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THE SONG OF MOSES. Full of gratitude, joy, and happiness—burning with a desire to vent in devotional utterance of the most fitting kind, his intense and almost ecstatic feelings, Moses, who to his other extraordinary powers, added the sublime gift of poesy, composed, shortly after the passage, a hymn of praise, and sang it with a chorus of the people as a thanksgiving to the Almighty. The hymn itself is generally allowed to be one of transcendent beauty. Deriving probably the general outline of its form and character of its rhythm from the Egyptian poetry of the time, with which Moses had been familiar from his youth, it embodies ideas purely Hebrew, and remarkable for grandeur, simplicity, and depth. Naturally, as being the first outburst of the poetical genius of the nation, and also connected with the very commencement of the national life, it exerted the most important formative influence upon the later Hebrew poetic style, furnishing a pattern to the later lyric poets, from which they but rarely deviated. The "parallelism of the members," which from the middle of the Last century has been acknowledged to be the only real rhythmical law of Hebrew poetry, with its three forms of "synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic (or verbal) parallelism" is here found almost us distinctly marked as in any of the later compositions. At the same time, a greater lyrical freedom is observable than was afterwards practised. The song divides itself primarily into two parts:—the first (Exodus 15:1-12) retrospective, celebrating the recent deliverance; the second (Exodus 15:13-18) prospective, describing the effects that would flow from the deliverance in future time. The verbs indeed of the second part are at first grammatical preterites; but (as Kalisch observes) they are "according to the sense, futures"—their past form denoting only that the prophet sees the events revealed to him as though they were already accomplished. Hence, after a time, he slides into the future (Exodus 15:16). The second part is continuous, and has no marked break: the first sub-divides into three unequal portions, each commencing with an address to Jehovah, and each terminating with a statement of the great fact, that the Egyptians were swallowed up. These three portions are:
1.Exodus 15:2-5, "The Lord is my strength," to "They sank into the bottom as a stone."
2.Exodus 15:6-10," Thy right hand, O Lord," to "They sank like lead in the mighty waters."
3.Exodus 15:11-12, "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord," to "The earth swallowed them." The first verse stands separate from the whole, as an introduction, and at the same time as the refrain. Moses and a chorus of men commenced their chant with it, and probably proceeded to the end of Exodus 15:5, when Miriam, with the Hebrew women, interposed with a repetition of the refrain (see Exodus 15:21). The chant of the males was resumed and carried to the close of Exodus 15:10, when again the refrain came in. It was further repeated after Exodus 15:12; and once moral at the close of the whole "song." Similar refrains, or burdens, are found in Egyptian melodies
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel. It is in accordance with the general modesty of Moses, that he says nothing of the composition of the "song." No serious doubt of his authorship has ever been entertained; but the general belief rests on the improbability of there having been among the Israelites a second literary genius of the highest order, without any mention being made of him. The joint-singing by Moses and "the children of Israel" implies the previous training of a choir, and would seem to show that the Israelites remained for some days encamped at the point which they had occupied on quitting the bed of the sea. He hath triumphed gloriously. Literally. He is gloriously glorious." (ἐνδόξως δεδόξασται, LXX.) The horse and his rider. Rather, "The horse and his driver." Chariots, not cavalry, are in the mind of the writer.
The Lord is my strength and song. Literally, "My strength and song is Jah." The name Jah had not previously been used. It is commonly regarded as an abbreviated form of Jehovah, and was the form generally used in the termination of names, as Abijah, Ahaziah, Hezekiah, Zedekiah, Mount Moriah, etc. It takes the place of "Jehovah" here, probably on account of the rhythm. He is become my salvation. Literally, "He has been to me for salvation," i.e; "He has delivered me out of the hand of Pharaoh and his host, and so saved me from destruction." I will prepare him a habitation. This translation seems to have come originally from the Targum of Onkelos, who paraphrases the single word of the text by the phrase "I will build him a sanctuary." The meaning is a possible one: but most modern commentators prefer to connect the verb used with a root meaning "beautiful," and translate "I will glorify him." (So Gesenius. Rosenmuller, Knobel, Kalisch, Cook. The LXX have δοξάσω. The Vulgate has glorificabo. The Syrian and Coptic versions agree, as do also the Targums of Jonathan and of Jerusalem.) The God of my father. See the comment on Exodus 3:6.
A man of war. A strong anthropomorphism, but one that could scarcely be misunderstood—"a man of war," meaning commonly "a warrior," or "one mighty in battle" (Psalms 24:8). God's might had just been proved, in that he alone had discomfited and destroyed the most potent armed force in the whole world. The Lord is his name. Jehovah—the alone-existing One "truly describes him," before whom all other existence fades and falls into nothingness. On the full meaning of the name, see the comment on Exodus 3:14.
Pharaoh's chariots and his host. The "host" of this passage is not the "army" of Exodus 14:9, though in the original the same word is used, but the whole multitude of those who rode in the chariots, and were drowned in the sea. Hath he cast. Or "hurled." The verb commonly expresses the hurling of a javelin or the shooting of an arrow. His chosen captains. Compare Exodus 14:7. Are drowned. Literally, "were submerged." The word describes the act of drowning, not the state of lying drowned in the depths of the sea.
The depths have covered them. Rather "covered them." Into the bottom. Literally, "into the abyss." Like a stone. The warriors who fought in chariots commonly wore coats of mail, composed of bronze plates sewn on to a linen base, and overlapping one another. The coats covered the arms to the elbow, and descended nearly to the knee. They must have been exceedingly heavy: and the warrior who wore one must have sunk at once, without a struggle, like a stone or a lump of lead (Exodus 15:10).
Between Exodus 15:5 and Exodus 15:6, Miriam's chorus was probably interposed "Sing ye unto the Lord," etc. Then began the second strophe or stanza of the ode. It is, in the main, expansive and exegetical of the preceding stanza, going into greater detail, and drawing a contrast between the antecedent pride and arrogance of the Egyptians and their subsequent miserable fall.
Thy right hand, O Lord. Another anthropomorphism, here used for the first time. Compare Exodus 15:12; Deuteronomy 33:2; and the Psalms, passim. Is become glorious Or "is glorious. Kalisch rightly regards verses 6 and 7 as containing "a general description of God's omnipotence and justice," and notes that the poet only returns to the subject of the Egyptians in verse 8. So also Knobel. Hath dashed in pieces. Rather, "Will dash in pieces," or "dashes in pieces"—a general statement.
Thou hast overthrown, etc. Here again the verbs are future. Translate—"thou wilt overthrow," or "thou overthrowest them that rise up against thee; thou (wilt send) sendest forth thy wrath, which consumes them as stubble." The metaphor in the last clause was one known to the Egyptians.
With the blast of thy nostril the waters were gathered together. Poetically, Moses describes the east wind which God set in motion as "the blast" or "breath of his nostrils." By means of it, he says, the waters were "gathered together," or "piled up;" then, growing bolder in his imagery, he represents the floods as "standing in a heap" on either side, and the depths as "congealed. No doubt, if these terms are meant to be taken literally, the miracle must have been one in which "the sea" (as Kalisch says) "giving up its nature, formed with its waves a firm wall, and instead of streaming like a fluid, congealed into a hard substance." But the question is, are we justified in taking literally the strong expressions of a highly wrought poetical description?
The enemy said. This verse is important as giving the animus of the pursuit, showing what was in the thoughts of the soldiers who flocked to Pharaoh's standard at his call—a point which had not been previously touched. It is remarkable as a departure from the general stately order of Hebrew poesy, and for what has been called its "abrupt, gasping" style. The broken speech imitates the utterance of one at once eager and out of breath. I will divide the spoil. The Israelites, it must be remembered, had gone out of Egypt laden with ornaments of silver and of gold, and accompanied by flocks and herds of great value. Pharaoh's soldiers regarded this wealth as legitimate plunder, and intended to appropriate it. My lust. Literally, "my soul." Rage and hate were the passions to be satiated, rather than lust. My hand shall destroy them. So the Vulgate, Onkelos, Rosenmuller, Knobel, Kalisch, and others. The LXX. have κυριεύσει, "acquire the lordship over them" But the drawn sword points to death rather than recapture.
Thou didst blow with thy wind. Here we have another fact not mentioned in the direct narrative, but entirely harmonising with it. The immediate cause of the return of the waters, as of their retirement, was a wind. This wind must have come from a new quarter, or its effects would not have been to bring the water back. We may reasonasbly suppose a wind to have arisen contrary to the former one, blowing from the north-west or the north, which would have driven the water of the Bitter LaMes southward, and thus produced the effect spoken of. The effect may, or may not, have been increased by the flow of the tide in the Red Sea They sank as lead. See the comment on Exodus 15:5.
Exodus 15:11, Exodus 15:12
Contain the third stanza of the first division of the ode. It is short compared to the other two, containing merely a fresh ascription of praise to God, cast in anew form; and a repetition of the great fact which the poem commemorates—the Egyptian overthrow. We conceive that Miriam's chorus (Exodus 15:21) was again interposed between Exodus 15:10 and Exodus 15:11.
Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? It was one great object of the whole series of miraculous visitations whereof Egypt had been the scene, that the true God, Jehovah, should be exalted far above all the gods of the heathen. (See Exodus 7:5; Exodus 14:4, Exodus 14:18.) Moses therefore makes this one of his topics of praise; and at the same time notes three points in which God has no rival—
2. Awfulness; and
3. Miraculous power.
Compare Psalms 86:8; "Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like thy works." Fearful in praises—i.e; "to be viewed with awe even when we praise Him."
Thou stretchedst out thy right hand. Thou hadst only to stretch out an arm, and at once thy enemies perished. The earth swallowed them up—i.e; the sea, which is a part of the earth.
Thou in thy mercy hast led forth. Or "leadest forth." See the Introduction to the chapter. Which thou hast redeemed. See the comment on Exodus 6:6. Then hast guided. Or "thou guidest." Thy holy habitation. By "God's holy habitation" some understand Mount Sinai, others Canaan, others Mount Moriah, or even tile temple there to be built ultimately. That Sinai is not intended seems clear from Exodus 6:14, Exodus 6:15, where the nations mentioned are such as were untouched by the occupation of that mountain. Canaan might sufficiently answer the requirements of the present verse, but scarcely comes up to those of Exodus 6:17. Altogether, it is clear that Moses knew there would be a place in the land of Canaan where God would "put his name" (Deuteronomy 12:5, Deuteronomy 12:11,Deuteronomy 12:14; Deuteronomy 14:23,Deuteronomy 14:24; Deuteronomy 16:6, Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 26:2; etc.); and it would seem to be not unlikely that he may have known where the place would be by special revelation.
The people shall hear.—Rather, "the peoples"—i.e; the tribes, or nations, of these parts—Philistines, Amalekites, Edomites, Moabites, etc.—will hear of the wonders done in Egypt, especially of the crowning wonder of all—Israel's passage through the Red Sea and Egypt's destruction in it—and will in consequence tremble with fear when the Israelites approach them, and offer them no effectual opposition. Palestine. This is a Greek form. The Hebrew is Phelasheth, which would perhaps be best translated "Philistia." (Compare Psalms 60:8; Psalms 87:4; Psalms 108:9.) The Philistine country was a strip of territory extending along the coast of the Mediterranean from a little below Gaze on the south, nearly to Mount Carmel on the north. It is curious that the philistines are not mentioned under that name on any of the early Egyptian monuments. They may perhaps be the Purusaia of the time of Rameses III; whom some however identify with the Pelasgi.
The Dukes of Edom. Compare Genesis 36:15. By the time that the Israelitesapproached the borders of Edom, the dukes had given place to kings (Numbers 20:14), and everything like abject fear of Israel had passed sway. The Edomites "came out against Moses with much people and with a strong hand," and refused to allow the Israelites passage through their borders (Numbers 20:20, Numbers 20:21). The mighty men of Moab. The alarm of the Moabites was indicated by Balak's efforts to induce Balaam to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22-24.). By their "mighty men" some understood men of unusual strength and stature (Cook); but the expression, which is very frequent both in the prophetical and the historical books, seems to be a mere periphrasis for "warriors." All the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. This prophecy received a remarkable accomplishment when "it came to pass that all the kings of the Cannanites heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, and their heart melted, neither was their spirit in them any more" (Joshua 5:1).
Fear and dread shall fall upon them. Compare Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25. The Edomites of Mount Seir and the Moabites gave Israel a free passage through their borders (Deuteronomy 2:4-8, Deuteronomy 2:18, Deuteronomy 2:29), being afraid to oppose them. Till thy people pass over, O Lord. Some see in this an anticipation of the crossing of Jordan; but perhaps Moses meant no more than the crossing of the Canaanite frontier, in some place or other, which must take place if the urea was to be occupied. The event made the expression used peculiarly appropriate. When thou hast purchased. By bringing his people out of Egypt, their ownership had passed to him from the Egyptians, just as if he had bought them. (See Exodus 6:6, Exodus 6:7; Exodus 19:5.)
Thou shalt bring them in—i.e; give them possession of the laud. And plant them—i.e; fix them firmly in it—enable them to take root there. The mountain of thine inheritance. The land of Canaan, which is almost wholly mountainous, and which God had given as an inheritance to his people (Genesis 15:7; Hebrews 11:8). The sanctuary. See the comment on Exodus 15:13. Which thy hands have established. Moses sees in idea the sanctuary already set up, and God dwelling in it; and emphasises his conviction by using the past tense.
