In our previous address we have seen God declaring Himself to Moses as a prelude to the deliverance of His people. In that deliverance He is coming forward according to the significance of His memorial name, to exhibit what He is Himself for His creatures. In salvation God reveals Himself and is glorified; not only in the redeemed of earth, but to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, who learn in us His manifold wisdom and His marvelous grace. Thus in revealing Himself God is glorified in the very opposite way from man, who when he glorifies himself only seeks to exalt himself. God, in glorifying Himself, ministers to others, for "it is more blessed to give than to receive."
Can His creatures add aught to Him? Did the making of a universe put more into His treasury than it had before? Being sufficient to Himself from all eternity, if He would display His glory it must be from love's delight to fill with happiness the vessels which His hands prepared for this.
Such, then, is the fitting preface to the story of redemption, in which God acts according to the name He has chosen to display Himself in connection with man. Whatever the people are, in whose behalf He acts, in no wise lessens the greatness of His object, which is to display His goodness and love to the utmost bounds of creation. The earth itself may be small indeed among the multitudinous orbs which spangle the heavens, but connected with the display of God's character, it is redeemed from littleness. Nay, man's littleness and his sin are means whereby He shows out fully His condescension and His grace. Upon the Son of Man the hosts of heaven adoringly wait.
Let us notice now, in the chapter before us, how faith in the deliverer is to precede and produce faith in the deliverance. Upon Israel's faith in Moses, as the one sent of God for their deliverance, everything turns; therefore signs are put in his hand. And so with us: faith in Christ Himself — not yet in His work, nor in the salvation which is the effect of His work is the first and absolutely necesssary thing upon which all else depends.
All through the Gospel of John we find the possession of eternal life is connected with faith in the person of Christ. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." "These things are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name." This is of all importance to remember in connection with the gospel and the conversion of souls. The Saviour first: then, and from Him, the salvation. And if this order be not preserved, most serious effects will follow.
Look at what the Lord states in the same Gospel. He says, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." We naturally ask what words do they hear. But not yet is it the words that are in question, but the Voice. There are words, of course; but the point is, the Voice is that of the Son of God. The eye is fixed upon the Person who utters the words. It is the Son of God who is made known, and the dead become alive thereby — hearing the voice which by and by will wake all that are in the graves, and bring them forth to the resurrection of life, or to the resurrection of judgment.
Oh, it is a wonderful thing to hear the voice of the Son of God — to have, through His Word, the Son of God revealed to you in the Man Christ Jesus! But people say, "We are all orthodox, we all believe in Him." Can mere orthodoxy save? No! Though it says, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God," that is not a mere orthodox proposition,but the faith of your heart in a Person. You may be very sincere in saying, "Oh, I have believed the Bible from my infancy never doubted it;" but Christ revealed to the soul as a real living Person, the Son of God Himself, ah, if this has indeed shone into your heart, it is a different thing. It is He "who commanded the light to shine out of darkness" that hath shined in your heart.
It is not yet, What have I got by it? Not yet, What has it shined upon? — perhaps upon a mass of corruption; but the Light, has it no glory? Can you not distinguish Him from ten thousand others by the glory in His face? Down on your face with Simon Peter you may be saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord," but as you are with Him at His knees, He will say to you, "Fear not."
This is God's way: Christ first, and salvation from Him. Otherwise a soul may even mistake orthodoxy for salvation — may believe in justification by faith, and yet be unsaved. Oh, to ring in men's ears: "He that hath the Son hath life; and He that hath not the Son of God hath not life." "This is eternal life, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."
I do not say or believe that the question of salvation is really settled thus; but God has a place He never had before; and, if with Job still we cannot find Him in the way our hearts long after, yet He is that for which they do long. Nothing short of this, is "conversion." There may be any amount of alarm and distress, which after all is no certainty of a divine work in the soul.
Man is never driven by fear of God to God. Fear there may be, but except we are "drawn" we never really come. "No man can come to Me," says the Lord, "except the Father which hath sent Me draw him." Notice there again that precious character of God — "which hath sent Me." Thus Christ becomes the interpreter of God to man, as well as of man to himself. Thus He takes the controlling place He is henceforth to keep with us. For peace it is necessary to know the work of the Cross; but this knowledge becomes not merely a way of securing blessing for ourselves, but as the Lord said of it, "The Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him."
