cleft of the rock, but speedily resuming their onward sweep again. The stars—the earth included—move forward, “hasting not, resting not,” seeking, it is said, some distant centre. How we saw the comet of 1858 shooting like an arrow towards its broad target, the sun! Science, art, philosophy, literature, every species of knowledge, move forward; invention following invention—discovery, discovery; one man of genius eclipsing another, to be in his turn outshone. Time moves forward—oh, how rapidly! and how his vast wings seem to say as they rush along, “I have an engagement at the judgment-seat. I have an appointment in eternity, and I must fulfil it. My ‘King’s business requireth haste.’ ” Christ Himself never rested. He was never in a hurry, but He was always in haste. The difference between Him and many of His people is, His life was short, and He knew it, and did the most in it; theirs, too, is short, but they know it not, and do not with their might what their hand findeth to do. God Himself even, with all the leisure of eternity, is not losing an hour, but is carrying on His broad plans with undeviating regularity and increasing swiftness, and surely men should aspire in this respect to be imitators of, and fellow-workers with, God. Christ’s religion, too, has been active and progressive; sometimes frozen up for a time like a river, but, like a river, working under the ice, and when spring arrived, making up for the time lost by the increased rapidity of its course. And so with the path of the individual; like the river, the winds, the stars, the Eternal Himself, it must advance. Our motto should be “Excelsior.”—G Gilfillan, M.A.
(b) The progress of the Christian is often from one difficulty to another, and very idle for him, in this earth, to expect an unvaried course of even moderate peace and happiness. He only exchanges one difficulty for another. After old obstacles are surmounted, new ones are sure to arise. The children of Israel probably thought they had buried all their difficulties in that ocean. And how loud and bold rung their psalm, as if it were a challenge to the wilderness, on the verge of which they stood. But the wilderness accepted the challenge, and what with thirst, hunger, wild beasts, and, at last, Divinely-appointed death, it engulfed almost all that multitude which had shouted for victory on the shore of the Red Sea. And so with the desert of this world. The Slough of Despond is exchanged for the Hill Difficulty, and that for the Castle of Giant Despair. We disguise not the pleasures of the wilderness, its wells, arbours, angels, Delectable Mountains, but notwithstanding all this, it is a wilderness at the best, and grows often more dreary the longer we pursue our path.—Ibid.
(c) For an illustration on this point see p. 393 (a).
(d) Illustrations on this point appear on pp. 393, 394.
(e) Beloved, if you can conceive of an age that is worse than another, so much the more is it a fit platform for the heavenly energy; the more difficulty, the more room for omnipotence to show itself; there is elbow-room for the great God when there is some great thing in the way, and some great difficulty that He may overturn. When there is a mountain to be cast into the valley, then there is almighty work to be done; and our covenant God only needs to see work to do for His paying people, and He will shortly do it.—C. H. Spurgeon.
Illustrations on the Power of Prayer appear on pp. 183, 225.
THE DIVIDING OF THE RED SEA
“And they departed from before Pi-hahiroth, and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness.”
I. This dividing of the sea was miraculous.
1. Because it took place, and the waters closed again, upon the outstretching of the hand of Moses, and in fulfilment of his word (Exodus 14:13). The sea is less manageable by man, perhaps, than any other force of nature. “The sea is God’s, and He made it” (Psalms 95:5), and to Him only will it render obedience. The obedience in this case to Moses was, therefore, the result of a supernatural interposition. (a)
2. Because the waters stood upright on either side of the path. When waves roll back and leave their bed dry for a short space of time, they break, and return again; a strong wind would drive back the water on one side only and leave the water perhaps knee-deep or ankle-deep, but the wall of water on either side, and the dry land in the middle, could have been produced by miraculous power alone.
II. The fact of the miracle is proved by the present existence of the nation which was that day born.
No nation in the world, except the Hebrew, can point to the place and the day on which it began its national existence. All other ancient nations have lost their identity, but the Jews retain theirs, and the miracle of the Red Sea has always been the foundation fact of their history (Isaiah 63:12; Psalms 68:12, &c.).
i. The attainment of moral ends is more important than physical convenience. The Israelites could have entered Canaan by a much nearer way than through the Red Sea, but that way was chosen for them to teach them many important truths in connection with God. The shortest way to attain an end is not always the best way. A short way to a fortune may not be so conducive to the formation of a worthy character as one which it takes much longer to travel. This truth is taught in the temptation of our Saviour (Luke 4:5-8). Satan proposed a short way to that universal dominion, which our Lord knew could only be safely and truly attained through Gethsemane and Calvary.
ii. The attainment of moral ends is more important than the uninterrupted operation of the ordinary laws of nature This is not at all surprising. The laws of nature are God’s servants, and it is only reasonable to expect that, when He can reveal His power and mercy better by suspending their action, and operating, as it were, upon the forces of the world, without their instrumentality, He should do so. When the special end is accomplished they return to their wonted service. They have kept the bed of the Red Sea covered ever since the day when the waters closed over Pharaoh and his hosts.
iii. The attainment of moral ends is more important than the preservation of bodily life. This is an acknowledged fact. The life of a rebel is considered of less importance than the upholding of the law that condemns him to death. The lives of many men are oftentimes considered of less importance than the establishment and upholding of freedom, and the downfall of that which degrades the higher life of the human race and prevents its development.—W. Harris.
(a) On a sudden Moses advances towards the sea, extends his rod, and a violent wind from the east begins to blow. The waters recede on both sides, a way appears; at nightfall, probably about eight o’clock, the caravan begins to defile along this awful pass. The wind continued in the same quarter all the night; but immediately they had passed over, and while the Egyptians, madly plunging after them, were in the middle of the passage, the wind as suddenly fell, the waters rushed back into their bed, the heavy chariot-wheels of the pursuers sank into the sand, broke and overthrew the chariots, and in this state of confusion the sea swept over the whole host, and overwhelmed the king and all the flower of the Egyptian army.
Such is the narrative in the book of Exodus, which writers of all ages have examined, and, according to the bias of their minds, have acknowledged or denied the miraculous agency, increased or diminished its extent. At an early period, historians (particularly in Egypt), hostile to the Jews, asserted that Moses, well acquainted with the tides of the Red Sea, took advantage of the ebb, and passed over his army, while the incautious Egyptians, attempting to follow, were surprised by the flood, and perished. Yet, after every concession, it seems quite evident that, without one particular wind, the ebb tide, even in the narrowest part of the channel, could not be kept back long enough to allow a number of people to cross in safety. We have, then, the alternative of supposing, that a man of the consummate prudence and sagacity, and the local knowledge, attributed to Moses, altered, suspended, or at least did not hasten his march, and thus deliberately involved the people, whom he had rescued at so much pains and risk, in the danger of being overtaken by the enemy, led back as slaves, or massacred, on the chance that an unusually strong wind would blow at a particular hour, for a given time, so as to keep back the flood, then die away, and allow the tide to return at the precise instant when the Egyptians were in the middle of their passage.…
Wherever the passage was effected, the Mosaic account cannot, by any fair interpretation, be made consistent with the exclusion of preternatural agency. Not to urge the literal meaning of the waters being a wall on the right hand and on the left, as if they had stood up sheer and abrupt, and then fallen back again,—the Israelites passed through the sea with deep water on both sides; and any ford between two bodies of water must have been passable only for a few people at one precise point of time. All comparisons, therefore, to marches like that of Alexander, cited by Josephus idly, and in his worst spirit of compromise, are entirely inapplicable. That bold general took the opportunity of the receding tide to conduct his army round a bluff headland in Pamphylia, called Climax, where, during high water, there was no beach between the cliffs and the sea. But what would this, or any other equally daring measures in the history of war, be to the generalship of Moses, who must thus have decoyed his enemy to pursue him to the banks of the sea, and so nicely calculated the time, that the lowest ebb should be exactly at the hour of his greatest danger, while the whole of the pursuing army should be so infatuated, and so ignorant of the tides, as to follow them without any apprehension of the returning flood? In this case Moses would appear as formidable a rival to the military fame of Alexander, as to the legislative wisdom of Solon or Lycurgus.—H. H. Milman, D.D.
MARAH; OR, ASPECTS OF THE JOURNEY OF LIFE
“And they went three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham, and pitched in Marah.”
Human life in this world is a journey, which begins at birth and ends at death. Certain aspects of this journey are brought before us by the journey of the Israelites from the Red Sea to Marah, and their life at Marah.
