A sweet savor unto the Lord
How sweet the offering up of the Son was to the Father! "Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor" (Ephesians 5:2). The burnt-offering was an imperfect type of His entire devotion to His Father's will. When Jesus saw the inability of man to keep the holy law, and volunteered to magnify it, and make it honorable; when He laid aside His glory, and stepped down from His throne, saying, "I delight to do thy will, O my God"; when He became obedient even to the death of the cross—it was as sweet to God as the fragrance of a garden of flowers to us.
Let us never forget the God-ward aspect of the cross. The sacrificial fire fed on every part of the sacrifice, on the inwards as well as the carcass; so did the Holy God delight to witness the spotless and entire devotion of the Son to the great work in which the entire Godhead was most deeply interested. The fragrant graces of Christ were made manifest on the cross, and are perpetuated in His intercession.
There is a sense also in which our consecration to God is fragrant and precious. When we see His claims, and yield to them; when we submit to His will, and commit our lives wholly to His direction; when we offer and present ourselves to Him, a living sacrifice, keeping nothing back—His heart is gladdened, and His fire of complacency feeds on our act. Always count on this; you may feel no thrill, and see no light, but reckon on God, believe that He accepts what you give, and will crown your sacrifice with the fire of Pentecost. Who today will surrender to God, and become an offering of a sweet savor?
The cloud of the Lord by day,… and there was fire therein by night
This was the cloud of the Shechinah, in the heart of which was fire, the symbol of the presence of God. Probably this fire was always present, but only visible against the background of the surrounding darkness. In the New Testament fire is always associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit; and in Isaiah (Isa_4:5) we learn that in the coming time God would give, on every dwelling-place in Mount Zion, and in all her assemblies, the same cloud of smoke by day, and flaming fire by night, as had been vouchsafed to the Tabernacle where God dwelt. What a glorious revelation is this!
The Holy Spirit brooding over each individual believer.—It is a symptom of the highest life, when God spreads His tabernacle over the soul. We should march only when He lifts up His enfolding presence, rest under His canopy, and recognize the sanctity of all life.
The Holy Spirit resting on each home.—"Every dwelling-place in Zion" must stand for the homes of God's people. How blessed it is when the home is a temple, and each inmate of the beloved circle a priest! Such homes are rare, but they are possible. Let those who are founding a new family make this their ideal.
The Holy Spirit directing and filling each assembly and believer—As of old the movements of the cloud determined those of the tent and people, so in the Pentecostal Church the Spirit was Guide, Director, Executor. "Separate Me... to the work to which . have called them." We must rely most absolutely on Him, waiting for His initiation, his teaching, the settling down of His infinite benediction. Then there will be glory and defense.
Holy to the Lord
Zechariah tells us that these words were to be written on the bells of the horses. The sacred inscription, which stood on the brow of Aaron, designating his separation to his sublime office, was to become incorporated with the business of the farm and city, where burdens were borne and heavy weights drawn with difficulty. The inscription befits all bells that ring in the home, the shop, the factory. We are to be God's priests everywhere.
The priest was separated from all impurity.—We must be in the world, but separate from its sin. When evil threatens us from a distance, we must be sensitive to its approach, and quick to put the covering presence of Christ between.
The priest was separated to holy service.—He was keenly sensitive to the honor of Jehovah, and to the demands of his service. Rather be cut down at his altar, like Zechariah the son of Berachiah, than prove a delinquent. We cannot all do the inner service of offering incense and of blessing men, but we can render every act as a sacred service to God; always treading the holy floor, and within sight of the holy presence, and within earshot of the Divine voice; eating, drinking, doing everything for the glory of God. Throughout this chapter we are reminded that all was made as the Lord commanded Moses; this should be the law of our life.
The priest bore holiness written where all could read it; so should we.—It should not be necessary for us to be labeled. For men to need telling that we are Christians, is a sign that we are far from what we should be. But so to live that the first and slightest glance at us should betray our heavenly calling, is to adorn the Gospel and please our Master.
The laver… of the mirrors of the serving-women
This was a good use to put these mirrors to. The women were so deeply interested in the work which was afoot, that they counted no sacrifice too great. But the main suggestion for ourselves is the wisdom of renouncing self-inspection.
The mirror speaks of self-scrutiny.—We are constantly holding up the mirror to our inner life, studying its mechanism and operations. Our fingers often on our pulse; the attention of the soul turned back on itself; the study of symptoms carried to the grievous extent of inducing the diseases which we dread. Of course, where there is evident mischief at work, we do well to take heed; but we must guard against a morbid self-anatomy, a perpetual analysis of motive and intention, an inwardness which diverts our attention from the person of Christ and the performance of duty.
The evils of self-scrutiny.—If we look down into the depths of our own nature, we miss the face of Jesus. To consider self is to become involved in a maze of perplexities and disappointments. The disease cannot be cured by ceaselessly pondering its symptoms. The soul cannot lift the soul. Self can never expel the spirit of self.
Its cure.—These women became so interested in the service of the Tabernacle that they were weaned from their mirrors. The better expelled the worse; the higher cast out the lower. Go out of yourself, find some work to do for God and man; seek in the laver the removal of the stains of human sin; find your center in God and His plans; and you will abandon the habit of morbid self-scrutiny. For every look at self, take ten at Christ: He "healeth all thy diseases."
A mercy-seat of pure gold
This was the Propitiatory. Beneath it lay the tables of the law, which even Moses had broken, almost as soon as they came into his hands, but which had been renewed. Concealing and covering them lay this golden lid, encrusted with the blood which successive generations of priests sprinkled there on the Great Day of Atonement.
There can be no doubt that this golden slab sets forth our Savior's obedience unto death. God set Him forth to be "the Propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
Our Lord's obedience is priceless in the Divine esteem.—What pure gold is among metals, that is His advent to do God's will, in comparison with all other endeavors to do it. It takes the first place, and is of peerless beauty and excellence. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered."
His obedience was to blood.—His wounds tell the story. He held nothing back; but yielded all to blood-shedding. Blood is life, and life is in the Blood: this He freely poured out to meet the claims of justice, and herein gave the sublimest token of His love.
His person and work are the medium of our approach.—In Jesus the Shechinah of God's presence awaits us. On this priceless mercy-seat the Divine Fire trembles, and we may draw near with boldness. We are beloved children: but let us never forget that we are redeemed sinners.
There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads;
A place than all beside more sweet—
It is the blood-stained Mercy-seat.
Much more than enough
This is always God's way. No words could better express the Imperial measure and standard of His dealings with His people. When He calls us out, as He did Moses, Bezaleel, and Aholiab, and entrusts us with His plan; and when we are careful to work out His specifications; He always makes more than enough provision for all our need.
The redemption in Christ Jesus.—Where sin abounded grace did much more abound. The topmost hills were covered by the waters of the deluge, and the Alpine heights of human rebellion were more than atoned for when Jesus died. Grace over-tops sin.
God's ability to answer prayer.—He does exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. We ask great things, and secretly think that if God were to give only a fraction, we would be thankful. How we straiten Him! He cannot do much because of our unbelief! He yearns to do not only enough, but much more than enough for us. See his prodigality in nature: its enameled shells, its profusion of flowers, its swarming life.
In daily provision for spirit, soul, and body.—Give, and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. God is not niggard. If He withholds, it is that we may cling to the Giver rather than the gift. But for the most part, He gives all things richly to enjoy. He opens His hand, and satisfies. Whatever thy need, God has much more than enough to meet it. He has riches of grace and of glory. Trust Him, obey Him, appropriate thy share in thy Father's rich provision. Weak and needy as thou art, there is much more than enough strength in God to perfect what concerns thee.
To work all manner of workmanship
There was an infinite variety in the contributions made to the Tabernacle, from the precious jewels of the rulers to the acacia wood of the poor, and the goats' hair of the women. The completed structure was a monument of the united gifts, handicrafts, and gems of the entire people. But in all there was the unity of the spirit, and plan, and devotion.
In the Church and the world there is a work for each of us to do.—It may be a very humble part in the great factory—like minding the lift, or stoking the furnace, or fetching materials for the more skilled operatives; but there is a berth for each willing worker, if only the will and way of God are diligently sought and followed.
This work is suited to our special powers.—He who prepares the work for the worker, prepares the worker for the work. Whenever God gives us a task to fulfill, it is because He sees in us faculties for its successful and happy accomplishment, in co-operation with Himself. It is a mistake then to turn back daunted by difficulty and opposition. As Caleb and Joshua said of the possessors of Canaan, "We be well able to overcome them."
We must bring our resources and powers to God.—Willing hearts were summoned to bring their offerings to the Lord. The maker of a musical instrument knows best how to develop its waiting music, and He who created and endowed us can make the most of us. Let us not work for Him; but yield ourselves to His hand, and our members as instruments of righteousness for His service. We may differ from all others in the special character of our work; but it matters not, so long as God effects through us His purpose in our creation.
Moses wist not
Unconsciousness of goodness is always a main element in the highest forms of goodness: in the same way that unconsciousness is characteristic of the worst forms of depravity. "Samson wist not that the Lord had departed from him."
Directly people become conscious of their superiority to others, and boast of it, it is certain that they have never really seen the beauty of God's holiness, and have no clear knowledge of the condition of their own hearts. They see that they have been cleansed from their old sins; but they do not perceive that the spirit of selfishness has retreated into the springs of motive and intention.
We are all tempted to this terrible self-consciousness. We are proud of being humble, complacent for being lowly, self-congratulatory because we take back-seats. In all this we betray the vanity of our pretensions. This sort of goodness is like a thin veneer of mahogany on very common deal.
The real goodness is more conscious of the remaining evil than of the acquired good; of the lingering darkness than of the hill-tops smitten with the dawn; of that which has not been attained. But we can only attain this blessed condition by intimate and prolonged fellowship with God, in solitude where human voices and interests cease to distract. The brightness of which Moses was unconscious was caught from the Presence-chamber of the Divine Loveliness. Ah, what patterns are seen on the Mount! What cries are uttered there! What visions are seen there! What revelations are made there! What injunctions are received there! Oh for the closer access, the nearer view, the more intimate face to face intercourse, such as is open still to the friends of God!
In a Cleft of the Rock
That rock was Christ. In the Divine thought the position of Moses, first on the rock, and afterwards in its cleft, was a moving emblem of the position in which alone we can dare to look out on the sublime progress of God's glory.
God is always passing by.—In the great movements of history which evolve His plans, and are leading to Christ's advent; in the passage of the ages, which are His swift chariots; in storm and catastrophe, which break up old forces and forms of evil; in the goodness of His daily mercy; in the revelation of His character—we are always living in the very midst of God's presence and power.
In our condition of weakness and sinfulness we need a position of stability and shelter from which to look on God.—No man can see that face of awful holiness and love and live. Sir John Herschel says that when sweeping the heavens with his telescope the brilliant Sirius suddenly burst on his view, he nearly fainted. Who then could behold God! But in Jesus, we are stable, established in Him, accepted in the Beloved; and in Him we are covered. The full blaze of the Divine glory is tempered to our gaze; it comes to us through the medium of the pierced hand. We stand on the rock; we are hidden under the covering hand.
Our Rock was cleft.—How scarred are the great Alps! Their sides have been split by the action of tempest, avalanche, earthquake, frost, and glacier. Hence their clefts. But who shall enumerate all that has been borne by our dear Lord for us! What storms have pelted on Him, that we might have a safe hiding. On Calvary, a niche was hollowed to which a world of sinners may take shelter!
Peradventure I shall make an Atonement for your sin
The heart of Moses was full of that great, wonderful new word, Atonement. For many days God had been telling him about it, and speaking it over and over to his heart. He seemed, however, to feel that no ordinary sacrifices would avail: the blood of goats and bulls would surely be insufficient to put away the black transgression into which Israel had fallen. But there was rising in his heart a resolve, to which he gave expression when he returned to God: "Blot me, I pray thee, out of the book which Thou hast written." He did not realize that his blood would not avail, but that the blood of Christ, who should, in the fullness of times, offer Himself without spot to God, alone could put away sin.
In every heart there is a deep conviction of the necessity of an Atonement.—This is the source of the temples, altars, and sacrifices, which have marked the history of every nation under heaven. Man has felt as by a natural instinct that some reparation was necessary to the broken law.
The insufficiency of animal sacrifice.—In the Levitical system there was a remembrance of sin made year by year; but the sin itself could not be purged by such rites. The fact that the worshipers so constantly came back to offer their sacrifices shows that they were not assured. The priests always stood: their attitude was an emblem of an unfinished work.
The sufficiency of Christ's Atonement.—He was willing to be cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of His people; and because He died, there is no longer the "—" which in Moses' prayer speaks of uncertainty; but a blessed assurance that we are at one with God, with each other, and with all holy beings.
A golden bell and a pomegranate
The robe of the high priest's ephod was of blue, the color of heaven, of deep lakes, of the glacier-crevasse, of the gentian and forget-me-not. On the hem of the robe were these alternate bells and pomegranates.
Those skirts may illustrate our own position.—We dare not take a high place near the head or arm; but, thank God, there is a place for each of us at the skirt, near the foot; and the holy oil will reach us there, for the Psalmist tells us that it descended even to the skirts of the high priest's robe. It is a blessed thought, that we may receive the droppings of each anointing that falls on the head of Jesus.
But the anointing of the Holy Ghost always shows itself in sweetness and fruitfulness; the sweetness of the golden bell, tinkling with every movement, and the fruitfulness of the pomegranate.
We must be sweet, as well as fruitful.—Too many Christian workers are over-tired and over-wrought; they are peevish and fretful. When they come back from meetings on which they have bestowed their last energies, they are neither sweet nor gentle to the home-circle, which has been so lonesome during their absence.
We must be fruitful, as well as sweet.—True religion is not a mere sentimentality; it is strong, healthy, helpful, fruit-bearing. Some seem to think that to attend moving meetings, to be profuse in emotional tears and smiles, to make profuse use of the word dear, is to touch the high-water mark; let them learn that the worth of our life is measured by its influence on others, and its bearing fruit, which has in it the seed of reproduction. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit."