In terms most simple yet most grand, often imitated (Psalms 10:16; Psalms 29:10; Psalms 146:10, etc.), but never surpassed, the poet gives the final result of all God's providential and temporary arrangements, to wit, the eternal establishment of his most glorious kingdom. And here reaching the final consummation of all things (1 Corinthians 15:28), he will not weaken the impression made by adding another word, but ends his ode.
Sequel to the Song. The "sequel" treats of two quite separate masters.
1. It asserts, in verse 19, the historic groundwork of the song, reiterating in a condensed form the three principal facts of the presage—already recorded in ch. 14.—
(a) Israel's safe transit across the sea-bed;
(b) the pursuit attempted by the Egyptian chariot-force; end
(c) the return of the waters upon the pursuers by God's providential action.
2. It relates, in verses 20 and 21, the part taken by Miriam in the recitation of the ode, which has been noticed in the "introduction" to the chapter.
The horse of Pharaoh, with his chariots, and with his horsemen. Rather, "with his chariots, and with his chariot men." Compare Exodus 14:23. The Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them. See Exodus 14:26, Exodus 14:27; and Exodus 15:10. The waters did not merely return to their natural place when the east wind ceased to blow, but were "brought back" by miraculous power, and with abnormal rapidity.
Miriam, the prophetess. Miriam is regarded by the prophet Micah 6:4, as having had a share in the deliverance of Israel, and claims the prophetic gift in Numbers 12:2. Her claim appears to be allowed both in the present passage, and in Numbers 12:6-8. where the degree of her inspiration is placed below that of Moses. She is the first woman whom the Bible honours with the title of "prophetess." Prophetesses were common in Egypt at a much earlier date; and thus, that a woman should have the gift would have seemed no strange thing to the Hebrews. For examples of other prophetesses, see Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36. The sister of Aaron. Compare Numbers 26:59. Miriam is generally regarded as the sister of Moses mentioned in Exodus 2:4-8, whose name is not there given. If so, she was considerably older than either Moses or Aaron. Took a timbrel By "a timbrel" our translators meant what is now called "a tambourine." Such instruments were common in Egypt, and in the representations are generally played by women. The separation of the men and women into distinct bands was an Egyptian custom; as likewise was the execution of dances by performers who accompanied their steps with music.
Miriam answered them. Miriam, with her chorus of women, answered the chorus of men, responding at the termination of each stanza or separate part of the ode with the refrain, "Sing ye to the Lord," etc. (See the "Introduction" to this chapter.) While responding, the female chorus both danced and struck their tambourines. This use of dancing in a religious ceremonial, so contrary to Western ideas of decorum, is quite consonant with Oriental practice, both ancient and modern. Other examples of it in Scripture are David's dancing before the ark (2 Samuel 6:16), the dancing of Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11:34), and that of the virgins of Shiloh (Judges 21:21). It is also mentioned with approval in the Psalms (Psalms 149:3; el. 4). Dancing was practised as a religious ceremony in Egypt, in Phrygia, in Thrace, by the Phoenicians, by the Syrians, by the Romans, and others. In the nature of things there is clearly nothing unfitting or indecorous in a dedication to religion of what has been called "the poetry of gesture." But human infirmity has connected such terrible abuses with the practice that the purer religions have either discarded it or else denied it admission into their ceremonial. It still however lingers in Mohammedanism among those who are called "dancing dervishes," whose extraordinary performances are regarded as acts of devotion.
The song of Moses a pattern thanksgiving.
There is nothing in the whole range of sacred or profane literature more fresh, more vigorous, more teeming with devotional thought than this wonderful poem. In rhythm it is grand and sonorous, in construction skilful and varied, in the quality of the thoughts lofty, in the mode of expression at once simple and sublime. Partly historic, partly prophetic, it describes the past with marvellous power, and gives with a few touches a glorious picture of the future. Throughout it breathes the warmest love of God, the deepest thankfulness to him, the strongest regard for his honour. We may well take it for our model when we have to thank God:—
I. FOR A TEMPORAL DELIVERANCE; and observe
(1) its matter;
(2) its manner;
(3) its form.
(1) Its matter comprises
(a) distinct and repeated enunciation of the deliverance itself, with expatiation on its circumstances;
(b) anticipation of further advantages to flow from the deliverance in the future;
(c) transition from the particular mercy to the consideration of God's power, greatness and goodness in the abstract; and
(d) glorification of God on all three accounts.
(2) Its manner comprises, among other points,
(a) beginning and ending with praise;
(b) intermixture of the praise with the grounds of praise;
(c) persistence and repetition, but with the introduction of new touches.
(3) Its form is
(b) discontinuous, or broken into stanzas;
Our thanksgivings for great national or even great personal deliverances may well, if our powers suffice, take a poetic shape. Poetry is more expressive than prose, more heart-stirring, more enthusiastic. It is also better remembered, and it is less diffuse.
II. FOR SPIRITUAL DELIVERANCE FROM THE EGYPT OF SIN. Each man's deliverance will have its own peculiar features, which he will do well to note and make special subjects of thankfulness, not sparing repetition, that he may present the matter to himself in various lights, and see all God's goodness in respect of it. Each deliverance will also lead naturally to prospective thoughts, extending beyond the wilderness of this life to the Canaan which is our inheritance. Each will profitably lead us to go beyond ourselves, and dwell for a while on the general attributes of God, whence proceed the mercies that we individually experience; and we shall do well to praise God on all these accounts. Manner and form are of less importance than matter, and admit of more variety without sensible loss; but even here "the song" furnishes a pattern on which it would be hard to improve. The grounds for preferring poetry to prose for such an outpouring of the heart as a thanksgiving have been already stated. The propriety of beginning and ending with praise is unquestionable. Repetition has a value as deepening impressions, and affording opportunity for remedying accidental coldness or inattention. In private devotion the actual repetition of the very same words has an occasional place, as we see by our Lord's example in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:44); but in a composition, phrases should be varied. Moses's song may well guide us as to the extent and character of such variation (e.g; Exodus 15:5, Exodus 15:10, and Exodus 15:12).
Exodus 15:20, Exodus 15:21
The aid which devout women can reader to the Church.
There are religions which exclude women from consideration altogether, express a doubt whether they have souls, and assign them no special Church work. But Judaism did not make this mistake, it utilised the services of women—
I. AS PROPHETESSES. Miriam was a prophetess. So was Deborah, whose song is one of the most beautiful compositions in the Bible (Judges 5:2-31). So was Huldah, who delivered God's message to Hezekiah (2 Kings 22:14-20). So was Anna (Luke 2:36), whom the tradition makes the virgin's mother. God did not disdain to hold spiritual converse with women and enlighten them supernaturally; nor did the Israelites omit to take cognizance of the fact and give such persons their due honour.
II. AS NATIONAL DELIVERERS. Deborah "judged Israel" (Judges 4:4), and it was she, rather than Barak, who delivered the Israelites from Jabin (Judges 4:8, Judges 4:14). Esther saved her people from the malice of Haman. Judith is said to have delivered them from Holofernes. Sex was no disqualification for high place among the Jews, any more titan among their neighbours, the Arabs. The queens of Judah obtain constant mention in Kings and Chronicles.
III. AS PARTICIPATORS IN RELIGIOUS CEREMONIALS. In the instance of Miriam we see how an important part of the thanksgiving service which Moses celebrated on the passage of the Red Sea was assigned to females. Apparently, on this occasion, half the chanting, and the whole of the instrumental music, was placed in their hands, Miriam acted as Choragus, or conductor, of the female chorus. Music is one of woman's commonest gifts; and, though not eminent as composers, as renderers of the music of others, they have a fame exceeding that of men. They can do much for the glory of God in contributing to, and even sometimes superintending, the musical services of the sanctuary. In the Christian Church, there has been, equally from the first, a recognition of the services that may be rendered to religion by women. The apostles, after the ascension of our Lord, "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14). Phoebe, who conveyed to Rome St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, was "a deaconess of the church that was at Cenchrea" (Romans 16:1); and an Order of deaconesses was generally recognised in the primitive Church, and believed to have been instituted by the apostles (Apost. Const. Romans 6:17). In all periods some church work, in many very important church work, has been assigned to women, with great advantage both to themselves and to the community. Though St. Paul forbade their speaking in the Church (1 Corinthians 14:35), and they thus cannot be ministers, subordinate employments of various kinds, suited to the nature of women, are everywhere open to them. The work of Sisters of Charity in various parts of tile world is above all praise. That of district visitors, teachers in Sunday schools, Scripture readers, etc; though less attracting the praise of men, is most valuable. Devout women, working under their ministers, can be the instruments of incalculable good, and so as much for the promotion of true religion as if they were men.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The sublimity of this noble ode is universally admitted. It brings Moses before us in the new character of "poet." Moses does not seem to have devoted himself largely to this species of composition; but the three specimens of his work which remain to us—this ode, his "Song" and "Blessing" in Deuteronomy, and Psalms 90:1-17.—show him to have possessed a poetical genius of the very highest order; to have been as great as poet, as we know him to have been as warrior, leader, statesman, legislator, historian, patriot, and saint. The grandest features of poetry belong to the thrilling piece before us. It is the magnificent outburst of the feeling of uncontrollable triumph, awakened by the sight of the overthrow of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and by the sense of deliverance and safety thence resulting. The language quakes and thunders in keeping with the grandeur of the theme. The presentation of the ideas is in the highest degree picturesque. The strokes of imagery are masterpieces—the whole scene of defeat and disaster being repeatedly revealed, as by lurid lightning-flashes, in single sentences, and even single words. The movement is rapid, rhythmical, inspiring. The art displayed in the minutiae of literary construction is very great, while in all, and through all, pervading, as its energising soul, every syllable and stanza of the composition, is the spirit of adoring awe and wonder, blending with gratitude, which ascribes all the greatness, and honour, and renown, of the victory to Jehovah. We have to touch at present, however, less on the literary beauties than on the religious teaching of the ode; and the nature of this, after what has been said on Psalms 14:1-7; admits of being briefly indicated.
I. THE TRIUMPH CELEBRATED (Psalms 14:1, Psalms 14:2). This celebration of the deliverance at the Red Sea was—
1. Natural. Adoring and exultant feeling naturally passes into song. It seeks expression. It tends to become rhythmical. It unites itself with music. Like mountain torrents, tearing down to the plain, and cutting their channels as they flow, pent-up emotion of this kind will not be denied utterance, and if suitable channels of rhythmical expression are not provided for it, will cut out channels for itself.
2. Appropriate. It was right that, having experienced this great deliverance, the children of Israel should give utterance, in strains of praise, to the feelings of wonder, gratitude, and adoration with which it inspired them. It was due to God, and it would be beneficial in its reactive effects upon themselves. The duty of praise for benefits received is one to which no religious mind can be indifferent. If God has gifted us with the faculty of song, it is right that the first use we make of it should be to extol his goodness. See the Psalms (Psalms 92:1; Psalms 98:1; Psalms 105:1, Psalms 105:2; Psalms 111:1; etc.).
3. Elevating. The faculty of song is not merely one of the faculties of our nature. It is connected with that which is deepest in us. When the Psalmist bids his faculty of song awake, he speaks of it as his "glory."—"Awake up, my glory" (Psalms 57:8; cf. Psalms 16:9; Psalms 30:12). It is Carlyle who says—"All deep things are musical." Song, in its higher reaches, unites all the faculties of the soul in consentaneous exercise—heart, intellect, conscience, the religious nature, imagination, the artistic and tuneful sentiments, the social feelings. It arouses, elevates, fructifies, enkindles. It awakens the spirit to the sense of its own infinitude; fills it with scorn of what is base; attunes and harmonises it to what is noble. We do well, therefore, to cultivate the faculty of song; to exercise it in public and in private worship; to make it the daily vehicle of the expression of our religious feelings. "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns," etc. (Ephesians 5:19). See that the melody is from the heart, yet with the understanding also (1 Corinthians 14:15).
II. THE TRIUMPH DESCRIBED (verses 3-13). The quick, abrupt, vivid language of the ode brings the whole scene of Pharaoh's pursuit and destruction before us, almost as if it were transacting in our sight. The hot, breathless, intensely eager pursuit is depicted in verse 9, but it is chiefly the destruction that is dwelt on, and dwelt on in such terms, with the use of such similes, and in such relations of contrast to the proud monarch's insolence and boasting, as limns it with photographic distinctness on the mental vision. The design in the description being to exalt and glorify God's power in the overthrow, the points chiefly exhibited are these—
1. The ease of this destruction. It is done in an instant, and without effort. In striking contrast with Pharaoh's paraphernalia of war, with his savage exertions in pursuit, and with his elaborate drawing out of his purposes in verse 9—"I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil," etc.—God simply blows with his wind, and the enemy is annihilated. "Thou didst blow with thy wind; the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters" (verse 10). A movement of his hand, a blast of his nostrils, a solitary waft from the heat of his anger, suffices to destroy them.
2. The swiftness of it. This, which was a most impressive feature of the overthrow, is brought out in various images. "The depths have covered them; they sank to the bottom as a stone, they sank as lead in the mighty waters" (verses 5-10).
3. The fatality of it. The destruction was complete. There was no recovery from it. Horse and chariot and charioteer; the chosen captains; the whole array of Pharaoh's military strength—all went down in one swift, fell swoop, to the sea-bottom. "Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy" (verse 6). Pondering these images, we cannot but be impressed by the folly, the insanity, as well as the futility, of all attempts at contending with the Almighty.
III. THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD AS REVEALED IN THE TRIUMPH. These, naturally, are made conspicuous in the ode. It was Jehovah, not Israel, who had achieved the triumph; and to Jehovah, accordingly, was all the praise due. Further, the design in the transaction had been precisely this: to display the character of God as Jehovah, and give a new demonstration of his possession of the attributes denoted by the name Jah (verses 2, 3). The attributes of Jehovah specially extolled are—
1. Power. "Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power" (verse 6). The greatness of this power is seen by its being measured against the military might of Pharaoh, which thereby becomes a foil to it: another measure being found in the might and fury of the elements which it controls—winds, mighty waters, etc. Its resistlessness is seen in the suddenness and decisiveness of the overthrow.
2. Supremacy (verses 11-18). This attribute, which is of the very essence of the Jehovah conception, was signally illustrated in the Red Sea catastrophe (Psalms 135:6). Not only was God therein revealed as absolute Ruler in the domain of nature, but it was shown how Pharaoh himself, pursuing his own end, was yet bent to be an instrument in accomplishing God's; how, when he thought he was freest, and most certain of victory, God had the hook in his jaws, and was leading all his host straight into the grave prepared for him; how, accordingly, God is Supreme Ruler in the moral as well as in the natural world, in the region of human wills as well as in that of natural causation.
3. Holiness. The holiness of God, burning like fire among stubble, and utterly consuming the hosts of the enemy, is justly celebrated in these verses (verse 7). God was revealed as "glorious in holiness" (verse 13); and because he was so, Israel was filled with awe in his presence (verse 13), and his habitation is spoken of as an "holy habitation" (verse 13), a sanctuary (verse 17).
4. Mercy. This is the other side of the transaction of the Red Sea—the side of deliverance, as the former was of judgment, and mention is made of it in verses 2, 13. Here, then, is a wonderful constellation of Divine attributes—exhibited, too, not in word, but in suitable action, in deeds which gave them embodiment, and impressive manifestation. They are the same attributes which have been at work all down history, operating for the good of the Church, and for the overthrow of evil.
IV. THE EFFECTS OF THE TRIUMPH (verses 13-18). It is viewed—
1. As inspiring fear in the surrounding nations, in Edom, in Moab, among the Philistines, and other inhabitants of Canaan. Every powerful manifestation of God's attributes is fitted to awaken terror among his enemies, and actually does so. Results similar to those here described will follow the great predicted judgments on the last representatives of Anti-christianism (Revelation 11:13). The nations who heard of Israel's deliverance would have reason to fear, for their position exposed them to risk of attack, and Canaan was actually the destination of the tribes. This may suggest to us that if Israel had gone up to conquer these tribes, at the time when God wished them, they would not have found the conquest so hard as their fears represented. The Philistines and Canaanites were "melted" with terror: they were paralysed by their fears, and "still as a stone" (verses 15, 16). Yet, through the unbelief and cowardice of the attacking force, this great opportunity was missed.
2. As a pledge that God would complete the work he had begun, and would ultimately "plant them in the mountain of his inheritance" (verses 13-17). In several of the expressions, the tenses are past, as though the thing prophesied were already as good as done. This also is an apostle's mode of arguing—God who has done the greater, will not now fail to do the less, and perfect the work he has begun (Romans 5:9, Romans 5:10; Romans 8:32; Philippians 1:6). Mark in this ode the designation of Israel as a redeemed, a purchased people (verse 13)—the Red Sea deliverance being viewed as a second purchasing of Israel by God to himself.—J.O.
Exodus 15:1-20, Exodus 15:21
The song of Moses and of the Lamb.
We cannot fail to connect in our thoughts the circumstances of this magnificent triumph-celebration with that other scene, described in the Apocalypse, where they who have "gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over the number of his name, stand on—i.e; on the margin of—the sea of glass, having the harps of God," and "sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb" (Revelation 15:2). We do not enter into any elaborate explication of the Apocalyptic symbols. The beast and his followers obviously represent the Antichristian foes of the Church—the worldly secular powers that resist, oppose, and persecute the true servants of Christ. God's judgment on these hostile world-powers, already summarily depicted in Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:20, is to be afterwards more fully described under the imagery of the seven last plagues. This vision of the multitudes on the sea of glass is anticipative, and represents the celebration by the Church of her own deliverance, and of the completion of judgment upon her enemies. The "sea of glass" has obvious reference to the Red Sea, made to roll back, and stand up like a sea of crystal (Exodus 14:8), yet illuminated and filled with lurid radiance, by the fiery glow of the pillar which shone on Israel. The "sea" is the symbol (in this instance) of deliverance achieved, of victory won, of enemies judged and overwhelmed—the fire in the crystal pointing to the burning wrath which consumed them. But what we have immediately to do with is the fact that the saved multitudes sing the "song of Moses, and of the Lamb." This plainly does not mean that they sing two songs; nor yet that the song which they sing is the song recorded here; for the terms of what they sing are subsequently given (Revelation 15:3, Revelation 15:4). The meaning is that the Church, having experienced a deliverance similar to that experienced by Israel at the Red Sea, but as much greater than that old deliverance, as Christ is greater than Moses, and his salvtion greater than the salvation from Egypt,—the old song is re-cast, and its terms re-adapted, to express both victories at once, the lower and the higher. The old is taken up into the new and is celebrated along with it. No victory of God for his Church will ever pass out of remembrance. Each will be the theme of grateful celebration to all eternity. But type must merge in antitype, and be celebrated with it in a single strain. The song of the redeemed over the defeat of the Antichristian powers at the end—over the defeat of all their enemies—is the true counterpart of this song of Moses, and the one (the latter) remains for ever the background of the other (the former), and is blended with it in the united celebration. Glancing at the two songs, this in Exodus, and that in the Revelation, we note—
1. That the scope of both is the same—the defeat of hostile, pursuing, persecuting powers. And as the defeat of Pharaoh was the natural sequel to the exodus, and confirmed to Israel that redemption then achieved, so will the defeat of Christ's enemies in the end appear as the appropriate sequel to his work upon the Cross, and will complete the deliverance of his Church from those that trouble her (2 Thessalonians 1:6).
2. That the attributes of God extolled in both are the same. This of necessity, for the work being similar, so must be the attributes revealed in it—holiness, power, unchallengeable supremacy, justice and truth, which here include mercy. "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty," etc. (Revelation 15:3). The effects produced on the nations by this display of God's attributes are also similar—"who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name … for all nations shall come and worship before thee." A higher result this, however, than in the case of the type.
3. The singers in both cases are the same—those viz. who have experienced the deliverance which they celebrate. Would we join them? We, too, must be in Christ, and partakers with those who, in the strength which he gives, are overcoming the world (1 John 4:4).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The song of triumph-God exalted in the lips of the people.
This song we may take as being in some measure the result and expression of the state of feeling mentioned in Exodus 14:31. People who feared Jehovah and believed in him were very likely, in such a rush of feeling, to sing as did the Israelites here: at the same time we must be careful not to rest content with attributing this song merely to natural causes. There is no need to deny the presence of genius; if only we bear in mind at the same time, that it is genius elevated and sanctified by the inspiration which Jehovah alone can give. Who else than God himself can lead into a true acquaintance with him? and if they who thus know him would speak of him and sing of him, it must he with such an arrangement of thoughts and choice of expressions as he alone can supply. The history of hymnology makes it very evident that genius is not enough for distinction in this sacred service. Poems full of genius, and almost faultless in form, are yet worthless for praise. For in this as other matters God has taken the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty, lie puts the holy and eternal fire on lips that the world despises. They who have made the praises of the Church have not been the writers of epics; they are not found among the poets-laureate; and so here we must look for the power of God as much in the construction of this song, as in the production of the events it celebrates. We are called on to observe him who somehow makes men to utter even more than they know. It may be needful at the proper time to consider this as a contribution to Hebrew poetry; it is better still ever to remember it as a contribution to the worthy praise of God, that praise which while it celebrates him, instructs and ennobles the man who renders it. The question of authorship here, bear in mind, is not to be settled right off by saying that Moses composed it. He and the people sang it, but who composed it is quite another question. And that this point is left undetermined only throws us back more on the thought of God as the great agent in bringing this song into existence. As to the topics treated of in the song, the very fact that there have been so many different ways of dividing it, makes one more disposed to consider it in its unity, without any attempt to divide it into sections at all. Thus then let us notice in succession the dominant truths and convictions which run through the song. The first point is the exaltation of God amongst his people. This is the word with which the song begins. "I will sing unto Jehovah, for he is highly exalted."
I. NOTICE THE FACT THAT THERE IS EXALTATION OF GOD. God, in ruling the composition of this song, takes care of this most important point. It was the very point that needed to be brought out in all its prominence, so that no man should be exalted instead of God. Men exalt one another. They are constituted so as to admire that which is great and powerful, and when they are not men of faith, able to comprehend the greatness of the invisible God, their admiration must needs expend itself on the visible man. All temptation of this kind is here kept out of the way. The feeling that Jehovah is exalted runs all through the song. Everything is ascribed to him. Moses himself makes no claim, expects no praise. The people do not gather round him and hail him as deliverer. The tone of the praise is thus in perfect harmony with the deed that has been done. God becomes practically everything and man nothing. For what had Israel done here? They had indeed walked down to the Red Sea, through it, and on to the other side, but no one who regards the proprieties of language would speak of this as contributing to their salvation. We do not praise a man for availing himself of the conditions of safety. Thus we have a type of the way in which God is exalted and glorified in spiritual salvation. When we consider what has to be done in saving a man from his sins; and when we consider also the manifestations, so abundant, so transcendent, of God's power in doing so, then how plainly incongruous it is to begin praising man for that simple act of faith by which he avails himself of God's goodness in Christ. The more we consider, the more we shall feel that whatever praise man may deserve is better left to God to express. By all means let us have brotherly appreciation for brotherly kindness; brotherly gratitude encouraging brotherly love. But God only can praise rightly. Though nothing is said of Moses in this song, God took ample care of the fame and reward of his faithful servant. We had better keep to that which God requires from us, namely, praise to himself. As he requires it, so we inky be sure he will fit us to render it.
II. THE EXALTATION OF JEHOVAH IS AN EXALTATION TO SUPREMACY. He is supreme over physical force in one of its most imposing forms. "The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea." Perhaps those who have had to meet a charge of cavalry in the battle-field can best appreciate this expression. Jehovah is a man of war, and he goes out with strange weapons against great kings and their chosen captains; weapons which they cannot understand and cannot meet. He does not meet sword with sword, and chariot with chariot; the elements of nature are at his instant and entire command. In his hand the mightiest are as nothing. What is the excellency of Pharaoh, even though he be king of Egypt, before the greatness of the excellency of Jehovah? The answer is that as stubble before the fire, so is opposing man before Almighty God. "What a wind that must be, that strong east wind which raises waters, even from the deep, and keeps them when they are raised!" So we imagine man speaking in his inevitable submission to the powers of nature when they are roused. But when God has to speak of the east wind, it is as of something which comes as easily as a blast from the nostrils. True, this expression is chiefly used to indicate his wrath; but it also indicates the ease—if ease be a fitting word to use of Jehovah—with which his work is done. In Exodus 14:9, man is represented as resolving and rushing forth in the utmost confidence; anticipating the end from the beginning; certain of his resources and certain of the result, and then as he advances in all his pride and ostentation, God meets him in equal simplicity and sublimity. "Thou didst blow with thy breath, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters." One breath from God, and the mightiest fabric goes down like a house of cards! Man accumulates his resources, he strains with prodigious efforts, he gathers his forces without mercy and without scruple; and then when all is in array, God calmly lifts his right hand, and the earth swallows the preparation and the pride of years.
III. THERE IS THE EXALTATION OF GOD ABOVE ALL OTHER DEITIES WORSHIPPED BY MEN. "Who is like unto thee, O Jehovah, among the gods?" This, of course, is also an illustration of Jehovah's exaltation to supremacy. Moses and the Israelites had not attained the feeling that all other deities than Jehovah were but empty and delusive names. That discovery was reserved in the wisdom of God for later and prepared generations. The feeling that the gods of the nations were real beings with terrible power, was very potent in the breasts of the Israelites, as was evidenced by their frequent and facile lapses into idolatry. Therefore this uplifting of Jehovah above the gods was most appropriate praise to put into the lips of Israel at this time. The gods of Egypt represented the strength of Egypt; the gods of Philistia the strength of Philistia; the gods of every country the strength of every country where they were worshipped. When the strength of a land was broken, it was like writing Ichabod on the statue of its presiding deity.
IV. THIS WAS AN EXALTATION IN SUPREMACY WHICH EXTENDED TO THE FUTURE. God, shown supreme in the midst of his people and over their enemies, will maintain and manifest that supremacy in all the time to come. The calamities of Egypt travelling, as it had done, in the path of ten humiliations, and now utterly overthrown, are to be made known in Philistia, in Edom, in Moab, and all through Canaan. Here we flint some explanation of the apprehension with which the progress of Israel was afterwards viewed, as by the Edomites and Balak. The Israelites came to be looked on to some extent as a peculiar foe. The utter destruction of a whole army in the Red Sea was not an event which could be kept in a corner. God had now done something for Israel which enemies might notice as a measure and an index of what would yet be done. Then from the mention of these typical enemies. Philistia, Moab, etc; we are led to consider the abiding enemies of God's abiding people, those invisible ones who are fully known only to God himself. They have some sense that what has been done by Jesus against them is the measure of what will yet be done. Just as the Philistines felt the sound of Pharaoh's destruction echoing against their fastnesses, and even in the very echo, shaking them, so we may be sure the principalities and powers of evil felt the greatness of what had been achieved when Christ was raised from the dead. That great act of Jehovah has been far more appreciated in the invisible world, among the powers of evil, than it is among us. They cannot but feel what the end will be. What forgetting fools the Israelites were in after ages, to act in contradiction to this exultant song of praise, trembling and fleeing before the nations that were round about.—Y.