How many have got apparently the gospel in another way than this. They call it "the glorious gospel," but they do not know it as what Scripture really entitles it, the "gospel of the glory of Christ!" They have not learned it in His own presence, from Himself. They preach and believe in a utilitarian gospel, in which man's blessing is everything, and God's claim very little. They are orthodox, and evangelical, with a "great heart for the gospel," and a little one for Christ. His claim, His commandments, the truths of His blessed Word, are pared down to the smallest fraction that the gospel may be exalted into His place, and souls may not be hindered from accepting that which brings with it little responsibility, and introduces into no "narrow" path. Thus the Christian life is marred, Christ dishonored, and the gospel itself pitiably disfigured, while unconverted crowds are its adherents, and men scoff without rebuke at cheap religion.
Thus we may see the importance of the "signs" in this chapter: they are signs of Satan's power vanquished, of sin removed. They serve to mark out the Deliverer, and justify faith in Him.
"And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor harken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.
And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thy hand? And he said, A rod. And He said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thy hand and take it by the tail: (and he put forth his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand) — that they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee."
The shepherd's rod in Moses' hand is the sign of power. We find, as we travel on through Exodus, how truly this is so. "All power belongeth unto God," and this shepherd's rod shows us how He uses it. Power with Him waits always upon love. Do you doubt this? Do you ask, "Is the rod of iron, with which He will crush His enemies — is that love?" I answer that in all the passages where this is spoken of, the exact rendering is, "He shall shepherd them with a rod of iron," for, severely as it may smite, love guides it. Woe to those indeed whom everlasting love has thus to smite! "Still the hand that wields the sceptre of the universe is guided by the heart of Him who has revealed Himself, not as power, nor even as righteousness, but as Love." The rod in Moses' hand, then, is the type of power divine, characterised by tenderness and care, as a shepherd's rod. Moses then is told to cast it on the ground; and out of his hand, the rod changes its character; it becomes a serpent. Who that looks round upon the earth with the thought of power being in the hands of eternal love, but must own to bewilderment at finding everywhere what seems to negative the supposition. Scripture itself puts the perplexing question: "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with Thee, which frameth mischief by a law?" Surely the rod is to all appearance out of the Shepherd's hand, and the "prince of this world" is not Christ, but Satan. The claim he makes to universal empire, when he displays before the self-humbled Son of Man all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, with the boast, "All that is given unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it," has but too much truth. And by and by he will find one, the antipodes of the blessed Lord, willing to receive this from him. Of one yet to rise we read, "The dragon gave him his power, and his seat (or rather "throne") , and great authority . . . And power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations."
This is the apparent contradiction which sin has wrought. The rod seems not in His hand to whom it belongs, but upon the ground, and Satanic. But observe the beautiful accuracy of the type, and the comfort prepared for us in it. The rod was cast out of Moses' hand; it did not slip out. God has not lost control of the world, after all; of His own will, and for His own wise purposes, He has subjected man to the sway of him whom he has chosen to have for his prince. It is the scene at Gadara over again. If the Lord come in, Satan is displaced at once, and his victim is delivered. But alas, the real foundation of Satanic empire lies in man's rejection of the Deliverer. They "besought Him to depart out of their coasts." Very respectfully indeed, man may refuse his Saviour and Lord, but if Christ leaves at their bidding, to what must He leave them but to Satan?
There is no middle ground. Man cannot be his own master; if his house be empty, all the sweeping and garnishing will only make it ready for a tenant: if his wisdom come not from above, it will not be only "earthly," but "sensual," and then "devilish."
It is untrue that Satan will reign in hell. The chief malefactor will be then chief sufferer, not tormentor of others, but himself tormented. His reign now is a thing permitted in the meantime by an all-wise God, wherein evil is allowed to manifest itself and show its fruit; and that good in conflict with it may be proved also, and show its supremacy over it as no arbitrary thing. God has cast (in a sense, and for a time) the rod out of His hand, and the rod, cast to the ground, has become a serpent!
