Moses is now commissioned and authenticated as Israel's deliverer. Still he hesitates. "O my Lord," he says, "I am not eloquent neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue."
How hard it is, amid what we call "second causes," to trust simply in God alone! All God's power, for a Moses even, is not sufficient without an eloquent tongue! Paul was wiser when he came to the Corinthians "not with excellency of speech or of wisdom," that their "faith might not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." Our idolatry of means thus affects and characterizes our work. The work will show the workman. The motives, the thoughts, which influence us, and which we suppose hidden in our hearts, will manifest themselves in those who are the fruit of our labor.
God does not gift Moses with an eloquent tongue, but He allows part of his honor to be transferred to Aaron, who becomes his spokesman to the people. Thus provided, Moses starts; but before he reaches Egypt, the divine holiness which cannot pass over the uncircumcision of his house is made manifest. At the inn on the way, Jehovah seeks to kill His accredited messenger, whose life is only saved by Zipporah's performance of the neglected rite. Thus he is warned as well as commissioned. Now, he and Aaron gathering the people, deliver their message and show the signs of their authority: and the people believe with a facile faith, soon to be tested as to its depth and reality, for Pharaoh does not mean to let his bond-slaves step so easily out of his hands. Here begins that prolonged contest between Jehovah and the king of Egypt, in which God's judgments fall with increasing severity upon the devoted land, until He finally brings His people with a strong hand and an out-stretched arm through the sea itself, overwhelming their enemies in it.
These plagues represent the judgment of God upon the natural man, as the eye, divinely opened, sees it: they expose the hopeless evil of man's condition; and the world, stripped of its bloom and attractiveness, is turned into a desert under Divine wrath, until the one so convicted is forced to abandon it and accept rejoicingly God's deliverance from it all. Then the wilderness path begins indeed. And, while the world is thus being exposed as under condemnation, the beauty, extent and purport of God's salvation become more and more told out.
It is a "feast to Jehovah" that they are to hold in the wilderness. Gladness is characteristic of His presence, when once the heart is free to enjoy that presence. Then we learn that the feast is to be connected with a sacrifice — a sacrifice which alone averts God's judgment, and enables the heart to be in His presence without fear.
"The God of the Hebrews hath met with us. Let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice unto the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword."
Thus, first, God's heart is revealed, then man's guilt and need, which the blood of sacrifice alone can meet.
Not in Egypt, however, can that feast be held; for on the ground of nature no true joy in God or worship in the Spirit is possible. From this there must be three days' remove the distance between death and resurrection alone can carry us into our place of blessing and intimacy with God. But this will be developed hereafter.
At once, however, Pharaoh's spirit is declared: "I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." The flesh in us never does; its obduracy, allied with the prince of this world, Pharaoh fully exemplifies. At the very outset, when faith begins to move in us, and the good news of salvation begins to be really that, we find the opposition of that in which "dwelleth no good thing," and is but enmity to God as revealed in Christ and the gospel. Sin's reign is a despotic one, and terrible it is to find, from the first moment in which we would do good, evil present with us, and how "he that committeth sin is the slave of sin." Israel, beginning already to think salvation come, find instead augmented labor and the stripes of taskmasters. So that their transient joy is swallowed up in worse sorrow, and unbelief takes the place of faith: "The Lord look upon you and judge," they say to Moses and Aaron, "because ye have made our savor to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us."
And even Moses betrays his impatience in a bitter complaint to God. How many a worker since in like manner would have salvation at once realized, not understanding the necessity of all this parleying with Pharaoh — in experience of sin and of sin's bondage.
But as God assures them, if they are made afresh to realize the burdens of the Egyptians, it is only that they may realize redemption out of them by His own hand, and that they may know Him in their salvation, bringing them out from under these burdens. Fresh promises, however, fail to revive the drooping hearts of the people, and Moses himself is discouraged. God, however, gives to him and Aaron a solemn charge to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.
And here it is that the genealogy of Moses and Aaron is introduced, the double type of a Saviour whom accumulated types fail fully to express. The sons of Reuben and Simeon are also given here, though set aside for Levi, the third son; and how plain the spiritual purport of this is, which looked at superficially seems without meaning. Reuben is the eldest, and his four sons have beautiful names, full of promise; but it is "first that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual." So he is set aside. Simeon, too, with his six sons is passed over; and Levi is chosen — the third son (spiritually, child of resurrection) in whose name, "joined," the mediatorship of Christ, only fully reached in resurrection, is surely implied.
