The Book of Exodus - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied, and the more they spread abroad.
This book of Exodus takes up the history of the children of Israel, and carries it on from the point where Genesis left it. Its opening word "Now" is exactly equivalent to "And," thus marking the continuity. It has a character all its own. It is the story of how God rooted the national life of this people in His own redeeming love and power. In their days of quiet and prosperity in the land of Goshen, they had never come to national constitution. They were a subject race. The first pages of this book introduce us to them in circumstances of darkness and difficulty. They were now not subjects, merely; they were slaves; and most unjustly and cruelly oppressed and afflicted. The hopes of Jacob and Joseph concerning a going back into their own land seemed to have no chance of realization. They were absolutely powerless, and if simply left to themselves they were positively threatened with extermination. It was to that end that the power of Egypt was working. If there were still any hope in their hearts, it was set on God. This was His hour. In the words we emphasize today, we have the first evidence of His presence and His blessing. On the level of the physical, they could not be destroyed, because God had chosen them for the fulfilment of His purposes. The principle is of perpetual application. Every successive age in the history of men has seen it working. The more the forces antagonistic to the will of God operate against the people of God, the more do these people rise and gain strength. It is not persecution, but patronage, that they have most to fear.
When she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.
Necessarily the outstanding figure in this book is Moses. He was the chosen instrument of God for carrying out the purposes of His will. Prepared by remarkable experiences, he was brought to that faith in God which made possible his employment in this way. It is well for us to recognize at once that the faith of Moses was preceded, and so made possible, by the faith of his parents. This is explicitly stated by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews (Ir. 23): "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months by his parents, because they saw he was a goodly child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment." The picture of that mother, hiding the baby-boy, because she believed in God, is a very suggestive one. When one day, the eleventh chapter of Hebrews is elaborated and completed, and in the light of God's ultimate victories we read the splendid record of how His city has been built by faith, how many stories like this shall we find? We shall certainly have stories of men of conspicuous ability and adventure, who have led and directed the movements of the hosts of God. But we shall surely then also discover that these men were often provided and preserved, begotten and nurtured, by men and women of faith. What the whole world owes to the strong and simple fathers and mothers who have wrought with God by faith, will then be known. It is surely a great thing thus to see, at the back of all the subsequent story, this mother hiding a baby, her heart free from the fear of the king, because she believed in God.
Moses was keeping the flock.
Eighty years had passed away since Jochebed had hidden her baby-boy. Nothing of any apparent value had transpired. The children of Israel still sighed by reason of their bondage. Once, half-way through the period - that is forty years before this - there had been a flame, a flash, a commotion. This young Hebrew, who had lived at the Court of Pharaoh, had broken loose upon an Egyptian, and had slain him, for oppressing a Hebrew. He had also endeavoured to readjust differences between two contending Hebrews, but his interference had been resented. The actions had brought him into danger at the Court, and by faith he had renounced all his earthly advantages and fled. And so the second forty years had run their course, and we see him now keeping the flock of his father-in-law in the wilderness. Yet as we read the story of these years, in the light of Divine overruling, how wonderfully they were preparing the way for the future, in their preparation of this man for his work! Forty years he had spent at the Court of Pharaoh, and there had received an education which made him, on that level, an accomplished man. Then, in the crisis referred to, he had learned how inadequate he was to deliver his people. The second period of forty years had been spent in the quiet splendours of the wilderness, and his shepherd occupation had prepared him for the meekness necessary to the leadership of the people of God. Now, in the midst of that work, God appeared to him, and called him to His task.
Moses answered and said, But …
The eyes of Moses had beheld the mystic wonder of the Bush that burned with fire, but was not consumed. The ears of Moses had heard the voice of God. In a strange and wonderful communion he had talked with God. There had been made known to him the ways of Jehovah, the secrets of His compassion and His purposes. Yet he "answered and said, But ..." It is a very natural human story. That this man should be filled with misgivings when he thought of the condition of his people, of the power of Egypt, and of his own disabilities, is not to be wondered at. Nevertheless this attitude of hesitancy and of fear was wrong. This is proven by the fact which this chapter reveals. When Moses persisted, "the anger of Jehovah was kindled against him, and He said, Is there not Aaron, thy brother, the Levite?" As we read this story, the natural mind feels full sympathy with the tremors of the soul of Moses; but it is surely written that we may learn the deeper lesson of the wrong of such failure. We are ever prone, when God is calling us to some high service, to say "But," and thus to introduce our statement of the difficulties as we see them. Presently Moses learned to use his "But" in another way. In presence of difficulties he came to the habit of considering them, and then of saying "But God"! The whole difference between faith and fear is that of the difference of putting our "Buts" before or after God. God commands, but there are difficulties. That is paralysis. There are difficulties, but God commands. That is power.
Moses and Aaron came, and said unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord.
Thus began the dealing of God with Pharaoh, in order to the deliverance of His people. His servants came to the proud monarch, and in his person faced all the power of Egypt, with no other authority and no other resource than the word of Jehovah. Even they had yet to prove the finality of that authority, and the fullness of that resource. In the case of Pharaoh, we begin here a wonderful story, in which the patience and power of God are equally patent. The acts of God in judgment throughout were but the ratification of the acts and attitudes of the man himself. To this we shall return in a subsequent chapter. The first result of the delivery of the Divine word was that of the challenge and flat refusal of Pharaoh, and the consequently increased hardship and suffering of the Hebrew people. It was not to be wondered at that the people should murmur against Moses. His plan for delivering them must have seemed to them to have disastrously failed already. Moses himself was perplexed and troubled; but his action was that of faith - he took his trouble and perplexity immediately to God. Thus it ever is. Those who face men, having the right to say to them, "Thus saith Jehovah" have also the right to return to Jehovah and state the difficulties, and expose openly their own doubts and fears. Such action always brings the answer of His patience and His power.