Yet, not only "shall judgment return unto righteousness," but even now wherever and whenever He please, the rod returns to the hand of the Shepherd as before. Let a soul cry out in its misery to God, though indwelt by a Legion, His hand is not shortened that it cannot save. Do not suppose that because "the god of this world blinds the eyes of those that believe not," he can build about them a wall impervious to the light without their consent. The apostle in this very place says, "We commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Even "in the heart" of the wayside hearer, the seed of the gospel was "sown," but the heart, unchanged by it, gave it up to one who knows its value, alas, better. "Then cometh Satan, and taketh away that which was sown in his heart," are the Lord's own words.
So, while the truth commends itself to every man's conscience, man by his unbelieving rejection of it puts himself into Satan's hand; and no wonder if he be then blinded effectually. Solemn is the responsibility of one to whom the truth is evidencing itself, yet by rejecting it gives himself up to believe Satan's lie!
But the rod of power in the Deliverer's hand is found on the side of love, and in behalf of the victim of Satan's tyranny. Joyfully we recognize Him in the One who is gone up on high, having led captivity captive; who, "having spoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." But this is only the first sign.
"And the Lord said furthermore unto him, Put now thy hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow. And He said, Put thy hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again, and plucked it out of his bosom and behold, it was turned again as his other flesh. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither harken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign."
Leprosy is the Old Testament type of sin, in its loathsomeness, malignity, and power to spread. It might at first give little evidence of itself externally. The spot upon the skin might not truly represent the extent of the disease, which lay much deeper — in the blood itself; no local thing, but corrupting the whole man. Its sure tendency too, except God come in, is to spread continually, blanching the hair and exposing the raw flesh, and finally rendering the man the vivid realization of Isaiah's picture: "From the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, no soundness in him, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores."
Spreading, moreover, from one to another, it infected first those most in contact with the leper, his nearest and dearest, the inmates of his tent and heart. God's treatment of it therefore was to prescribe the complete isolation of him in whom the plague was. Away from his tent, outside the camp, he had to cover his upper lip and proclaim himself, as people passed, a source of pollution, with the wail, "Unclean, unclean."
Sin is thus with God no accidental and no local thing, but a virulent, growing, contagious evil, deeper than the surface, not to be measured by the outward appearance, and absolutely fatal, if He come not in to save. In Moses' case it is strikingly pictured as that which from the heart affects the hand, not from the hand the heart. The clean hand, placed in the bosom, is drawn out leprous, white as death. Let no man think that sin is the effect of his circumstances, or a mere act or deed. Let none talk of sinners with a "good heart." "The tree is known by its fruit." "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies," Oh, be sure, if the hand is leprous, the heart is not better, but worse: it is the seat of the whole disease. And cleansing must begin, not with the hand, but with the heart.
And so with the type here. Moses' hand thrust into his bosom becomes leprous: thrust into his bosom again it is restored. Defilement and cleansing both begin at the heart. What has cleansed the heart? We are not wrong in saying, The simple power of God. Leprosy in the heart is sin hidden; but leprosy on the hand is sin exposed. The hand plucked out of the bosom makes manifest what is there. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." It is not the mere confession of sin being in our hearts or our natures, but of sin actually committed — a very different thing. We can easily own, and without any conscience, that "we are all sinners:" but whatever we may say about our natures, we feel we are responsible to God for the sins we have actually committed. "All have sinned," is God's solemn judgment, which, when realized, becomes a personal thing: "I have sinned." How wonderful that through the precious blood of Christ which I bring to God, I find His faithfulness and justice on my side to forgive and cleanse me, upon my simple confession! The hand plucked out of the bosom, then, makes sin manifest. Put into the bosom again, it shows that thereupon sin has been put away. "Repentance and remission of sins," God has joined together. Faith owning God's judgment says to Him, "I have sinned," and finds remission of sins preached through Christ by the same precious Word of God.
These then, are the signs of the Deliverer. The third sign is a prediction of judgment for obstinate unbelief:
"And it shall come pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither harken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land; and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land."
For, indeed, must not the stream of life and blessing from God ministered to us here, become wrath and judgment if His goodness leads not to repentance? Every blessing is so much judgment, if a Saviour's voice be disregarded. I do not dwell upon this here. I trust I need not. What is given here as a sign to Israel, is given as a testimony to Pharaoh afterwards. God's principles are indeed invariable. Although the believer in Christ is, as to eternal condemnation, safe for ever, may we realize our responsibilities as well as His complete and triumphant grace.