I. The privations of this journey.
“They went three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham.” And we learn from Exodus 15:22, that during those days they “found no water.” We have already briefly treated this topic on p. 366. (a)
II. The disappointments of our journey.
“And pitched in Marah.” “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.” How intensely painful must their disappointment have been! (b)
An illustration of some experiences in our own life. We have looked upon some thing or some position, and have felt and said to ourselves: “When I attain that I shall be satisfied and happy.” We have attained it, and found it unsatisfactory and bitter. Napoleon III., when an exile, deemed the throne to be all he needed to secure his happiness. He attained it; and in a few years he confessed: “In changing my destiny, I have but changed my joys and sorrows. Formerly I bore the afflictions of exile; now I have to sustain the cares of power.” One has looked at wealth as the one thing needful to his happiness; secured it; and been filled with bitter disappointment. Another has so judged concerning leisure, and attained it, with a similar result. Many have thus estimated married life and offspring. Countless mothers, on the birth of their first son, have said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” But how often, like Cain, has he wrung that mother’s heart with anguish! How often has a father’s beloved turned out a second Absalom! We have looked upon many things as the pleasant fruit of our life; grasped them; and discovered a foul worm at the core. God disappoints us with the waters of Marah in order to lead us to Him who can make them sweet. When we over-estimate things and creatures, He has ordered that they shall disappoint us in order to lead us to Him who can fully meet our highest and vastest expectation.
III. The sins of our journey.
When the Israelites found that they could not drink the waters of Marah, they “murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?” Notice—
1. Their unreasonableness and ingratitude towards Moses. Why murmur against him? Was he responsible for the lack of drinkable water? Could he make the bitter water sweet? Their murmurings were childish. Moreover, he had been their benefactor He had dared and sacrificed bravely for them. How ungrateful, then, was their conduct towards him!
2. Their unbelief and ingratitude to God. They had soon forgotten practically their deliverance from Egypt and their passage through the Red Sea. Three days ago they were singing the song of victory; to-day they are murmuring. Past interpositions of God on their behalf should have inspired present confidence in Him. Gratitude should have precluded murmuring. We also are prone to sin in like manner in our life-journey; to overlook past deliverances in present dangers; to fret and murmur at the inconveniences and trials of the way; to be unbelieving and ungrateful, &c. (c)
IV. The all-sufficient Resource of our journey.
In answer to the prayer of Moses God made the bitter waters sweet for them (Exodus 15:25). He is our Resource, and he is—
1. All-sufficient. He is equal to every emergency and every need. To Him there are no emergencies. He sees the whole of our journey, knows every step of the way, and has wisely and amply provided for every need. (d)
2. Always willing to help. We have not to overcome by our prayers any unwillingness on His part to bless us. We have but sincerely to seek His aid, and He will impart it to us. (e)
3. Ever available. We can approach Him at all times and in all places. The cry of supplication or the song of praise will always reach His ear and secure His regard.
Brothers, we are all journeying, and sometimes with weary and aching hearts. Life’s changes sometimes clothe our life in shade, and weigh down our hearts with sadness. Its disappointments surprise and grieve our spirits. Our own sins often fill our hearts with shame and sorrow. But here is our unfailing Resource. Our Lord can take away the sin. He can sanctify changes and disappointments to our spiritual and eternal advantage. Let our trust be in Him. We are all journeying; but we may each find the end of our journey to be a secure and blessed home. In that home there shall be no more changes saddening our souls, no more disappointments distressing us, no more sins to harass and grieve the soul; but pure and peaceful life, &c.
“Tuneful is the sound
That dwells in whispering boughs;
Welcome the freshness round,
And the gale that fans our brows.
But rest more sweet and still,
Than ever nightfall gave,
Our yearning hearts shall fill,
In the world beyond the grave.
“There shall no tempests blow,
No scorching noon-tide heat,
There shall be no more snow,
No weary, wandering feet.
So we litt our trusting eyes
From the hills our fathers trod,
To the quiet of the skies,
To the Sabbath of our God.”
(a) Three days they marched without finding any water. We do not, with some, suppose, that during all this time they were without water. This was impossible. They must hare brought water in their leathern bottles with them from the last station. But this time having passed without an opportunity of replenishing their vessels, the supply was at length exhausted, and they began to suffer fearfully from thirst. Let us not think lightly of their distress. Thirst is a cruel thing; and it is known to be such even in a humid clime, where the sensation is rarely and lightly experienced and is very easily removed. But amid the hot sandy waste, under a burning sky, without any means of relief, the suffering is horrible. There is nothing like it. If we reflect that this vast host of men, women, and children, with numerous herds of cattle, had to travel over the sandy waste mostly on foot, with the burning sun over their heads, we may be able to form some faint and inadequate idea of their condition. But if we endeavour to picture to ourselves the circumstances of their case, and the unmistakable signs of suffering and misery which it presented, we shall have a more distinct apprehension of their wretched condition. They plod moodily and heavily on, no man speaking to his fellow. Many cannot speak if they would. Their tongues are parched and rough, and cling to the roofs of their mouths; their lips are black and shrivelled; and their eyeballs are red with heat, and sometimes a dimness comes over them, which makes them stagger with faintness. There is not one in all that multitude who probably would not have given all he possessed in the world, who would not have parted with a limb or have given up his life for one cool draught of water. And this was suffered by a people who had been used to drink without stint of the finest water in the world.—John Kitto, D.D.
(b) But lot their misery, they think is past. In the distance they behold trees and bushes clad in refreshing green, and they know there must be water near. With glad looks and quickened steps they push joyously on.
“For sure through that green meadow flows
The living stream! And lo! their famished beast
Sees the restoring sight!
Hope gives his feeble limbs a sudden strength,
He hurries on.”—Thalaba.
What a rush to the water! what eagerness to gulp the refreshing flood! But whence that universal groan, and horror, and despair? The water is bitter—so bitter as to be loath-some even to their intense agony of thirst. Pity them; but judge them not too severely, if, in that awful moment of disappointed hope, with the waters of Marah before their faces, and the waters of the Nile before their thoughts, they did murmur, they did complain that they had been brought from unfailing waters to perish in that thirsty desolation. They should have trusted in God. They had been rescued from more imminent danger; and it was no arm of flesh, but the sacred pillar of cloud, which had indicated their way and brought them to that place. They should have prayed to their Divine Protector to supply their wants, as He was well able to do; and although there is much in the real misery they suffered to extenuate this offence, their forgetfulness and neglect were most blameworthy. Yet, in consideration of their sufferings. God Himself excused them in this more readily than man has done. It will be seen in the sacred record that He dealt tenderly with them. He did not, as on other occasions, when they sinned in like manner without the like excuse, reprove them; but when Moses cried to Him for help, He, in the tenderness of His great pity, at once healed the waters, and made them sweet and salutary.—Ibid.
(c) For illustrations on Murmuring, see pp. 247, 266, 267; on Ingratitude, pp. 247, 368; and on Unbelief, p. 252.
(d) An illustration on this point appears on p. 369 (d)
(e) This point also is illustrated on p. 369 (e)
THE HEALING OF THE WATERS OF MARAH
“And they pitched in Marah.”
I. There are four bitter things of which Marah’s waters are a likeness.
1. The bitterness of man’s heart. The heart is by nature a bitter fountain sending forth its bitter waters.
2. The bitterness of man’s afflictions. Affliction was intended to be a bitter thing to flesh and blood, for it was part of that punishment which sin brought with it.
3. The bitterness of God’s wrath which we have incurred. The displeasure of Him whose favour is life, from whom alone all good cometh.
4. The bitterness of the death that we must die. This is as the waters of Marah to an ungodly man: “the sting of death is sin.”
II. Let us see what answers to the tree, which, being cast into the waters, made them sweet.
The Gospel is able to sweeten all the bitters.
1. The wrath of God. Jesus cast Himself into those bitter waters and made them sweet. It was the very God who made the waters bitter, who pointed out the means of healing them. It was the very God “to whom vengeance belongeth” who hath sent His Son into the world to save us from it.
2. Afflictions. It furnishes a motive for patience and an example to encourage.
3. The heart of man. The fountain of the heart is cleansed by grace.
4 Death. To him who cordially believes in Jesus, the sting of death is drawn by sin being covered.—Arthur Roberts.
ELIM: THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Wells of the highest importance in Eastern countries. Heat, &c. Here, then, where there were twelve wells, and seventy palm trees, they encamped. Make some observations.