Pure olive oil beaten for the Light.
The saintly McCheyne used to say, when urging his brother ministers to diligent preparation for the pulpit: "Beaten oil for the sanctuary." And he strove never to present to his people truth which had not been beaten out by careful devout meditation.
But there is yet another thought. That lamp in the Holy Place was an emblem of the testimony of the Church, that is, of believers. As the incense table was a type of their aspect towards God, as intercessors, so the seven-branched candlestick was a type of their aspect towards the world, as luminaries. In the Book of Revelation the Lord compares his churches to candlesticks: "the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches."
The oil is, of course, as always in Scripture, a type of the Holy Spirit. He in us is the only source of light-bearing. But the beaten oil reminds us of the chastisement and discipline through which alone our best testimony can be given. The persecutions of the Church have always been the times when she has given her fairest, brightest witness to the Redeemer. The sufferings of believers have ever led to the tenderest, strongest words for the Master, whether by the sick bed or in the hospital ward. That brokenness of spirit, which is the surest mark of the mature work of God in the heart, is also a rare condition of light-giving. The more beaten and broken you are, in poverty of spirit, the purer will be the heavenly ray of love and light which will shine forth from your life; and it is the purpose of God that you should be "blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:15).
The vail shall divide unto you
That veil was rent when Jesus died, the Holy Ghost signifying that from that moment access was free into the Holiest. All believers are now welcome to draw near and live in the perpetual presence of God, their Father, even as Jesus did in his earthly life, and as He does in the Heaven of Heavens. This is the clear teaching of Heb_10:19-22 :—"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodes washed with pure water."
But there is a deeper significance still. The new and living way was opened through the rending of the flesh of Jesus Christ. As his flesh was rent on the Cross, the Temple veil was rent from the top to the bottom. And it is only when we have chosen the cross, with its shame and death, as the lot of our self-life, that we can enter into that immediate fellowship with God, which is described as "within the veil."
How many there are who never get beyond that dividing veil! They know the brazen altar of Atonement, the laver of daily washing, the golden altar of intercession; but they are never admitted to that blessed intimacy of communion which sees the Shechinah glory between the cherubim and blood-sprinkled mercy seat.
O Spirit of God, apply the blood to sprinkle our consciences, and the water to cleanse the habits of our daily life; and lead us where our Forerunner and Priest awaits us.
According to all that I shew thee,… even so shall ye make it
It was clear that God would only be responsible for the material that was needed for His plan. If Moses, or the people, insisted on putting in more than was in his original plan, they would have to bear the anxiety of securing the stuff. This is our mistake. We incur responsibilities that God does not put on us; we burden our hearts with anxiety and care because we insist on introducing so many items into our daily life, which would not have been there if we had but been content with God's pattern, and acquiesced in his program.
This injunction is repeated in four different passages, showing the importance with which God regards it. Indeed, to be on God's plan is the only place of rightness, safety, and joy.
God's plan in our character.—It is presented in the human life of Jesus. We are to walk as He walked. Having been called according to his purpose, let us never rest content with anything less than being conformed to the image of God's Son.
God's plan in our Christian service.—Not seeking to resemble some other devoted life; but endeavoring to be as God would have us, the embodiment of his thought, the expression of his conception. Then our efforts will be crowned with success, and we shall bear much fruit to the glory of God.
God's plan for every day.—He has prepared a scheme for the employment of every hour, and will show it to us by the indication of his Spirit, or by the trend of circumstances. Let us abide in Him, doing nothing that He does not teach, doing all He does. So life will become a tabernacle, in which the Shechinah will shine and sacrifices be offered.
They beheld God, and did eat and drink
It is a beautiful combination, which we should do well to emulate.
Some eat and drink, and do not behold God.—They are taken up with the delights of sense. Their one cry, as the children of this world, is, What shall we eat, what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed? But the God in whose hand their breath is and whose are all their ways, they do not glorify. Let us beware; it was of Christian professors that the Apostle said, Their god is their belly.
Some behold God, and do not eat and drink.—They look on God with such awful fear that they isolate Him from the common duties of life. They draw a strict line between the sacred and secular, between Sunday and weekday, between God's and their own. This divorce between religion and daily life is fatal to true religion, which was meant to be the bond between the commonest details of life and the service of God.
Some behold God, and eat and drink.—They turn from the commonest avocations to look up into his face. They glorify God in their body as well as in their spirit. They obey the apostle's injunction, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Oh for the grace to be able to combine the vision of God with every common incident—to live always beneath his eye in the unrestrained gladness of little children in their Father's presence!
Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear;
Never a sorrow that He doth not share—
Moment by moment I'm under his care.
An enemy unto thine enemies
It is a most helpful thought that the angel of the covenant in whom is God's name, always precedes us. In our march through the wilderness we perceive his form, which is viewless to others, and realize that his strong hand prepares our path. Let us be very careful not to grieve or disobey Him, lest we lose his mighty championship. Strict obedience to his slightest whisper secures the certainty of his vindication of us from the wrongs we suffer at the hands of our foes. A little further on the same voice promises to send a hornet before the chosen host (Exodus 23:28). He who is an angel to the saint is a hornet to his foes. A swarm of hornets is the most relentless and irresistible foe that man can face.
Have you enemies? Be sure that they hate you only for the truth's sake, and because darkness must always be in antagonism to light. "Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled." But see to it that you cherish no spirit of hatred or retaliation towards them. Think of the misery of their heart, which is full of jealousy, envy, and bitterness. Pity and pray for them.
When we are right with God we shall have many new enemies. All who hate Him will hate us. But this is rather to our credit than otherwise. Those who have defamed the master of the household will be hostile to his servants. But when our cause is one with God's, and his foes ours, our foes are his, and He deals with them; He stands between us and their hate. He will not leave us in their hands; He will give us vindication and deliverance.
He shall make Restitution
This chapter is full of restitution, of which there is far too little in ordinary Christian life. We try to make amends for injury done to another by an extraordinary amount of civility; but we are reluctant in so many words to frankly confess that we have done wrong, and make proper reparation for the act or speech. We often excuse ourselves by the thought that we were fully justified in speaking or acting as we did, whereas we may behave ourselves wrongly in courses of conduct which are themselves legitimate.
Loosing a beast into another man's field (Exodus 22:5).—We may through our carelessness allow another to suffer detriment. The beast ought not to have been thus allowed to stray; and, as we let it loose, we should make amends for our carelessness in respect to our brother's interests. We wrong another not only by what we do, or permit to be done, but in what we carelessly fail to do.
Kindling a Fire (Exodus 22:6).—The tongue is a spark that kindles a great matter. If we drop firebrands and lighted matches in the inflammable material of a circle of gossip, we should make amends to the person whose character may have been thereby injured.
Borrowed goods (Exodus 22:14).—To return a house, a book, a horse, in the state in which we received it, fair wear and tear excepted, or to make good any injury, should be a commonplace of Christian morality. Trustees are responsible for not making due inquiry into risky investments. Each is his brothers keeper. If we remember at the prayer-hour that he has aught against us, let us seek him, and confess, and restore.
With an awl
The Hebrew slave who meant perpetual consecration of service had to lose a little blood. It was a disagreeable and not wholly painless process, by which his vows were ratified and rendered permanent. But not otherwise could he serve for ever. That awl represents the nail that affixed Christ to the cross, and we must expect it in every true act of consecration. For want of it so many seem to go through that supreme act, and shortly after go back from it, bringing discredit and shame upon the teaching they had eagerly welcomed. There are two stages in the Christian life: that in which we serve with the spirit of a slave, and that in which we freely yield ourselves to serve our Master for ever. This is the service represented by the pierced ear.
The awl spiritually means the humiliation and pain with which we surrender the self-life. We are tempted to consecrate ourselves in our own energy; to resolve on the devout life in the strength of our own resolution; to say, "I will serve Christ utterly." We avoid the awl which deprives us of our own energy, which is applied to us by the hand of another, and which makes us helpless and self-emptied, that God may become all in all. In your case the awl may be the daily fret of some uncongenial associate; the pressure of loss and anxiety for the salve of Jesus; the humiliation of your pride by perpetual sense of failure. Whatever it be, welcome all that binds you to his cross, because through death you live.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
The thick darkness where God was
God is light, and dwells in light, but it is mercifully veiled to the weak eye of man. This is why Christ spake in parables—that seeing, they might not see. As Moses veiled his face when he spake to the people, so God veils Himself in the flesh of Jesus, in which He tabernacles; and in the mysteries of his providence, beneath which He conceals a smiling face. The Sun of Righteousness in whose beams we rejoice must needs hide beneath the cloud, else we should fall at his feet as dead. It may be that his light seems to us darkness, because of its excessive brilliance; but God dwells in the thick darkness—clouds and darkness are round about Him.
The darkness of mystery.—God has still his hidden secrets, hidden from the wise and prudent. Do not fear them; be content to accept things you cannot understand; wait patiently. Presently He will reveal to you the treasures of darkness, the riches of the glory of the mystery. Mystery is only the veil on God's face.
The darkness of trial.—Do not be afraid to enter the cloud that is settling down on your life. God is in it. The other side is radiant with his glory. "Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings."
The darkness of desertion.—When you seem loneliest and most forsaken, God is nighest. Jesus once cried "Forsaken," and immediately after, "Father." God is in the dark cloud. Plunge into the blackness of its darkness without flinching—under the shrouding curtain of his pavilion you will find God awaiting you.
A peculiar Treasure unto Me
Our Savior told of a man who, in plowing his field, heard his plow-share chink against buried treasure, and hastened to sell all that he had in order to buy it. In speaking thus, He pictured Himself as well as us. He found us before we found Him. The treasure is his people, to purchase whom He gave up all that He had, even to his throne (Matthew 13:44). "Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1Peter 2:9, R.V.).
Where his treasure is, there is a man's heart. If it is in ships on the treacherous sea, he tosses restlessly on his bed, solicitous for its safety. If it is in fabrics, he guards against moth; if in metal, against rust and thieves. And is Christ less careful for his own? Does He not guard with equal care against all that would deteriorate our value in his esteem? Need we fear the thief? Will not the Only-begotten keep us, so that the evil one shall not touch us (Matthew 6:19-20)?
God's treasure is his for ever. "They shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in the day that I do make, even a peculiar treasure." He will hold his own, as men cling to their treasure, binding it about their loins, in a storm at sea (Malachi 3:17, R.V.).
Let us mind the conditions: to obey his voice, and keep his covenant; then on eagles' wings He will bring us to Himself. Compliance with these is blessed in its results. God regards us with the ecstasy of a love that rejoices over us with singing; and counts on us as a mother on her child, a miser on his gold.
And God command thee so
It was good and sound advice that Jethro gave his son-in-law. It could hardly have been better. It is always better to set one hundred men to work than attempt to do the work of one hundred men. There is no greater art in the world than to develop the latent capacities of those around us by yoking them to useful service. But good though the advice obviously was, Jethro carefully guarded Moses against adopting it, unless the Lord had been consulted, and had commanded it.
Let us test human advice.—There are plenty of voices that advise us, and each has some nostrum for our health, some direction for our path. Some are true guides, whom God has sent to us, as Jethro to Moses. Often an onlooker can see mistakes we are making, and can suggest something better. But we are wise to get alone into the holy presence of God, and ask what He commands, what is his will.
Let us test human teachings—So full is the world of voices, so bewildering the din of religious schools and sects! The Apostle was justified in advising us to prove all things, and to try the spirits, whether they were of God. There are four tests for truth: what glorifies Christ; what humbles the flesh; what is in accord with the Word of God; and what has stood the trial of Christian experience in the past.
There is no teacher like God, and we may always detect his voice. It is small and still; it casts down imagination, and brings our thoughts into the captivity of Jesus; it is definite and distinct. When there is an indistinct murmur of many sounds along the wire, you may be sure that you are not in communication with your Fathers person. When He speaks, there is no mistaking his voice or his will.
I will stand before thee upon the rock in Horeb, and thou shalt smite the rock
Here is a beautiful example of the co-operation between God and his servants in providing for the needs of his people. Clearly the smiting of the rock was a very small item in this incident, the main consideration was what God was doing in the heart of the earth. But the two wrought together: Moses in the eyes of the people, God in hidden depths. Similarly we are fellow-workers with God.
One of the greatest revelations that can come to any Christian worker is the realization that in every act of Christian ministry there are two agents, God and man: that God does not need to be implored to help us, but wants us to help Him; that our part is the very unimportant and subsidiary one of smiting the rock, his is the Divine and all important part of making the waters flow.
Did Moses go to the rock that day weighted with care, his brow furrowed with the anxiety of furnishing a river of which his people might drink? Certainly not; he had only to smite: God would do all the rest, and had pledged Himself to it. So, Christian worker, you have been worrying as though the whole weight of God's inheritance were upon you, but you are greatly mistaken; smiting is very easy work.
In every congregation and religious gathering the Holy Spirit is present, eager to glorify Christ, and to pour out rivers of living water for thirsty men; believe this. See that you are spiritually in a right condition, that He may be able to ally you with Himself. Keep reckoning on Him to do his share; and when the river is flowing, be sure not to take the praise.
"We are workers together with God."
A Day’s Portion every day
It is said that the twenty-four hours should be divided thus: Eight hours for work, eight for rest, eight for recreation, food, etc. There should be a counterpart of this in Christian living. Each day there should be a portion for work, a portion for restful meditation and sitting before the Lord, and a portion for the gathering of God's manna.
Each day brings its own work.—God has created us for good works, and has prepared our pathway, so that we may come to them one by one. He has apportioned to each one some office to fulfill, some service to render, some function in the mystical body of our Lord. It is comforting to know that we have not to scheme for ourselves, but to look up for guidance into the Divine plan.
Each day brings its own difficulties.—God spreads them over our days, giving each day only what we can sustain. The servant girl might be startled were she told that she would have to carry the coals, which it has taken two horses and a great cart to bring to her master's door; but she will be comforted by being reminded that they will be borne upstairs only a coal-scuttle full at a time.