The song of triumph.
The sense of Israel's obligation to Jehovah fully expressed. God, we have noticed, is lifted up in this song. We now proceed to observe how he is lifted up in the midst of his people, whom he encompasses with his protection, whom he cheers and illuminates with his favour. His destruction is not mere destruction; his supremacy is not only over his enemies, but also as the guide, the comforter, and the portion of his own. Hence we discover almost immediately on breaking into the song, how Israel is found expressing complete dependence on Jehovah.
I. THERE IS THE EXPRESSION OF INDEBTEDNESS. God has come to Israel in its suffering, need, and helplessness. Israel is weak, and God gives the strength it needs. Israel is sad-hearted, and God enables it to burst forth in songs of gladness. Israel is in peril, and God has interposed with effectual and abiding salvation. He has not only supplied some needs, but all needs wherein Israel was able to receive his aid. More needs would have been supplied, if more had been felt; more causes of gratitude given, if more could have been brought into operation. God is now felt to be a guide (Exodus 15:13), and the land that was thought to fasten the people in, now takes its right place in the memory of the devout as an evident part of the highway of God's holy ones. What expressions of indebtedness could be more complete? It was impossible to exaggerate the debt, and God took care that the words of the song should not fall short in acknowledging it. Thus let it ever be our aim to thank God for his goodness to us, in such words as he supplies, and fill his forms full with the devotion of meditative and observant hearts.
II. THIS EXPRESSION IS A PERSONAL ONE. The word "I" stands out prominently. The song was not only for a delivered nation, but for a nation in whose deliverance every individual was blessed. It was emphatically a song for every Israelite. God had done all this for Israel, not that he might have a nation for his own to be looked at in the mass, averaged over the whole, the good along with the bad; it was to be a nation made up of holy, obedient, and grateful individuals. Even already, God is indicating that his true people must be bound to him by personal attachment and service. Pharaoh had said in his haste and thoughtlessness, "I and my people are wicked" (Exodus 9:27). Here Jehovah gives something for each one of his own people to say; and if each of them labours to say it with a feeling corresponding to the words, then indeed there will come an outburst from the nation such as could not in any other way be produced.
III. THIS EXPRESSION BEING PERSONAL, IS ALSO AN EXPRESSION AS TO THE SOURCE OF PERSONAL ABILITY. "The Lord is my strength." The strength of a believer just amounts to that which God puts into him according to his need and according to his faith. Bring to God as many vessels as you will, and if it be wise to fill them, then God can fill them all. Learn that the natural strength of man, even at its best, is inadequate for some purposes and uncertain for any. It breaks down, often without warning and without recovery. Therefore it is a great matter for me to feel that "the Lord is my strength." He himself comes in, not to supplement human efforts, nor to fill up human defects, but rather to make his presence felt with men in the choosing of right purposes, and the carrying of them out to a full and satisfying attainment. The Israelite had been nothing in himself; nothing as against the tyranny of Pharaoh in Egypt; nothing as against the pursuing chariots by the Red Sea. And now all at once he is able to sing as if he were a portion and a factor of Omnipotence.
IV. THIS EXPRESSION BEING PERSONAL IS ALSO AN EXPRESSION AS TO THE SOURCE OF PERSONAL GLADNESS. "The Lord is my song." From him comes real and abiding gladness, such gladness as becomes man at his best estate. The world has its great singers, and what it reckons imperishable songs. Each nation has its own patriotic effusions, and excited and often half-drunken crowds will roar themselves hoarse over national anthems. There are love songs, drinking songs, war songs, and all that great number besides which elude classification. It would be foolish indeed of the Christian, in his haste, to despise these productions, for many of them are very beautiful, and they have an unquestionable and not astonishing hold on the general heart. But after all, we must escape into higher and holier associations, and dwell in them, if we would have gladness, such as will satisfy. The Lord must be our song. He, in his attributes, his actions, and the history of his dealings with the children of men, must be the topic of our praise. The great thing to make each of us glad must be that our minds are kept in perfect peace because they are stayed upon him. All other gladness, sweet as it may be in the beginning, will prove bitter, perhaps very bitter, in the end. Nor was Jehovah any less the song of every true Israelite here, because he was shown acting in such a stern, uncompromising way. The people had to praise God for an actual, present, and overwhelming mercy; and if they had to sing of destruction, that was a necessity not to be escaped. True, there is no word of pity all the way through this song for the destroyed host of Pharaoh, simply because it was not the place for such an expression. The thing to be here expressed and dwelt upon is praise to Jehovah, because of the greatness and completeness of the Divine action. And what an impressive contrast there is between the conduct of these Israelites when delivered and the conduct in the hour of victory, which only too many pages of history record, indeed, such conduct is not absent from the pages of the Old Testament itself. It was, of course, impossible, that any scene of butchery, pillage, and violation, could be presented to us here; but there is not even any tone of savage, revengeful ,exultation over the destroyed. Israel stands by the mighty waters, looks on the corpses of the Egyptians, and sends up this volume of undiluted, unqualified praise to Jehovah. Let us, for the moment, forget the personal unworthiness of the singers, their past unbelief, their future lapses into idolatry, rebellion, and self will. The words of praise here were the right words to speak; and at the time, we may be sure, many of them felt them. The words were true, the feeling real; the fault was that the singers did not continue to live so as to not the feeling more deeply in their breasts.
V. THIS EXPRESSION BEING PERSONAL, IS ALSO AN EXPRESSION AS TO THE SOURCE OF PERSONAL SAFETY. "He has become my salvation." There is thus an experience to dwell on that peculiarly inspires grateful acknowledgment. We are grateful to those who provide for us, who instruct us, who supply us with comforts and pleasures; but there is a peculiar tie to him who saves us in any hour of peril. God himself cannot but look with peculiar interest to those whom he has delivered; and the delivered should look with peculiar devotion to him. If it is much to create men and to provide for them in their natural existence, it is more still to save them from death and to give them eternal life in Christ; and thus God must look in a special way on those who believe and are being saved. And so also, if it is much to be created and much to be provided for, it is even more to be saved; to have the sure feeling that beyond this changing, corruptible scene, there is the house of God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. There are untold millions who owe existence and all their power of enjoyment to God, yet not one syllable of real thankfulness has ever passed their lips. But as to those who are saved, if they be truly in process of salvation, thankfulness is part of their life. Of this be perfectly sure, no salvation is going on if thankfulness for it be not in the heart and some sort of praise on the lip and in the life.
VI. In view of all that has thus been considered, it will be seen as a fitting consequence that JEHOVAH SHOULD BE DISTINCTLY SET FORTH AS WORTHY OF ADORATION AND HONOR. "He is my God and I will glorify him, my father's God and I will exalt him." My father's God. Here is the response, more or less appreciative, to all declarations in which Jehovah speaks of himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. True praise of God takes in the great historic past, yes, and also the past which is not historic; a past none the less real, none the less contributory to the present, even though there be no record of it such as we can read. Jehovah was deliverer to Israel that day by the Red Sea, because of what he had been to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries before. What God is to each of us to-day, is possible because of what he was to our fathers long ago. Explore then and discover how present blessings are rooted in the past. This will not only be an interesting study, but will increase gratitude, and fix it more surely in the regions of the understanding.—Y.
Jehovah among the gods.
As long as these deities—the deities, say, of Egypt, Philistia, Edom, Moab, Canaan—were simply to be compared among themselves, there might be room for rivalries among them; there might be reasons for asserting superiority because of a more splendid worship and a larger host of worshippers. But, when Jehovah steps in upon the scene, all discussions as to the comparative excellences of other deities cease to have interest. The most renowned of them becomes of no more account than the most obscure. Even the temple of the great goddess Diana is then despised, and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. At Ephesus, under the very shadow of the far famous building, Paul persuades and turns away much people, saying that they be no gods which are made with hands. Whether stars be of the first magnitude or not ceases to be a question of interest when the sun rises; for then they all vanish alike. "Who is like unto thee, Jehovah, among the gods?" Nor is this question left as a mere vague vociferation. It is pursued into instructive detail, and illustrated by the mention of three particular features of pre-eminence. These words are spoken with the signs of Jehovah's glory right before the eyes of those who speak. Not mere symbolic signs, such as the burning bush, the rod changed to a serpent, and the leprous hand; but signs that were also great benefits and judgments. Fresh from the miraculous passage, and with the destruction of Pharaoh's host scarcely faded from their eyes, these singers of praise very fitly ask, Who is like to Jehovah, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises doing wonders?
I. GLORIOUS IN HOLINESS. Some word is needed to indicate the distinction between deity and all lesser existence, and that word we find in "holiness." Hence holiness and even some sort of glory in their holiness might be attributed to all the gods. All places and symbols associated with them would be approached with scrupulous veneration and only too often with abject terror. But who had such holiness as Jehovah possessed? We may take the question as running—"Whose glory in holiness is like unto thine?" Then, standing in our position as Christians, with the light we thus enjoy, and considering all the conceptions of Deity which our present knowledge of the world, in all lands and through past ages, supplies, we can put this question with a richness of meaning which was not possible to Moses or to his brother Israelites. Consider the deities of the Grecian and Roman mythology—for with that we are perhaps best acquainted—or any deities the wide world over, either among barbarous peoples or civilised; and then consider the Jehovah of the Hebrew Scriptures, the God who revealed himself more fully and in due time by his Son. Look how the worship of an idolater drags him down. Think of the unutterable prostitution and sensualities connected with certain idolatries. Think of those miserable parents in whom idolatry had so destroyed natural affection that they could cause their sons and daughters to pass through the fire to Moloch. Many are rigorous, fanatical and even furious in their religion, who yet show by their lives that they care nothing for great duties; their religion, alas! seems to make them worse instead of better. How great, then, is the privilege of him who has indeed come to perceive that Jehovah is glorious in holiness! He is light, and in him is no darkness at all. lie is love—such love as is set forth in John 3:16. His wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness of men. The very nation that he chose, sanctified and cherished, he made to be "scattered and peeled," because it would not do righteousness according to his will. What a cheering and inspiring thing to turn from the inspection of our own hearts with its dismal results, and from our observation of the seething selfishness of the world, to think of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ! For Christ moves before us in the beauty of holiness, a great, attractive, rebuking reality; and we know that as is the Son, so is the Father; as is the visible and Incarnate One, so is the invisible and purely spiritual Jehovah above. It is through the Son we know the Father; and it is everything to feel that he is not a mere imagination. He is drawing us to himself; so that as he is glorious in the holiness of the Uncreated and Pure, so we, even though sadly fallen, may become glorious in the holiness of the restored and the perfected. We have yet to sing the new song from those who are glorious in the holiness of matured sonship to him who is glorious in the holiness of our Father in heaven.
II. FEARFUL IN PRAISES. Though this expression is beyond exact definition, yet it is obvious that a certain way of understanding it is appropriate to the present occasion. Jehovah is a God to be praised for his terrible doings. It is part of his very holiness that he makes that holiness to be respected by his treatment of those who presumptuously despise it. If he he not approached with reverence and obeyed with promptitude, and from the heart, he can make the irreverent ones to feel the evil consequences. He is not one to make claims which he cannot authenticate and enforce. It was not as the priest of some foreign deity, with empty pomp, that Moses came forth before Pharaoh, trusting by a great show to terrify him into acquiescence. There is manifested power; power so widespread and various in its manifestations, so overwhelming in its concluding operations, that even the most ignorant can appreciate it. If God is not loved, he must be feared; if his good and perfect gifts are not accepted, then his visitations of perfect and holy wrath must take their place. The mercies for which Israel had now to praise Jehovah were such as could not be sung without recounting an awful story. Nor must we ever shrink from dwelling on such scenes when needed. We must praise God for his severity to the wicked, as much as for anything else. We could not truly praise him for his love, unless we were also able to praise him far his wrath.
III. DOING WONDERS. Here is another peculiar Divine prerogative. Jehovah does wonders such as none among the gods can do. One has almost forgotten the magicians, it is so long since they retreated into obscurity and shame. This is praise to Jehovah, which at once pushed aside all magicians and pretenders to the supernatural. The wonders they do would cease to be wonders, if they would only allow us to become a little better acquainted with them; and not only would they cease to be wonders, they would even become despicable, as we consider the lying with which they are supported, and the knavish ends for which they are produced. A conjurer's tricks are only like common things hidden away; show us where they are hidden, and the mystery ceases. The mystery is in the concealment and nothing else. But Jehovah's dealings, as in Egypt, are true wonders. They are brought out to the light so that all men can gaze on them and examine them, and the more they are examined the more mysterious they prove, it would not be good for us—it would, indeed, be very bad, as starving a thing as could happen to our imagination and our highest capacities of enjoyment—were we to cease from wondering in the presence of God. Wonder must ever arise within us when we consider his operations, alike in nature and in grace.—Y.
Exodus 15:20, Exodus 15:21
Woman's part in the song of triumph.