I. In the journey of human life the Lord affords us many kind accommodations.
These mercies are—
1. Necessary. What more so than water? So are His favours.
2. Refreshing. “Palm trees.” Journey wearisome. Their shade delightful, &c. (a)
3. Various. Fountains and palm trees. God gives blessings not of some one kind only, but several. Their variety heightens them.
4. Plentiful. Twelve fountains and threescore and ten palm trees. They are plentiful if we compare them
(1) with the enjoyments of others;
(2) with our deserts.
II. Refreshing mercies after seasons of distress are peculiarly sweet.
Many seasons of afflictions, trials of mind, family, &c. Then these mercies sweet—why so?
1. We have a higher relish for them. So, spring after winter, health after sickness, &c.
2. They give a proof that God has not forgotten us. Apt to think so when He tries us, and we do not receive any peculiar marks of His favour. Then He returns, &c.
3. They will increase our faith in future trials. We shall expect in them fresh displays of power and goodness,—this will cause us to love Him more—serve Him better.
III. The blessings with which we are favoured should be used and enjoyed.
They encamped, not only drank, but, &c. All our mercies should be enjoyed.
1. With humility. We do not deserve any of them. Are entirely dependent on God for them. God designs by such dependence to keep us humble and obedient.
2. With gratitude. Ingratitude hateful to God and man. Gratitude pleasing, and ought naturally to flow to God, &c. Our mercies are great, and call loudly for it.
3. With a firm resolution to devote the strength derived from them to God, &c. Thus they will answer the end, &c. Then may we expect more. Devote yourselves therefore to His glory, &c.
IV. Amidst all our enjoyments we should not lose sight of our pilgrimage state.
They encamped, did not build a city, &c. Christians are travellers. World not our rest. We should—
1. Cherish the idea that all earthly things are fading, withering. Dew, flowers, &c. So human life. We know it; we should act accordingly. (b)
2. Prepare for changes. Changes of condition, circumstances, feelings,—these are to be expected—will come. This generally acknowledged, and yet how few prepared.
3. Wish to go forward. Arguments for it deduced from what is said above. Heaven is at the end,—how worthy of all our toil,—how refreshing, &c., will it be! (c)
1. Such as are now on the march.
2. Such at are now encamped at Elim.
Remarks arising from the subject—Thos. Spencer.
(a) In eastern countries, where the habit of hospitality is stronger than with us, the traveller is sometimes surprised and regaled by much needed but unexpected wayside comforts. Yonder husbandman, who is now afield at his work, was here in the early morning to leave by the wayside that pitcher of Water that the passing traveller might drink. This clump of trees, which makes a thick and welcome “shadow from the heat,” was planted by one who expected neither fame nor money for his toil, and who now lies in a nameless grave. Hands now mouldering in dust scooped out this cool seat in the rock. Some “Father Jacob gave us this well, after drinking thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle.” Travellers from the west are much affected by such instances of pure humanity and unselfish kindness. And yet these are but feeble types, mere dim shadows of Divine thoughtfulness and care. The heavenly Benefactor comes down in preventing loving kindness upon the pathway of His people. He foreknows, forecasts, foreruns. We think of Jesus as forerunner of His people only “within the veil.” In a sense not less true, He is their forerunner along the journey of every day. We cannot be up so early that He has not been waking before us. We cannot run so fast that He has not far outstripped our speed. Our tomorrow is His yesterday. He is with us and yet before us. He has said at one place and another,—“They are to pass this way; I will leave these helps for them; I will smooth down the over-raggedness of life, so that they shall get through; I will open rivers for them in high places, and streams in the midst of the desert; and for the ever-recurring weariness of life, for its toil and conflict, heat and trouble, they shall have ‘quiet resting places’ ”—Alex. Raleigh, D.D.
(b) The visible felicity of man is of no continuance. We may frequently observe in the evening a cloud, by the reflection of the sun, invested with so bright a lustre, and adorned with such a pleasant variety of colours, that in the judgment of our eyes, if an angel were to assume a body correspondent to his glory, it were a fit matter for it; but in walking a few steps, the sun is descended beneath the horizon, and the light withdrawn, and of all that splendid flaunting appearance nothing remains but a dark vapour, that falls down in a shower. Thus vanishing is the show of felicity here.—Bates.
(c) Illustrations on this point appear on pp. 163 (b), 409 (g).
IN THE WILDERNESS OF SIN
All the places mentioned in these verses were probably situated in the desert of Sin (see Explanatory Notes in loco). The principal events in this portion of the journey were the murmuring of the people, and the giving of the manna; and these have been treated in The Hom. Comm. on Exodus 16:0. Moreover, in our own work we have noticed the base murmuring of the people on other occasions (see pp. 181, 183, 244, 245, 247, 265–267); we have also written on the manna (see pp. 187–190; and The Hom. Comm. on Exod., pp. 308, 309). For these reasons we proceed to the next verse.
REPHIDIM; OR, WATER FROM “THE ROCK IN HOREB.”
The history of Israel at Rephidim to remarkable by reason of
(1) the want of water, and its miraculous supply; and
(2) the battle against Amalek. (Exodus 17:0). A similar want and supply of water we have already noticed (see pp. 366–371); and, having noticed these miracles also in our exposition of Psalms 78:15-16 (see The Hom. Comm. on Psalms, vol. i. pp. 443–446); we will introduce here a sketch from Outlines of Sermons on the Miracles and Parables of the Old Testament.
I. That the place of the miracle was calculated to increase the faith of the man who was to be the instrument in performing it—“the rock in Horeb.”
God appeared first to Moses in Horeb (Exodus 3:1). The return to places which God has fixed indelibly upon our minds by some special manifestation of His providential favour, is very helpful to every man’s faith. It was so to Jacob (Genesis 32:10) when God said to him, “Arise, go up to Bethel” (Genesis 35:1). He intended to use the place as a means of arousing him to increased faith and obedience by the remembrance of former mercies received there. So in the case of Moses. The return to Horeb would enable him to draw from the past some compensation for the trying circumstances of the present (Exodus 17:2-4). The very sight of the place in which God had given him promises (Exodus 3:10-20), which had since been fulfilled, would give him hope for the future.
II. The temptation connected with the miracle.
The murmuring and chiding of Israel against Moses is said to be tempting God. The miracles already wrought by Moses had been an abundant confirmation of His Divine commission. God had in the past so identified His servant with Himself, that to murmur against him was finding fault with his and their God.
III. The nature of the miracle.
1. The water from the rock was a miracle, because it gushed forth at the moment when Moses smote the rock, as the Lord had said. The people by their murmuring had fully admitted that no water could be obtained from natural sources. God never supplies our wants by supernatural means when they can be satisfied by the operation of the ordinary laws of nature.
2. But though miraculous, it was connected with human agency. Moses smote the rock, and God gave the water. The rod was in the hand of Moses, the power in the hand of God. Peter took the lame man by the hand, and God gave him the power to walk (Acts 3:7).
God can bring good to His people from the most unlikely sources. Nothing seemed more unlikely to yield water than the barren rock of Horeb. So God often brings refreshing streams of comfort to His people out of hard circumstances. Paul and Silas could sing in the dungeon, and their imprisonment was made the means of adding to their converts in Philippi. The lot of John in Patmos seemed hard and dreary indeed; but, at the bidding of Christ, streams of living water gushed forth there, which refreshed the soul of the apostle at the time, and have followed the Church until the present. Out of the sufferings of the martyrs came joy to themselves and blessings to their descendants. Above all, out of the hard circumstances of the crucified Lord of glory, God has brought forth waters of everlasting life.
At Rephidim they again wanted water, their murmurings were now more violent, and their conduct more outrageous than at Marah. We had then some sympathy for them, and were inclined to plead some extenuating circumstances in their behalf. But we have not a word to say for them now. Their misbehaviour is most flagrant, and the harshest judgment cannot estimate their offence too severely. They had lately seen their wants relieved in a similar emergency; and at this very time they were receiving, every morning, from heaven their daily bread. Yet so strangely unreasonable was their spirit, that they reproached Moses for having brought them out of Egypt, to kill them and their children and their cattle with thirst; and their violence of manner was such as led Moses to cry unto the Lord, saving, “What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me” Alas! it had come to this already. Already—in one little month—were the ransomed people prepared to deal thus with their deliverer, all whose toil and thought were spent for their advantage. Thus soon did they justify the prescient reluctance with which he had abandoned for these responsibilities the safe and quiet life he loved so well. It seems to have been in order that Moses might not be plunged in deeper discouragement, that the Lord forbore to declare His own displeasure. He simply indicated the mode in which He meant to provide for their wants.—John Kitto, D.D.