Each day brings its own supply.—No Israelite could point to his store of manna and congratulate himself that he was proof against any famine that might befall. The lesson of daily trust for daily bread was constantly being enforced; for as the day came the manna fell. Those who followed the cloud were always certain of their sustenance. Where the cloud brooded the manna fell. Whatever any day may bring there always will be within reach of you, lying ready prepared on the sands of the desert, just what you require. Go forth and carry it; there will be no lack.
The waters were made Sweet
Our joys and sorrows, like the varied products of nature, lie very close together. One moment we are singing the joyous song of victory on the shores of the Red Sea, and vow we will never again mistrust our God; and then, by a sudden transition, we find ourselves standing beside the Marsh waters of pain and disappointment, inclined to murmur at our lot.
There is, however, a tree, which, when cast into the waters, makes them sweet. It is the tree of the cross. "He bare our sins in his own body on the tree." The cross means the yielding up of the will. Now, it is in proportion as we see God's will in the various events of life, and surrender ourselves either to bear or do it, that we shall find earth's bitter things becoming sweet, and its hard things easy.
We must yield our will to God.—The secret of blessedness is in saying "Yes" to the will of God, as it is shown in the circumstances of our lot or the revelations of his Word. It is the will of a Father whose love and wisdom are beyond question.
We must accept what He permits.—It may be that our pains emanate from the malevolence or negligence of others; still, if He has permitted them, they are his will for us. By the time they reach us they have become minted with his die, and we must patiently submit.
We must do all He bids.—The thread of obedience must always be running through our hands. At all costs to our choice and feeling we must not only have his commands, but keep them. Our Lord perpetually lays stress on obeying his words. This is the spirit of the Cross, and the properties of this tree sweeten earth's bitterest sorrows. "Disappointments become his appointments."
And Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore
What a relief that morning brought from the anxieties of the previous night! Then, as they lifted up their eyes, they saw Pharaoh and the dreaded Egyptian taskmaster in full pursuit; now they beheld the sea-shore strewn with their bodies, stark and cold. They would never see them again, nor hear the crack of their whips.
So in life we are permitted to see the dreaded temptations and evils of earlier days suddenly deprived of all power to hurt us. The Egyptians are dead upon the shore; and we see the great work of the Lord. Let us take comfort in this—
In the pressure of trial.—You are suffering keenly; yet remember that no trial is allowed to come from any source in which there is not a Divine meaning. Nothing can enter your life, of which God is not cognizant, and which He does not permit. Though the pressure of your trial is almost unbearable, you will one day see your Egyptians dead.
Amid the temptations of the great adversary of souls.—They may seem at this moment more than you can bear; but God is about to deliver you. He can so absolutely free you from the habits of self-indulgence which you have contracted, and from the perpetual yielding to temptation to which you have been prone, that some day you will look with amazement and thankfulness on these things, as Egyptians dead on the sea-shore.
So also in the presence of death.—Many believers dread, not the after-death, but the act of dying. But as the morning of eternity breaks, they will awake with songs of joy to see death and the grave and all the evils that they dreaded, like Egyptians, strewn on the shores of the sea of glass.
By strength of hand the Lord brought us out
Four times over in this chapter Moses lays stress on the strong hand with which God redeemed his people from the bondage of Egypt; and we are reminded of "the exceeding greatness of His power, which is to us-ward who believe" (Ephesians 1:12-20).
God's strong hand reaches down to where we are.—It would have been useless if Israel had been bidden to help itself up to a certain point, God would do the rest. The people were so broken that they could only lie at the bottom of the pit, and moan. God's hand reached down to touch and grasp them at their lowest. So God's help is not conditional on our doing something, He will do the rest. When we are without strength, when we have expended our all in vain, when heart and flesh fail then God comes where we are, and becomes the strength of our heart and our portion for ever.
God's strong hand is mightier than our mightiest adversaries.—Pharaoh was strong, and held the people as a child may hold a moth in its clenched fist. But a man's hand is stronger than a child's, and God's than Pharaoh's. So Satan may have held you in bondage; but do not fear him any more, look away to the strength of God's hand. What can it not do for you?
We must appropriate and reckon on God's strong hand.—It is there towards them who believe, as a locomotive may be next a line of carriages; yet there must be a coupling-iron connecting them. So you must trust God's strength, and avail yourself of it, and yield to it. Remember that his arm is not shortened, nor his hand paralyzed, except our unbelief and sin intercept and hinder the mighty working of his Power.
With bitter herbs
The Paschal feast is the emblem of the Christian life. The Blood is ever speaking to God for us; though we see it not, God sees it, and hears its prevalent plea. We in the meanwhile are called upon to feed in faith daily, hourly, on the flesh of the Son of Man, according to his own command. In all Christian life, even in its hours of greatest rapture, there must be a touch of the bitter herb.
We can never forget the cost of our redemption.—Even in heaven, in the full realization of its bliss, whenever we catch sight of the print of the nails in his hand, we shall remember the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and passion, and eat the feast with the flavor of the bitter herb. How much more on earth, where we are so constantly requiring the efficacy of his precious death!
There will always be the memory of our sinner-ship.—We cannot forget our unworthiness and sin. He has forgiven; but we cannot forget. Ah, those years of rebellion and perverseness before we yielded to Him; and those years of self-will and pride since we knew his love! They will sometimes come back to us and give us to eat of the bitter herb.
Moreover, there must be the constant crucifixion of the self-life.—We can only properly feed on Jesus, the Lamb of God, when we are animated by the spirit of self-surrender and humiliation, of death to the world and to the will of the flesh, which were the characteristics of his cross. Deep down in our hearts, the drinking of his cup and being baptized with his baptism, will be the touch of the bitter herbs in the feast. But "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Jewels of Silver and Jewels of Gold
The Egyptians knew very well that they would never see their jewels again; and the people of Israel were thus, to some extent, compensated for their unpaid toils. The Lord gave them such favor with the Egyptians that they gave them whatever they asked; so that "they spoiled the Egyptians."
These jewels were employed afterwards in the adornment and enrichment of the Sanctuary. They flashed in the breastplate of the High Priest, and shone in the sacred vessels. In this they remind us of the treasures which David gathered by his conquests from neighboring nations, and which were afterwards incorporated in the Temple of Solomon. They recall also the glowing predictions of the prophet, that the kings of the earth shall bring their treasures into the New Jerusalem.
The jewels of the Church, whether they stand for her graces or her choice children, have often been obtained from the midst of Egypt. Was not Saul of Tarsus just such a jewel? The world counted him one of her rarest sons; but God set him as a jewel in the breastplate of Immanuel.
Let us ever seek jewels from the land of our captivity and suffering. It will not do to come away empty. It is not enough merely to bear what God permits to fall on us for our chastisement; but to go further, and extract from all trials, jewels. Let every trial and temptation enrich you with the opposite grace. There are Egyptians in your life, which have grievously tormented you with their heavy whips, yet even these shall yield wealth "jewels of silver and jewels of gold"; which you shall consecrate to holy service, and which shall shine in the fabric and worship of the New Jerusalem.
Only in Goshen, where the Children of Israel were, was there no hail.
Those who are included in the provisions of the covenant are sealed. The storm may sweep around them, but the great angel, who ascends from the east, cries with a great voice to the angels to whom it is given to hurt the earth, and the sea, and the trees, saying, Hurt them not till we have sealed the servants of God in their foreheads (Rev 7:3).
The only spot in which the soul is safe is within the encircling provisions of the covenant. Israel stood there, and was safe—not only from the hail, but from the destroying sword. The invulnerable walls of that sacred enclosure were the oath and promise of God to Abraham. God had bound Himself by the most solemn sanctions to be a God to this people, and deliver them; it was necessary, therefore, that He should be their pavilion and canopy, catching the hailstones on his outstretched wings and securing them from hurt.
The covenant is entered, not by merit nor by works. There was neither the one nor the other in that race of slaves; but they stood there simply because of their relationship to the Friend of God. So we enter the blessed safety of the better covenant, through our relationship with the Lord Jesus, who is the Beloved of the Father, the one glorious and blessed Man. Without beauty or merit, the soul attaches itself by faith to Him, and discovers that it was loved before the worlds were made.
Ah, blessed Lover of souls, we see how the storm swept thy heart, that it might never touch us. Thou art our hiding-place, our shield, our deliverer, our strong tower. Without dismay we can anticipate the storms of death, judgment, and eternity, sure that wherever Thou art there can be no hail.
I will put a Division between My People and thy People.
This division is as old as eternity.—In the council chamber of the Godhead the Father chose Jesus and all who should believe in Him unto eternal life. We cannot understand the reason of that Divine choice; we can only affirm it, that in those ages of the unfathomed past, Christ and his seed stood out from the rest of mankind, the people of God's own possession and inheritance.
It was effected by the Cross of Jesus.—By it we are crucified to the world, and the world to us. The cross, with its outstretched arms, stands sentinel between the Church and the world which cast out her Lord. The grave, like a great gulf, yawns between those who gather round the risen Master on resurrection ground, and all men else. From the moment that Jesus ascended, the rallying center of the Church was removed from earth to heaven, from the cross to the throne.
It is wrought out by the daily grace of the Holy Ghost. It is right, of course, to come out and be separate in our outward walk and behavior. But, deeper than this, if only we will let the Spirit of God work unhindered, He will effect an inward division. Our tastes and desires, our hopes and aims, will become different, and we shall be aware of a growing dissimilarity between ourselves and the world.
Then to the separate soul the Bridegroom comes. He says tender and loving words. In one hour He teaches more than all human teachers could; and sheds forth by the Holy Ghost the torrent of Divine Love. There may be darkness without, but there is light in the dwellings of Goshen: there may be plague and pestilence in the world, but there is peace, joy, and bliss, in the separated soul.
The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.
In God's dealings with his people He purposed to reveal Himself to Egypt: so that when He led forth Israel's hosts, in redemption power, from the brickfields of slavery on to resurrection ground, there might be afforded such a display of his love, and pity, and power, as the world had never before witnessed. Egypt and all surrounding nations should know the character of God in the Exodus, as the Lover and Redeemer of his own.
So with the Church.—The Apostle tells us that redeemed men are to be the subjects of angelic contemplation and wonder. In the Church, principalities and powers shall discern the manifold wisdom and grace of God. When God has brought all the ransomed hosts up from the Egyptian bondage of the world to stand in the radiance of the eternal morning, then the universe shall ring with the ascription, "Great and marvelous are thy works. Righteous and true are thy ways."
So with each individual believer.—Each one of us has been formed for Jesus Himself, that we might show forth his praise. In growing purity and sweetness, in our deliverance from the clinging corruptions of the world and flesh, in our patience under tribulation, our submission and steadfast hope, in our willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others, let us be revelations of what Christ is, and of what He can make sinful men become.
Believers are the world's Bibles, by studying which men may come to know the Lord Himself. Let us see to it that we be clear in type, unmistakable in our testimony, pleasant to behold, thoughtful and helpful towards all, commending the blessed Bridegroom whom the world sees not.
I am Jehovah, and I will!
When all human help has failed, and the soul, exhausted and despairing, has given up hope from man, God draws near, and says, I AM. It is as though He said, "All that can really help you resides in my nature as in its native home. I have weaned you from all beside, that you might seek in Me what you had been wont to seek in men and things and self-help."
Thus God with Israel. The people had come to relish the dainties of Egypt—the leeks and onions, the fleshpots and sensual delights; therefore the need for this cruel bondage to wean them, and prepare them for marriage union with Himself. Moreover, they placed great hopes in Moses, and such appeals as might be made to move Pharaoh's pity; from these too it was necessary to withdraw the people's heart, that they might look for all to their heavenly Lover, and find in Jehovah their infinite supply.
Affliction is always needful in the first stage of the Christian's deepening experience. The world, with its vainglory, pride, and envy; the delights of the flesh; the praise and good opinion of our fellows—these take the place of Christ in his disciples. We must be taught to despise these things, and feel their vanity and insufficiency to satisfy.
Failure is often necessary to teach humility and patience; so that we may have no confidence in anything we can call our own, and be prepared to find all our satisfaction and delight in Jesus only.
Revelation then becomes possible, of all that God can be and do. He draws near with his sevenfold "I will." He looks on us with infinite delight, and commences to bring us into such blessedness that we forget all else, and behold our Bridegroom only.
Why is it that Thou hast sent me?
Before God can use us, He must bring us to an end of ourselves. When Paul was summoned to the greatest epistles and labors of his life, his strength was drained to utter weakness, and he despaired even of life. So in the case of Moses and Israel.
Moses, for forty years, had been undergoing the emptying process; but perhaps when God called him to this great enterprise, there may have been a slight revival of confidence in himself, in his mission, his miracles, the eloquence of Aaron's speech. So in the rebuff he received from Pharaoh, in the bitter remonstrance of the elders of his people, in the sad consciousness that his efforts had aggravated their condition, the lesson was still further taught him—that of himself he could do absolutely nothing.
Israel also had begun to hope something from his mission. Through the brickfields the story ran of his early years, his uncompromising speech to Pharaoh, of his miracles; and the wretched slaves cherished faith in him and Aaron as their heaven-sent deliverers. They had, however, to learn that all such hopes were vain, and to see that the brothers, at the best, were as weak as themselves. Then the way was prepared to lean only on God.
Ourselves.—By repeated failures all along our life-course God is teaching us the same lesson. We fail to justify and then to sanctify ourselves. Our efforts to serve and please Him only end in increasing perplexity. The tale of bricks is doubled; the burdens augment; the strength of our purpose is broken; we are utterly discouraged; and then, when the soul is utterly desolate, the heavenly Bridegroom draws near and says, "I will do all; I am Alpha and Omega; I am thy salvation."
I am not Eloquent.
This is what we all say. We think more of the words than of the message; more of our eloquence or slowness of speech than of the King's seal and signature. Moses had learned many wholesome lessons through his long sojourn in Midian; but he had to learn this last one, that God does not want excellency of speech or of language in his messengers, but the unction and power which come on those who speak after direct audience with the Eternal. Aaron, who came to meet Moses, could speak well; but he was a weak man, whose alliance with Moses caused his nobler younger brother much anxiety and pain. However, God determined to send Aaron with him, to be his colleague and spokesman. Better a thousand times had it been for Moses to trust God for speech, than be thus deposed of his premiership.