And now ensue the plagues which are to manifest Jehovah's power, and make His name known throughout all the earth. Long and stubbornly Pharaoh resists, but is at last, though unchanged in spirit, over-powered. Upon the history in detail I cannot dwell, but we may look at the compromises which Pharaoh attempts to make with God or with Moses as to the people; they illustrate not less the breadth of His salvation than the treachery of the heart which would impose limits to His sovereign grace.
The first attempt is to secure the retention of Israel in Egypt. They may sacrifice — he will permit that — but let them do it in the land, and not leave it. His object is to retain his hold upon them, which three days' journey into the wilderness would assuredly loosen. The spiritual meaning is also manifest. Worship in Egypt is worship in the flesh, Cain's worship, which owns not our ruin, nor Christ as meeting it. Death and resurrection have no place there. Redemption there is none, and, therefore, practically no Redeemer. Moses' answer shows this: "It is not meet so to do, for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the Lord our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?"
The word "abomination" stands here as often elsewhere for idolatry, as Chemosh "was the abomination of the Moabites, and Milcom of the Ammonites." The worship of Egypt was that of Apis — the sacred bull. It was paramount amid their animal deities; and it came up in the minds of the children of Israel when they worshiped Jehovah in the golden calf. It is throughout Scripture the type of the laborer, and is pre-eminently seen in the sacrifices as God's Laborer, who to do His will in behalf of man, laid down His life.
But of such a Worker, and of such a work, Egypt knew nothing; and to maintain the truth of this will ensure decisive rejection at the hands of those whom the Egyptians represent. That cross by which the world is crucified to us, and we unto the world, can never be but an offence in it; and the true place of witness to this, as the only possible place of keeping the sacrificial feast, is three days' journey into the wilderness — the full remove of death and resurrection.
By His death Christ has passed out of the world, and in resurrection has taken a new place for us before God. We therefore, who in His death have died, are by His resurrection put also into this place, and according to His own words, "are not of the world, even as He is not of the world." The old standing is gone; the place is changed. The separation is not of our own effecting, but of His, who has cancelled for us the long dark history of what we were, and instead of our place of distance, has given us His of nearness to God: "Who died for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father." Thus our feast is connected with His sacrifice.
This new place with God is given us (apart from anything of our own) by the death and resurrection of our Lord; but it is ours to find, through faith in this work of His, our place in the wilderness, where alone the feast is to be kept. Here Israel is our type. Their journey to Sinai is a picture of what must be a veritable journey (spiritually) on our part, though by faith alone we travel it — not by sense nor in any mystical way. Faith's acceptance of the work of Christ puts us upon this road, and carries us into a place of actual separation from the world — the sign of our practical apprehension of our position. The wilderness-place is not positional but practical; not "standing," as we say, but state; the state resulting from a believing appreciation of the position which God's grace has given us apart from and not measured by our apprehension of it. Let us not ignore the actuality of this journey. Let us not confound it with the position which Christ's work secures and which faith apprehends. And again, let us not suppose any mystical realization, but what faith produces. Faith is a reality, connecting the soul with the living God. It is not content to accept a heavenly inheritance without setting its face, pilgrim-wise, towards it. Unseen things become substance and reality to it, and every truth received by it becomes living and fruitful. Hence the journey. The Word is not a description of lands separated from us by impassible seas, but is a pilgrim's guide-book, meant for use and to be put to use. The things we shall have put before us are like mile-stones, which measure so much actual travel, or they have no meaning.
Let us keep faith and practice ever thus together: they will not live divorced. For if faith without works is dead, works that are not of faith are "dead works" also.
It is plain how to this first device of Pharaoh the large proportion of Christians have yielded themselves up. They are worshiping in Egypt without the knowledge of redemption: therefore not free. And they have so assimilated their worship to Egyptian patterns, that instead of being stoned for it they have taught the men of the world to join in with them. But this, alas, is no victory, but defeat.
Salvation, in God's thought of it, takes you out of the world. You are no more of it than Christ is. And though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more; for Christ has passed out of the world altogether, and left it under the condemnation of the cross. We are either in Him before God, and so outside it, or involved in its condemnation.
But let us look at the second compromise: —
"And he said unto them, Go, serve the Lord your God: but who are they that shall go? And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go: for we must hold a feast unto the Lord. And he said, Let the Lord be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you. Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the Lord; for that ye did desire."