REPHIDIM; OR, THE BATTLE BETWEEN AMALEK AND ISRAEL
We cannot well pass away from Rephidim without noticing the remarkable battle which was fought there between the Amalekites and the Israelites, and which is recorded in Exodus 17:8-16. Before mentioning what appear to us as its chief teachings, let us attend to some important preliminary considerations.
i. On the part of the Israelites this battle was entirely defensive (Exodus 17:8; Deuteronomy 25:17-18). It was for the preservation of their own lives, and the lives of their people, that the Israelites fought, and Moses prayed on this day.
ii. The part which the Israelites took in this battle was approved by Jehovah. It was commanded by Moses, who, as the minister of Jehovah, was specially authorised and attested; and Jehovah manifested His approval by giving them the victory to a great extent in answer to prayer, and by commanding Moses to write an account of the battle in a book, and thus transmit it to coming generations. This battle was a righteous one on the part of Israel, or it would not thus have received the Divine approval.
iii. What was the cause of this battle? This was probably twofold:—
(1) The fertility of the valley. We accept the conclusion that Rephidim is Wady Feiran, of which Dr. Hayman speaks as, “the well-known valley, richer in water and vegetation than any other in the peninsula.… It is the finest valley in the whole peninsula.” And Dean Stanley: “Rephidim, ‘the resting places,’ is the natural name for the paradise of the Bedouins in the adjacent palm-grove; … the Amalekites may thus have naturally fought for the oasis of the Desert.”
(2) The recollection of an ancient injury. The Amalekites were to a great extent, if not entirely, descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:12; Genesis 36:16); and is it not probable that the old enmity between Jacob and Esau had something to do with their attack upon Israel? Esau had forgiven Jacob the injury, and God had pardoned his sin, yet the memory of his base act was handed down from generation to generation of the posterity of Esau, arousing their hatred against the posterity of Jacob. Thus the memory of evil is perpetuated, and thus evil actions live and work for long ages after they who did them have passed away, and the sin of the father in its penalty falls upon the children of many following generations. Here is warning. &c.
Let us now view this brief chapter of ancient history in three aspects:—
I. As an illustration of the working of God in human history, or of the means and methods by which He effects His purposes.
Notice the steps that were taken and the means that were employed to vanquish the Amalekites. Joshua was appointed general; he selected the most suitable men to fight the battle; for their encouragement Moses ascended the hill, &c. How, then, did God give them this victory, and in so doing accomplish His own design in the matter?
1. By their own efforts. After the way in which God had dealt with them, they might not very unreasonably have thought, when they were attacked, that without their effort He would deliver them. He led them forth out of Egypt without exertion on their part. When they were pursued by Pharaoh and his host, they had only to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” But had that treatment been continued, they would have remained a nation of slaves or children in spirit. If they are to become a nation of men, they must be roused to effort. So they have to fight the Amalekites.
2. By the efforts of the most efficient. Amongst the Israelites there were no trained soldiers; they must have been ill-armed, and had long been inured to servitude. In these circumstances, at the command of Moses, Joshua selected the fittest men to fight the battle.
3. By the efforts of the most efficient tinder a most skilful and heroic general. Joshua was a man of remarkable genius and skill as a leader of men. Considering his previous condition, his generalship is very extraordinary.
4. By the efforts of the most efficient under an able general, with wise arrangements for arousing and maintaining courage. At this time the Israelites were anything but heroes: they were sadly deficient of manliness. The rod in the hand of Moses would tend to awaken memory, confidence, and courage. What wonders had been wrought with that rod on former occasions! &c. (a)
5. And in addition to all other things, the victory was obtained by prayer. Moses on the hill was, doubtless, engaged in prayer to God. His prayer had power with God. To Him he ascribed the victory. “Moses built an altar and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi; i.e., Jehovah my banner. (b)
God works by means. He never uses supernatural means where natural ones will accomplish the end. He uses means eminently adapted to secure the end. He uses men as His instruments; and never does for us that which we can do for ourselves. And in our works He would have us use our utmost skill and power. He does not need our wisdom, and He certainly does not need our ignorance or folly. The Israelites planned and fought as if all depended upon themselves; Moses prayed as if all depended upon God; and when victory was attained they ascribed it to Him. Let us “go, and do likewise.” (c)
II. As an illustration of the work and warfare of every good man.
1. The Christian life involves difficulty, toil, and conflict (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Ephesians 6:10-18; Hebrews 12:1-4; 1 Peter 5:8-9). We cannot live a Christian life and do Christian work without battling with enemies. We must fight against
(1) “the world,” or evil in society;
(2) “the flesh,” or evil in ourselves; and
(3) “the devil,” or malign spiritual influences. (d)
2. In the work and warfare of the Christian life we need the help of others. “We are members one of another.” “The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee,” &c. But we are chiefly dependent on Jesus Christ. He is our General, our Joshua. “The Captain of our salvation.” He is our Intercessor, our Moses. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” His uplifted hands are never weary, &c. And as the uplifted rod encouraged the Israelites, so the presence of Christ nerves the spirit for the fight. “Looking unto Jesus” is the true attitude of every Christian both in work and in warfare.
3. By earnest, believing effort, and the help of God, the work and warfare of the Christian life will be ultimately accomplished and crowned with victory. Effort, or no effort; effort with God, or effort without God; upon the determination of these the issues of life’s work and warfare depend. No effort, or effort without God, means failure: personal effort with God means success, victory.
III. As an illustration of the work and warfare of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The call of God to the Church is to take possession of the world in His name and for Him; and to accomplish this its members must battle with the Amalekites of crime, vice, ignorance, superstition, religious indifference, &c. In the prosecution of this work and warfare—
1. The Church needs leaders. The Lord Jesus is our great Leader: He is “head over all to the Church.” But we need subordinate leaders also. No leaders means no rule, no discipline, no order; but anarchy, incompetence, confusion.
2. The labours of all and every one are required. In the battle Moses, Joshua, Aaron, Hur, and all the fighting men, were occupied, while the others were employed in guarding the women and children, the flocks and herds, and the baggage. In the Church there is work for every one, &c. This is a correction
(1) to those who think they can do nothing;
(2) to those who think they can do anything and everything. Every one should work, and every one should do his own work.
3. The Church succeeds in her efforts in proportion as the maintains her communication with Heaven. (Comp. Exodus 17:11.) Our great Intercessor ever prays. But much depends upon our own prayers. The praying church is the working church, and the conquering church.
4. The greatest men in the Church are dependent upon the help of the smallest men. Moses needed the aid of Hur. In these days ministers in some cases are left to pray alone, work alone, fight alone.
5. Success or failure often depends upon comparatively small and feeble men. If Hur had not been with Moses, Israel would probably have been defeated. Success in the enterprises of the Church depends upon every man doing his own work, however obscure and humble it may be.
6. The ultimate victory of the Church is certain. “Jehovah is my banner.” The battle is not ours but God’s. Battle of truth and right against error, &c. (e)
7. The victory will be ascribed to God in Christ. “Joshua discomfited Amalek.” “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Unto Him be all the glory. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power,” &c. (Revelation 5:12-13).
(a) Joshua led forth his men to the field; and Moses mounted the hill, accompanied by Aaron his brother, and by Hur, who is supposed to hare been his brother-in-law. Here Moses stood, and held up his hand on high, with the wonder-working rod therein. It was no doubt held up, in the first instance, as a kind of banner or signal, to be seen by the warring host below, and designed to operate as a continual incentive to their valour and prowess while engaged in the contest; and the sight of this symbol and instrument of the power which had worked so wondrously on their behalf, could not fail to nerve their arms with new vigour every time their eyes were turned towards it. Yet it needed but little reflection to assure them that, as is very manifest, there was no inherent virtue in the rod to produce this effect; and that it derived all its efficacy from the Divine appointment, as a visible symbol of that unseen succour and strength which God was pleased to minister to His militant servants fighting His battle, and maintaining the high glory of His name.—John Kitto, D.D.