Be sure to get thy message from the King.—Wait before Him in the inner shrine, till He says the word which thou shalt speak. This will give thee the real eloquence of the heart.
Look up for the right words.—The Apostle said that the Corinthians were enriched in all utterance; and he said that he spoke the Divine mysteries in words which the Holy Spirit taught. Ask for these, and you will not be disappointed.
Rely on the Divine co-operation.—There is another force at work, more subtle and penetrating than the most eloquent words of man—the power of the Holy Ghost. Seek for his Divine demonstration and co-witness. And it shall come to pass, that mysterious influences shall move over the hearts of those that listen to thy words, which shall attest the mighty fellowship and co-operation of One whom the natural man cannot detect.
I am come down.
This is a marvelous chapter, because it is so full of God. If the previous one, in its story of human striving, reminds us of Rom_7:1-25, this as surely recalls Rom_8:1-39. There is little mention of the part that Moses was to play, but much is said of what God was about to do. "I am come down." "I will bring you up." "I will put forth mine hand." O weary soul, bitter with weary bondage, groaning beneath cruel taskmasters, afflicted and tossed with tempest, the I AM has come down!
God comes down to our lowest to lift us to his highest.—This is the theme of the magnificent, and of Hannah's song. God comes down to the dust for the poor, and to the dunghill for the needy. You cannot be too lonely or broken in spirit for Him to notice and help. In proportion to your humiliation will be your exaltation.
He comes down to our saddest to lift us to his joyfullest.—How great the contrast between the cry of the Hebrews, because of their taskmasters, and the exultant note that smote on the rocks of the Red Sea! Such shall be your experience also. If you suffer in the line of God's will and providence, you are sowing the seeds of light and gladness. Oh, anticipate the harvest!
He comes down to our helplessness to succor with his great might.—Israel could not help herself; but the resources of I AM were sufficient for every need, and they will be for yours and mine. This is God's blank check; fill it in! Insert after these majestic words, wisdom, or courage, or love, or whatever you need most. And He will be all this, and more also not for a moment, but always; not spasmodically, but unchangeably.
He Smote the Egyptian.
This was creature-strength, wrought on by creature-passion, and ending in creature-failure. Moses stood on an eminence, and reached down to these poor brethren of his with a passing spasm of pity. He was very careful to look this way and that, go as not to invalidate his own position at court. And fear for himself carried him swiftly from the scene of his people's woes. It was a brief effort to do the Divine work of redemption in his own energy. Long years must pass, during which God would drain away drop by drop his strength, his resolution, and his very desire to be an emancipator; that when he had become nothing, God through him might effect his almighty will.
We sometimes smite the Egyptian within.—We rise up against some tyrant passion, and strike two or three vigorous blows. Our efforts to rid ourselves of its thrall originate and are prosecuted in our own resolve. At first the conflict seems easily our own; finally the dead weight of all the Egyptians within is more than a match for us.
We often smite the Egyptian without.—We make an assault on some giant evil—drink, gambling, impurity. It seems at first as though we should carry the position by our sudden and impetuous rush. But Egypt conquers in the end, and we flee.
No: we need to learn for the inward and outward conflict the lesson that forty years in Midian taught Moses, that only the Spirit of God in man can overcome the spirit of the world. By disappointment and repeated failure, by the silence of the desert, we are taught that we are nothing—then God becomes our all in all: and all things become possible to us as we believe.
The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied.
It was a very unequal struggle on which Pharaoh had entered; for he opposed not the Hebrews, but Jehovah. It is thus that the great ones of this world have ever spoken and acted. "Let us build a tower;" "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." "Against thy holy child Jesus, both Herod and Pontius Pilate were gathered together." In every case, He that sits in the heavens has laughed at the boast of human pride. His cause and his people's are one. Yet times of affliction have always been on times of multiplication.
In the history of the Church.—When has she made her greatest number of adherents? When her pulpits have been filled with eloquent preachers, and her aisles crowded with fashion and wealth? No; but when she has been driven to the dens and caves of the earth, and her sons have been proscribed outcasts. The real triumphs of the early Church were in the first centuries of opprobrium and persecution; her decline began when Constantine made Christianity the religion of the State.
In the history of each earnest soul.—It is rarely the case that we make much spiritual headway when winds and currents favor us. We do best when all is against us. We grow quickest in the dark. In times of persecution we realize the security, and comfort, and joy, which are in Christ Jesus our Lord; and as God goes the round of the world, it is in chambers of pain, sickness, and bereavement; that He beholds the multiplication of the choice graces of holy character and temper. The affliction, which is for the moment, is working out an exceeding weight of glory.
God meant it for good.
God's deeper meanings! We are apt to see a malicious meaning; are we equally apt to detect the Divine and benevolent one? Our enemies are many, and they hate us with perfect hatred; they are ever laying their plots, and working their unholy purposes. But there is a greater and wiser than they, who, through all these plottings, is prosecuting his Divine purpose. There is another and deeper meaning than appears to the short sight of sense.
Let us believe that there is a Divine and deeper meaning in the adversities of our lives.—Joseph might be forgiven for not doing so; but with his history and that of many others before us, we have no excuse for despair in the face of crushing sorrow. Whether it comes from man or devil, all creatures are under the Divine control, holding to our lips cups which the Father's hand has mixed. He has no complicity with their evil, but they unconsciously perform his will. Even if you cannot see the Divine meaning, dare to believe that it is there.
Await the disclosures of time.—Even here we sometimes reach an eminence from which we detect the meaning of the path by which we have been conducted. It may have been rough and circuitous, but there was a reason in it all. Often God rewards patient trust by allowing us to see and know.
And for the full revelation of eternity.—One day God will call us to his side in the clear light of eternity, and will explain his meanings in life's most sorrowful experiences; and we shall learn that we suffered, not for ourselves only, but for others, and, as part of his great remedial scheme, "to save much people alive."
Until Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the obedience of the peoples be.
Old experience is said to attain to something of prophetic strain; but there is more than old experience here. From these aged lips the Holy Ghost is speaking.
The mission and work of Jesus are designated.—He is Shiloh—the Maker, Giver, and Bringer of Peace. The troubled conscience, smitten with conviction, finds peace when He reveals his all-sufficient sacrifice and atonement. The discordant elements within us settle into a great calm when He enters to reign, bringing every thought into captivity to his rule. Nor is his work for individuals only; it is for man, for the world, the universe. Peace was made at his cross; it is proclaimed by his Spirit; and it will be consummated when God is All in all.
The time of his advent predicted.—Not till the Romans came and annexed Palestine as one of the provinces of the empire, did the semblance of the Hebrew monarchy expire. And it was then that the Shiloh came. Surely these words must often have been quoted by the pious Jews, with whom Simeon and Anna consorted, as pointing to the near advent of the Messiah. Let us be wise to discern the symptoms of his second advent.
The inevitableness of his dominion.—Ah, Savior, it is predicted that all peoples shall obey Thee; and we know well that it is only through obedience that men can enter into thy peace. Teach us to obey, to do all thy commands, to bear all thy burdens, to wait before Thee. That thus we may know the peace that passeth all understanding.
Ponder this well, O my soul; the Peace-giver must be obeyed. Only so can He give thee peace that floweth as a river.
Behold, thy son Joseph cometh.
How needful Joseph was to Jacob! The aged patriarch could not die without seeing him. His presence lit the dark valley. His hands closed the tired eyes of the aged pilgrim. And Joseph was as quick to come at the first intimation of his father's desire to see him. There was a perfect sympathy and reciprocity between them, just as there may be between Christ and those who owe all to Him.
Jesus is ever leading us on to new and deeper experiences.—In no true life is stagnation admissible. So the nest is constantly being stirred up, and the trumpets sounded for the striking of our tents. But there is a Divine motive in it all. Jesus cannot rest satisfied with less than the best for those He loves, as Joseph could not permit Jacob to remain in Canaan Goshen with its plenty awaited him.
In all the new experiences Jesus meets us.—When his father entered Egypt, Joseph was waiting for him. When he was summoned to stand before Pharaoh, Joseph brought him. When he lay a-dying, Joseph was at his side to receive his last commissions. So, trembling soul, if Jesus presses you into the unknown, He does not leave you there, but keeps coming again, meeting you at every point of anxiety and distress. Yea, He does what Joseph could not do. He stands, not on this side only, but on the other side, of death. Here to calm with his benediction; there to receive into his glory.
Jesus is careful for body as well as soul.—The dying man was anxious about the disposal of his body, and Joseph readily undertook to see it buried in Machpelah's cave. So Jesus cares for us. He is the Savior of the body in this life and in the resurrection.
Thou hast saved our lives:… We will be Pharaoh’s servants.
Nothing less would have extorted such an acknowledgment from those proud Egyptians. They were willing to serve their savior. No doubt, had there been no provision made by Joseph, the streets would have been filled by emaciated skeletons picking their way feebly amid the heaps of the dying and the dead. Gratitude brought them into the dust before him who held the keys of the granaries.
The kingdom of Christ is a matter of supreme importance to individuals and the world.—He is not ambitious of power for its own sake; but that He may be able to exercise it more fully for our benefit, and that He may finally render up the kingdom to God, even his Father, that God may be all in all. He will never, therefore, be perfectly satisfied till He has triumphantly entered all closed gates, as King.
His kingdom is given Him by the glad choice of those whom He had blessed and saved.—The song of heaven reflects this thought: "Thou art worthy... for thou wast slain." His empire depends on the sacrifice by which He has saved a multitude whom no man can number. Meditate much on the love of Calvary, and you too will feel that his empire should begin within your heart, and hasten to subdue the kingdoms of the world.
When He becomes king, He still further blesses us.—The first hour of Joseph's supreme power was the beginning of Egypt's brightest days. The Egyptians could not do so well for themselves as he for them. We shall never know the real blessedness of living, its peace and joy and strength, till we have utterly surrendered to Christ's supremacy. To serve such a Master utterly is to drink of the river of perfect blessedness.
Fear not to go down into Egypt.
Probably the old man, remembering the experiences of Abraham, was very fearful to adventure himself into Egypt. Besides, was it not as though, in going thither, he renounced the Land of Promise? Therefore this special bidding and assurance were the more necessary.
When our heart misgives us, let us look out for one of God's fear-nots.—His eye is ever upon the righteous, and his ear open to their cry. One upward glance or tremulous prayer will make Him ride on a cherub to our side, and whisper, "Be not afraid; fear not, I am with thee."
God's promises are fulfilled in most unexpected ways.—He had always foretold that the seed of Abraham should outnumber stars and sands; but who would have supposed that the promise would be realized amid the pressure and persecution of Egypt? Yet so it happened. "I will there make of thee a great nation." We must not judge after the sight of our eyes, nor act on what is known as our common sense; faith is led by very uncommon paths. Trust and obey!
God's presence in Egypt acted as an antidote to its evil, and delivered from its tyrant's grasp.—Ah, my soul, thou mightest descend without fear into hell itself if God said, "I will go down with thee, and will surely bring thee up again." The Divine Presence is strength to the fearful—security and consolation in life, peace in death. It was probably thus that the Father spake to the Son by the lips of the Angel in Gethsemane: "Fear not to go down into the grave: I will surely bring thee up again." Thus He speaks to us. He is with us, and will deliver.
God did send me before you.
There was great delicacy in Joseph's command, "Cause every man to go out from me." He did not want to expose his brethren; yet he wanted to say words which could not be understood by the curious courtiers. Then he made himself known, and said, "Be not grieved, nor angry, for God did send me before you." This was not only a kind way of alleviating their remorse and sorrow, but was the standpoint from which Joseph was wont to review his life-course. It was his habit to trace the working-out of God's plan, and the interposition of his Providence amid and through the malevolence and treachery of men (Gen_50:20).
This was also David's habit, who, in the cursing of Shimei and the revolt of Absalom, saw the evolution of God's permissive purposes.
Thus also Jesus spoke, when anticipating the coming of Judas to betray Him. "The Son of Man goeth, as it was written of Him." "The cup that my Father giveth Me to drink."
It is one of the inexplicable mysteries of Providence that bad men subserve God's purposes and unwittingly execute His plans. It is not for us to explain it, but to consider the perplexities and disaster which we suffer at the hands of evil men as being permitted by God for the furtherance of some Divine and hidden purpose. Paul's prayer that he might preach the Gospel at Rome was fulfilled through the hatred of the Jews; and he went to Rome at the Emperors expense. We may comfort ourselves whenever the storm is high, that God is at the helm, and is making the wrath of man praise Him, the remainder of it shall be restrained. Yes, Joseph, God is sending you through that pit and prison: but there is a way out into sunlight.
And I said, Surely he is torn to pieces.
These are words caught from his Father's mouth by Judah; and here repeated, in his most pathetic intercession, with the hope of softening the Governors heart, and moving him to spare Benjamin at least. They are very sad, and, without doubt, justified by the vision of that blood-stained coat. Yet there was another interpretation to the sad and dark suggestion which it made: Joseph was alive, and they were soon to know that it was he with whom they were dealing, and that he was conducting them through these strange experiences.
We are often tempted to judge hastily, and by appearances; by our own despondent, sorrowful hearts; or by the reports of others. We may say that certain things are against us, when, if we would only look beyond appearances and circumstances to God, we should find that He had been working, and was working, mightily on our behalf—that all was for our lasting good.
Do not say that you have lost your Joseph; he lives, and will yet be a comfort to you. He was taken from you for a little, to bring blessing to your whole family, but to be given back to you, more yours than ever.
Do not look on the sad, but on the bright side of God's Providence. All things are working for the best. "In all these things is the life of the spirit." Do not judge Him, or try to understand; be still and trust. You will some day be ashamed of your little faith.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain,
God is his own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
Every man’s money was in the mouth of his sack
Joseph, who gave corn to save his own brethren and the Gentiles from starvation, is a type of Him who gives the bread of life to Jew and Greek—to all that hunger and come to Him for supplies. And in this return of the full money in the sack's mouth, we are reminded that salvation and satisfaction are all of grace. They are without money and without price. Whatever we yield to Him, He returns in full weight.