I am Jehovah.
This was the great word of God's answer to the cry of Moses, in presence of the difficulty created by the refusal of Pharaoh, and the consequent sufferings and complaint of the Hebrew people. First, He declared that He would so deal with Pharaoh as to compel him to let the people go. Then, in a remarkable passage, He assured His servant by a message of Self-assertion. The force is gathered if we glance over it, noticing the repetition of this declaration, and of the recurrence of the personal pronoun. It may be good to set these out. "I am Jehovah." "I appeared." "I was not known." "I have established." "I have heard." "I have remembered." "I am Jehovah." "I will bring you out." "I will rid you." "I will redeem you." "I will take you." "I will be to you." "I am Jehovah." "I will bring you in." "I lifted up My hand." "I will give it you." "I am Jehovah." This incomplete reading is of value, as it emphasizes for us all the practical values of the name, Jehovah. It was the name which supremely stood for the grace of God. All the activities of the past, referred to, and all those of the future, promised, reveal Him as acting on behalf of His people. This was the Divine declaration made in answer to the statement of human difficulty. Even then Moses did not, could not, grasp its full significance; but its statement gave him surer ground upon which to stand, as he waited for the interpretation of experience. The children of Israel were so full of sorrow that they "hearkened not," but Moses had heard for them.
I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.
This was the word of Jehovah to His servant in view of his further hesitation. When Moses had received the declaration concerning God in connection with the revelation of Himself as Jehovah, he had proclaimed it to the children of Israel, and they had not hearkened; that is, they had not received it, had not believed it, or had not felt the power of it. Very naturally he argued that if they had failed to realize its value, it was not probable that Pharaoh would be impressed by it. Then Jehovah made this arresting assertion. This man should be as Elohim to Pharaoh. He should stand before Pharaoh in the place of God, not only delivering His messages, but accompanying them with such actions of power as should demonstrate the authority of those messages. And this is exactly what happened, through all those processes which eventuated iii the breaking of Pharaoh's power, and the deliverance of the people of God. How full of beauty all this story is, in its revelation of the patient method of God with those whom He calls to serve Him! He constantly calls men to do things for which they are totally unfit in their own natural powers, even though those powers also are of Divine origin. In such hours they naturally shrink and are afraid. He never loses patience, so long as they remain loyal to Him in heart. On the contrary, He hears their expression of fear, explains His method, and thus step by step leads and strengthens them, till they accomplish all His will, notwithstanding their fears.
Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God.
As the story runs on, of God's dealings with Pharaoh and the power of Egypt, we watch the process with the deepest interest and that from many standpoints. As to Pharaoh, it is the story of a strong will, making itself stupid, while all the way, until the condition was utterly beyond hope of remedy, God gave him opportunities to use that strong will in surrender. Before the first plague fell, he was warned, and thus given the chance of escape. He refused, and then, under the pressure of the plague, relented. At once respite was given, and again he made his heart stubborn, with the result that the second plague fell. Perhaps his obstinacy was partially accounted for by the fact that his magicians had been able to produce wonders similar to the first and second plagues. When the third fell, they were powerless, and were constrained to recognize "the finger of God." In consequence of his continued stubbornness, after the confession of his magicians, Pharaoh had to face a new element, that of the information given that Israel would be immune. Thus in many ways did God seek to impress the heart of this man. It is well to observe Moses through these events. Evidently his preparation by Jehovah had been sufficient, for he moved through all these experiences with singular calm and dignity. It is permissible to wonder whether the success of the magicians in the first two plagues did not challenge his faith. If so, he remained faithful, and in the third he saw that their power was limited by God. There were things they could not do.
He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh.
Here is a very interesting and suggestive gleam of light amid the prevailing darkness. A fifth and a sixth plague had fallen upon Egypt, and still Pharaoh pursued his way of stubborn resistance. A new cycle was about to commence, and the warning given was more explicit and careful than on any previous occasion. It is in connection with this warning of the coming of the plague of hail, that we read that some of the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Jehovah, and acted in accordance with it, with the result that they also escaped the devastating hail. Thus God is seen, as He ever is, acting with strict and impartial justice. No man or nation ever yet perished by the act of God, of whom or of which it might not truthfully be said that their blood was upon their own head. He never desires to destroy; He ever seeks to save. No matter how long the rebellion continues, if it give place to a true repentance, He is ready to forgive. His benefits are never confined to the people of one nation. "In every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to Him." This is what Peter percejved in the house of Cornelius, and in these words we have an early illustration of the truth. Fear may have been the first impulse, but it was the fear of Jehovah, and that is in itself of the essence of faith. Acting in accordance therewith, they found deliverance.
There shall not an hoof be left behind.
This was the final word of Moses in a persistent conflict against anything in the nature of compromise. Pharaoh had attempted to bring this about since after the fourth plague. Note the stages of these attempts. At the beginning he had declared that these people should not go to sacrifice to Jehovah their God. After the plague of flies, the fourth, he suggested that they might sacrifice, but they could do it without going away from the land (8:25). This Moses at once refused. Then Pharaoh suggested that if they must go, it should not be very far away (8:28). On this Moses entreated for him, and the plague was removed, but he would not let them go. He proposed later, after the eighth plague (that of locusts), that they should leave the women and children behind (10:8-11). Moses refused. After the ninth plague (that of the darkness), he suggested that the cattle be left (10:24). Then Moses spoke this final word: "There shall not an hoof be left behind." That is the true attitude of the man of faith. Evil is always suggesting some compromise. To listen to it, is to remain enslaved. The only way into liberty is to leave the land of evil; to go accompanied by the women and the children; and to take all property also. It is when that attitude is assumed, that men pass out from all bondage, and find the liberty which is in the purpose of God for them. The truth may be applied in individual and national life. It is equally true in each case.
The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.