(b) Moses was eminently an intercessor with God for the people committed to his charge; and there can be no question that, in connection with these external and symbolical actions, fervent prayer for the Divine aid was offered; the uplifting of the rod being thus merely an accompaniment of the earnest intercessions which breathed from the lips and hearts of the venerable men upon the mountain. And even if this were not the case, the circumstances and the result are strikingly analagous to those of intercessory prayer, and suggestive of them.—Ibid.
On the power of intercession, illustrations are given on pp. 183, 225.
(c) We notice here grouped together that hallowed combination of agenoies which ought never to be separated—the dependence upon Heaven, with the use of appointed means. The rod in the hand of Moses and the sword in that of Joshna; the embattled host in the valley below, and the praying hand in the mount above—all were necessary in the Divine economy to the victory of Israel over his foes. So must it be in our own conflict with the Amalek that lies ambushed within, to hinder our progress to the mount of God. We may expect no manifestation of the Lord’s power, no interference of His goodness, but as the result of a blessing upon our own zealous conflict with temptation. “Prayer without active duty is mockery of God. He who entreats deliverance from the onset and power of evil, yet never makes an effort in his own behalf, nor strives against the sin that wars within him, draws nigh to God with his lips, but is wholly estranged from the fervour of that supplication that issues from the depths of the heart.” Yet it was intended to be taught, and was most effectually taught by this example, that the uplifted hand of Moses contributed more to the safety of the Israelites than their own hands—his rod more than their weapons of war; and accordingly their success fluctuates as he raises up or lets down his hands. In like manner will the Christian warfare be attended with little success, unless it be waged in the practice of unceasing earnest prayer. It will never be known on this side the Lord’s second coming, how much His cause, and the work of individual salvation, have been advanced by “the effectual fervent prayer” of righteous men. And it is surely a cheering reflection in the heat and burden of the day of battle, that while we are contending below, faithful servants of God have ascended the hill of spiritual prayer, and are imploring blessings upon our efforts.—Ibid.
Another illustration on the Divine use of suitable means in accomplishing His designs, appears on p 539.
(d) For an illustration on this point, see p. 416. (b)
(e) Illustrations on the Certainty of the Christian Victory appear on pp. 416, 417.
ISRAEL AND AMALEK
The Israelites had been redeemed from Egypt, and were on their way to Canaan. This, therefore, is a picture of the Christian life, and is full of teaching to all believers. Taking it in this light, we see—
I. The Christian’s example.
1. To fight.
(1) An aggressive fight. “Go.”
(2) To be done wisely. “Choose you out men.”
(3) Earnestly. “Fight.” Hard blows. No parley.
(4) Continually. “War with Amalek from generation to generation.”
2. To pray.
(1) For those who fight.
(2) Earnestly. Not growing weary. Hard blows and hard prayers.
(3) Confidently. “The rod.” Symbol of past mercies.
(4) Unitedly. “Moses, Aaron, and Hur,” &c. Promises given to two or three.
II. The Christian’s encouragement,
1. Christ, our Captain (Joshua).
(1) With us to cheer. Wellington’s presence on battle-field.
(2) With us to direct.
(3) With us to defend.
2. Christ, our Intercessor (Moses).
(1) He prays while we work.
(2) He prays continually. Never grows weary.
(3) He prays successfully.
III. The Christian’s prospect.
1. Of certain victory. The result is sure. Every foe shall be overcome.
2. Of certain glory. While God’s servants ascribe all the glory to Him (Exodus 17:15), He, nevertheless, delights to honour them (Ibid, 13).—D. Macmillan.
“IN THE DESERT OF SINAI”: THE MORAL LAW
The Israelites were encamped in the desert of Sinai for the space of nearly a year (Exodus 19:1; Numbers 10:11-12). Although we cannot attempt to consider their history during that time, yet we cannot pass over this encampment without a brief notice of two or three of its principal events. And here let us notice the Moral Law (Exodus 20:1-17).
The moral law which was delivered by Moses from Mount Sinai was distinguished by many peculiar and blessed characteristics.
I. It based its precepts upon the existence and authority of God.
To believe in God is not one of the ten commandments. This fact is presupposed in the preface to them, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt,” &c. This is the foundation of all that follows. And as God is the Lord their God, and has proved His right to issue His commands by His wonderful deeds in their behalf, so it is fitting that the first four precepts in the code should concern His own relation to the people of His choice, referring
(1) to the necessity of having no other God but Him;
(2) to the spiritual mode in which He, a spirit, must be worshipped;
(3) to the reverence in which His very Name should be regarded; and
(4) to the duty of devoting one whole day of the seven to His worship. The large space given to God in the ten commandments is quite in consonance with the theocratic nature of the Jewish economy. God in it was the leading thought, man secondary; whereas in the Christian dispensation, through the union of the two natures in Christ, it is hard to say which is made more prominent. It is, verily, the economy of the God-man.
II. It was a strict and stern, but far from being an unjust or cruel system.
It denied no enjoyment that was natural, and it inculcated no duty that was harsh. None of the commandments were “grievous.” All conduced at once to the happiness of man and to the glory of God. The first precept secured the Jews from the distraction of mind and heart connected with the worship of many gods. The second inculcated a form of worship less cumbrous and burdensome, as well as more spiritual, than idolatry. The third, in consecrating the name of God, taught His worshippers to reverence and love Him better. The fourth provided for them a day of grateful rest and refreshment amid their toils, and held out, typically, the prospect of a future and serener existence. The fifth was expressly sealed by a promise, that to those who obeyed it, their days should be long upon the land. The sixth, in forbidding murder, tended to prevent the misery which springs from it to all concerned, either as actors or sufferers, and to cherish that spirit of love and mutual forbearance which is productive of so much true happiness. The seventh commanded men to shun those ill-regulated passions and practices which create such remorse, satiety, hardness of heart, and family disturbance. The eighth secured the rights of property. The ninth taught the value of truthfulness, and the duty of regarding our neighbour’s good name as if it were our own. The tenth sought to crush, in the secret recesses of the heart, the seeds of all evil conduct, and thereby to cleanse and sweeten the inner nature.
III. It was singularly well suited to the age and to the people to whom it was promulgated.
That age was early, and that people was rude and child-like. The precepts of the law required, therefore, to be dogmatic, to be strict, to be free in their expression from all abstract terms and recondite reasonings, to be frequently repeated, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” All this we find characteristic of the law of Moses.
IV. Another evidence of the divinelywise applicability of this law to the Jewish people we find in certain circumstances which tended at once to guard, to sanction, to enforce, recommend, and to illustrate it.
One of these was the grandeur and terror connected with its announcement from Sinai.… The tables of stone still remained, written by the very finger of God, and were cherished with the highest veneration. Moses, after he had finished the writings of the book of the law, deposited it with his people in the following remarkable words, “he commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book,” &c. (Deuteronomy 31:25-26).… The splendid appurtenances of the Jewish worship were meant to illustrate the principles of the law, moral as well as ceremonial, to the imperfectly developed minds of the people.… Had the law gone forth naked, it would have had little effect upon such a people; but it went forth in beautiful costume and in dazzling armour, and did a great, although a temporary, work.
V. The system itself is the best proof of its Divine origin.
Its very defects and limitations, as well as its glories, showed it to be no human contrivance; its imperfections arose not from the miscalculations of weakness, but from the foresight of wisdom.… Life and immortality were reserved for the illumination of Christ. But how wonderful, that without these ideas of rewards and punishments in a future life being very prominently brought before the minds of men, a national polity was not only possible, but continued for a long time powerful and prosperous!—From “Alpha and Omega,” by G. Gilfillan, M.A.
IS THE DESERT OF SINAI; THE GOLDEN CALF
Let us see what instruction we can gather from this impressive portion (Exodus 32:0) of sacred history.
I. The circumstances of the Israelites were analogous to the circumstances of a large portion of mankind at the present day.
1. The Israelite had witnessed a terrific display of the Divine character. The attributes of sovereignty, justice, holiness, and truth, had been set forth in the most impressive manner, so as to come in contact not only with the thoughts, the feelings, but the very senses. Now there is something analogous to this in the experience of most at some period or other, especially of those who live under the sound of the Gospel. The hearer of the true Gospel lives in the atmosphere of Sinai, as well as of Calvary; he hears of the justice and truth of God, as well as of His mercy; and if he do not stand in awe of the sterner attributes, as well as rejoice in the milder, then you may be assured that he is hearing the Gospel to no purpose: he has not even begun to comprehend its true import.