We bring Him works of merit as a price of our pardon; but they are not noticed.
We bring Him emotion, tears, anguish of soul; but He will have none of them.
We bring Him our faith as a price, instead of as a hand that accepts; and He refuses it.
How many are our mistakes and misunderstandings! Yet He does not for that reason withhold his blessed gift. We get the corn as an act of his free grace; and afterwards He explains why it was that our careful dues were not accepted.
There is bread enough in God to supply every mouth of desire and hunger in your soul. You may have it for the seeking. The law is—ask, and have. What if you have no money with which to purchase, no earnestness, no merit? Nevertheless the best wheat of heaven may be yours. Our Father's love is constantly devising means of expressing itself. It puts money into our sacks; it invites us to its home, and spreads banquets before us; it inclines stewards to meet us peacefully; it washes our feet; it takes a tender interest in those we love; it wishes us grace from God; it adjusts itself to our temperaments and puts us at our ease, go that gleams of light as to the love of Jesus strike into our hearts!
The man spake roughly to us.
He spake roughly, but he did not feel so.—When he had spoken in these harsh tones, he restored their money; turned aside to weep (Gen_42:24); and did his best to alleviate the toils of travel. So sometimes God seems to deal harshly, and speak roughly; but there is no change in the tender love of his heart. It costs Him immeasurably more than it does us. Often when some unusual severity has been evinced, if we could but see his face, it would be full of pity, pain, and pleading on our behalf. He feels yearnings over use which He restrains, and dares not betray till the work of conviction is complete.
He spake roughly to awaken conscience.—It had slept for twenty years. They had almost forgotten that scene at the pit's mouth; but as he repeated their tones, and words, and treatment, it all came back again, and they cried, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother." There must be repentance and confession before God can take us to his heart. We must confess the wrongs done to our Brother in heaven and our brothers on earth; and many of the roughness of God's Providence are intended to awaken us, and bring our sin to remembrance.
He spake roughly to test them.—How did they feel toward each other: was there rivalry, or bitterness, or angry feeling? Beneath his biting words, Joseph would mark their behavior! Would they disown each other, or cling to one another? There was an opportunity for their doing one or the other; and he was glad to notice how their love approved itself. So we are led over stony roads, that God may know what is in our hearts. He gives us opportunities of showing our real feeling towards our brothers, that He may test our love towards Himself.
It is not in me; God shall give.
It is beautiful to notice Joseph's reverent references to God in his first interview with Pharaoh. When the heart is full of God, the tongue will be almost obliged to speak of Him; and all such references will be easy and natural as flowers in May.
These words might have been uttered by the Lord Jesus. They are so perfectly in harmony with the tenor of his life. He loved to say that his words, and works, and plans, were not his own, but the Father's. Once, when a ruler called Him good, He reminded him that only One was good, and that all goodness was derived from God. Men knew little enough of Jesus, because He sought ever to be a reflecting mirror for his Father, and to glorify Him on the earth. But the Spirit reveals Him to those that love.
These words might have been the Apostle Paul's. He delighted to say that he worked, yet not he, but the grace of God in him; that he lived, yet not he, but Christ in him; that he knew and spake the mysteries of God, yet not he, but the Spirit of God.
Thus we should speak. Our light must so shine that men may turn from us to Him from whom we have derived it. Whenever the temptation arises to revert on ourselves, to attract men to ourselves, to lead them to think that we can meet their need, let us count ourselves dead to the suggestion, saying, "It is not in me; God shall give" (Act_3:12). What strength and comfort come into our hearts, in view of demands which are too great for our weak nature to meet. "It is not in me; God shall give." If our hearts were indicting a good matter, they would boil over, and we should speak more frequently of the things that touch our King.
Wherefore look ye so sadly today?
We may learn from Joseph the true method of bearing grief. Joseph might have become moody and sullen, absorbed in his own misfortunes, and pessimistic about the course of human life. How far removed from all this was his behavior!
He filled his time with ministry.—The captain of the guard charged him with two state-prisoners, and he ministered unto them. A new interest came into his life, and he almost forgot the heavy pressure of his own troubles amid the interest of listening to the tales of those who were more unfortunate than himself. Do not nurse your grief in lonely brooding arise and minister to some one; do something in the world; exert yourself to alleviate the sufferings of those close by your side, who have not so clear a conscience or so bright a trust in God.
He was quick to sympathize and comfort.—Quick to notice traces of sorrow, because he had sorrowed; able to sympathize, because he had wept; adept at comforting, because he had been comforted of God. We gain comfort when we attempt to comfort. Out of such intercourse we get what Joseph got—the key which will unlock the heavy doors by which we have been shut in. Light a fire in another's heart, and your own heart will be warmed.
He kept his faith in God.—Depression, captivity, loneliness, separation from those he loved, could not quench his faith in God. Still God was near and precious to him. The stifling darkness and oppression of the prison were irksome to the free child of the camp; but God was as near as in Jacob's tent. There is no evil to them that love God; and the believer loses sight of second causes in the contemplation of the unfolding of the mystery of his Fathers will.
How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?
What a contrast between this chapter and the former: that, like a Rembrandt background, throws up the bright colors of this. Where the older brother fell, the younger stood victoriously; and the light of God shone on the young heart, so that even the dungeon gloom could not extinguish it. Who does not know what it is to be misunderstood, misrepresented, accused falsely, and punished wrongfully! Yet God reigns: and in his own time "He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon-day."
God allows strength to be tested.—We do not know what we are, or where we stand, till we are compelled to choose. Insensibly character is ever forming—unconsciously we are taking sides; but the testing-hour that compels us to declare ourselves causes the solution suddenly to crystallize, and we know ourselves in our choice. The man who has chosen the pure and good once, will choose them more easily next time; and at each choice will become stronger.
God allows virtue to be Maligned.—In all Egypt there was not a purer soul, and yet Joseph lay under a terrible imputation; but he committed his cause to God, sure that He would not leave him in Hades; and the time came when the King's word cleared him, and he stood forth vindicated. "Fret not thyself. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him."
God allows conscientiousness to be ill-repaid.—Of what avail that he had so well cared for his master's goods? Ah, but that dungeon was the subterranean passage to a throne; and through those fetters iron entered into that young soul. We all need more iron in our blood!
This was the destined heir of the birthright of which Reuben had shown himself unworthy; and yet this chapter is a dark story of his unbridled passion. O my soul, remember that the possibilities of all these sins are latent in thee! Thou mightest have been as one of these men or women but for the grace of God.
There is nothing so absolutely priceless as the white flower of a pure and blameless life. The pure in heart are the children of the presence-chamber—entrusted with secrets hidden from the wise and prudent—vessels by which God does not hesitate to quench the thirst of men, because the water of the crystal river will not be diluted or contaminated by contact with their natures. Above all other gifts, covet that of a cleansed heart. You may be very conscious of temptation, and that naturally you are no better than others, and yet if you will constantly live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit, you will be kept absolutely pure; and the sea of ink that is sweeping through the world will leave no stain on you.
The blood cleanseth: "The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
The Savior keepeth: "The Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from evil" (2 Thes 3:3).
The Spirit filleth: "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and that ye are not your own?" (1 Cor 6:19).
God can take in hand the Judahs amongst us, and so deal with them as to produce such a character as is forth shadowed in Gen 49:8
They took him and cast him into a pit.
It is impossible to read this inimitable story without detecting in the water-mark of the paper on which it is written the name JESUS. Indeed, we lose much of the beauty and force of these early Scriptures if we fail to observe the references to the life, character, and work of the blessed Redeemer. Notice some of these precious analogies:—
Out Savior's shepherd-heart (Gen 37:2).
The love of the Father before the worlds were made (Gen 37:3).
The dreams of empire, which are so certainly to be realized, when we shall see Him acknowledged as King of kings and Lord of lords (Gen 37:7).
Envied by his brethren, to whom he came, though they received Him not (Gen 37:11).
His alacrity to do his Father's will, and to finish his work, in which will we too have been sanctified (Gen 37:13).
Cast into the pit of the grave, as a seed-corn into the ground to die, that He might not abide alone, but bear much fruit (Gen 37:24).
The thirty pieces of silver for which He was betrayed (Gen 37:28).
The indifference of the Jewish people to their great Brother's fate (Gen 37:25).
Rejected of the Jew, and turning to the Gentile (Gen 37:28).
The bitter grief which his rejection has brought on the Jewish people (Gen 37:35).
It is as though the Holy Ghost, eager to glorify the Lord, could not wait for the slow unfolding of history, but must anticipate the story of that precious life and death which were to make the world new again.
The Kings that reigned in Edom before there reigned any king over Israel.
Apparently Esau had the best and happiest lot.
What he escaped.—For him there were no few and evil days of pilgrimage; nor the pressure of famine; nor the going down into Egypt; nor the forty years of wanderings in the desert; nor the vicissitudes of the Judges. All these he escaped—and must have congratulated himself merrily. But he had no vision of God; no communion with Jehovah; no contact with the messengers of heaven.
What he enjoyed.—A line of dukes; a royal dynasty, which was old when Israel's first king ascended the throne; a rich and fertile territory; peace and comfort. He reminds us of the Psalmist's picture of the man of this world, whose portion is in this life, and who is filled with hid treasure. But Esau never awoke satisfied with God's likeness; nor ever enjoyed the blessedness of the man who is "a prince with God."
How he bore himself.—His heart was generous, full of good nature, jovial, and free-handed. When the land could not bear both Jacob and himself, he went off into another, and settled down in Mount Seir. It was no hardship with him to leave the land of promise. Most would, doubtless, have preferred his society to Jacob's; but God did not (Mal_1:2-3).
What made the lot of these brothers so different.—The one lived for the world; the other was a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, a pilgrim to the City of God. The one was an ordinary man of the world; the other had been selected of God as the channel of blessing to mankind. The flower and fruit which are to be propagated require the special attention of the gardener's knife. What solemn words! (Amos 3:2).
Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there.
God had set his hand to make Jacob a saint. He had given him a glimpse of his ideal at the Jabbok ford, but his nature was not then capable of taking in the Divine conception; and, as we have seen, both in his subterfuge to Esau and his settling outside Shechem, he had fallen back into the schemer and money-maker. In this chapter God uses several methods of awakening and renewal.
The Divine summons.—"Arise, go up to Bethel." He had been in the lowlands too long: too long had he "lain among the pots." The voice of God spoke words of resurrection life into his grave, as afterwards into that of Lazarus.
The power of old association.—What memories clustered around that name and place of Bethel! It recalled his distress and fear; the angel-ladder, and the comforting assurance which had inspired him with new hope. Directly he heard it, he seemed to have felt the incongruity of the life that was being lived in his camp, and he said to his people, "Put away the strange gods... Arise, let us go up to Bethel, and I will make there an altar unto God."
A fresh revelation.—God appeared to him again. For long there had been no vision of God; but now that the idols were put away, his eyes were opened to see Him who had been beside him amid all his backslidings.
Death.—Deborah, the beloved Rachel, the old father—one after another were taken from him; and there came the far-away look into his eyes which showed that he had imbibed the pilgrim-spirit and had become Israel the Prince. So God stripped him that he might be better able to run the race set before him.
Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the Inhabitants of the Land.
The Bible does not hesitate to hold the mirror up to our fallen nature, or show us what we are. Here is Israel, the prince with God, who had power with man, in a very sorry plight. His children had involved him in it; but first, he had involved them.
Dinah.—Little did she realize all the evil which that visit of hers would bring on her people and on those whose guest she was. What took her there? Had her upbringing been unnecessarily strict, and did she want a little more freedom? There is an inevitable rebound with young people to the other extreme, if needless severity has been brought to bear on them in their early days.
The probability, however, is that the laxity of her father's home, and the effect of her mother's gods, had made the line of separation a very faint one, and she felt no difficulty in overstepping it.
Simeon and Levi.—"Ye have made me to stink." On his dying bed Jacob remembered this treacherous cruelty and pronounced their scattering in Israel; though Levi undid the effect of that bitter curse by his obedience and devotion. In after days it was said, "My covenant was with him of life and peace," and though scattered, he was as salt. In Simeon's case the curse was not cancelled by any subsequent manifestation of obedience and devotion, and ran out its course. There is encouragement and warning here.
Jacob.—The real mistake of it all was that Jacob bought that land, and settled too near the city (Gen 33:18). As a pilgrim he had no right to do this. If Christian parents will settle down in fellowship with the world, they have themselves to thank for all the misery which accrues to themselves and children, and the dishonor to God.
I will lead on softly… Until I come unto my lord unto Seir.
This was rather unworthy of the man who, the night before, had seen the face of God, and learned to prevail. The man who had seen God, and prevailed, was doubtful of his newly-given blessing! He did not realize that it would carry him through the difficulty that threatened him. He had not as yet learned to apply it to every emergency. It is a solemn lesson to those who have passed through some rapturous experience.
After blessing, often trial.—When the fair colors have been laid on, the vessel is plunged into the furnace, that they may be burnt in.
The trial frequently presents itself in the home or ordinary life.—Some are led into the wilderness to be tempted; but more often it is the contact with our Esaus that furnishes us with the supreme test of the worth of what we have received.
Failure comes from not reckoning on God.—Jacob looked at Esau's four hundred armed men, and compared his own following with despair. So Peter looked at the winds and waves. At such times we must fail, if we rely on schemes or plans, instead of saying, God is.
Oh for the peace that floweth as a river,
Making life's desert places bloom and smile;
Oh for the faith to grasp Heaven's bright "for ever"
And the shadow of earth's "little while."
We must act in faith.—If Jacob had refused to use this subterfuge, and had spoken simply and manfully, he would have found that Esau would have acquiesced and left him. The angels who had gone forward to deal with him (Gen_32:2) had done their work effectively, and God had changed his purpose.
He touched the Hollow of his Thigh.