Thus the limits of salvation are attempted to be narrowed in another direction. The men may go; the little ones must remain. In God's plan, however, the little one's place was with the parents. Pharaoh's thought was to retain hold of the fathers by means of the children; God's thought is to save the children with, and by means of, the fathers. Noah's house, in the ark with him, is the first example; then the blessing of Abraham's seed, and circumcision of the Israelite's house gives the divine rule for the old economy. The new is still more full of this: "This day is salvation come to this house," says the Lord as to Zaccheus. "The promise is unto you and to your children," says the apostle on the day of Pentecost. To Cornelius the angel says: "Who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." And once again to the Philippian jailor: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house."
This then is the universal tenor of Scripture. God's all-embracing love would make His people reach out to others, and of the human ties which He has established, He forms links toward the new creation. He would thus claim for His own that which, with no acquiescence of His, has departed from Him, and use for this the natural affection which, fallen as it is, is not incapable of being renewed and spiritualized. Thus He meets and satisfies the deepest instincts of our manhood; the Divine Father manifesting Himself as not strange to what is best in human fatherhood, and teaching us to feel in ourselves the original likeness in which at first He created us to Himself.
The children of believers are of course like others: we impart to them the old nature; the new is only given of God. In this respect they differ in nothing from others. The universal law, "Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" applies to them as to others." Nor does it follow as a matter of course, that if a man is saved himself, his house will be. In Abraham's case pattern as he is in so many ways for the believer — God says: "I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord . . . that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him."
Thus we have a clear testimony of Abraham's exercise of authority over his household and their keeping the way of the Lord connected with the fulfilment of the promise to him. The wise man's saying also is, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Here is the thing which tests us; and here, as elsewhere, what we sow, especially in the ductile mind of a child, we do not fail to reap. But it is not our words only that bear fruit: it is the combined influence of our words and ways. That three days' remove from Egypt, if really taken, will have immense effect. If not, teaching as to Egypt will not avail. The coming out to keep a feast to the Lord will give the positive side of this, and prevent the other from being a cold and hard asceticism. Let but this be real, it will not fail to have its effect; and though we may have short-comings to mourn over, and faith too may be tried in us, the Lord we serve is tender and pitiful, and faith that counts upon Him will not count in vain.
These things are our types, and the God of Israel is as full of power to-day as ever He was. Let us credit Him with it, and fear not.
Now we come to the third and last compromise: —
"And Pharaoh called unto Moses and said, Go ye, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and herds be stayed; let your little ones also go with you. And Moses said, Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt-offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the Lord our God. Our cattle also shall go with us, there shall not an hoof be left behind: for thereof must we take to serve the Lord our God; and we know not with what we must serve the Lord until we come thither."
Thus if Pharaoh cannot prevent their going out, he would make them as poor as he can. Their flocks and herds were the main part of what as a shepherd-people they possessed. They are thus the type of our possessions — that which we have in the world. Our business relations are evidently connected with things termed "secular," which so often are divorced from the "sacred," and in relation to which we may be, and are, something other than "men in Christ."
How successful is this snare among us! How few in fact have their all out of Egypt, honestly owning God's title to all! How few are in relation to their business or worldly connections just what in the Assembly they claim to be! How few have the riband of blue, the mark of heavenly character, right down to where their garments touch the earth!
A certain claim upon their worldly things, no doubt, every one recognizes the Lord to have; but the things are theirs, outside this tax on them. They do not look on it as connected with their salvation, as part of their deliverance itself — that what they have should be the Lord's as they themselves are. But does not the one involve the other? Does it not show that we know little what it is to be in Christ, while we have another self with independent aims and motives?
This then is the salvation of which we are the subjects. We have yet to trace it out in detail; but it is plain that Israel's deliverance was from the power of Pharaoh under which they groaned. And for this there was much more needed than the display of power, even Divine. There was needed the Passover night as well as the Red Sea deliverance. They had to learn in the blood applied, that grace alone, through atonement, could take them up and rescue them from the enemy's power. And their rescue was not complete until the other side of the sea was reached. Then it was, when horse and rider had been cast into the sea, and their proud tyrants were carcases upon the shore, that they sang how the Lord had triumphed gloriously.
And so the apostle does not stop with justification by Christ's blood, in the Epistle to the Romans; he rests not till in His cross we know "that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve (or be slaves to) sin." This is the bondage, and this the deliverance; and we must keep this steadily before us if we are to penetrate these shadows, and possess ourselves of their divine realities.