This is the last declaration of this kind in connection with the plagues, prefacing the story of the slaying of the firstborn. The same idea is found again in chapter 14, verses 4, 8, 17. In a previous note (on chapter 5:1), we said that the acts of God in judgment were the ratification of the acts and attitudes of this man. We may at this point consider that fact. In the course of the story the words harden and hardened often occur. By marginal readings the Revised Version has sought to show a difference in meaning. As a matter of fact, three Hebrew words are all translated in the same way. To understand the story they must be distinguished. The first of these (chazaq) means to make strong. This the Revisers have always indicated in the margin. The second (kabad) means to make heavy, with the idea of stupidity. The third (qashah) means to make hard, in the sense of cruelty. Throughout the story, the first is used to described the action of God (4:21; 7:13; 7:22; 8:19; 9:12; 9:35; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:4; 14:8; 14:17). It is never employed to describe the act of Pharaoh. It is once used to describe the anxiety of the Egyptians that the Israelites should go (12:33), and there is rendered urgent. The second occurs first as God's description of Pharaoh's condition (7:14); then twice of Pharaoh's act (8:15; 8:32); then as the historian's description of Pharaoh's condition (9:7); then again of Pharaoh's act (9:34); and finally to describe the act of God (10:1). The third is only found twice; once it describes the act of God (7:3); and once to describe the method of Pharaoh's refusal (13:15). A careful examination will show that God's activity was that of strengthening this man, and so leaving him to act. He never hardened him in the sense of rendering him stupid, until he had persisted in that action himself beyond remedy. These distinctions are of the utmost importance.
This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.
These words constitute the record of a change of calendar at the command of God. This change was introduced in the hour when these people were passing into national constitution as a Theocracy, a people under the direct and immediate government of God, having no king except Him. It was directly connected with the institution of the Passover Feast. Thus the beginning of the year was changed from Tishri, the month of harvest, to Abib, the month of green ears, or of springtime, known after the captivity as Nisan. Thus the new year henceforth was to begin with the celebration of the feast which emphasized the relation of the people to God, and brought constantly to their memory the redemptive basis of that relation. God is ever the God of new beginnings in the history of failure. The ultimate statement is found in the Apocalypse in the words: "Behold, I make all things new." All such new beginnings are founded on plenteous Redemption, conditioned in persistent Righteousness, and issue in perfect Realization. God had redeemed His people from slavery. The dawn of their new year was ever to be radiant with the glory of His bringing of them forth from cruel bondage. God had brought them to Himself, that under His law they might realize the meaning of life, and fulfil its highest purposes. God had admitted them to a fellowship with Himself, which meant, for them, the supply of all need; and for Him, an instrument in the world for carrying out the programme of His infinite grace.
God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.
A great principle of the Divine government emerges in these words, an understanding of which will explain many experiences through which His people are called to pass. These people were but now released from slavery, and were undisciplined and untrained. Before they could be ready to withstand the opposition of new enemies, they had much to learn, and many experiences through which to pass. The near way geographically to their destination lay through the land of the Philistines, but to pass that way would inevitably have involved them in conflict. For this they were not in any way prepared. To have been thus plunged into it, would necessarily have filled them with despair, producing a change of mind which would have sent them back to Egypt. Therefore God led them round about, by a longer way, having its own difficulties as the sequel will show, but delivering them from this first peril. How constantly God does this with His people! He leads us by ways which seem to us to be long and tedious, when there are ways apparently so much more direct to the goal where we know He wills we should be. Let us ever know that when He does so, He is avoiding for us perils of which we may not be conscious, but which are far graver than those through which we pass as we travel the pathway He marks out for us. The nearest way is not always the shortest. Our God never permits us, as long as we obey Him, to meet any danger unprepared. The length of the way, and the slowness of the method, are really making for quick and sure arrival.
Thus the Lord saved Israel.
The little word "Thus" summarizes all the narrative. Some years ago, a Scotch minister was talking to the children in the Sunday-school, and he asked if any of them could tell him how God brought the children out of Egypt. Many hands were held up, but the bright and eager eyes of one wee bit lassie attracted him, and he asked her to tell him. With radiant face and great eagerness she said: "Just fine"! Was ever better answer given? What a wonderful story it is, of His wisdom, His might, His tenderness, His patience! As we read it, we are impressed with that wisdom as it was manifested in His perfect understanding of the hearts of all those who were involved, and in His methods with them. His power had been witnessed in His dealings with Egypt, and in His cleaving of the sea. His tenderness had been proven by all His words, and by every arrangement He had made. His patience had been seen in His dealing with Pharaoh, to whom He had given every chance to set this people free without suffering to himself or his people. Thus had He saved them. They had nothing of which to boast, except their God. They were not free as the result of their own cleverness or strength. They owed everything to Him. And so it ever is. We also have nothing of which to be proud, except that we have such a God. In that, we may at all times make our boast; and all such boasting is wholly good, for it sets forth His praise, and keeps us free from the self-confidence which ever weakens and destroys.
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel.
That was natural, inevitable. There are moods of the soul that can only be expressed in poetry and in music. They are the great moods, whether of joy or of sorrow, of gleam or of gloom. This was a moment of high experience. The hour was full of the sense of the greatness of life. The shackles were gone, the enemies were destroyed; freedom was theirs, and opportunities were before them. This sense of the greatness of life was created by the sense of the greatness of God. What could they do other than sing? In such experiences prose becomes useless, poetry is the only method of expression; monotone is insufficient, harmony is necessary. An examination of the song will show that it was a glorious celebration of their King, on the part of this newborn nation. It had its backward and its forward look, and in each case the supreme fact was God. He had triumphed gloriously. All the power opposed to Him, and so to them, had proved weak in His mighty grasp. Moreover, He would fulfil all His purposes, bringing them in and planting them in the mountain of His inheritance. When, looking back, God is seen, and forward, His purposes and power are recognized, the soul can sing, even though the threatening dukes of Edom, men of Moab, and inhabitants of Canaan are all about it. Such moments of high vision and glorious praise are full of value, even though presently there may be much of darkness and declension. Whenever they come, let us avail ourselves of them to the full.
The whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured.
What a startling change from the song of yesterday! Therein the human heart is revealed. It seems incredible that so soon they should have descended from the height of glorious song, to the level of mean murmuring. Yet so it was, and so often still it is. What had happened? Had God changed? Was He not still the glorious King? Or had they encountered some enemy more powerful than Pharaoh, some obstacle more impossible to overcome than the sea? No, none of these things had happened. They were hungry! That was all. It is very mean and unworthy. Had they forgotten God? No, not wholly, but they were allowing the near, and the trivial, to make them for the moment unmindful of Him. This is a very revealing story. Again and again, indeed almost invariably, when the people of God are found murmuring, it is over some experience through which they are called to pass, which is of the most trivial nature by comparison with the great things of life. This kind of thing spreads. Notice that the whole congregation joined in the unworthy business. Unanimity is not always proof of wisdom or of rightness. In an hour when the prevailing mood is that of dissatisfaction, it is a good thing if some lonely singer celebrates the Lord in song. We may at least be perfectly assured that unanimous murmuring, whenever we hear it, is wholly wrong. Therefore let each one refuse to join therein. If singing is impossible, let there at least be silence. That is always better than murmuring. The sequel shows how unnecessary the murmuring was. It always is.
They tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?
There are two things to be specially noted here. The first is the nature of the suggestion made by the people; and the second is the effect which is produced upon God. As to the first. Under stress of an immediate lack, these people doubted the one fact of which they had overwhelming evidence. The whole of the experiences through which they had passed, and which had brought them where they were, were directly due to the presence and power of God. Had He not been with them, they had yet been in slavery. Yet, lack of water made them either question that fact, or imagine that God had abandoned them. To us it seems utterly unreasonable, and yet it is of constant recurrence. The question persists. In hours of lack, of stress, of difficulty, we are constantly prone to imagine that God has left us, or even to imagine that we have been wrong in believing that He has ever been with us. It is not only unworthy, it is wicked. This is shown by the language used to describe the effect produced upon God - "they tempted Jehovah"; that is, they gave Him cause to abandon them, as they suggested that perchance He had done so. Necessarily the statement is an attempt to express a Divine truth through human analogy. He provided for them, but that was wholly of His mercy and grace. Such questioning of God merits punishment. They tempted God, even though He was not moved to such response as they deserved. We should ever strive against the suggestion that He can act in any way which contradicts our past experiences of His presence and power.
And Moses father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.
This is an arresting story. It is almost certainly quite out of its chronological place here. It most probably happened later, as the people were about to depart from Sinai. Compare Num. 11:14-17 and Deut. 1:7-14. It has been suggested that it was inserted here in order to show that while Jethro lived among the Amalekites he was not under the curse pronounced upon them (see chapter 17:16). The arresting thing is that this advice as to the administration of the affairs of the people came from a man outside their borders, and that Moses acted upon it. A well-known expositor, writing of this story, says: "Jehovah entirely ignored this worldly-wise organization, substituting His own order." I think that is hardly warranted. It would be nearer the mark to say that Jehovah approved the principle, and instituted His own order. Two matters strike us as being significant. The first is that the principle is a good one. No man is warranted in attempting to carry more than he is able to carry. One of the greatest signs of capacity for leadership is the ability to call others into fellowship in responsibility and service. The second is that God has many ways of making known His will to His servants. He at times speaks through a Jethro to a Moses, as surely as through a Moses to His people. Perhaps to these two, we should add a third, namely, that all advice which we receive from men should be tested by remitting the same to God for ratification or amendment.
All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.
These words should be most carefully pondered, because they are vital to an understanding of this whole story. The words of Jehovah to the people, to which these words of the people constituted a reply, were the words of infinite grace. He reminded them of His dealings with them in redemption from slavery, and in bringing them to Himself; He also declared His purpose for them, that they should be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Let it be observed that these are the very terms which describe His purpose for His Church, so far as the earthly calling of that Church is concerned. Their response to that word of grace was a declaration that they would do everything necessary on their part to be worthy of that redemption, and to fulfil that purpose. How little they knew themselves! Their answer was sincere, but it was ignorant. The very next words of Jehovah were, "Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud," and these prepared the way for the Law and the priesthood. These were provided then for a people who, however sincere their desire, were yet not able to realize the high ideals and purposes of God. Thus began the period of Law which continued until Calvary and Pentecost. It was a period of the persistent failure of these people, and of the persistent patience and victory of God. Even so with us. We say, "All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do," and we fail. But God never fails. He waits and pursues His own way of grace and government. We may truthfully say, both for Israel and for the Church, All that Jehovah hath spoken they will do finally; but it will be by His grace; and not by their own wisdom or strength.
I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
These are the words which introduce the Law. They constitute the immediate prelude to the Ten inclusive Words; and have their bearing on all the applications and elaborations thereof, both with regard to conduct and to worship. This we should never forget. God's law was for His ransomed people. Every requirement is rooted in this fact of relationship. God did not promulgate a code of laws for the children of Israel, while they were in bondage, telling them that if they would obey it, He would deliver them. He brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, and then gave them His law. From all responsibility to the proud despotism of Egypt He liberated them, by bringing them under His immediate government; from all the shackles of the house of bondage He set them free, by bringing them into the liberty of His love. Then He gave them the words which revealed His will. Thus Law in itself was an expression of Love. This is ever God's way. In this special dispensation of His grace it is still true. Now, however, it is perhaps more necessary to remind ourselves that grace does not set aside ethical requirement. He still gives us laws which condition conduct and worship, and because in Christ Jesus grace has had its most perfect outshining, and its most powerful operation, the terms of law have become severer and more exacting. Nevertheless, the thought of strength and comfort for us is ever that every requirement of His law is rooted in His love.