2. The Israelites had just given their solemn affirmative response to God’s covenant, as it had been read to them by Moses; and they were bound by every consideration of honour, of gratitude, of duty, to obey it. In like manner, there are multitudes at this day, all over Christendom, who have professed not only a belief in the Divine testimony, but obedience to the Divine precepts.
II. The conduct of the Israelites in making and worshipping the calf, in those peculiar circumstances, was analogous to much that is passing in the world around us.
What rendered the conduct of the Israelites so exceedingly strange and criminal was, that it should have occurred amidst the awful scenes of Horeb. You have been sitting under the preaching of the Gospel from the time that you were able to understand it; its doctrines and precepts, its promises and threatenings, have been set before you in every variety of form, while you have always had the written Word within your reach, with every facility for studying and understanding it And what demonstrations have you made in these circumstances? Why, you have been guilty of idolatry just as truly as the Israelites were; you have worshipped gold just as truly as they did; and the fact that they chose the form of a calf, and you choose some other form, makes no difference as to the actual guilt in the eye of Heaven.
Time has been when God’s hand rested heavily upon you, and death, perhaps, came into your very chamber, and you saw some one carried to the grave for whom you felt that you could have given even your life. But this affliction found you a worshipper of the world, and it had no effect in rendering you permanently otherwise.
You have sometimes had your lot cast in the midst of the effusions of God’s Holy Spirit; and go where you might, the anxious enquiry on the one side, and the song of thanksgiving on the other, was falling upon your ear. But neither the one nor the other was heard to escape your lips. You had your golden calf, and that was enough for you.
III. The guilt of the Israelites in making and worshipping the golden calf was not a little enhanced by the peculiar circumstances under which the sin was committed; and there is a corresponding aggravation from a similar cause attending many of those idolatrous attachments which are often witnessed in our day.
Everything around them told of the Divine presence; everything that they saw and heard was adapted to dissuade them from this impious outrage. And yet they heeded it not,—they became gross idolators within the sound of Jehovah’s voice, within the very blaze of His glory.
Nor is the case dissimilar as it is often witnessed at the present day among ourselves. God speaks now by His Providence, by His Word, by His Spirit. He has spoken through the voice of your own conscience. You, not less than the Israelites, have been sinning while God has been very near to you. You, as truly as they, have been idolators amid scenes which ought to overwhelm you with a sense of the Divine presence; and whether this circumstance must not materially aggravate your guilt and condemnation, judge ye.
IV. God did not suffer this sin of the Israelites to go unpunished; neither can those who are guilty of a similar sin at the present day expect to escape punishment.
The first part of their punishment consisted in the destruction of their idol. Does not this conduct of God towards the Israelites illustrate a general principle of His administration?
Moses instituted a terrible work of death in respect to the idolators. Sometimes God performs a mighty retributive work in the sinner’s bosom through the power of conscience, and months and years of unmitigated inward torture seem to change life itself into a living death. Sometimes persons of this character are cut off in so sudden and striking a manner, that we can hardly suppress the conviction that there is something judicial in the circumstances of their death.
There are a thousand voices charging you to forsake your idols, and to make Jehovah your portion.—W. B. Sprague, D.D.
IN THE DESERT OF SINAI: LESSONS FROM THE WORSHIP OF THE CALF
(Numbers 33:15, with Exodus 32:1-5)
Human nature being the same, history is in principle constantly repeating itself. The facts of Bible history are recorded that we may get at underlying truths, such truths being God’s teaching to us. In the event to which reference is here made, we observe—
I. The difficulty to human nature of faith in the unseen.
“This Moses, we wot not what is become of him.”
II. The impatience of man at God’s method of working.
Moses delayed in the mount. The people would not wait for the man with God’s Word.
III. That man will have a god.
“Up, make us gods.” They are often manufactured gods. The man who would be popular must make gods to go before the people. It is the ruin of a people when they worship false gods. It is the very height of folly, when men of science, art, or manufactures, say of their own works: “These be thy gods, O Israel.”
IV. The effect of slavish adherence to old ideas.
In one sense, at least, they were not out of Egypt—the sacred ox. See the importance of keeping the young from early impressions of error. Let none expose themselves to false teaching; it may bring them into bondage.
V. Their extravagant expenditure for the gratification of a fancy (Numbers 33:2-3).
People often spend more in superstition than Christians for the truth. Christians spend far more for luxury, pleasure, fancy, than for Christ. Who amongst us is willing to do as much for Jesus as these people did to procure a golden calf?
VI. How art is desecrated to sinful purposes (Numbers 33:4).
So in building at Babel; in worship at Babylon, and Ephesus, and Athens. Abundant proofs in our picture galleries and museums, and also in our modern theatres, gin palaces, &c.
VII. That if God is dishonoured, man is misled, humiliated, ruined.
“When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”—W. Whale.
IN THE DESERT OF SINAI: MOSES’S COMMUNION WITH GOD IN THE MOUNT
(Numbers 33:15, with Exodus 34:29-35)
There was a great deal of what was miraculous, no doubt, in this transaction, but there is much also that, properly improved, will tend to our spiritual edification.
I. The cause of that radiance which appeared in the face of Moses.
The converse which Moses held with God in the mount, was the cause of that glory which rested on his countenance. He ascended the mountain to hold intercourse with God, and while he talked with Him his face shone. In the account of this transaction, there are two particulars worthy of notice.
1. Moses offered sacrifices before ascending to hold communion with God (see Exodus 24:0). This indicates a great principle connected with all true religion—that religion has always rested on sacrifice (Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4). The Jewish religion, in all its ritual and services, rested upon this great principle. The distinctive feature of Christianity embraces the same principle. One of our great Christian privileges is to ascend the mountain and hold communion with God. But to be thus brought together, there must be something done on both sides: On the part of God there must be utterance given to the voice of mercy and love, there must be a way of access to His throne; on the part of man there must be faith. God in Christianity has made three great provisions to this end—a sacrifice, a mediation, and spiritual influences.
(1) The sacrifice of Christ is the standing medium of communication and fellowship between God and man. The atonement has only been offered once, yet the effect is everlasting. In all His transactions with us, God has ever regard to the sacrifice of Christ; He never pardons a sinner, but through the atonement; He never adopts the prodigal, and invests him with the rights, privileges, and honours of a child, but through the atonement; He never confers spiritual joy, or any other blessing, upon the believer, but through the atonement.
(2) There is a provision of mediation. Mediation does not merely embrace the office of intercessor, but it is a great sublime scheme of spiritual and providential administration. Christ sits upon the throne; to Him all power in heaven and earth is given; it is exercised with reference to the great purposes of atonement.
(3) Spiritual influence also is a part of Christianity. This is inseparably connected with the great work of our Lord and Saviour. We might as well talk of Christianity without a Saviour, as of Christianity without the Holy Ghost.
These are the provisions which Christianity makes for our ascending the mount to hold communion with God; let us avail ourselves of them, and go up confidently with the blood of atonement to hear His voice, to taste His love, and to receive the fulness of joy.
2. Moses ascended the mountain alone. This opens to us another principle of religion: it is this—that in all respects it is personal. Our devotional exercises are of this nature. It is true that we meet in public fellowship, but there is a sense in which the soul sits solitary in the midst of a mighty multitude. Our emotions are all personal. In His dealings with us God addresses us as individuals. Pardon, renewal, eternal life, are bestowed on individuals. These blessings are all personal. Duties are personal: one cannot discharge the duties of another. Enjoyments are personal. The closet is the place where we must test our religious character. There is something suspicious when our joy is only connected with public devotional exercises; but when we are alone and enjoy communion with God, then may we regard our feelings as genuine.
II. The nature of the light and glory which rested on the face of Moses.
There is a great mystery in this, but it was intended to be symbolical of a better glory. We shall pass over the symbolical meaning, and make some remarks of a practical bearing.
1. Intercourse with God will be productive of joy to the soul. There will be rapturous joy. How can it be otherwise when the Saviour first reveals Himself to the sinner’s heart? How can it be otherwise when a man finds himself adopted into the Divine family, a partaker of the love of God, and admitted to daily fellowship!