Our greatest victories are wrought out through pain, and purchased at the cost of the humbling of the flesh. Jacob learned that the secret of prevailing with God and man was not in the strength, but in the weakness and suffering of the flesh. It must ever be so. The victor Lamb bears still the scars of Calvary, and appears as one who had been slain.
Had Laban met Jacob that morning, he would have pointed to that limp as an indication of God's wrath and displeasure; but if he had looked into his face, he would have seen all its hardness and cunning gone, and would have been arrested by the unwonted tenderness in his voice.
The shrunken sinew counteracts pride.—So high a spiritual achievement as to prevail with God might have tempted Jacob to arrogance and self-esteem. But God anticipated the possible temptation by this physical infirmity, which was constantly present to Jacob's consciousness.
The shrunken sinew was the secret of victory.—Had it not been shriveled by the angel's touch, Jacob would have continued to resist in the pride of his strength, and would never have clung convulsively to the angel, crying, "I will not let thee go." It was only in that act that he became Israel, the Prince.
The shrunken sinew makes us think little of this world and much of the next.—From this moment Jacob takes up more of the pilgrim attitude. He finds that for him, at least, the pace will have to be slower; but it is well, for he relaxes his hold on the seen to entwine more tenaciously about the unseen. "The days of the years of my pilgrimage"—such is his epitome of his life.
Take heed to thyself that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
This visitation of God made a deep impression on Laban. He refers to it afterwards as restraining him from injuring his runaway son-in-law. Jacob, too, was struck by it. It is very wonderful to find the Holy God casting the mantle of his protection around this crafty and deceitful soul. No doubt it was due to his covenant relationship with the family and race, of which Jacob was a most unworthy member (Gen 31:13; Gen 31:42). But if God thus interposed for Jacob, will He not much more interpose for those who desire to be his obedient children?
God will lay an arrest on your persecutors.—Israel was rebuked because the exiles in Babylon thought they would perish before a man that could die, and the son of man who was as grass, and forgot their Maker, the Lord of heaven and earth. All around you the fire may rage; but you shall walk amid it unscathed, if only you trust. No weapon formed against you shall prosper.
God will lay an arrest on trial.—His finger is always on our pulse; and the moment the pain becomes more than we can bear, He will stay it. His eye is ever upon his own.
God will lay an arrest on the power of the evil one.—We shall not be tempted beyond that we are able to bear. There is always a thus far and no farther. "The Lord maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters." The Only-begotten of the Father keeps the sheep whom his Father has entrusted to Him. Not one of them can be devoured by the lion of hell. If only we believed this, we should be calmer, happier, even though circumstanced as Jacob. No need to altercate with Laban, but to look beyond him to the "Fear of Isaac."
The Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.
Laban requested the longer stay of Jacob because he felt sure that the Divine blessings had been brought by him into his home. It was a selfish, low, motive for desiring the postponement of his departure; and Laban was destined, alas! to be terribly undeceived. He would wake up one day, to find that during his sojourn with him, and under the cloak of religion, Jacob had been ruthlessly plundering his property. It was a shameful betrayal of trust on Jacob's part; and it conveys a searching warning to those who, because of their religious professions, are trusted by their relatives or others:—
With their property.—Always do the best possible for your employer or friend, who has entrusted his interests to you, acting towards him as the servant and steward of God. Bear in mind that God has bidden you undertake the office for Himself, and accepts your fidelity as rendered to Him: He will recompense.
With their friendship.—Be very careful here. God puts us into one another's lives, that we may be the medium through which his love and tenderness may enter them; but there is such danger of our monopolizing for ourselves the place that He would fill. Sometimes we almost unconsciously deteriorate rather than elevate our friends by the intrusion of our own personality.
With their Christian instruction and training.—Ministers of God's holy gospel must specially guard against the tendency to make name, fame, money, out of a position which they should occupy only as God's stewards. There is such subtleness in the temptation to attract men to ourselves, instead of attaching them to Christ.
But a few days, for the love he had.
That touch is enough! We can fill in all the rest. This old-world love was of the same quality as our own. Oh, blessed God! what a priceless inheritance this is! Time itself never tedious, but always too short; labor never hard; distance never long; sacrifice unheard of, the word almost in disuse—where Love is queen. This is how we would feel to our dear Lord: so that the missionary away from home and friends, as well as the invalid suffering for Jesus, might feel years of loneliness and pain but a few days, for love of the beloved Master. We may acquire such love thus:—
Meditate much on the love of Jesus.—Sit with the Apostle beneath his cross, and say, each time with deeper appreciation: He loved me, He gave Himself for me. Do not think of your love to Him, but of his. It is well to take the Lord's Supper frequently, as affording opportunities for remembering his dying love.
Be on the alert to detect his love in daily providence and trifles.—It is amazing how much is ever being arranged by his tender thoughtfulness to alleviate and brighten our lot. If you cannot detect it, dare still to believe it.
Ask the Holy Spirit to breathe his love into your heart.—He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit; and when the doors are open between Christ and the soul, the aroma of his love freely enters.
Show his love to every one.—Whether you like people or not, do to them as He would do; let his love flow through you to them; what we manifest to others for his sake, we shall come to feel towards Him, and them also. "This commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also."
Behold a Ladder set up on the Earth, and the top of it reached to Heaven.
All men feel that earth and heaven touch at the horizons of the distant past and future; but we ought to feel that the present moment of time and this bit of the world's surface are linked with heaven. This is what the ladder meant for Jacob. The moorland waste, where he lay, and Laban's home, whither he journeyed, were as near God as his father's tent. Earth is linked with heaven:—
By God's daily providence.—His loving eye is ever upon us, his ears always open to our cry, and his angels go to and fro on our world performing ceaseless ministries.
By our Savior's mediation.—As He intimated to Nathanael, his own nature as uniting God with man, and especially his Ascension glory as the man Christ Jesus, is the one great connecting link. "Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
By daily fellowship and holy thought.—We should practice the sense of God's presence, often stopping ourselves amid our ordinary avocations and interests to say, aloud when possible, "God is near, God is here." In all likelihood we are daily living amid the glories of the eternal world; but our eyes are blinded. Oh that by humility and purity we may become more sensitive, and awake to the things that are unseen and eternal! Lord, open our eyes, that we may see! (2Ki_6:17).
By holy yearning.—When Jesus ascended, He unrolled a path behind Him, along which we shall one day travel to meet Him. Hope treads that glorious Ascension ladder; and as she does so, again we see the heaven opened, and our destiny unfolded at Christ's right hand.
Esau cried with an exceeding great and bitter cry.
On this incident the writer to the Hebrews founds the impressive lesson, that the choices of the past may cast a bitter and irrevocable shadow on all our future. When he afterward desired to inherit blessing he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears (Heb_12:16-17, R.V.).
Beware of the cravings of appetite.—In an evil moment Esau yielded to these, and sold his birthright to secure their gratification; he found afterwards that the choice made in that hour was irrevocable. How needful that we watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation!
There are four facts which, when borne in mind, guard us against the sudden oversetting of passionate appetite.
We were once dead in sins.—Surely we do not want to go back again to the charnel-house with its corruption.
We died for sins in the person of Christ our Representative.—In Him we have met the demands of God's holy law; but surely that must be an awful thing which cost our Savior so dearly.
We died to sin with the Lord Jesus.—We have passed with Him on to Resurrection ground; so that we belong to the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
We are called on to reckon ourselves dead to sin.—The nearer we live to God, the more sensitive we shall be to the most distant suggestion of evil, closing doors and windows against its entrance, reckoning ourselves "not at home" to it, and yielding our members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
Because that Abraham obeyed My Voice and kept My Charge.
It is awful to realize how our sins may repeat themselves in our children. Here is Isaac following in the precise steps of Abraham, who had acted in a similar manner towards Sarah when entering Egypt. In each case there was a sad lapse of faith; but it was even worse for Isaac, with Abraham's example to warn him. But a man may pass blessings on to his children, as well as the sad entail of evil habits.
He leaves the blessing of the divine covenant.—God had entered into covenant with Abraham, and was prepared to fulfill its provisions to his son. "I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee." So a godly ancestor may be able to secure for all his seed a share in the divine grace and favor. The spirit that is put on him does not depart from his seed, or his seed's seed for ever.
The blessing of his prayer.—It is impossible to over-estimate the effect of a good man's prayers; they are as streams or trees, which go on flowing and bearing fruit long after they were originated. The legacy of a good man's prayers is of priceless worth. He may have long since passed to his rest; but God remembers them, and answers them in blessings to the next generation. How often in this chapter we read that "God blessed Isaac."
The blessing of a noble name.—We may all leave that, if we can transmit nothing else. To have had a father that knew God, walked with God, pleased God; who was on intimate terms with Him, and could speak to Him, as a man with his friend—illumined the ordinary nature and existence of Isaac with unearthly beauty. Let us live so that our children may be ranked as nobles, because they bear our name.
And he sold his Birthright.
Every one is born with a birthright, which the devil tries hard to make him barter away for a mess of pottage. In that birthright are included:—
Innocence and purity.—The child of the vilest ancestry enters this world unsullied by the filthy touch of unclean habit. But how eager Satan is to induce us to part with this for his unsatisfying pleasure.
The love of our kind.—Few are the children, of all the myriads of our race, that are not loved by some fond heart. In some cases the infant life is cradled in love. But Satan is glad when he can get the soul to break away from all earthly affection, which might possibly soften and refine it, and to renounce mother, sister, wife, child, for the drunkard's cup, the wanton's kiss.
The redemption of Jesus Christ.—Every one is born into a redeemed world; the propitiation of the blessed Lord, the blood that flowed on Calvary, the canceling of the effects of Adam's sin, are for all. As all the world was affected by Adam's sin, so all are included in God's love in Jesus. But again Satan is eager to induce men to abjure and cast away these benefits; he blinds the eyes of those that believe not, so that they refuse to "behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."
The grace of the Spirit.—Every one may build up a strong and beautiful character by yielding to the Holy Ghost's gracious promptings. That grace knocks, like sunshine, at the windows of every soul; but how often it is sold for a mess of pottage! The choice between these two is constantly being presented to us. God help us always to choose the divine, the spiritual, the eternal!
My Master Abraham
This worthy man, Eliezer, the steward of Abraham's house, was almost garrulous about his master. Count up the number of times in which he contrives to bring in the two words, "my master." We may learn from him how to speak of our Master, whenever we get the opportunity. "Rabboni, which being interpreted is, My Master."
We too can speak of the Lord God as our Master.—The servant did not know Jehovah directly; it was enough that he had seen and heard Abraham pray to Him. This encouraged him to draw near for himself. So we are emboldened to draw near, because God is the God and Father of our Master Jesus. We love Him that was begotten, and are attracted to Him of whom Jesus said, "I ascend to my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God."
We, too, can plead for our Master's sake.—When asking for good speed to be sent to himself, he alleged as his plea that it would be showing kindness to his master Abraham. So when we ask great things from God, we can plead in the name of Jesus, and urge that in answering our petition God will be showing kindness to his Well-beloved.
We, too, should bless in our Master's name.—When the answer was given, this reverent soul gave thanks as though the favor had been shown to his master. Indeed, all through his intercourse with Bethuel and Laban he seems to have lost his identity in Abraham. He could talk of nothing else but that one scheme; was only eager to carry his point for his master's sake; and when the errand was done, longed only to get back to his master's side. It is a beautiful lesson for those who call Jesus Master and Lord.
I am a Stranger and a Sojourner.
The minute details of this purchase are recorded to emphasize the fact that, though the whole land was Abraham's by the Divine gift, he would not enter on its possession until God's time was come. We may be sure of certain blessings—ours in God's safe keeping—though they are withheld until the moment that his wisdom sees best. It was a touching confession. The aged patriarch had for long years owned no settled dwelling-place. After years in the land of promise he was still without land enough for a grave.
Faith cannot be satisfied with the things of this world.—The sons of Heth had goods and lands, but Abraham did not envy them; he had caught a glimpse of the city which hath foundations, and this so satisfied and attracted him that he had no desire for aught that Palestine could yield.
Faith detaches us from the present.—We are content to dwell in tents, because here we have no abiding place. The shows and vanities of the world, in comparison with the vision of eternal realities, are as the glare of the streets compared with the steady glory of the constellations of the night.
Faith prompts to confession.—It bewrayeth itself. We should be careful and orderly in our business arrangements; but, in our dealings with our fellows, in our justice, fairness, honor, the lightness of our hold on the present world, we should make it manifest that we are seeking a country not our own.
Faith cannot be ashamed.—The God who prompted it must satisfy it, else He would have reason to be ashamed of having failed the souls that trusted Him. But now He is not ashamed to be called our God, because He has prepared for us a city.
Jehovah Jireh; in the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.
Abraham knew it would be. Probably he never told Sarah what God had asked of him till he and the lad were safely back in the tent. What need to trouble her? Her weak faith could not have stood the ordeal. It was with an unfaltering tone that the patriarch told his young men that they two would presently return. Even though he should actually take Isaac's life, he was sure that he would receive him again from the altar in health. It was only at the very last moment that God indicated the ram as the sufficient substitute. So God's deliverances always come; they are provided in the mount of trial and sacrifice.
When the foe seems secure of victory.—So it was with Israel. Pharaoh, with his hosts, counted on an easy victory, the precipices around, the sea in front. To the eye of sense it seemed impossible to escape: all hope died. It was just then that the Almighty cleft a path through the mighty deep.
"In the fourth hour of the night."—Strength was well-nigh exhausted in long battling with the waves. For hours the disciples with difficulty had kept themselves afloat. It seemed as if they must give in through physical collapse. It was then that the form of Jesus drew nigh unto the ship.
On the night before execution.—Thus Peter lies sleeping the Church is gathered in prayer. Tomorrow he will be a corpse. But the angel comes then to open the prison doors.
So you may have come to an end of your own strength, and wisdom, and energy. The altar, wood, and fire are ready, the knife upraised, your Isaac on the point to die: but even now God will provide. Trust Him to indicate the way of escape.
And God opened her eyes, and she saw.