In the history of Israel, we are called on to observe woman coming forward, not continuously, but every now and then, to show how real is her share in the lot of Israel She has had that share in suffering, being consumed with anxiety as to the fate of her offspring. (Exodus 1:1-22.) She has had it in ministration,—Jochebed, Miriam and Pharaoh's daughter, being combined in the work—un-conscious ministration towards the fitting of Moses for his great work. Whatever may be said of women speaking in the Church, we here behold them joining, in the most demonstrative way, in the public praises of Jehovah. The blessing by the lied Sea was one which went down to that common humanity which underlies the great distinction of sex. But it was also a very special blessing to women. Trials, such as had come to Jochebed when Moses was born, were to cease. Woman would have her own trials in the time to come—the pangs of childbirth, the cares of offspring, and all a mother's peculiar solicitudes; but it was a great deal to have the special curse of bondage in Egypt removed. Then there would be deep thankfulness for the escape of the first-born; a feeling, too, of self-congratulation that they had been obedient in slaying the lamb and sprinkling the blood, and had thus escaped the blow which had fallen heavily on so many homes in Egypt. All these considerations would lead up to and prepare for the final outburst of praise and triumph. And so, if women consider still, they will be both astonished and profoundly grateful because of all that God in Christ Jesus has done for them. They have gained not only according to their simple share in humanity, but according to their peculiar relation towards man. If it be true, that Eve fell first, dreadfully have all her daughters suffered since. As belonging to this fallen world, woman is now in a double subjection. In her creation she was to be subordinate to man, and if she had stood, and he had stood, then what glory and blessedness would have come to both! But when man became the slave of sin, she became doubly slave, as being now linked to one who had himself the servile spirit. What had been subordination in Eden became servitude outside of it. He who is himself the abject slave of passion and selfishness makes woman his slave, so that in addition to all that comes through her own sin as a human being there is the misery that comes through her having got into a wrong relation to man. Hence the peculiar hideousness of a bad woman, a Jezebel or a Herodias. Hence, too, through the work of redemption we get the peculiar beauty of the good woman. Whence should we have got those types of saintly women which beam from the pages of Scripture and Christian biography, save for that great work one stage of which is celebrated in this song?—Y.
HOMILIES BY H. T. ROBJOHNS
Song of Moses and the Lamb.
"And they sing the song of Moses," etc. (Revelation 15:3). It is quite impossible to sever in thought the song by the sea, and the reference in the Book of the Revelation. We therefore take for our text the words chosen, and in our homily keep ever in view—the passage of the sea.
I. THE SINGERS. "They that have gotten the victory." But conquerors must first have been soldiers. Here they are Christians who have become part of the Church militant by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Over what victorious'? As a matter of fact Christians are brought off more than conquerors over "the world, the flesh, and the devil." But in Revelation 15:2, only "the world" is referred to; and of it only two constituents are mentioned: "the beast" and" the image" or likeness "of the beast." [On these and that "other beast" see Revelation 13:1-18.; and for such exposition as is calculated to place the symbols in a reasonable light, see Porter's" Christian Prophecy:" Maclehose, Glasgow; and "The Apocalypse" by Prof. Godwin: Hodder and Stoughton.] The enemies overcome were, and ever are:—
1. Force: as directed against the Kingdom of God. The "beast" of Revelation 13:1-18. is anti-theistic, or anti-Christian civil despotism, wherever found. Read Revelation 13:1-10, with this idea in the mind, and the description is seen to be vividly true. Illustrations of battle and victory may be found in Egypt tyrannising over Israel, in early persecutions of the Christian Church. As soon as ever Christianity became a spiritual power conspicuous enough to attract attention, force set itself against it. So ever since down to martyr history in Madagascar. Note: there are instances now in which force, in varied forms, will set itself against the conscience. [The "mark" and "number" of the image are the signs, open or secret, of being identified with anti-theistic despotism.]
2. Opinion. That which resembler godless government, viz. godless opinion, the tone of society, etc. This power of society against the Divine Kingdom, this pressure of opinion must have been terrible in Egypt. Felt to-day, not only at the "club," but in every workshop. One may add to this, not mentioned in Revelation 15:1-8; but in Revelation 13:1-18; "another beast," viz.:—
3. Fraud. Specially as associated with "Priestcraft," whether of false religions, or of corrupted forms of Christianity. [For illustration of the despotism of Egyptian priestcraft, see Ebers' "Uarda."] This power seems mild as a lamb, with the speech of a dragon; rises out of the earth (does not descend from heaven); wields civil power for its own purpose (as in the case of Rome); pretends to miracle; gives power to anti-Christian public opinion; inflicts social wrong. How strong their enemies are, viz; anti-Christian government, anti-Christian public opinion, anti-Christian religion, every Christian comes sooner or later to know.
II. THEIR POSITION. "And I saw as it were a sea of glass," etc. Here note:—
1. The sea. A sea of crystal flaked with fire. Such as we may sometimes see under light of setting sun. The symbol of the experience of life, i.e; of mingled mercy and judgment (Psalms 101:1).
2. The shore, i.e; the position of the victorious—ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν—not in the sense of standing on the wave, but of an army encamped "upon the sea," i.e; upon the shore.
3. The allusion. To Israel on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.
4. The reality in this symbol. The victorious redeemed Church, on the further side of the experience of life, singing the new and everlasting song.
III. THE SONG. It is "of Moses … and of the Lamb" A song like that of old, springing out of similar circumstances, celebrating a like deliverance. Here observe:—
1. The place of Moses in relation to Christ. Moses is "the servant," etc. Incidental evidence of Christ's superiority and Deity. Christ is not a servant, save as he voluntarily took that position (Philippians 2:7).
2. The central place of the Lamb throughout the Book of the Revelation. Argument for the transcendent import of the Atonement.
The song is—
1. One. Not two.
2. Thankful. Some of the songs of earth are penitential, prayerful, plaintive.
3. Of the Saved. From guilt, sin, darkness, sorrow. [Go into detail.] What a song it will be!
4. Of the Free. The three despotisms of force, opinion, fraud, were left by Israel behind. So with the redeemed Church of God.
5. Of the New-born. A new departure for Israel; the unending life before the Church triumphant.
6. Of the Seers, who now see past all subordinate and second causes—past Moses—past even the Mediator Jesus, to the First Origin of all, "great and marvellous … Lord God Almighty."
7. A song of review. This is the final verdict, "Just and true," etc.
1. To Christians. Do not wait for the final song. Sing in the passage of the sea. Poetry and. music the natural expression of praise. Some can pour forth their own song, e.g; Keble and Watts, Wesley and Lyre. Others must adopt praise furnished to their lips. But for all there is the poetry and the music—the sweet psalm—of a pure and holy life.
2. To those not Christians. To sing the song of the saved, we must be saved.
"No lips untuned can sing that song
Or join the music there."
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
One of the first songs in the Bible—the first Jewish song—we may almost call it the tap-root whence springs the main stem of Jewish psalmody. The art of poetry and instruments of music were no doubt brought from Egypt; the land of slavery was yet the land of science. Such "spoils" were made all the more valuable, and appropriated all the more firmly by consecration (cf. Keble, Christian Year, 3rd Sunday in Lent). All the wealth of the world is at the disposal of God's children—for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof—the problem which they have to solve is how to use it without abusing it (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23-28). Turn to the song itself, and see what lessons it has to teach. Three stanzas (Exodus 15:1-5, Exodus 15:6-10, Exodus 15:11-18)—each begins with ascription of praise to Jehovah; each ends with a reference to Jehovah's treatment of his foes. Notice:—
I. PRESENT GRATITUDE. Exodus 15:1-5.—In the excitement of the great deliverance, words almost fail to express the praise. The name of the deliverer is repeated four times in eight lines. Yet not once is it a "vain repetition." All the difference in the world between using God's name to disguise an empty heart and using it to express the feelings of a full one. Here, "out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh.." God loves such praise, the praise of a heart which cannot help praising. Some try to praise because they think God expects it of them; their hearts are like dry wells whilst yet, out of supposed respect to God, they keep on working the pump-handle! Fill the heart first and all such artificial efforts will be needless; the full heart is a springing well. "How fill?" By letting the thought of God's great mercies pierce through to the heart's deeps. If the thought of God and of his deeds comes home to us, our praise will soon flow forth freely.
II. PAST MERCIES THE CAUSE OF PRESENT GRATITUDE. Exodus 15:6-10. This is what called forth the praise. All real, all genuine. Moses is not sending up his song to a "possible" God, but to one whom he believes in utterly as a living, present, powerful ruler. Notice—
1. The reality of the enemy, No doubt about the tyranny in Egypt. Brickfields and scourges had left their mark upon the memory. No doubt either as to the late danger (Exodus 15:9). The exasperated pursuers determined to repossess their prey.
2. The reality of the deliverance. Where were the pursuers now? The wreckage drifting within sight marked the spot where they had sunk for ever!
3. The reality of the deliverer. No doubt as to his existence—no doubt as to his goodness—in face of such overwhelming evidence. We also, if we would but realise it, have been as truly delivered from dangers just as real. If we but half believe in God, and offer him only a make-shift praise, it is not because he has done less for us; it is because we think less on the meaning of his mercies.
III. PAST MERCIES THE PLEDGE OF FUTURE TRIUMPHS. Exodus 15:11-18.—Moses was confident about the future because he had no doubt about the past. He was prepared to go "from strength to strength," because he could start from a strong position. From what God has done, we may rightly infer what he will do. If he has made a way for his people through the sea of waters, he will also make a way for them through yet stormier and more perilous seas (Exodus 15:16). The first deliverance is a pledge and prophecy of all future deliverances. Thus the song of Moses, strong in a present confidence, firmly based upon past mercies, finds its outcome in a good hope, inspiring men along the path of progress. If we would sing the song as it should be sung, we must learn from memory to praise truly; and true praise will soon quicken hope. To live for the future we must live upon the past. The song of the Lamb, the song which specially expresses the full satisfaction of all our hopes, can only be sung by those who have sung first this other song; the song which still feeds hope at the same time that it expresses gratitude.—G.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Exodus 15:1, Exodus 15:2
The sacrifice of praise.
I. THE PLACE OF PRAISE. The first provision for God's ransomed is a song. God's hand must be recognised in the mercy, otherwise its blessing is missed. The place bright with God's goodness is meant to be a meeting-place between the soul and himself.
II. THE REASONS FOR PRAISE.
1. The greatness of God's deed. The chariots and the horses had been the reliance of Egypt, and the terror of Israel; and" the horse and his rider" had God cast in the sea.
2. He who had been their strength and their song had become their salvation, Their confidence had not been misplaced: he had not failed them in their need.
3. The individualising love of God: he is "my God." God had appeared for each: not one had been lost.
4. The glory of God's past deeds—he was their fathers' God. This was but one of many like judgments and deliverances, and their song was only swelling the mighty chorus of God's unending praise.
III. THE RESOLVES OF PRAISE.
1. They will prepare a habitation for God. It is the work of God's people in every age to prepare a dwelling-place for him where his character is made known, his voice heard, and his love and fear shed abroad.
2. To exalt God's fame. He was their fathers' God, and that was a call to make him known. He had given a fuller revelation of himself than even this great mercy contained. There were purposes and promises in that record which outran this mercy and themselves. Our praise must ever add, "these are but part of his ways," and exalt God as the world's refuge and help.—U.
The results of deliverance to God's people.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE MARVELLOUSNESS OF GOD'S POWER (3-12).
1. The might of Egypt, when measured with the strength of God, was utter vanity (4, 5). The Lord's right hand had dashed in pieces the enemy. What can make the heart afraid which knows the power of God?
2. The deadly malice of Egypt was extinguished in a moment like a spark beneath the heel. The picture of the foe's deadly purpose
(9) set side by side with God's deed: "Thou didst blow with thy wind—they sank as lead in the mighty waters."
II. CONFIDENCE FOE THE ONWARD WAY.
1. In his mercy and strength God will lead them to the rest he has promised (13).
2. This deliverance will fight for them (14-16). The heart of their foes will die within them. And when led into their land this fear of the Lord will be a wall between them and the nations round about. They shall not only be led in, but planted there in undisturbed security (17).
3. God will, as now, triumph through all the ages, and accomplish, no matter how his people may fear and his enemies may vaunt themselves, all his righteous will (18).—U
THE JOURNEY FROM THE RED SEA TO ELIM. After a stay, which cannot be exactly measured, but which was probably one of some days, near the point of the Eastern coast of the Gulf of Suez, at which they had emerged from the sea-bed, the Israelites, under the guidance of the pillar of the cloud, resumed their journey, and were conducted southwards, or south-eastwards, through the arid tract, called indifferently "the wilderness of Shut" (Exodus 15:22), and "the wilderness of Etham" (Numbers 33:8), to a place called Marah. It is generally supposed that the first halt must have been at Ayun Musa, or "the springs of Moses." This is "the only green spot near the passage over the Red Sea" (Cook). It possesses at present seventeen wells, and is an oasis of grass and tamarisk in the midst of a sandy desert. When Wellsted visited it in 1836, there were abundant palm-trees. It does not lie on the shore, but at the distance of about a mile and a half from the beach, with which it was at one time connected by an aqueduct, built for the convenience of the ships, which here took in their water. The water is regarded as good and wholesome, though dark-coloured and somewhat brackish. From Ayun Musa the Israelites pursued their way in a direction a little east of south through a barren plain where sand-storms are frequent—part of the wilderness of Shur—for three days without finding water. Here their flocks and herds must have suffered greatly, and many of the animals probably died on the journey. On the last of the three days water was found at a spot called thenceforth "Marah," "bitterness," because the liquid was undrinkable. After the miracle related in Exodus 15:25, and an encampment by the side of the sweetened spring (Numbers 33:8), they proceeded onward without much change of direction to Elim, where was abundance of good water and a grove of seventy palm-trees. Here "they encamped by the waters," and were allowed a rest, which probably exceeded a fortnight (See the comment on Exodus 16:1.)