2. Intercourse with God must have the effect of expanding the capacity and of enlarging the soul. The religious man can enjoy every form of truth and knowledge in the world in common with the man who is solely devoted to its pursuits; but, unlike him, he has the infinite prospect of the glories of heaven and eternal life.
3. Intercourse with God will produce beauty of character. We cannot enjoy Divine grace, love, sanctification, and the privileges of the Christian state, but our internal purity will exhibit itself by a spotless life.
III. The conduct of Moses when he descended from the mount.
“He put a vail on his face.” Religion in this life is often vailed under circumstances which obscure its grandeur. For instance, what a contrast there exists betwixt the employments of many Christians and their enjoyments; by the one they are almost assimilated to the beasts of the earth, by the other they are allied to heaven. Poverty, dark providences, and affliction, often vail the spiritual state of good men.—D., in “One Hundred Sketches of Sermons.”
The effect of the vision is so great that when Moses comes down from the mount, with the new tables of testimony in his hand, which God had inscribed with the commandments of the law, his face is seen to be shining. He has no need, in faint and feeble words, to tell with whom he had been conversing; his face becomes eloquent, and rays out the tidings. Even as the red cloud, which the evening sun has coloured, continues red after he has set, so there is a relict radiance on the face of Moses from that of God. “The skin of his face shone,” and it added to the effect, that he “wist not that it shone.” Beauty is never so beautiful as when unconscious. Strength is never so strong as when leaning on its right arm. Terror is never so terrible as when it forgets itself. The sun seems so glorious, and the moon so lovely, and the stars so pure, because we feel that they know not that they are. And thus the unconscious shining of the countenance of Moses struck awe into all beholders. They were afraid to come nigh unto him. He seemed insulated in the sea of glory still. It seemed God’s own face that they gazed at. Yet it was only from the terror of others that he learned his own glorious appearance. And after talking to the trembling Israelites for a time, he at last put on a veil, which shaded the splendours of his face, and which he only dropped when he entered into the tabernacle to meet with God—G. Gilfillan, M.A.
The history of the people at this encampment has already engaged our attention in chap. 11. See pp. 179–212.
This encampment is remarkable as the scene of the sedition of Miriam and Aaron against Moses, and its punishment (chap. 12). See pp. 213–227.
The history of the people at this encampment was both momentous and mournful in a very great degree.
It is recorded in chaps. 13 and 14. See Explanatory Note on the verse, and pp. 228–269.
NOTHING BUT NAMES
We have here the names of the places at which the people encamped during the years of penal wanderings. What took place at any of these stations we know not; and the places themselves, with the exception of Ezion Geber, are unknown. The paragraph is little more than mere names, and suggests the following reflections.
I. The tendency of sin to deprive life of any worthy significance.
In the history of this people there was little worth recording for 38 years. Sin is prone to rob life of all true and noble elements, of inspiration and helpfulness to good, of brave and earnest enterprize; and to bring people into such a state that they have no history to write, or no history worth writing.
II. The tendency of sin to retard progress.
Here are a number of journeys, but no advance towards their destination. There was movement without progress. The unbelief, cowardice, and rebellion of the people against God caused this (chap. 14). Sin takes the wheels off the chariots of human progress, so that they drag slowly and heavily along. Nay, it even completely arrests progress. This is true of communities. For the space of almost 38 years the progress of this nation was held back by their sins. It is true also of individuals.
III. The importance of remembering the losses which sin causes us.
For this reason there is some record of these seemingly fruitless years—these penal wanderings.
1. Such remembrance should promote humility. “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee,” &c. (Deuteronomy 8:2).
2. Such remembrance should restrain from sin. The recollection of the loss and injury which sin has caused us is calculated to cause us to abhor and avoid sin. And when it involves loss and trouble to a whole generation of people, the recollection of it is fitted to lead the coming generations to shun the sins of their ancestors (comp. Psalms 78:3-8).
IV. The mutability of earthly and temporal things.
When this itinerary was written, these seventeen places were well known; but at the present time of only one of them is anything whatever known of a certainty Places great and famous in days of yore, have vanished almost as completely.
Tyre, Sidon, Carthage, Babylon, and Troy,
And rich Phœnicia—they are blotted out,
Half-raz’d from memory, and their very name
And being in dispute.”—H. K. White.
Therefore, “love not the world, neither the things in the world,” &c. (1 John 2:15-17). “Seek those things which are above,” &c. (Colossians 3:1-2). (a)
V. The unsettled character of human life upon earth.
“They departed from Rithmah and pitched at Rimmon-parez.… And they journeyed from Rissah and pitched in Kehelathah.… And they removed from Mount Shapher and encamped in Haradah,” &c. Such is the character of the record—a record of removals, &c. And such is human life in this world. “This is not your rest.” “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” (b)
The suggestions of this paragraph may be developed also with these two inquiries as the principal divisions.
I. Why have we here nothing but names?
II. Seeing that we have here nothing but names, why are these names recorded?
(a) God has written it on every page of His creation that there is nothing here which lasis. Our affections change. The friendships of the man are not the friendships of the boy. Our very selves are altering. The basis of our being may remain, but our views, tastes, feelings, are no more our former self than the oak is the acorn. The very face of the visible world is altering around us: we have the gray mouldering ruins to tell of what was once. Our labourers strike their ploughshares against the foundations of buildings which once echoed to human mirth—skeletons of men, to whom life once was dear—urns and coins that remind the antiquarian of a magnificent empire. To-day the shot of the enemy defaces and blackens monuments and venerable temples, which remind the Christian that into the deep silence of eternity the Roman world has passed away. And so things are going. It is a work of weaving and unweaving. All passes. Names that the world heard once in thunder are scarcely heard at the end of centuries—good or bad, they pass. A few years ago and we were not. A few centuries further, and we reach the age of beings of almost another race. Nimrod was the conqueror and scourge of his far-back age. Tubal Cain gave to the world the iron which was the foundation of every triumph of men over nature. We have their names now. But the philologist is uncertain whether the name of the first is real or mythical—and the traveller excavates the sand-mounds of Nineveh to wonder over the records which he cannot decipher. Tyrant and benefactor, both are gone. And so all things are moving on to the last fire which shall wrap the world in conflagration, and make all that has been the recollection of a dream. This is the history of the world, and all that is in it. It passes while we look at it. Like as when you watch the melting tints of the evening sky—purple-crimson, gorgeous gold, a few pulsations of quivering light, and it is all gone:—“we are such stuff as dreams are made of.”—F. W. Robertson, M.A.
(b) For illustrations on this point, see pp. 163 (b), 409 (g).
“FROM KADESH … UNTO ABEL-SHITTIM IN THE PLAINS OF MOAB.”
The history of the people in these journeys and encampments has already engaged much of our attention in our progress through this book. In the Explanatory Notes on the verses the chapters and verses are given for the history of each encampment.
THE EXPULSION OF THE CANAANITES
I. The imperative command.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye are passed over Jordan,” &c. (Numbers 33:50-54).
1. To utterly expel the inhabitants of Canaan. “When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you; … and ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein.” This command had been given to them previously in Exodus 23:31-33; Exodus 34:11-17; and it was repeated in a more severe form in Deuteronomy 7:1-6. In this latter place they are commanded to “utterly destroy them,” and that without mercy. And both in Exodus and in Deut. one reason for this stern command is assigned, viz., that their presence in the land would be a source of peril to the Israelites, leading them to enter into social alliances with them and to conform to their idolatrous practices, and so awakening the anger of the Lord against them to their own destruction.
Learn: The sin and peril of evil associations. (a)
2. To completely destroy all idolatrous objects and places. “Destroy all their pictures”—idols of stone—“and destroy all their molten Images”—or idols cast from copper—“and quite pluck down all their high places” (comp. Exodus 23:24; Exodus 34:13-15; Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:2-3). Nothing was to be preserved for the gratification of antiquarian tastes, or as curious relics of foreign customs. There must be an utter destruction of all and everything that had been associated with idolatry; because such things were offensive to God and perilous to man. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” &c. (Exodus 20:3-5).
Learn: The heinousness of the sin of idolatry in the tight of God. (b)
3. To equitably divide the land. “And ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families,” &c. (Numbers 33:54). We have already noticed this in Numbers 26:53-56 (see pp. 502, 503).