I will not go out free... Then...
Among the first of the "judgments" following the enunciation of the Ten Words of the Law, were those which regulated slavery. A careful consideration of them will show that they abolished slavery, and substituted for it, covenanted labour. A man might buy a servant, but only for a period of six years° service. In the seventh year he must go out free. No man was allowed to hold men or women as his property in perpetuity. Here, however, was an exception. There were certain circumstances under which one man could become the servant of another for the whole period of his life. That, however, could not be by the compulsion of the master, but by the deliberate choice of the servant. It has been said that no man ought to yield himself up thus to the service of another, that such a choice could only issue in the degradation of life. There is an element of truth in the contention. Some men won't face life. They prefer the ease of service in which there is no necessity for responsibility, to the strenuous activities which freedom ever demands. Such choosing of bondage is always ignoble. It should, however, be carefully noted that this is not the choice here indicated. It is rather that of a yielding to the claims of love. The servant has gamed wife and children from his master. His master has earned his love. Rather than go out into personal freedom, he chooses to abide with his loved ones, and to serve a master whom he loves. There is nothing ignoble in such action. Then service becomes noble. There is no higher exercise of freedom than that of choosing to serve in love.
Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live.
Thus with blunt directness and complete finality, the law of God against all traffic with the world of evil spirits was promulgated. The enactment reveals the possibility of such communications; and by punishing with the death penalty, makes perfectly clear the heinousness of all such action. Christian people have often made the mistake of denying the possibility of such communications; they have treated witchcraft, sorcery, spiritism, as unreal things, to be laughed at, or denied. No graver blunder can be made. There are very real dealings with spirits. The Biblical revelation recognizes this everywhere; and the evidences of the possibility abound on all hands in human history and experience. But it is equally true that the whole Biblical teaching is opposed to the practice; it views it as essentially evil, it strictly forbids it; and all human experience shows the evil effects of all such traffic. Wherever it is indulged in, sooner or later it produces terrible results, physically, mentally, or morally, and generally in every way. It is clearly against the will of God that in this life men should hold any communication with the spirit world, save that of direct fellowship with Himself, through His Son, by the Holy Spirit. Wherever it is done, we may rest assured that those with whom communication is gained are evil and impure spirits; for the good and pure, abiding in the perfect love of God, would neither wish nor be able to break His law.
Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.
The first application of these words was to the subject of the administration of justice. The possibility in mind, is that of popular prejudice being allowed to influence judgment against an individual. How needful the command, we know full well. It is the danger of miscarriage of justice from such cause, which has made English law hold it a misdemeanour for newspapers to discuss any case which is still sub-judice. Involved within the command there are much wider applications. It reminds us that popular opinion is not always right. A very false catchword has had great vogue, namely, vox-populi-vox-Dei. The voice of the people is by no means always the voice of God. Indeed, majorities have so often been wrong, that it is only with caution that one can consent to be counted as among them. The history of all right movements has been in the first place the history of lonely souls, who, having heard the authentic voice of God, have stood alone or in small minorities. Therein is the reason for the greatness of Lloyd Garrison's epigram: "One with God is a majority." Of course it is always easy to move with the current, to drift with the tide, to shout with the multitude. But ease is not the condition either of righteousness or of true progress. In the home, in society, in business, in the national life, and sometimes in the Church, the multitude may be wrong. Then the soul must refuse to follow, must stand alone. To do so will bring strain and stress; but it will always discover strength, for it will find God.
They beheld God, and did eat and drink.
Three verses here (9, 10, and 11) give the account of one of the most wonderful events in connection with the giving of the Law. It is the story of a great communion. Seventy-four men were gathered together around the manifested presence of God, and in that Presence they did eat and drink. The account of this experience is reverently reticent. No description is given us of the form which the manifestation took. All the description attempted is that of the footstool of Deity, which is mysteriously referred to as "a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven for clearness." The declaration that they saw God is arresting. We know that in so far as the material sense of sight is concerned, no man bath seen God at any time. Subsequently Moses was told, "Thou canst not see My face; for man shall not see Me and live" (Ex. 33:20). How then are we to explain this statement? It is important that we should remember that two different Hebrew words are employed in this story to describe the experience. The word ‘saw’ in verse 10 is the common word for seeing, and is used in a great variety of ways. The word ‘beheld’ in verse is one which is almost invariably used of mental perception or discernment. Here there is very little doubt that the second word interprets the first. These men in an exalted moment of communion were given a sensible vision of glory through which they rose to a spiritual vision of God. It was a great experience, and the supreme wonder was that in such an hour "they did eat and drink"; that is, they lived their natural lives in all fullness.
Of every man whose heart maketh him willing, ye shall take My offering.
An abiding principle is revealed in these words. It is that the one value to God of gifts presented to Him by His people, is that of the willingness of heart which prompts them. All the materials for the building of the Tabernacle were to be supplied by the people themselves. This was not because God could not have provided everything in some other way. At Athens, speaking on the subject of Temple-building, Paul declared that God is not "served by men's hands as though He needed anything." Nevertheless, He asks men to provide the necessary materials, but lays down the one condition that their offerings must come out of their willing hearts. When this is so, the simplest gift becomes of real value to Him, for it is the sacramental symbol of loyalty and devotion. The truth finds most explicit statement in the New Testament: "Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9. 7). It is a healthy exercise to test our gifts by this standard. To do so will be to reveal the meanness and worthlessness of many which men may count munificent; but it will be also to reveal the beauty and the value of some which intrinsically seem to be very small.
The veil shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.