So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea. There is no such connection between this verse and the preceding narrative as the word "so" expresses. Translate "And Moses brought." The wilderness of Shur, called also that of Etham (Numbers 33:1-56.Numbers 33:8) appears to have extended from Lake Serbonis on the north, across the isthmus, to the Red Sea, and along its eastern shores as far as the Wady Ghurundel. It is almost wholly waterless; and towards the south, such wells as exist yield a water that is bitter in the extreme. Three days. The distance from Ayun Musa to Ain Howarah, the supposed representative of Marah, is not more than about 36 miles; but the day's march of so large a multitude through the desert may not have averaged more than twelve miles. And found no water. No doubt the Israelites carried with them upon the backs of their asses water in skins, sufficient for their earn wants during such an interval; but they can scarcely have carried enough for their cattle. These must have suffered greatly.
And when they came to Marah. It is not clear whether the place already bore the name on the arrival of the Israelites, or only received it from them. Marah would mean "bitter" in Arabic no less than in Hebrew. The identification of Marah with the present Ain Howarah, in which most modem writers acquiesce, is uncertain from the fact that there are several bitter springs in the vicinity—one of them even bitterer than Howarah. We may, however, feel confident that the bitter waters of which the Israelites "would not drink" were in this neighbourhood, a little north of the Wady Ghurundel.
And the people murmured against Moses. As they had already done on the western shores of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11, Exodus 14:12), and as they were about to do so often before their wanderings were over. (See below, Exodus 16:2; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:2; Numbers 16:41; Deuteronomy 1:27, etc.) "Murmuring" was the common mode in which they vented their spleen, when anything went ill with them; and as Moses had persuaded them to quit Egypt, the murmuring was chiefly against him. The men who serve a nation best are during their lifetime least appreciated. What shall we drink? Few disappointments are harder to bear than that of the man, who after long hours of thirst thinks that he has obtained wherewith to quench his intolerable longing, and on raising the cup to his lips, finds the draught so nauseous that he cannot swallow it. Very unpalatable water is swallowed when the thirst is great. But there is a limit beyond which nature will not go. There "may be water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink."
Exodus 15:25, Exodus 15:26
The Lord shewed him a tree.—Several trees or plants belonging to different parts of the world, are said to possess the quality of rendering bitter water sweet and agreeable; as the nellimaram of Coromandel, the sassafras of Florida, the yerva Caniani of Peru, and the perru nelli (Phylanthus emblica) of India. But none of them is found in the Sinaitic. peninsula. Burckhardt suggested that the berries of the ghurkud (Peganum retusum), a low thorny shrub which grows abundantly round the Ain Howarah, may have been used by Moses to sweeten the drink; but there are three objections to this.
1. Moses is not said to have used the berries, but the entire plant;
2. The berries would not have been procurable in April, since they do not ripen till June; and
3. They would not have produced any such effect on the water as Burckhardt imagined. In fact there is no tree or shrub now growing in the Sinaitic peninsula, which would have any sensible effect on such water as that of Ain Howarah; and the Bedouins of the neighbourhood know of no means by which it can be made drinkable. Many of the Fathers believed that the "tree" had no natural effect, and was commanded to be thrown in merely to symbolise the purifying power of the Cross of Christ. But to moderns such a view appears to savour of mysticism. It is perhaps most probable that there was some tree or shrub in the vicinity of the bitter fountain in Moses' time which had a natural purifying and sweetening power, but that it has now become extinct. If this be the case, the miracle consisted in God's pointing out the tree to Moses, who had no previous knowledge of it. The waters were made sweet. Compare the miracle of Elisha (2 Kings 2:19-22). There he made for them a statute and an ordinance. See the next verse. God, it appears, after healing the water, and satisfying the physical thirst of his people, gave them an ordinance, which he connected by a promise with the miracle. If they would henceforth render strict obedience to all his commandments, then he would "heal" them as he had healed the water, would keep them free at once from physical and from moral evil, from the diseases of Egypt, and the diseases of their own hearts. And there he proved them. From the moment of their quitting Egypt to that of their entering Canaan, God was ever "proving" his people—trying them, that is—exercising their faith, and patience and obedience and power of self-denial, in order to fit them for the position which they were to occupy in Canaan. He had proved them at the Red Sea, when he let them be shut in between the water and the host of the Egyptians—he proved them now at Marah by a bitter disappointment—he proved them again at Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7); at Sinai (Exodus 20:20); at Taberah (Numbers 11:1-3); at Kibroth-hattaavah (Numbers 11:34); at Kadesh (Numbers 13:26-33), and elsewhere. For forty years he led them through the wilderness" to prove them, to know what was in their heart" (Deuteronomy 8:1-20.), to fit them for their glorious and conquering career in the land of promise All these diseases. See Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:27. Kalisch correctly observes that, though the Egyptians had the character in antiquity of being among the healthiest and most robust of nations (Herod. 2.77), yet a certain small number of diseases have always raged among them with extreme severity He understands the present passage of the plagues, which, however, are certainly nowhere else called "diseases." There is no reason why the word should not be taken literally, as all take it in the passages of Deuteronomy above cited.
They came to Elim. Elim was undoubtedly some spot in the comparatively fertile tract which lies south of the "wilderness of Shur," intervening between it and the "wilderness of Sin"—now E1 Murkha. This tract contains the three fertile wadys of Ghurundel, Useit, and Tayibeh, each of which is regarded by some writers as the true Elim. It has many springs of water, abundant tamarisks, and a certain number of palm-trees. On the whole, Ghurundel seems to be accepted by the majority of well-informed writers as having the best claim to be considered the Elhn of this passage Twelve wells. Rather "springs." The "twelve springs" have not been identified; but the Arabs are apt to conceal the sources of their water supplies. A large stream flows down the Wady Ghurundel in the winter-time (ibid.), which later becomes a small brook, and dries up altogether in the autumn. The pasture is good at most seasons, sometimes rich and luxuriant; there are abundant tamarisks, a considerable number of acacias, and. some palms. Three score and ten palm trees. The palm-trees of this part of Arabia are "not like those of Egypt or of pictures, but either dwarf—that is, truntdess—or else with savage hairy trunks, and branches all dishevelled". There are a considerable number in the Wady Ghurundel, and others in the Wady Tayibeh. They encamped there. It has been observed that the vast numbers of the host would more than fill the Wady Ghurundel, and that while the main body encamped there, others, with their cattle, probably occupied the adjacent wadys—Useit, Ethal, and even Tayibeh or Shuweikah—which all offer good pasturage
The trials and vicissitudes of life.
Israel in the wilderness is a type of our pilgrimage through life.
I. MONOTONY. The long weary sameness of days each exactly resembling the last (Exodus 15:22)—the desert all around us—and no water! No refreshing draughts from that living spring, which becomes in them that drink it "a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). Israel was afflicted by want of earthly water for three days. Many poor pilgrims through the wilderness of life are debarred the spiritual draughts of which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman for twenty, thirty, forty years] Debarred, it may be, by no fault of their own, born in heathenism, bred up in heathenism, uneducated in what it most concerns a man to know. How sad their condition! How thankful those should be who may draw of the water of life freely
(a) from the written word;
(b) from the Living and Eternal Word who has said—"if any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink!"
II. DISAPPOINTMENT. Hopes long cherished seem about, at last, to be satisfied. The long sought for treasure—of whatever kind it may be—is announced as found. Now we are about to enjoy ourselves, to take our fill of the delight long denied us. Alas! the dainty morsel as we taste it proves to be—
"As Dead Sea fruit, which, fair to view,
Yet turns to ashes on the lips."
The delicious draught, as we expected it to be, is "Marah," "bitterness." Most of life is to most men made up of such disappointments. Men crave happiness, and expect it here, and seek it through some earthly, some temporal means—wealth, or power, or fame, or a peaceful domestic life, or social success, or literary eminence—and no sooner do they obtain their desire, and hold it in their grasp, than they find its savour gone—its taste so bitter that they do not care to drink. Then, how often do they turn to vent the anguish of their heart on some quite innocent person, who, they say, has led them wrong! Their disappointment should take them with humbled spirits to God. It actually takes them with furious words to the presence of some man, whom it is a relief to them to load with abuse and obloquy. They imitate the Israelites, not Moses—they murmur, instead of crying to the Almighty.
III. UNEXPECTED RELIEF. God can turn bitter to sweet. Often, out of the bitter agony of disappointment God makes gladness to arise. Sometimes, as in the miracle of Marah, he reverses the disappointment itself, turning defeat into victory, giving us the gratification of the desire which had been baulked of fruition. But more often he relieves by compensating. He gives something unexpected instead of the expected joy which he has withheld, lie makes a temporal evil work for our spiritual good. He takes away the sting from worldly loss, by pouring into our hearts the spirit of contentment. lie causes ill-success to wean us from the world and fix our thoughts on him.
IV. A TIME OF REFRESHMENT. Marah led to Elim. If there are times of severe trial in life, there are also "times of refreshing from the Lord" (Acts 3:19)—times of enjoyment—even times of mirth (Ecclesiastes 3:4; Psalms 126:2). But lately toiling wearily through an arid wilderness, only to reach waters of bitterness, on a sudden the Israelites found themselves amid groves of palms, stretched themselves at length on the soft herbage under the shadow of tall trees, and listened to the breeze sighing through the acacias, or to the murmur of the babbling rill which flowed from the "twelve springs" adown the dale. 'Encamped there by the waters" (Exodus 15:27) they were allowed to rest for a while, secure from foes, screened from the heat, their eyes charmed by the verdure, their ears soothed by gentle sounds, their every sense lapped in soft enjoyment by the charms of a scene which, after the wilderness, must have appeared "altogether lovely." And so it is in our lives. God does give us, even here in this world, seasons of repose, of satisfaction, of calm content. It were ingratitude in us not to accept with thankfulness such occasions when they arise, lie knows what is best for us; and if he appoints us an Elim, we were churlish to withdraw ourselves from it. The Church has its festivals. Christ attended more than one banquet. "Times of refreshing" are to be received joyously, gratefully, as "coming from the Lord," and designed by him to support, strengthen, comfort us. They are, as it were, glimpses into the future life.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Marah and Ellim.
"So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, anti they went out into the wilderness of Shur," etc. The main topics here are—
I. THE SWEET FOLLOWED BY THE BITTER. Singing these songs of triumph, and praising God with timbrel and dance, on the further shores of the Red Sea, the Israelites may have felt as if nothing remained to them but to sing and dance the rest of their way to Canaan. They would regard their trials as practically at an end. It would be with regret that they broke up their pleasant encampment at the Red Sea at all. Their thought would be, "It is good for us to be here, let us make here tabernacles" (cf. Matthew 17:4). But this was not to be permitted. The old call comes—"Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward" (Exodus 14:15), and the halcyon days of their first great exuberant joy are over. Their celebration of triumph is soon to be followed by sharp experience of privation.
1. The Israelites were conducted by the wilderness of Shur. There they went three days without water. God might, as afterwards at Rephidim (Exodus 17:6), have given them water; but it was his will that they should taste the painfulness of the way. This is not an uncommon experience. Every life has its arid, waterless stretches, which may be compared to this "wilderness of Shur" "There are moments when the poet, the orator, the thinker, possessed, inspired with lofty and burning thoughts, needs nothing added to the riches of his existence; finds life glorious and sublime. But these are but moments, even in the life of genius; and after them, and around them, stretches the weary waste of uninspired, inglorious, untimeful days and years" (Dr. J. Service). It is the same in the life of religion. Seasons of spiritual enjoyment are frequently followed by sharp experience of trial. We are led by the wilderness of Shur. Spiritual comforts fail us, and our soul, like Israel's at a later period, is "much discouraged because of the way" (Numbers 21:4). We are brought into "a dry and thirsty land, where no water is" (Psalms 63:1). A certain sovereignty is to be recognised in the dispensation of Divine comforts. God leaves us to taste the sharpness of privation, that we may be led to cry after him (Psalms 119:81, Psalms 119:82).
2. They came to Marah, where the waters were bitter. This was a keen and poignant disappointment to them—"sorrow upon sorrow." As usual, it drove the people to murmuring, and Moses to prayer. Bear gently with their infirmity. Do them the justice of remembering that there is no record of their murmuring during the three past days of their great privation in the wilderness. It was this disappointment at the well of Marah which fairly broke them down. Would many of us have borne the trial better? It is easy to sing when the heart is full of a great fresh joy. But let trial succeed trial, and disappointment follow on disappointment, and how soon do the accents of praise die away, to be replaced by moaning and complaint! The "Song of Moses," which was so natural on the banks of the Red Sea, would have had a strange sound coming from these dust-parched throats, and fainting, discouraged hearts. The note of triumph is not easily sustained when the body is sinking with fatigue, and when the wells to which we had looked for refreshment are discovered to be bitter. Take Marah as an emblem
(1) Of life's disappointments. Our life-journey is studded with disappointments. Hard to bear in any case, these are doubly bitter to us, when they come on the back of other trials, and cheat us of an expected solace. When friends, e.g; turn their backs on us in time of need, or come with cold comfort when we expected ready help, or give chiding instead of sympathy; when trusted projects fail, or fond anticipations are not realised; most of all, when God himself seems to desert us, and grants no answer to our prayers; the waters given us to drink are bitter indeed.