Poor Hagar! There was no help for it; and she, who a little before had thought she was giving Abraham his heir, found herself and her boy homeless wayfarers on the desert sands. Their one need was water; they little deemed it was so near. No need to create a new fountain, but to open their eyes. We need the opened eye to see:—
The finished work of Christ.—The work of propitiation for sin is complete. We are not required to add to it one tear, or prayer, or vow. "It is finished." To go to heaven to bring Christ down, or to the deep to bring Him up, is alike superfluous. All we need is the opened eye to see what Jesus has done, and recognize that it is all that was demanded to meet the claims of God's holy law.
The things freely given to us of God.—God hath given us in Jesus all things that pertain to life and godliness. There is no possible gift or grace, in which we are deficient, that is not stored in Him, in whom the fullness of God abides. But we are blind; the eyes of our heart have not been opened to see the hope of our calling, the riches of our inheritance, the greatness of God's power. Did we know these things, surely not a moment would elapse without our availing ourselves of God's rich provision.
The alleviations which God provides against excessive sorrow.—Hagar's anguish, as Mary's at the sepulcher in after years, blinded her to available comfort. So grief puts a bandage over our eyes. Life is sad, and lonely, and dark, but God is near and if you ask, He will show springs of consolation of which you may drink. There is no desert without its spring; no dying child without the angel of the Lord.
I also withheld thee from sinning against Me.
As we review our lives, we can see many occasions on which our feet had well-nigh gone—our steps were on the very brink of the precipice. Another inch, and we should have brought shame on Christ and lasting remorse to ourselves. To what can we attribute our escape but to the grace of God, which withheld us, even though we failed to recognize it?
He does not withhold us from temptation.—He could not do so without serious and permanent loss. The waves of ink will surge up against the white marble palace of the soul. To us, as to our Lord, fresh from under the opened heavens, the tempter will come. What the fire is in fixing the color on the porcelain vase, that temptation is in rendering permanent the lessons and impressions made by God's providence and grace.
He does not withhold us from occasions in which it would be easy to transgress.—Abimelech was not hindered from taking Sarah into his palace. The door of occasion and opportunity stood open before him; but he was withheld from the fatal act. We must never infer that occasion confers license. The fact of an opportunity being present does not warrant indulgence in wrong-doing.
If God withheld Abimelech, who did not seek his special help, how much more those that seek Him!—You are not insensible of the perils of your life; but wait earnestly and persistently on God. Are you more eager to be kept than He to keep? Did He not implant that desire? Will He not do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or think? Is not the good Shepherd strong enough to keep one poor trembling sheep? Begone, unbelief! My God whom I serve is able to deliver, and He will! (Dan 3:17).
Abraham got up early to the place where he stood before the Lord, and looked.
There was not much sleep that night for this loyal heart! With the spring of day he was where, probably, Lot, years before, had looked on the face of the country, and beheld it as a garden of the Lord. But how great the contrast! The smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace!
Have a place where you stand before God.—It may not always be to speak to Him, but to be spoken to, to be judged, to have the motives and intentions of the heart winnowed and sifted. Well is it to stand each day before the judgment-seat of Christ, and to receive his verdict on our innermost life. Oh that the grass of that trysting-place may be well worn through our frequent intercourse with our beloved Lord!
Follow up your prayers.—Abraham was not content with shooting arrows into the air; he followed them to see how they sped, and where they fell. We do not need to reiterate our petitions with unbelieving monotony, as though they were not safe in God's keeping; but we should remind Him by our upward look that our expectation is from Him.
View the fate of the ungodly from God's standpoint.—We are apt to consider it from that of our own pity, or commiseration, or tolerance of shortcoming. We judge lightly, because we dread too searching a judgment on ourselves. But we need sometimes to see sin as God sees it. Stand on Calvary and learn what sin is, and how much it has cost the Savior. There, too, you will learn that God goes further than his servants' prayers. Though He may not be able to discover the ten, yet He will deliver the one righteous man. "His countenance doth behold the upright."
And Abraham drew near
The patriarch's attitudes are well worthy of note: he sat (Gen_18:1), bowed (Gen_18:2), ran (Gen_18:7), stood by (Gen_18:8), went with them (Gen_18:16), stood before the Lord (Gen_18:22); here, he drew near.
He drew near with awful reverence.—"I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes." The place whereon he stood was holy ground; and if he trod or crossed it, in the intensity of his desire, he never forgot that the most intimate fellowship of man with God must be mingled with the reverence of godly fear, which remembers that He is a consuming fire.
He drew near in faith.—He had enjoyed a blessed prevision of the day of Christ. There had been revealed to Him that one perfect and sufficient Sacrifice, in virtue of which sinners are welcome to draw near to God. They have boldness to enter the holiest, and draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, who know the new and living way which Jesus has opened for us.
He drew near as intercessor.—We never get so near God as when we plead for others. At such times we enter the holiest and innermost chamber, and talk to Him with an urgency which we dare not use for ourselves. the Syrophenician pleaded for her daughter, she came to the very feet of Jesus. Wouldst thou know the inner chamber? Go thither on errands for others.
He drew near in intensity.—When Haman pleaded for his life, he fell on the Queen's couch in the anguish of his soul. Sometimes God appears to hesitate; it is only to draw us on, ever further and deeper, till we awake to find ourselves alone in his presence.
Walk before me and be thou Perfect
God precedes his commands with such revelations of Himself, that obedience is rendered easily possible. Before calling Abram to perfection, He described himself as El Shaddai, the Almighty. What may we not do if we learn to avail ourselves of the all might of God? Oh to know the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe! Our lack is that we do not know our God, and therefore fail to perform exploits. "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me." Lie on thy face, and let God talk with thee, and tell thee the conditions on which He will make thee exceeding fruitful. First—Walk before Me. Second—Be thou whole-hearted.
There must be wholeness in our surrender.—No part of our nature barred or curtained off from God. Every chamber must be freely placed at his disposal; every relationship placed under his direction; every power devoted to his service. All we have and are must be entirely his.
There must be wholeness in our intention.—The one aim of our Lord was to bring glory to his Father; and we should never be satisfied till we are so absolutely eager for the glory of Christ that we would seek it though at the cost of infamy to ourselves; and be as glad for another to bring it to Him, as we should be in bringing it ourselves.
There must be wholeness in our obedience.—It was clearly so with Abram. As soon as God left talking with his servant, he took Isaac and performed the rite which had just been enjoined.
Return to thy Mistress, and submit thyself under her hands
Poor Hagar! No wonder that she fled. Her proud Arab independence and the sense of coming motherhood made her rebel against Sarah's hard dealings. We have often meditated flight, if we have not actually fled from intolerable conditions. Of course, when God opens the door out of a dungeon we need not hesitate, as Peter did, to rise and follow. But this is very different to flight from the post of duty.
Our Cross.—For Hagar, Sarah; for Hannah, Penninah; for David, Joab; for Jesus, Judas; for Paul, Alexander the coppersmith. Life assumes hard and forbidding aspects. Sometimes the cross is not a person, but a trial—the pressure of a slow and lingering disease; the demand for grinding and persistent toil; the weight of over-mastering anxiety for those dearer than life, who have no knowledge of God.
Our Demeanor.—Return and submit. We are apt to suppose that we shall get rest and peace elsewhere. It is not so, however. Nowhere else shall we find the path less rugged, or the pillow less hard. To evade the yoke will not give us heartsease. The Master's advice is that we shall take his yoke, and bear it as He did; remain where God has put us, till He shows us another place; and bear what He ordains and permits, even though it comes through the means of others.
Our Faith.—We cannot patiently submit to our lot unless we believe that what God permits is as much his will as what He appoints. Behind Sarah's hard dealings we must behold his permissive providence. Through all the discipline of life we must believe that God has a purpose of unfailing love and wisdom. Then our submission is not stoicism, but loving acquiescence in our Father's will.
Behold, a smoking furnace and a flaming Torch
Fire is the chosen emblem of God; and as these fire-emblems passed slowly between the divided carcasses it was as though God accommodated Himself to the methods of human oath-taking, and solemnly bound Himself. But in all his dealings with us He is prepared to be both a furnace and a torch.
God as a Furnace.—Take up a piece of iron ore, and see how the metal is scattered amid commoner substances. How can it be disintegrated? The chisel cannot do it, but fire will. Plunge it now into the fire; let it fall in the heart of the glowing furnace, and presently the stream of liquid metal will issue forth, pure and beautiful. It is thus that God deals with human hearts; the blood makes propitiation, but the fire cleanses. The love of God, the purity of God, the spirituality of God brought home to us by the Holy Ghost, search and try us to the innermost fiber of our being, and burn out of us the evils which had long held empire.
Refining Fire, go through my heart,
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter thy life through every part,
And sanctify the whole.
God as a flaming Torch.—The torch guides the footsteps through the dark; and God's Spirit waits to shed light on many dark and hidden things, and to guide us into all the truth. It is one thing to comprehend by the intellect; it is altogether another to apprehend by the heart. There is no such teacher as God; and the mistake of our modern religious life is to receive so much from man, instead of waiting in rapt silence until God Himself communicates his truth to us. The conditions are purity of desire, cleanness of heart, and willingness to obey.
God Most High, Maker of Heaven and Earth
It was to Melchizedek, the lonely king-priest living outside the busy rush of the world, that this new name of God was given. There are some to whom God gives these direct revelations of Himself, that they may communicate them to others. These are our seers. This title for God, which Abram immediately appropriated, was the source:—
Of Humility.—To think of God as the Maker and Possessor of heaven and earth induces the profoundest humility of heaven. "They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou didst create all things." How great God is! His greatness is unsearchable. Earth and heaven are his handiwork. Take time to think of this, but never forget that He is Love; then, with the familiarity of the child, thou wilt combine the lowly reverence of the creature.
Of Steadfastness in the hour of temptation.—When the king of Sodom desired Abram to share in the spoils of the kings, setting before him a most subtle temptation, and one which might have dragged him from the life and walk of faith, Abram fell back on the revelation of God just vouchsafed to him, and said in effect: "What need is there that I should do this thing, or receive of thy gold? All God is mine; in God all things are mine also. What I need He will assuredly give. What He withholds I will receive from no other source." There is no need for us to get wealth wrongly; God can supply all we need.
Of Security.—God owns all; all the earth is his empire; wherever we travel we are within his dominion, breathe his air, are ministered to by his angels. We have a right to the best in all good things, since they are our Father's, and we are heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ.
The Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him.
Abram's life was one of an ever-perfecting separation. But out of these experiences sprang his rarest joys. The separate and obedient soul may reckon on:—
Fresh Revelation.—Whenever Abram dared to step out in obedience, the Lord spake freshly to him. But in Egypt we find no trace of the Divine voice. If God spake there, it would be in warning and rebuke. Has the voice of God long been silent to thee—no fresh command, no deeper insight into truth? See to it that thou art not in Egypt. Separate thyself, not only from Haran, but from Lot; not only from what is clearly wrong, but from all that is questionable; and the Lord will speak to thee things it is not possible for man to utter.
Further Vision.—Lot lifted up his eyes to espy what would make for his advantage and well-being, and beheld only the plain of Sodom, which indeed was well-watered, but the seat of exceeding sin. But when Abram lifted up his eyes, not to search out aught for himself, but to see what God had prepared, he looked northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward—words which remind us of the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of the love of Christ. The single eye is full of light; the far climber gets the widest horizon; if thou wilt do his will, thou shalt know.
Hundredfold Compensation.—Whatever Abram renounced, when he left his home, or gave Lot the right to choose, he received back in the usual measure of God, with an overflowing over plus. God gave him the entire land, including Lot's portion. We can never give up for God, without receiving in this life more than we gave.
Get Thee Out
Never did a corn of wheat more utterly fall into the ground to die. It seemed as though he were urgently needed in his country and among his kindred; but man's thoughts and ways are not God's. The blessing of Abraham's life could only come in the land of promise, and after he had died to the whole life of nature. To every one who is to be richly blessed and made a blessing there is the inevitable command, "Get thee out. Be willing to die."
Get thee out of the land of idols.—Beyond the flood of the Euphrates, Terah and the rest served other gods. Had Abram remained there, he might have touched the unclean thing; hence God's desire to get him beyond the reach of infection, that he and his race might remain monotheistic. Hast thou had communion with darkness, with Belial, with idols? Get thee out and be separate; touch not the unclean thing. Be clean, thou who art to bear the vessels of the Lord. Reckon thyself to have died.
Get thee out in loneliness.—"I called him alone, and increased him." If thou art unwilling to abide alone, thou must fall alone into the ground and die. God must reduce us to a minimum before He can work through us to the maximum. But there is no loneliness to the soul who is one with God. Alone against the world, it is still in a majority.
Get thee out in faith.—"He went out, not knowing whither." It was what man calls a venture; but as he stepped out on what seemed a void, he found it rock beneath his feet. Day by day a track appeared across the desert, and all his needs were met till he reached the place of blessing. Death was the gate of life. Having died to Haran, he began to bring forth much fruit in every soil of the world.
Let us go Down
God comes down into human life. Though the world is corrupt and full of violence; though his arch-enemy has taught man to dread and hate Him; though attempts are on foot to resist Him in open rebellion, by making a unity apart from Him, and in exclusion of his corner-stone, yet He comes down.
He comes down to see.—He will not pronounce judgment till He has satisfied Himself by personal inspection how things stand. He comes down to our bedrooms, and overhears the words we speak, the deeds we do there; to our home-life, and is a silent listener and observer of all its incidents; to our shops, warehouses, and bank-parlors, auditing our accounts, casting up the columns, examining our samples, our weights and measures, our advertisements and circulars. From Him no secrets are hid.
He comes down to Punish.—"Let me alone, that I may destroy." Never forget the punitive side of God's character. How easily He asserts his power! He can disorganize the memory, breathe on the brain, touch one small nerve or muscle, and the best-concerted schemes fail. Why shouldst thou fear every day the fury of the oppressor, when God is at thy side!
He comes down to save.—If there be one Lot, He will bring him forth. What was the Incarnation, the descent to Calvary and the grave, but the coming down of the "us" of the blessed Trinity. He that ascended is the same that also first descended. He has come that He may heal our wounds, take us in His arms, and bear us with Him far beyond all principality and power. He is the way, by which we may pass from the confusion of Babel to the love of Pentecost, and the one speech of heaven.