4. The authority by which they were to do these things. They had the authority of Jehovah their God. He gave them the command; and He assigned this reason for it: “for I have given you the land to possess it.” He is the great Proprietor of all things. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” He has a right to do what He will with His own. But in addition to this, “the iniquity of the Amorites” was now “full.” The filthiest abominations were practised amongst them, they were sunk in the grossest immoralities. “For the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee” (Deuteronomy 9:4). So utterly depraved were the Canaanites that it is said that “the land itself vomited them out” (Leviticus 18:24-25). (c)
II. The solemn warning.
“But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come to pass,” &c. (Numbers 33:55-56). They are here solemnly warned that, if they failed to obey the Divine commands now given to them,—
1. Those whom they spared would become their tormentors. “Those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye shall dwell.” “Under these metaphors,” says Dr. A. Clarke, “the continual mischief that should be done to them, both in soul and body, by these idolators, is set forth in a very expressive manner. What can be more vexatious than a continual goading of each side, so that the attempt to avoid the one throws the body more forcibly on the other? And what can be more distressing than a continual pricking in the eye, harassing the mind, tormenting the body, and extinguishing the sight?” “That which we are willing should tempt us, we shall find will vex us.”
2. The God whom they disobeyed would disinherit them. “Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them.” This solemn warning was repeated by Joshua (Joshua 23:13): but Israel disregarded it, and reaped the bitter result “Subsequent history proves,” as Scott remarks, “that these denunciations were real prophecies, which have been wonderfully accomplished, even to this day. During many ages, the remnant of the devoted nations were extremely troublesome to the Israelites, even as ‘pricks in the eyes and thorns in the side,’ which would be a constant and almost intolerable torture: and at length, as they persisted in imitating their idolatries and atrocious crimes, they were punished as the Lord proposed to punish the Canaanites; being expelled from their country with tremendous slaughter, first by the Assyrians and Chaldeans, and at length more completely by the Romans.”
The importance of zeal and thoroughness in waging war against those Canaanites of the heart, our indwelling sins. “If we show any quarter to our sinful propensities, they will gather strength by indulgence, mar the comfort of our lives, and perhaps be ‘pricks in our eyes and thorns in our sides’ when we lie upon a death-bed.” “If we do not drive sin out, sin will drive us out; if we be not the death of our lusts, our lusts will be the death of our souls.” (d)
(a) This lesson is illustrated on pp. 308, 428.
(b) All sin is hateful to God, and none but the cleansed, perfect soul shall stand before Him in the presence of His glory; nor any in whom iniquity hath dominion shall stand accepted in the presence of His grace; but yet no particular sin is so hateful to Him as idolatry is. For this is not only a trespassing against His laws, but a disclaiming or rejecting His very sovereignty itself. To give a prince irreverent language, and to break his laws, is punishable; but to pull him out of his throne, and set up a scullion in it, and give him the honour and obedience of a king, this is another kind of matter, and much more intolerable. The first commandment is not like the rest, which require only obedience to particular laws in a particular action; but it establisheth the very relations of sovereign and subject, and requires a constant acknowledgment of these relations, and makes it high treason against the God of heaven in any that shall violate that command. Every crime is not treason; it is one thing to miscarry in a particular case, and another thing to have other gods before and besides the Lord, the only God. Now, this is the sin of every worldling: he hath taken down God from the throne in his soul, and set up the flesh and the world in His stead; these he valueth, and magnifleth, and delighteth in; these have his very heart, while God that made it and redeemed him is set light by.—Richard Baxter.
(c) While, on the one hand, the donation of this land to the Israelites was an act of the Lord’s free favour, the denial of it to the Canaanites was no less an act of His retributive justice—of such justice as it behoved the moral Governor of the world to administer against a people laden with iniquity. Genesis 15:13-16 is a passage which proves this clearly. Abraham is there informed that, before his posterity would receive that goodly heritage, a long period of four hundred years must elapse, great part of which would be spent by them under oppression in a land which was not theirs. Eventually they should be brought forth with great substance; and in the “fourth generation they shall come hither again.” Why is this return so long deferred? Why not until the fourth generation? Hear the reason: “For the iniquity of the Amorites it not yet full.”
These last words are important for more than one reason. First, they exclude all human right of the Hebrews to Palestine; for if such a right had existed, why, for its being enforced, should the filling up of the iniquity of the Amorites be required? Secondly, if the cause why Abraham’s descendants were not now, but after a long interval, to obtain possession of the Promised Land, was, that the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full, it is thereby equally intimated that this filling up of their in quity would justify, if not demand, the Divine judgment, which under existing circumstances would have been unjust-in the same way as God, before He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by His immediate decree, first of all permitted the abandoned depravity of the inhabitants most notoriously to manifest itself.
When the time was fully come, the Canaanites became a doomed people—doomed to expulsion or extermination by the Israelites, to whom was committed the sword of judgment, and who were the destined inheritors of the land of which the Canaanites had by that time proved themselves unworthy. This solemn doom is expressed in the Hebrew by a peculiar word (cherem), which is always applied to such devotement to destruction in vindication of the Divine justice; and this is the term constantly applied to the Canaanites, as to a people who, by their enormities, had dishonoured the moral government of God, and were, therefore, to be constrained, by the judgment inflicted upon them, to glorify that government, and thereby to set forth the great truth, that there is a pure and holy Ruler of the nations.
Then, again, the Israelites, favoured as they were for their fathers’ sake, were apprised that even they held the land by no other tenure than that which the Canaanites were to be destroyed for infringing. Over and over again were they warned, that if they fell into the same dreadful transgressions for which the Canaanites had been cast out, they would subject, themselves to the same doom—be like them destroyed—like them cast out of the good land which they had defiled. We are not left altogether in the dark as to the nature of the abominations which pervaded the land, and which cried to God to show Himself as one abhorring iniquity, and to prove that the world was not left fatherless of His care. In one place, the sacred text, after enumerating various cases of unchastity and impiety of the vilest kind, goes on to say, “Defile not yourselves in any of these things, for in all these things the nations are defiled which I cast out before you. And the land is defiled; therefore do I visit the iniquity of the land upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:24-25). In another place, the Israelites are solemnly warned against imitating the conduct of their predecessors, lest they incur the same penalties: “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them. Thou Shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God; for every abomination to the Lord which He hateth have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters have they burnt in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31), What more emphatic testimony can be required than this?—John Kitto, D.D.
God is Sovereign of the universe. He has a right to dispose of any part of it as He will. God is also infinitely just. He governs His Kingdom in strictest accordance with justice. To punish the guilty is a just act. The Canaanites were guilty. By a long continued course of rebellion and abominable crime, they had become not only altogether corrupt, but absolutely hopeless. Their iniquity became full. Then God drove them out to make room for His own people.
A great truth is sometimes either forgotten or ignored by the sentimental school of philosophers, that “the punishment of the wicked is as indispensable a part of moral government as the reward of the good.” The remarks of Kalisch on this subject are admirable: “If we survey the Biblical system with regard to this subject, we are surprised by its grandeur and comprehensiveness. The Canaanites themselves were not the original inhabitants of the land; they settled there after having destroyed most of the earlier tribes—the Rephaim, the Emim, the Anakim, and others. They had therefore had a personal experience of how God punished wantonness and impiety; but they were not warned by it: they gradually fell into the same vices and crimes; and they were doomed to suffer the same extreme judgment. But whilst the measure of their iniquity was filling, God reared in a foreign land the future occupants of their abode: the degeneracy of the Canaanites kept pace with the increase and development of the Israelites. However great and awful the former might hare been, the God of mercy protracted and delayed long the day of judgment; and however glorious Abraham’s merit was, on account of which his descendants were destined to possess Canaan, the God of justice did not accelerate their deliverance from the oppression in Egypt, which they had deserved by their faithlessness. The Israelites, regenerated by their trials in the desert, were the instruments of chastisement to the Canaanites; as, later, the Assyrians and Babylonians, though unconscious of their, office and mission, were used as the rod of destruction against the Israelites. This is the only view in which the occupation of Palestine by the Hebrews can be regarded according to the Biblical allusions.”—J. L. Porter, D.D., LL.D.
(d) Use sin as it will use you; spare it not, for it will not spare yon: it is your murderer, and the murderer of the world: use it, therefore, as a murderer should be used. Kill it before it kills yon; and though it kill your bodies, it shall not be able to kill your souls; and though it bring you to the grave, as it did your Head, it shall not be able to keep you there.—Richard Baxter.