(2) Of life's bitter experiences generally. "Call me not Naomi," said the mother-in-law of Ruth, "call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me" (Ruth 1:20). The only wells that never become bitter are the "wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3)—the waters of Divine consolations (cf. John 4:14). The waters of our creature-comforts admit of being very easily embittered. Relationships, friendships, possessions, business, social position—sweet to-day, any or all of these may be made bitter to us to-morrow. The life of Israel was made "bitter" by bondage (Exodus 1:14). God dealt "bitterly" with Naomi in taking husband and sons from her, and reducing her to poverty (Ruth 1:21). Hannah was "in bitterness of soul" because she had no child, and "her adversary provoked her sore, for to make her fret" (1 Samuel 1:6-10). Job was embittered by his afflictions (Job 7:11; Job 9:18; Job 10:1). The tears of the Psalmist were his meat day and night, while they continually said unto him, where is thy God? (Psalms 42:3). Mordecai cried, when the decree went forth against his nation, "with a loud and bitter cry" (Esther 4:1). Bitter waters there are, too, in our own hearts, and in society, engendered by sin—by the presence of envy, jealousy, strife, hatred, malignity, and revengefulness. No scarcity, then, of Marah experiences, no want of wells that stand in need of the healing tree being cast in to sweeten them.
3. God's ends in permitting Israel to suffer these severe privations. We do not ask why God led the Israelites by this particular way, since probably there was no other way open by which they could have been led. But we may very well ask why, leading them by this way, God, who had it in his power to supply their wants, permitted them to suffer these extreme hardships?
(1) We may glean one hint in reply from Paul's experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-21; "Lest," he says, "I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelation, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Corinthians 12:7).
(2) A second hint is to be drawn from verse 25—"There he proved them" Cf. Deuteronomy 8:2—"To humble thee, and prove thee to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no." We do not know what unbelief, what rebellion, what impatience there is in our hearts, till trial comes to draw it out.
II. THE BITTER CHANGED INTO THE SWEET. Moses, we read, "cried unto the Lord, and he showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet" (verse 25). Observe,
1. The agency employed. The tree had probably some peculiar properties which tended in the direction of the result which was produced, though, of itself, it was incompetent to produce it. The supernatural does not, as a rule, contravene the natural, but works along the existing lines, utilising the natural so far as it goes.
2. The spiritual meaning. That God intended the healing of these bitter waters to be a "sign" to Israel—a proof of his ability and willingness to heal them of all their natural and spiritual diseases, is abundantly plain from verses 25, 26. The lesson God would have them learn from the incident was—"I am Jehovah that healeth thee." His Jehovah character guaranteed that what he had shown himself to be in this one instance, he would be always, viz; a Healer. As Jehovah, God is the Being of exhaustless resource. As Jehovah, he is the Being eternally identical with himself—self-consistent in all his ways of acting; so that from any one of his actions, if the principle of it can but be clearly apprehended, we are safe in inferring what he always will do. God sweetens, or heals, the bitter waters of life—
(1) By altering the outward conditions—e.g; by removing sickness, sending aid in poverty, taking away the cause of bitterness, whatever that may be. He healed Naomi's bitterness by the happy marriage of Ruth (Ruth 4:14, Ruth 4:15); Hannah's by giving her a son (1 Samuel 1:20); Job's by restoring his health and prosperity (Job 47:10), etc. The tree here is whatever agency God employs to accomplish his purpose.
(2) And this is the diviner art, by infusing sweetness into the trial itself. He makes that which is bitter sweet to us, by adding himself to it. This Divine change in our experiences is accomplished by means of a very simple but potent secret—as simple as the casting of the tree into the waters, as potent in its efficacy. Would we know it? It is simply this—denying our own natural will, and taking God's instead. "Not my will but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). This it is which will make even the bitterest of trials sweet. Call it, if you will, the taking up of the cross; it is, at all events, the spirit of the cross which is the sweetening, heavenly element in all affliction—the tree that heals. It is invaluable to bear this in mind, that be our trial, our grief, what it may, half its pain has departed the moment we can bring ourselves to embrace God's will in it. Heavenly consolations will sweeten what remains. Mediaeval mystics, like Tauler, dwelt much on this thought, and it is the true and all-important element in their teaching. With God at hand to bless, "Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;" or as another "sweet singer" expresses it—
"Just to let thy rather do
What he will.
Just to know that he is true,
And be still.
Just to let him take the care,
Finding all we let him bear
Changed to blessing.
This is all! and yet the way,
Marked by him who loves thee best!
Secret of a happy day,
Secret of his promised rest."
FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL.
(3) By removing the cause of all evil and bitterness—sin itself. It is as the God of Redemption that Jehovah reveals himself pre-eminently as the Healer. His Gospel goes to the root of the matter, and strikes at the malum originale of the bitterness in us, and around us. From this point of view, it is not fanciful to trace an analogy—we need not allege a direct typical relation—between this tree cast in to sweeten the bitter waters, and the Cross of the Redeemer. God through Christ; Christ through what he has accomplished by this Cross; the Cross, by being made the object of faith, and again, by being set up in men's hearts, effects this sweetening of the waters. We have but to compare ancient with modern civilization, to see how much the Cross of Christ, cast into the bitter waters of society, has already done to sweeten them. Trusted in for salvation, it renews the heart in its inmost springs, and so heals the bitter waters there; while, as the power of God unto salvation, it will ultimately heal the world of all its woes, abolishing even death, from which already it extracts the sting and bitterness.
III. THE RIGHT IMPROVEMENT OF MARAH EXPERIENCES (verse 26). We should accept them,
1. As a motive to obedience. If God has healed us that is a new reason for loving, trusting, and obeying him (Psalms 116:1-19.). Accordingly, consequent on this healing of the bitter waters, God made "a statute and an ordinance" for Israel, taking them bound to serve him, and promising them new blessings, if they should prove obedient, This "statute and ordinance" is the comprehensive germ of the subsequent covenant (Exodus 24:3-9).
2. As a pledge. The sweetening of the waters, as already seen, was a revelation of Jehovah in his character as Healer. It pledged to Israel that he would, if only they obeyed his statutes, exempt them from such plagues as he had brought upon the Egyptians, and, by implication, that he would heal them of whatever diseases were already upon them. He would be a God of health to them. The healthy condition of body is one which not only throws off existing disease, but which fortifies the body against attacks of disease from without. Natural healing, as we see in the New Testament, and especially in the miracles of Christ, is a symbol of spiritual healing, and also a pledge of it. In the gospels, "to be saved," and "to be made whole," are represented by the same Greek word. We may state the relation thus:—
(1) Natural healing is the symbol of spiritual healing.
(2) Spiritual healing, in turn, is a pledge of the ultimate removal of all natural evils (Revelation 21:4).
(3) Each separate experience of healing is a pledge of the whole. It is a fresh testimony to the truth that God is a healer (cf. Psalms 103:1-4). Every recovery from sickness is thus, in a way, the preaching of a gospel. It pledges a complete and perfect healing—entire deliverance from natural and spiritual evils—if only we will believe, obey, and use God's method.
IV. ELIM (verse 27).
1. An illustration of the chequered experiences of life. The alternation of gladness and sorrow; of smiles and tears; followed again by new comforts and seasons of joy.
2. There are Elim spots—places of cool shade, of abundant waters, of rest and refreshment provided for us all along our way through life. In the times of hottest persecution, there were intervals of respite. The Covenanters used to speak of these as "the blinks."
3. These Elim-spots should not lead us to forget that we are still in the wilderness. The prevailing aspect of life, especially to one in earnest, is figured by the wilderness, rather than by Elim. Our state here is one of trial, of discipline, of probation—no passing snatches of enjoyment should cause us to forget this.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The want of water and the want of faith-Marah and Elim.
It will be noticed at once how the interest of this passage is gathered round that great natural necessity, water. It is a necessity to man in so many ways. He needs it for drinking, for cleansing, for cooking, and for helping to renew the face of the earth. We may note also that Israel was soon to discover the necessity of water in ceremonial duties. A great deal of water had to be used in the tabernacle service. (Exodus 29:4; Exodus 30:18-21; Le Exodus 6:27, Exodus 6:28; chaps, 13-17.) Hence it is no wonder that the very first thing Jehovah does after delivering the Israelites finally from Pharaoh, is to bring them face to face with this great want of water. We see them passing in a short time through a great variety of experiences with regard to it. First, they go three days in the wilderness and find no water; next they come to the waters of Marah and find them undrinkable; then these waters are suddenly made sweet; and lastly, they journey on to the abundant supplies, and therefore inviting neighbourhood of Elim.
I. THE ISRAELITES EXPERIENCE THE WANT OF WATER, There is here a curious contrast between the fate of the Egyptians and the want of the Israelites. Water proved the ruin of Pharaoh and his host, while the want of water led Israel rapidly into murmuring and unbelief. Thus we have another illustration of how temporal things—even the very necessities of life from a natural point of view—are only blessings as God makes them so. He can turn them very rapidly and easily into curses. We call to mind the grotesque words of Laertes over his drowned sister:—"Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia." So the Egyptians had too much of water, and the Israelites could not get any at all. God was immediately beginning to teach and test his own people according to the explanation of Moses in Exodus 15:25, Exodus 15:26. They were to learn faith in Jehovah for support as well as deliverance; and the first lesson was to be taught by a three days' deprivation of water. If they had had the believing spirit in them this was an opportunity to say, "Assuredly such an awful deliverance has not been wrought that we may straightway perish of thirst." Notice also how the reality of the wilderness life is at once brought before us by these three days of waterless wandering. So short a time had they been out of Egypt, and so little distance had they got away; and yet they are as it were in the very worst of wilderness experiences. Thus even the moment they became effectually clear of the external bondage of Egypt, the truth was impressed upon them that they were without a home. There was no swift exchange from one storehouse of temporal comforts to another. For remember, Egypt with all its misery was a sort of home; there the Israelites had been born and trained; there they had got into a bondage of habits and traditions which was not to he removed in a day. And now Jehovah would have them understand that to be free and able to serve him meant that they must endure with these privileges the privations of the wilderness. We cannot have everything good all at once. If we would be clear of the bondage of this world's carnal ways, we must be ready for certain consequent and immediate privations. We cannot get away from Egypt and yet take with us the pleasant waters of Egypt. Unless our springs be in God, and heaven begun in the heart, the needful change of external associations may bring little but pain. External circumstances, and to some extent external companionships, may remain the same; the new home feeling must be produced by the change within.
II. WHEN THE ISRAELITES FIND WATER IT IS BITTER. Imagine, when they see the water after three days privation, how they run to it. But taste does not confirm sight. The water is not drinkable. Possibly this was a just complaint; although it may rather be suspected that the water, even if bitter, was not so bitter but that it could have been drunk by thirsty people. The Israelites, however, were thinking of the sweet waters of Egypt. A little longer privation and they might have found sweetness even in bitter waters. Still one cannot but consider how it is there should be this difference between the bitter waters and the sweet, between Marah and Elim. And then we are at once reminded that bitterness is no essential part of water, but comes from foreign and separable matters. So the comforts and resources flowing from God get mixed on the way with human and embittering elements, and these elements are so strong and disturbing that we utterly forget the sweet Divine part because of the discomforts of the bitter human one. We are ready to cast all away as if the nauseous could not be expelled. When Jesus told his disciples certain things which required a changed mind, and the creation of spiritual perceptivity in order to lay them to heart, they called these things hard sayings; not considering that hardness might be made easiness. In our early experiences of religion there is sure to be something of the bitter. The exhortation, "Taste and see that the Lord is good," is a serious and experimental one, yet many on their tasting find bitterness. The water of life has flowed through nauseating channels. Moses had his Marah: he got a taste of it even here, and he had full draughts afterwards. (Exodus 32:19; Numbers 11:10-15; Numbers 12:1; Numbers 14:5; Numbers 16:3.) David also had his Marah. (Psalms 42:3; Psalms 80:5; Psalms 102:9.) One can see a good deal of Marah even in the letters of the Christian Paul to his brethren in Corinth and Galatia. He had expected great things from the gifts of the Spirit, and correspondingly bitter would be his disappointment. We must have our Marah water to drink. Water may fail altogether for a while, and then when it does come it may seem worse than none at all.
III. GOD QUICKLY MAKES THE WATER PALATABLE. Note the request of the people. They do not stop to consider even for a moment whether this water, bitter as it is, may be made palatable. They turn from the whole thing in disgust and despair. "What shall we drink?" If Moses had straightway replied, "Ye shall drink of Marah," they would have counted him a mocker; yet his reply would have been correct. In the very things from which we turn as obviously useless, we may be destined to find an ample and satisfying supply. Moses himself knew not at the moment what they were to drink, but he takes the wise course and cries to Jehovah. More and more does his now habitual faith come out in contrast with the unbelief of the people. With regard to the casting in of the tree, it may have been that the tree had in itself some salutary effect; but the probability rather is that Moses was asked for another pure act of faith. This is more in harmony with the miraculous progression observed hitherto. When we remember the multitude that had to be supplied from these waters, there is something ludicrously inadequate in the supposition that the branches gathered to themselves the saline incrustations. The casting in of the tree was rather a symbolic channel for the sweetening than the actual cause of it.
IV. GOD SEIZES THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW ISRAEL WHEREIN THEIR SAFETY LIES. "He proved them" (verse 25). He points out, as it were, that they have been subjected to a test and have failed. At Marah they are shown forth as inattentive to past experiences, forgetful as to how God had remembered them and delivered them. Being now free from the bondage of Egypt, they must no longer blame outward constraints, but look earnestly on inward defects, for these are about to prove their greatest hindrance and danger. Yet this was not a time to speak sternly, even though unbelief had put forth its baleful front; they were but at the beginning of the journey, and gentle admonition was more proper than stern reproach. Therefore he counsels them—
1. To listen steadily to his voice;
2. To make his will, as expressing most clearly that which is right, the rule of their conduct;
3. To carry out all his commandments and statutes, some of the most important of which had already been laid before them in connection with their departure from Egypt. Let them attend to all this, and they will be free from Egypt's calamities. Notice the negative aspect of this promise. God promises exemption from suffering rather than attainment of good. It was well thus to make Israel give a backward look, not only towards the Red Sea, but across it, and into Egypt, where so many troubles had come on their recent oppressors. It would almost seem as if already the hearts of many were filling with the expectation of carnal comforts. They were thinking, eagerly and greedily, of what they were to get. But God speaks out very plainly. He demands obedience; and the most he has to say is that if obedience is given, there will be exemption from suffering. The positive element is left out, and doubtless there is wisdom in the omission. That element will come in due time. Yet of course it is there even now, for the devout and discerning, who can penetrate below the surface. The keeping of Jehovah's commandments is, infallibly, the attaining of the highest and purest blessedness.