The Isles of the Gentiles
Few realize the treasures that lie in this heap of names. This chapter is the key to ancient histories and contains many of the names that lie on our modern maps. What teeming myriads are here! We learn three things.
The Oneness of the Human Race.—"God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth." The slave that crouches in the African wood, the meanest outcast that creeps along in the dark, the veriest ruffian red-handed in crime—are bone of our bone, no less than the kings and saints, the prophets and martyrs.
The Wealth of our Savior's nature.—He loved all; He gave Himself for all; He became the Propitiation for the sins of all; through Him all will rise; and He is able to satisfy all from his royal heart. "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." There is not one child of man who may not find his consummation and bliss in Jesus, the One Man. All men are but broken lights of Him; and of all men that have ever lived He is the one flawless, sinless, perfect Man, the apex of the pyramid of humanity, the Head and Prince.
The warrant for Foreign Missions.—If the races of mankind have sprung from a common stock, the experience of one is the key to all. Each may learn from his own heart to estimate the hopes and fears, the yearnings and temptations, the weariness and sin-consciousness of the rest. The Gospel which has brought the blessing will do as much for each of those who bear, however obliterated, the print-mark of our race. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature."
My Bow in the Cloud
A covenant is a promise or undertaking, resting on certain conditions, with a sign or token attached to it. The rainbow on the rain-cloud, the Lord's Supper, the wedding-ring, are signs and seals of the respective covenants to which they belong. Whenever we see them we should bethink ourselves of the covenant. Whenever you see a rainbow, recall the covenant into which God has entered with thee; for as He has sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so his kindness shall not depart from thee, nor the covenant of his peace be removed. Three things are needed to make a rainbow.
A Cloud.—When man's sin overshadowed Paradise, the bow of promise shone; and when the thunderclouds gathered about the Savior's path, the Divine voice assured Him that as He had glorified the Divine Name by his life, He should glorify it much more by his death. When the black clouds of conviction, bereavement, soul anguish beset thee, look out for the bow: it is always there, though sufferers do not always perceive it.
Rain.—There are no rainbows unless there be falling drops to catch and unravel the sunbeams. It may be that all evil is worse in its anticipation than in its endurance; but this is certain, that the big drops of sorrow have to patter on our souls before we can realize all that God is prepared to be to us.
Sunshine.—It is only when God comes into our grief that we can see the treasures of Love and Grace which are stored for us in Him. We never know how great a blessing sorrow may be till we carry it into the light of the King's face. It is the dark canvas on which the artist produces his most marvelous effects.
God Remembered Noah
He cannot forget thee, though all hearts that loved thee are cold in death, and though floods of trouble surge and break around. He comes nearest when there is none else to intercept his love. The floods but bear us nearer to his heart, above the tops of the highest hills.
He could not forget because his honor was pledged.—There was a tacit understanding between Noah and himself, that if his servant obeyed his mandate He would be responsible for the consequences that obedience might involve. There is no need to make bargains with God, as Jacob did. It is far better simply to obey, sure that whatever the highest honor may demand, God will be equal to it. He will have prepared more than we expected.
He could not forget, because He rode the waters with his child.—He said, "Come thou into the Ark," evidently He was inside; and when it is said that God shut him in, it was from inside that the door was locked. Whatever happened to Noah was an experience for his Almighty Friend. They had walked together on the earth; they now shared together the seclusion of the Ark. God is identified in the experiences of his saints. Their pangs, and tears, and waiting-hours are his. He can no more forget, than a mother her sucking child.
He could not forget, because Noah was a type of his beloved Son.—Across the dark sea of death, the cross of Jesus has brought Him and his own: so that we now belong, not to the old world which is under the curse, but to the world of Resurrection-Life. The dark woes of Calvary were imaged there: how could God forget? Reckon on God's faithfulness: He will not leave thy soul in Hades.
As God had commanded
This is the secret of a Holy and Blessed Life. Most of our sorrows and disappointments have come on us because we have chosen our own path, and done according to our own will.
In obeying, we must sometimes walk in the dark.—When Noah began to walk with God, he knew not that it would lead him into collision with his generation, with the suggestions of common sense and experience, and with much that he held dear as life. But walking on each day, he grew strong to trust in the bare word of his Almighty Guide, and grasped it as men in the catacombs will keep their hand on a tiny string or cord, until the first streak of daylight appear. Obey absolutely the voice that speaks in thy heart; the way is dark, but it is the way.
In obeying, we must learn to wait.—For one hundred and twenty years the long-suffering of God waited, and during that weary period this true heart failed not. Then for seven days the patriarch waited within the closed doors. It is not easy to bear the long strain of endurance. To rush into the battle, to do something desperate, to strike for liberty—this is the choice of the flesh; but to live in hourly fear, to toil on without result, to see the years stealing away the bank or shoal on which our heart had erected its structures of hope—this is hardest of all, unless our hope is anchored beyond life's ebb and swell.
In obeying God others obey us.—How came it that these creeping things and flying fowls, these living creatures, clean and unclean, entered the Ark so tamely and submissively? Surely a Divine constraint was upon them. When we are under authority, we can say "Go," "Come," "Do this." All things serve the man who serves the Divine Master, Christ.
The Evening and the Morning Were the First Day
How different is God's method from man's! The creature works from day to night, his best is first; but darkness overshadows his fairest hopes and best concerted schemes. The Creator's days begin with the preceding eve. He reckons the evenings and nights into the days, because out of them the day is born; they usher in the light, and recreate body and brain for the busy hours that follow.
Art thou disappointed in Christian work?—Remember that God wrought on through long dark ages, ere his schemes were evolved in order and beauty. Human schemes begin with blare of trumpet and roll of drum, but are soon plunged in darkness. The heavenly seed is sown in autumn shadows; the foundation stone of redemption was laid amid the gloom of Calvary; the work that lasts generally begins amid disappointment, difficulty, and heartbreak, but inevitably passes into the day.
Art thou passing through the bitterness of soul trouble?—For weeks there has been no ray of comfort, no sign of deliverance. Yet every dark hour is hastening towards the dawn. Thou shalt see thy Beloved walking towards thee in the morning light.
Art thou in despair for the world?—The times are dark, and threaten to get darker. But if the first creation began in the dark, can it be wondered at that the second must begin there too? But as the one emerged in daylight, so shall the other. The morning cometh; see the star of day standing sentry! Time is bearing us to a day that shall never go down to night, but shall mount ever towards its meridian.
The Lord God Put Him into the Garden
Thus God started man in an ideal home. Memories of Eden, exquisite as dreams, weave the background of human life. Fellowship with the Creator, who walked its glades; its river, trees, and fruits; its blessed companionship; its light and ennobling toils—how fair the picture!
The Garden of Eden.—That was God's ideal. When men point thee to the scars on the world's face, left by the trail of the Arab slaver, the march of the army, the decaying glory of human civilization, and ask how such things are consistent with God's love, point to that garden and say, "That is what the love of God meant for man; Satan and sin have wrought this."
The Garden of Gethsemane.—When man forfeited Paradise, the Savior was revealed to regain it. He trod the winepress alone in the shadowed garden of the olive trees that through its glades He might pass to his cross, and so make the wastes of sin bloom again as Eden. Is it wonderful that another Paradise is possible, when He sowed its seeds and watered the soil with his blood?
Turning wastes into gardens.—In Eden man wrought as God's fellow-worker; and we are called each day to do something towards reconstructing the Lost Paradise. Find thy part in delving, sowing, watering, or tending the tender shoots! Seek that thine heart should be an Eden, kept sacred for thy King, and endeavor thy best to plant gardens where hitherto sand-wastes and thorn-thickets have prevailed. Then, "instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."
Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.
Often God seems to place His children in positions of profound difficulty—leading them into a wedge from which there is no escape; contriving a situation which no human judgment would have permitted, had it been previously consulted. The very cloud conducts them thither. You may be thus involved at this very hour. It does seem perplexing and very serious to the last degree; but it is perfectly right. The issue will more than justify Him who has brought you hither. It is a platform for the display of His almighty grace and power. He will not only deliver you, but in doing so He will give you a lesson that you will never forget; and to which, in many a psalm and song in after days, you will revert. You will never be able to thank God enough for having done just as He has.—F. B. Meyer.
Where Art Thou?
The cool of the day, when the breeze steals over the fevered landscape, is an appropriate time for man to hold fellowship with God. We need to have his hand laid on our throbbing temples, stilling, tranquilizing, shedding his serenity throughout our being. What the breath of evening is in summer, fellowship with God will be for thee, my soul; see that thou art not so absorbed with thy sins, thy love, or thy business, as to miss the tryst, when the sun is weltering.
God misses his child.—That hour of fellowship was much to Adam, and it was more to God. Love, God’s love, craves for fellowship. As the musician for his lute, as the hart for the brook, as the mother for the twining arms and babbling talk of her child—so does God long for the free outpourings of his child’s heart in prayer; misses them when withheld; is jealous when they are fitful and intermittent.
God seeks his child.—He did not wait till Adam found his way back to his side. But He hastened in search of him. So through the glades He comes to seek thee, O truant one! Where art thou, that for these many days thou hast withheld thyself from the hour of prayer? Wilt thou not say with the psalmist, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek”?
God mourns over his child. These words, in one version, are rendered, Alas, for thee: as though the heart of God were wrung with sorrow for our loss, as well as his. But He does not content Himself with regret. By the pang of travail, by the prick of thorns, by the necessity of labor, by sacrifice and gifts of covering for our nakedness, He brings us back to Himself.
Where is Abel they Brother?
The first question God puts to the soul is, “Adam, where art thou?” The next, “Where is Abel thy brother?” We are our brothers’ keepers. Each within our reach, all who need our help, all related to us by the ties of the family, have a claim on us. We must not take an advantage over them; their weakness and need are strong claims on our resources of every kind; we are bound to keep them so far as we can; we may at any moment be called to give an account of their whereabouts. To dispute this is to betray the spirit of Cain, who was a murderer.
God keeps an inventory of his saints.—In his book their names are written. Their names, abode, and circumstances; their fathers, mothers, and brothers; their occupation, whether they keep the sheep or till the land: all are known to Him, because fixed by his providence. Whatever touches them is, therefore, instantly known to Him. It is as though they were part of his very being, and a stab of pain to them thrills his heart.
God calls us to help Him in keeping one another.—We are to watch for each other’s souls; to consider one another to provoke to good works; to bear one another’s burdens; to exhort each other, to convert the wanderer from the path of the destroyer, and to wash stains from his feet. The cure of souls is the work of all the saints. But this is only possible to those who have been baptized into the Spirit of Christ. Remember that you have just as much love towards God, as you are willing to show towards the brother whom you have seen. “This commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”
Enoch Walked with God
What an epitaph on this ancient saint! It is as clear-cut today as when first recorded here. We know nothing of Enoch but this brief record; but it tells us everything. It was not an act or a number of acts, but a high tone of life constantly maintained. Better to walk with God every day in calm, unbroken fellowship, than to have occasional rapturous experiences, succeeded by long relapses and backslidings. The Hebrew word might be rendered, “Enoch walked, and continued to walk.”
Be sure to go God’s Way.—He will not walk with thee in thy way, but thou mayest walk with Him in his. To this He calls thee. Each moment, and especially when two or three roads diverge, look up to Him, and say, “Which way art Thou taking, that I may accompany Thee?” It will not be so hard to forsake inviting paths and engaging companions, if only the eye is kept fixed on his face, and the track of his footsteps determines thy road beyond hesitation or dispute.
Be sure to keep God’s Pace.—Do not run impetuously before Him; learn to wait his time: the minute-hand as well as the hour-hand must point the exact moment for action. Do not loiter behind in indolence or sloth. Be loyal and true to his ideals, and quick to obey his least commands.
Be sure to wear God’s Livery.—He is in the light; the light is his chosen symbol; it ill becomes thee to wear the unfruitful works of darkness. Put them off, and put on the armor of light. Walk with Him daily in stainless robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb. Then thy fellowship shall be with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with all holy souls everywhere.
Noah was just,… perfect,… walked with God.
The eyes of God went to and fro over the ancient world, where sin reigned unchecked, to discover one grateful spectacle. But they were doomed to disappointment, till they lighted on Noah. He found grace in the eyes of the Lord, because him only had God seen to be righteous in all his generation. Like Antipas, he dwelt where Satan’s seat was, held fast the Divine name, and was God’s faithful witness. Be thou loyal to God, my soul, though thou stand-alone. There are three characteristics in the man who finds grace in the eyes of the Lord.
In himself he is Just.—Not faultless, as judged by the white light of eternity; but blameless, so far as his own consciousness is concerned. He wears ever the white flower of a blameless life. His strength is as the strength of ten, because his heart is pure. He exercises himself to have always a conscience void of offence towards God and man. This condition is only possible to faith, that opens the door of the heart to receive the life of God. Wouldst thou be just, welcome that Just One. Let Him live within thee.
Towards man he is Upright.—He does not keep his eyes bowing down to the ground in shame, or furtively looking around to gain a secret advantage; he looks the whole world in the face. His eyes reflect the integrity and purity of his soul; they beam with sincerity, unselfishness, and love.
With respect to God, he abides in Perpetual Fellowship.—This were worth our getting, though we parted with all our jewels to win it. To be tuned into one deep accord with the Divine nature; to answer to Him with one full, responsive chord; to be always found where God is, and never where He is not—that were life indeed.
Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.
Often God seems to place His children in positions of profound difficulty—leading them into a wedge from which there is no escape; contriving a situation which no human judgment would have permitted, had it been previously consulted. The very cloud conducts them thither. You may be thus involved at this very hour. It does seem perplexing and very serious to the last degree; but it is perfectly right. The issue will more than justify Him who has brought you hither. It is a platform for the display of His almighty grace and power. He will not only deliver you, but in doing so He will give you a lesson that you will never forget; and to which, in many a psalm and song in after days, you will revert. You will never be able to thank God enough for having done just as He has.