That beautiful veil was the solemn symbol of inclusion and exclusion. It is well to notice where it hung; not between the camp and the courts; not even between the courts and the Holy Place; but between the Holy Place and the Most Holy. It did not divide between the secular and the sacred; it did not distinguish between service and worship; it separated between all high things, and the highest, between relative purity and absolute holiness, between all human interrelationships, and the place of fellowship with God, between every other exercise of life, and its highest function, that of worship. Every detail of its "blue and purple and scarlet, and fine twined linen with cherubim" in gold, was symbolic to the mind of those people of the perfections in man which were necessary to such communion with God. Every detail therefore was eloquent of the exclusion of imperfect man. Only once in the year was man represented there by the high priest, and that only for a brief period by the grace of God, and upon the ground of atonement. It is when all this is apprehended that the full significance of the words in Matt. 27. 31 is recognized: "And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." When at last the Man in whom all perfections were realized, had made full atonement for human sins, the symbol of separation was destroyed. Now, through Him, but through Him alone, we may draw near to God, and realize the highest of life, as in fellowship we fulfil its highest functions.
Pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.
Within the veil, that is in the Holy of Holies, there was no light other than that created by the glory of the Lord, shining above the mercy-seat. The Holy Place, outside that veil, was illuminated by the seven-branched lampstand. It was for this that the oil was to be provided (Lev. 24:1-4). This lamp was the sacred symbol of the light-bearing function of Israel. She was the lamp-stand. The light of this symbolic lamp in the Holy Place was to be derived from pure olive oil, burning continuously, and this was to be attended to ceaselessly by the priests. The conception was apprehended by prophets, seers, and psalmists, and emerged constantly in their messages and songs; and its meaning was understood. A notable exposition is found in the prophecy of Zechariah (4:1-14), of which paragraph the central statement is, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith Jehovah of hosts." Oil is uniformly the symbol of the Holy Spirit of God. Here, then, is the true value and meaning of this sacred oil. The elect light-bearers of the world are only able to fulfil their function by the Holy Spirit. This was so in the case of Him Who said: "I am the light of the world." He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, full of the Spirit, anointed of the Holy Spirit, wrought in the power of the Holy Spirit, offered Himself through the Holy Spirit, was raised through the Holy Spirit, took up His abode in the Church by the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is ever so in the case of those of whom He said: "Ye are the light of the world." It is only as they are baptized in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, anointed with the Spirit, that they can shine as lights in the world.
Anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them.
These words indicate the method by which the priests were prepared to minister to God, and a study of them is full of suggestiveness. There is no tautology here. Each of the three words has its own particular value, and the three in sequence cover the whole ground of preparation. The first, anoint, is quite simple, and describes the actual putting of the sacred oil upon the head (see 29:7), the symbol of the communication of the Holy Spirit to the one to exercise priestly ministry. The second, consecrate, is the translation of two Hebrew words, meaning the filling of the open hand, and signifies the perfect equipment of the anointed one for the discharge of that ministry. The third, sanctify, means literally, to make clean, and refers to the spiritual and moral separation of the priest from all defilement. Thus all priestly ministry is made possible by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. That anointing communicates the power, and ensures the purity, apart from which there can be no priestly ministry before God. Thus we see how the Divinely arranged ritual of the Hebrew economy was intended to convey to these people truths of fundamental importance. This ritual is done away in Christ, because all the things it typifies are realized in and through Him. If we are priests unto God, it is because in Him we have the anointing of the Spirit, and so the power for our ministry, and the cleansing, apart from which there can be no exercise thereof. Anointed, consecrated, sanctified souls, may minister before the Lord as priests.
And the Tent shall be sanctified by My glory.
Neither in himself, nor in his works, even though they be done under Divine direction, can man attain unto sanctification. It may indeed be said that it is obtained rather than attained. It is always the outcome of the coming of the cleansing, purifying glory of God. The Tent of the Israelites was to be made according to the Divine pattern. That pattern was detailed, accurate, and in every smallest detail suggestive of holy facts and forces. Those preparing it were called to devotion to the will of God. Nevertheless it needed sanctification, separation to its ultimate intention by cleansing; and that sanctification was communicated by the coming of God, and by the purifying splendour of His glory. Our minds almost inevitably travel on as we read these words to those of John in the prologue of his Gospel: "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth." It was by that becoming, that God sanctified a place of meeting between Himself and man. We may make our places of assembly beautiful, as we should; we may do all the work of preparation with true devotion, as we must; but neither the devotion of the doing, nor the beauty of the deed, has any sanctifying power. It is the glory of God, effective through His coming near, which sanctifies a place of meeting, and so creates the possibility of our fellowship with Him. The perpetual joy of our life should be that He has sanctified for us a Tabernacle of meeting by His glory.
The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half-shekel.
That is not the law of giving. It is certainly not so for us in this Christian dispensation. Each of us is to give "as he may prosper" (1 Cor. 16:2). It was not so for the Hebrew. The devotion of the tenth was proportional within limits, but the gifts of the rich were more than those of the poor in amount, though less, in relation to their own possessions after the giving. The half-shekel was not a gift in the sense of a free-will offering. It was a recognition of redemption, a sign of atonement, made and received. Here the rich and the poor stood upon a perfect equality. Nothing that a man has, can procure him access to God, or exclude him from that access. Nothing that he lacks, can exclude him from that access, or admit him thereto. Such access results from an atonement which God makes, and not man. Therefore the ransom that a man gave was to be of the same amount in every case; and it was given in connection with the numbering, that is, with the enrolment of the host. It was, therefore, a sign of the complete dedication of personality. Each half-shekel represented one person. It was not a gift from the amount of possessions. It was a symbol of the fact that the person representing it was wholly the Lord's by the grace of the atonement which He had provided. The necessity for the symbol is done away in Christ, but the thing symbolized has been brought to its fulfilment. Our numbering among the redeemed is a fact; and one, the obligations of which, in complete devotion to the Lord, we should ever realize and discharge.
I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.
This is a radiantly beautiful word in its revelation of how God equips those whom He appoints to service: It must not be forgotten that these people had been in slavery for centuries, and therefore in all probability were devoid of that artistic fineness which was necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle according to the Divine pattern. Then it was that God called Bezalel, and prepared him for his work. The description of the fitness conferred is very careful. Each word has a special significance, and a sequence is revealed. Wisdom is capacity; understanding suggests progress, the capacity acting in apprehension of the idea presented; knowledge is the ultimate attainment of skill resulting from this intelligent action of capacity. The result was "all manner of workmanship," the doing of the things appointed according to the pattern given. All this resulted from a man being filled with the Spirit of God. Thus a man was made the instrument of Divine action. To do His work, the Spirit of God needed a man. To do his work, the man needed the Spirit of God. This is perfect co-operation. The story is all the more valuable when it is remembered that this was co-operation, not for priestly or prophetic work, but for work in gold, in silver, in brass, in stones, in wood. Surely there is only one thing we need to be careful about, and that is that the work we do is that appointed for us by God. If that is so, we need have no anxiety, for He will give us perfect equipment.
… Thy people, which Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt.
These were the words of Moses to God in an hour of grave peril. The people had fallen into grievous sin. They had deliberately broken the second commandment. The making of the golden calf was not an attempt on their part to substitute another god for Jehovah. It was rather an attempt to make a likeness of God. Their choice of a calf was at least suggestive. In the East the ox is ever the type of service and sacrifice, and in choosing it they had some glimmer of the truth about God. Nevertheless the attempt in itself was an actual sin, as it was an act of definite disobedience. The anger of the Lord was stirred against them, and He threatened to consume them. Then it was that Moses became the intercessor. These particular words reveal the ground of his plea. Observe the contrast between his description of the people and that of Jehovah. God said: "Thy people which thou broughtest up out of the land of Egypt." Moses replied: "Thy people which Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt." Moses was swayed by pity for the people, but the deepest concern of his heart was a passion for the honour of God. Thus did Jehovah lead His servant into fellowship with the deepest things of His own heart. Therefore his intercession prevailed. It is well that we realize the importance of this.
If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.
These words were the answer of Moses to the promise of .Jehovah. The whole story is very full of light. It is the account of a very intimate and wonderful communion between God and His servant; "Jehovah spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (verse 11). In that holy atmosphere of sacred intimacy, Moses was able to say all that was in his heart. All the sin of the people was on his heart, and about that he talked with God. Realizing his responsibility as leader of this people, he first pleaded for a fuller knowledge of the ways of God, and of God Himself. To this plea the gracious promise was returned: "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest." The very relief which that promise brought to his heart set free this great outburst: "If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence"! He knew that no substitute could take the place of that actual Presence. He recognized that it .would be better for them all to perish in the wilderness, than to attempt to possess the promised land without that Presence. This is a great truth. The very gifts of God are liable to curse us, if we lose fellowship with the Giver. We may make the land of plenty the occasion of our poverty, if we enter it without God. He alone understands us, and He alone can give us true-possession of whatever He bestows upon us. The portion of goods received from the Father, spent without the Father, in the far country, is the instrument of the undoing of the son. So, whether for life or service, our prayer should be that of Moses.
He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water.
It is impossible to exaggerate the stupendous things suggested in that simple statement. It was a period during which to this man there came the clearest of light. He was with God. That was the supreme consciousness and certainty. Yet let us carefully remember that this was not a period of ecstasy in which Moses was separated from the consciousness of all the things of earth. On the contrary, it was a time in which, because of his sense of God, he saw the things of earth in the true light. In that communion, he saw the people, understood their need, realized their weakness, and discovered the deepest things of their safety and their strength. During that forty days and nights, he received the law for their government, and the order for their worship. From that experience he returned, not to be a dreamer, for ever thinking and talking of a past rapture; but to be, as never before, the man of affairs, directing, controlling all the earthly life according to the standards received in the mount. It would seem as though the only thing he forgot was himself. During the period, he did neither eat bread nor drink water." In that forgetfulness, however, he found himself, though all unconsciously. When he descended to men, he came, not thin, emaciated, weak, but strong and glorious in beauty, for his face shone with a brilliant radiance. All this is full of instruction. High experiences of fellowship with God are often granted to His servants, and they always result in fresh power for service.
Every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing... brought the Lord's offering.
When God provided a system of worship for His chosen people, He did so according to His own mind and heart and will. There was no detail neglected, but in the smallest detail there was nothing of triviality. This a later singer recognized when he said, "In His temple everything saith Glory!" (Psa. 29. 9). Nevertheless, He needed the human instrument through which to communicate, He found it in Moses. And now He also needed that men should provide earthly materials for carrying out the heavenly purpose. Yet the gifts must be sanctified by the Giver in every case, and in these words, we are informed as to the true inspirations of all such giving. They must be the expressions of a true devotion. This we have noted before (Ex. 25. 2). Here the matter is yet more fully stated. Two stages are marked. First, the stirring of the heart. That, goes to the deepest thing in human personality. Desire is the fundamental factor in life, and that is of the heart. When the heart is stirred, it is because the soul supremely desires something. When gifts are contributions toward the realization of desire, they are acceptable. If a man desire the worship of God according to Divine arrangement, and gives to realize it, his gift is of value. The second stage is the constraint of the will by the spirit-life. That completes the perfection. It is possible to desire, and even to give, when the will is 'not in harmony. Then giving is the discharge of duty. God asks for more than that. When the spirit is so in fellowship with God, as to constrain the will, then giving is a delight.
So the people were restrained from bringing.
This is a wonderful chapter in its revelation of how these people were moved to high and holy things at this time. It is almost impossible to read these particular words without a sense of surprise, so rarely has it happened that it has been necessary, in the case of work for God, to restrain His people from giving. And yet this is the natural result of those inspirations which we were considering in our previous note. When the heart is truly stirred, and the spirit makes willing, giving is robbed of all meanness; indeed, it ceases to be calculating. Nothing is too precious to be given, no amount is too great. Everything is poured out in glad and generous abandonment. When this is so, the work of God never languishes for lack of means. All this is a matter for serious thought. In the presence of the claims of the work of God, how is it that the heart is ever devoid of that stirring which produces such giving? Why is it that there is ever unwillingness to bring our offerings to God? Is it not always because for some cause the vision of the glory of the work is dim? If the enterprises of the Kingdom of God were clearly seen, there could hardly fail to be a perpetual stirring of heart, an unceasing willingness of spirit, to give. And that leads the inquiry further. Why has the vision become dim? Are answers to be found in some words of Jesus in the parables of the Kingdom? "Persecution," "tribulation," "the care of the age," "the deceitfulness of riches" (Matt. 13:21-22)?
Toward the mercy-seat were the faces of the cherubim.
Of the ranks and orders of the celestial beings we have no clear revelation in Scripture, save that it is patent that there are such ranks and orders. The term angels, meaning messengers, is applied to all of them. What is the particular office of the cherubim, we are not told. The references to them in Scripture would lead us to the conclusion that in some way they are the especial servants of the holiness of God, its guardians in creation. We first meet them in the Biblical revelation at the gate of Eden after human sin, guarding the way to the tree of life. That makes this reference to them the more suggestive. Here they are seen bending over, and ever gazing at the mercy-seat. The suggestion is that of the guardians of the Divine holiness considering the mystery of the Divine mercy. Those who represent that holiness are observing how it is guarded and realized in the operation of the grace of God. The symbolism of their watching suggests that very truth, that in the exercise of mercy, God violates nothing of His holiness. Surely Peter was thinking of these overshadowing, watching cherubim when, writing of "salvation," of "the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them," he said: "which things angels desire to look into." Than this holy mercy of God, there is nothing more wonderful in all the majesty and mystery of His ways and works. It is a subject worthy the consideration of the highest intelligence. What reverent, earnest, and persistent attention we should give to it! We can never fathom its depths, scale its heights, or encompass its reaches; but we can find in it the ultimate of joy and gladness.
And he made the laver of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women which served at the door of the tent of meeting.
It will be noted that, later on in this chapter (verses 29-31), we find the account of the amount of the brass offering, and also a list of the articles made from it. In that list there is no reference to this laver. The bearing of that fact on this particular verse is, that it shows that the suggestion that the meaning is that the laver was provided with mirrors, is erroneous. Quite patently our rendering is correct. It was made of the brass of the mirrors of these serving women. The idea of service here is that of worship, and the women referred to are those who gathered about the door of the Tent of Meeting to worship God. Their dedication of the mirrors to the work of making the laver was a very suggestive one. These mirrors were among the most precious possessions of these women, and were related to their personal adornment. Moreover, they were used by Egyptian women in their acts of worship. Here then we see the Hebrew women renouncing the things precious for personal adornment, and at the same time abandoning a false habit in worship. The act was a testimony to their spiritual discernment, and their realization of the true adorning of life which is found in a true worship. It was highly significant that the brass of these mirrors was employed to construct that laver in which the priests must wash on approaching the altar or entering the Tabernacle. It is in the beauty of holiness men must worship, and by the surrender of everything of the flesh.
And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them.
The fact that the work of making the Tabernacle was done according to pattern, is emphasized by the repetition of the words: "As Jehovah commanded Moses" seven times in this chapter (verses 1, 5, 7, 21, 26, 29, 31). The same emphasis is found in the next chapter, in the sevenfold repetition of the same formula in the description of the setting up of the Tabernacle (verses 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32). This is a very simple and yet a most important matter, as it reminds us that Divine work must always be done according to the Divine pattern, and most strictly in the Divine way. The truth is so self-evident, that it would seem needless to stress it. Yet a perpetual temptation to the mind of man is to endeavour to improve upon a Divine plan. It is an utterly foolish conceit to imagine that this can be done. "As for God, His way is perfect" (Psa. 18:30), is a truth of universal application. In His plan, every detail is absolutely and finally perfect in wisdom and in power. There can be no improvement; and whenever man interferes and changes, by so doing he is destroying the perfection. It is a truth which we need to have ever in mind in all our work for Him, whether chat of evangelism or edification. He has given us the pattern of His House, whether it be that of the individual soul, or that of the catholic Church.
The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.
That was God's answer to man's obedience. Apart from that obedience there could have been no filling of the House with the Divine glory. Apart from that filling, the House would have had no value. This coming of the glory of Jehovah to the Tabernacle was the foreshadowing of the hour when the Holy Spirit came to the Church at Pentecost, and of the hour when that same Spirit takes up His abode in the heart of the believer. Therefore it is also true that whatever building we erect for the worship and work of God, it lacks completion until it is consecrated by the coming of the glory of Jehovah. If ever the hour comes when the glory of Jehovah departs from Tabernacle or Temple, then the structure is useless, however ornate and beautiful it may be as to its material appointments. These things cannot ensure the glory of Jehovah. On the other hand, however plain or poor a structure may be, if the glory of Jehovah be there, it is made beautiful indeed. It is by the presence of that glory, moreover, that the people of God are to be guided in their goings by day, and kept and comforted in the night seasons. In that glory there ever merge the things of the Divine holiness and mercy, the things of God's government and grace, the things of love and light and life. When these are present, the trivial becomes sublime, and the small becomes great. When they are absent, everything tends to weariness and death. Nothing is worth while if the glory of God be missing. Everything is fruitful where that glory is found.