V. AFTER MARAH HAS DONE ITS WORK, THE ISRAELITES COME TO ELIM. The pillar of cloud doubtless led them to Marah purposely before Elim, and to Elim purposely after Marah. Thus the people got a rest before coming to another trial of their faith and submissiveness; God did not take them straight from the difficulty with regard to the water to the next difficulty with regard to the bread. It is easy to understand that there were many attractions at Elim which would make them wish to linger there; but at Elim they could not stay. It had water in abundance; but water, great blessing as it is, is not enough. Pleasant it was to rest for awhile at these wells and seventy palm-trees; but before them lay a still better land where they would have, not only brooks of water and fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills, but also wheat and barley and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; and all the rest of the good things mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:7-9. The great lesson of Elim is that we must not make a resting-place, however attractive, into a home.—Y.
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
I will hear what God, the Lord, will say.
There is no reason why a powerful sermon should not be preached from a seemingly strange text. All depends on how the text is treated. God himself is the greatest of all preachers. See what sort of a sermon he preached from a text which most would have thought unpromising.
I. THE TEXT (Exodus 15:22-25).
1. What it was. Israel three days without water; at length "a large mound, a whitish petrifaction," from which flowed a fountain. Eagerness followed by disgust. The water bitter, loathsome, undrinkable. "Marah." The people murmured against their leader. A bitter fountain and an embittered murmuring people. Such the text.
2. How treated. The text was improved by applying to it the context. Many other texts might be best improved in like manner. "The Lord showed him a tree," etc. (Exodus 15:25). Clearly somewhere close at hand. The bitter waters made sweet. Discontent changed to satisfaction.
II. THE SERMON (Exodus 15:25, Exodus 15:26). Israelites too much like the bitter water. When God looked to refresh himself by their confidence and gratitude, he was met by murmuring and distrust. They, too, must learn not to fix attention wholly on disagreeables, hut to take the bitter out of them by considering the never-absent context. God himself is the context to every incident which could befall them, but they must apply his help by obedience and simple trust. Obey him and no bitter, in the heart or out of it, but his presence would sweeten. "I am the Lord that healeth thee," even as I have healed the waters. Notice:—
1. The sermon does not dwell upon the text, though it springs out of it quite naturally. Exceedingly plain and simple, so that a child can understand it.
2. The text (the ordinance) illustrates the sermon (the statute). Yet the illustration is not forced; not even strongly emphasized; just allowed to speak for itself. Some preachers make so much of an illustration, that that which it illustrates is forgotten. [You may drive a brass-headed nail so "home," that while it is fixed nothing will hang upon it.]
III. A RETREAT FOR MEDITATION AFTERWARDS (Exodus 15:27). Some excellent sermons are forgotten directly in the hurry and bustle that succeeds them. To gain by sermons we must recollect them; and to recollect them we must have time and place for recollectedness. This God gave to the Israelites at Elim; yet, even so, they failed to profit by it. Had they used their time for meditation better, much after trouble, caused by forgetfulness, would have been saved.
Application. "A sermon for preachers!" Yes, but a sermon for people also. If God's sermons can be so soon forgotten, even when he gives time for pondering them, how much sooner those we preach! Everything does not rest with the preacher. If the people will not take pains to remember—to ponder, meditate, inwardly digest—the best of preachers, even God himself, may preach home to them, and the result be nil.—G.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Trial and Blessing.
I. THE CLOUD AND SUNSHINE OF THE PILGRIM LIFE. The weariness of the wilderness journey, the disappointment of Marah, and the comforts of Elim, all lie along the appointed way.
II. A HEAVY TRIAL BADLY BORNE. The wilderness thirst had been endured without a murmur; but when in addition they were mocked by the bitter springs of Marah their spirit broke.
1. The end of a prayerless faith is soon reached. If we have not learned to cast burdens upon God and to wait upon him, but expect him to fill our life with ease and pleasure, we shall soon be offended.
2. A spirit with such a faith speedily turns away from God and breaks into complaint against man.
III. FAITH'S TRIUMPH IN DIFFICULTY (25).
1. Moses "cried unto the Lord." The need of the time was rightly read. It was a call to prayer. In times of difficulty and reproach our first recourse should be to God.
2. In answer to believing prayer the bitter waters are sweetened, and the soul finds God in the gift as without the previous disappointment he could not be manifested.
IV. GOD'S COVENANT TIME.
1. In the full experience of his mercy. We must know God's love in Christ before his covenant of service and blessing can be made with us.
2. In the midst of self-knowledge and repentance. At the sweetened waters the faithless ones knew themselves and were ashamed.
3. The nature of the covenant. If they cleave to and serve him, there may be affliction, but there shall be no judgment.
4. How God will be known in Israel. "I am the Lord that healeth thee." Note:—When God's goodness has rebuked our unbelief, he means us to listen to the assurance of his love and to renew our vows.—U.
HOMILIES BY H. T. ROBJOHNS
The well of bitterness.
"For I am Jehovah that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:26). A new chapter of history now opens, that of the wandering; it comprises the following passages.
1. Two months to Sinai.
2. Eleven months at Sinai.
3. Thirty-eight years of virtual settling down in the wilderness of Paran.
4. March upon Canaan in the last year.
Introductory to this sermon give description of the journey from the sea to Marah, keeping prominent these points, the first camp probably at "The Wells of Moses," the road thence varying from ten to twenty miles wide, the sea on the right, the wall-looking line of mountain on the left for nearly all the way—this the wilderness of "Shur," i.e; of "the wall." There may indeed have been a city called "Shur," but the wall of mountain may have given name both to city and desert. (On the line of the Roman wall in Northumberland is a village "Wall.") The route here quite unmistakable. More than forty miles. No water. The modern caravan road marked by bleached camel bones. Numbers 33:8, gives the impression of a forced march. At length Marah, to-day a solitary spring of bitter water with stunted palm-tree beside it. Here too is the place to point out, that Israel's wanderings are not so much allegorical, but tautegorical. The phenomena of spiritual life and those of Israel's desert history are net so much two sets of things—one pictorial the other real, but one and the same. This truth lies at the base of all successful practical homiletic treatment.
I. MAN MAY NOT LIVE IN THE PAST. "And Moses brought [forced away] Israel from the Red Sea." Note:—
1. Henceforth Moses is supreme leader. Aaron and Miriam sink to subordinate places. Besides these, the entourage of Moses consists of Hut, Miriam's husband; Jethro for guide; and Joshua, a sort of body servant. All over the desert are names witnessing to this hour to the sole supremacy of Moses.
2. Divine Guidance did not impair his individuality. Inspiration and the "Cloud and Fire" did not so lead as to leave no room for the exercise of judgment or the spontaneity of consecrated genius. Lesson:—God does not crush individuality, but develops it into fulness and power.
3. Moses brought Israel quickly from proximity to Egypt, and even from the scene of victory. [See Hebrews verb, to cause the camp to remove.] The last cadences of the song, the last sound of dancing had hardly died away; Miriam's timbrel was scarcely out of her hand, before "Forward!" Out of this, two lessons. Leave behind:—
1. The memory of Egypt; of old sins, of old sorrows.
2. The memory of victory. As in common life, so in spiritual, e.g; the schoolboy. (John Singleton Copley, a painter's son, had for motto "Ultra pergere," and became Lord Lyndhurst.) Graduate at University. Young tradesman. So with things spiritual, each victory the point of a new departure, even with the aged. "Christian progress by oblivion of the past." Philippians 3:13, Philippians 3:14.
II. FIRST STAGES IN NEW CHAPTERS OF LIFE'S HISTORY ARE TEDIOUS. Look here at:—
1. The experience of Israel. They had left behind many sights, they, even though slaves, would greatly miss; the Nile and its green line of fertility; cities in all their splendour; life in all its rich variety. Now, the hardship and silence of the desert, only trumpet-broken at morn and eve. And this first stage was terrible. Nothing so bad as this further on—further on oases, wells, filmy streams, tamarisk, palm, mountain shadows, and even cultivated regions. Excitement perhaps of the first day, the experience novel, the sea in view; but on the second and third, plodding, fainting, and disgust.
2. The present reality. So is it with all new chapters in life; the first steps are tedious, e.g; child going to school; boy to college; first steps in business; so with every serious break-up and change in life's pilgrimage. The first steps are arduous. And so too is spiritual life—to break with sin, to stand ridicule, to keep advancing in spite of comparative ignorance, etc.
3. The temptation. Many fail to stand it. Young men yield and go back to the fleshpots of Egypt—loneliness with duty and God does not suit them. If we can march from the sea to Marah, all may be well.
4. The encouragement. To say nothing of truths like these, that the way was right, the guidance sufficient, the land of Promise was before them; there was a nearer benediction. "The far horizon in front was bounded, not by a line of level sand, but by sharp mountain summits, tossing their peaks into the sky in wild disorder, and suggesting irresistibly the thought of torrents and glens, the shadow of great rocks, and groves of palms." The view was of the range of Sinai, and there Israel was to have nearly a year of high communion with God.
III. DISAPPOINTMENT WAITS US ON OUR WAY. The high-wrought expectation of the people: and lo! the spring is bitter. So with life. So much is this the case, that men of genius have described life as one long illusion. Things are never what they seemed. Neither school nor college, courtship nor marriage, home nor church, business nor pleasure. So much the worse for those who have ideality large.
IV. INTO DISAPPOINTMENT COMES HEALING. All through nature, it is probable, that every poison has its antidote, every evil its corrective, every disappointment its compensation. "Dr. Johnston, in his 'Chemistry of Common Things,' explains at length how the bark of a certain tree has power to precipitate the mineral particles, which embitter the waters, and to make them sweet and clear." Did God "show" this secret thing to Moses? Let every man examine his own life, and he will find by the side of every disappointment a compensating mercy; and more, that out of every such has come a lesson to sweeten life. It is as when (to take the most striking illustration of all) the Saviour came down into human nature, turned to bitterness by sin, and made the bitter sweet.
V. LIFE IS ONE LONG PROBATION. This is a truth illustrated by the journey to, and by the incidents at Marah. There God laid down a Fixed Principle [חֹק], and one that was absolutely Righteous. [מִשְׁפָט].
1. Israel was to hear (i.e. believe) and do.
2. And then Jehovah would be to Israel, what the "wood" had been to the water, their Healer.—R.
"And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water," etc. (Exodus 15:27). Describe locality, and point out the great change from Marah, and the miserable preceding three days in the desert. And then note the following suggestions as to the pilgrim path of a human soul.
I. OUR PILGRIMAGE LIES THROUGH EVER-VARIED SCENERY. The changes here are so great that they cannot fail to suggest the corresponding truth, e.g; fear on the west of the Red Sea, deliverance, triumph, three days' march, disappointment and healing at Marah, Elim.
II. THE SCENERY WILL INCLUDE "ELIMS." In dark days we believe no bright will dawn, and vice versa]. So the sorrowful must be reminded of Elims to come. Many oases for Israel; so to-day even in Sahara. Our Elims.—
1. Lift the mind to their Giver.
2. Are earnests of the Better Land.
III. "ELIMS" ARE THE CREATIONS OF TRUTH. Imagine all the beauty of Elim, and ask, what made it? It was the water that made the Paradise. Now, note the place of water in the economy of nature; as a constituent of the human body, in vegetation; as the chief element in all food, medicine, drink; as the universal solvent and purifier; as an agent in all dyes, gorgeous and homely; as "the eye" in every landscape, etc. It is no wonder then that water in Scripture is so often the emblem of truth, for which the soul thirsts, which is given as "water of life" from the throne of God and the Lamb. Doctrine "distils as the dew." God "pours clean water upon us that we may be clean." Note the analogy between truth and water implied in Matthew 28:19.. And is it not new discovery of truth at crises in our lives, that make our "Elims"? Not at all anything external to the soul; but internal uncoverings of the goodness, grace and glory of our Heavenly Father, etc; etc. [Develop and illustrate.] Will it be considered fanciful to add, that:—
IV. OUR "ELIMS" HAVE AN INDIVIDUAL IMPRESS. "Twelve wells," as many as tribes of Israel. "Seventy palms," for the tent of each elder a palm. There is any way a speciality in our Father's mercies, which marks them as for us, and reveals to us his personal love.
V. THE "ELIMS" OF OUR PILGRIMAGE ARE NOT FAR FROM OUR "MARAHS." Only some eight or ten miles is that journey of Israel. Then:—
1. At Marah let us hope for Elim.
2. From Marah push on for Elim. Never good to lie down and nurse sorrows and disappointments. Push "forward" along the pilgrim path of duty.
3. Marah prepares for the delight of Elim.
VI. "ELIM" IS ONLY FOR ENCAMPMENT. "They encamped there by the waters;" did not dwell, or build a city there.
VII. THE CHANGING SCENERY LEADS TO CANAAN. All the succeeding transformations of life are intended to prepare for the heavenly stability and rest.—R.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent