In Genesis 3 we see that it was by the Fall that man got a conscience, and the first effect of the acting of that conscience was to make him seek to cover the nakedness of which his disobedience had given him the knowledge, and then, as soon as he heard the voice of God, to seek to hide himself from His presence. This was the necessary consequence of the knowledge of evil, mingled with the feeling that he had committed this evil, and that consequently he was unfit to appear before a God, who could not be other than a Judge who must needs condemn the sinner.
Conscience tells us this, and makes us feel it; but human intelligence, blinded by Satan, seeks to excuse the evil, and to account for everything by setting God entirely aside. In principle this is morally, in fact, only the repetition of what our first parents did - it is seeking to cover oneself, and hide from God. All these efforts result in weakening the thought of holiness in the soul. Man, when he is only led by his reason, is irrational, and gets further and further from the truth. He is in darkness; but being also blind, he cannot discern between light and darkness. Therefore it is written, "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts." (Ps. 10:4.) And in this respect the philosopher is no better than others. (Rom. 2:1-11.) If the foundation of his reasonings be false, how can the building which he rears upon it abide? Hence the truth of this oft-repeated statement, that there is no morality apart from revelation. Let those who deny God tell us, if they can, what the moral principles are which they pretend to possess, apart from that which God has revealed to us in the Scriptures.
But the word of God does not simply offer us a moral code; that is to say, a system of principles of action so framed that men may be able to live together in peace, and that society should be upheld and kept together. It also shows that the only source of true happiness for man is in that very presence from which he flees, and which he ever tries to avoid. God has not desired to be only the Judge of the sinner. In His grace He cones to seek man; albeit, on the principle of righteousness, He reveals Himself as a just God and a SAVIOUR. By drawing to Himself, in grace and in peace, His fallen creature, that sin had set at a distance, God manifests His glory even there where the enemy has triumphed. But God cannot thus bring a sinful creature into His blessed presence without giving him the perception and the consciousness of divine holiness; for it is evident that God cannot change His character, nor lower the standard of His holiness, in order to bring man into relationship with Himself. Morality may suffice between man and man, but there must be holiness for relationship with God. Scripture insists on this throughout.
But this great lesson of holiness supposes another, without which it could not be learnt by a sinner at a distance from God. We refer to the revelation of the grace and faithfulness of God. I must know God as a Saviour-God before my soul can be in a condition to understand what His holiness requires; therefore the first lines of Scripture declare His infinite goodness, thus preparing the way for the equally important revelation of His holiness. God is Love, and God is Light. The cross of Christ is the explanation of these two great truths, and is also their highest expression, while at the same time they reach on side by side to the resurrection of Christ (particularly so as regards holiness); for He was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from among the dead." (Rom. 1:4.)
In connection with what we have said, we see that the first book of the Bible - Genesis - displays different phases of the faithful goodness of God, His purposes of grace towards man; but ever, of course, on the ground of holiness,* yet so presented as to attract the heart of him who knows not God, and to produce confidence in one whom sin has rendered distrustful of God. The two following books, on the contrary, are especially occupied with holiness. Exodus lays the groundwork, and Leviticus, with a few chapters in Numbers, develops the details in connection with the national and priestly order of the children of Israel.
*The history of the Deluge shows most clearly what God thinks of man, and manifests that He neither can nor will tolerate sin.
With one exception, and that is in reference to the institution of the Sabbath (chap. 2:3), the word "holiness," or to "hallow," does not occur in Genesis. In truth this book does not treat of redemption nor of the habitation of God amongst men. God comes forth to seek man, He calls him, and keeps him in faithful grace; He justifies him, and accomplishes all His purposes towards him; He produces faith in his soul, nourishes it, and tests it, and thereby makes His servants to walk in communion with Him. Such are some of the precious truths as to the ways of God which are to be found in this first book, and which are characteristic of it; but it is nowhere intimated that God's thought is to come down and dwell among men. The first twenty-two verses of Heb. 11 give a review of the teachings of this book as regards faith. In Genesis there are two great divisions. The first closes with chapter 11, and develops the great principles of the government of God; the second, which begins with the history of Abraham, speaks of God's call and His sovereign grace towards His elected ones. Holy men of God were maintained in communion with Him, their faith was fed by the communications He made to them. And they, confessing that they were "strangers and pilgrims" on the earth, sought a "better country," a "heavenly city," so that God was not ashamed of being called "their God." (Heb. 11:16.) Even in the first part of the book we find one of these, Enoch, who received witness during his lifetime that he walked with God, and he was not found; for God had translated him.
Exodus enters upon the great subject of redemption. God will have a people for Himself that He may dwell amongst them; consequently this nation must be holy, for God is holy. (See Ex. 19:4-6; 29:43-46.) Hence the state in which God's grace formed this people is given in detail, as well as their moral condition, and the attitude of their heart toward God. Their deliverance from Egypt, and the power of Pharaoh, occupies a large portion of the book, and this prepares the way morally for the establishment of the sanctuary in which God deigned to dwell in their midst, and of which we have the first mention in chap. 15:17. (See also chap. 25:8.)
Moses was the chosen vessel raised and prepared by God for the deliverance of His people Israel. To him God revealed the only ground on which He could bring man into relationship with Himself - that of absolute holiness. He showed it to him before He sent him to the Israelites. The flame of fire out of the midst of the bush in the wilderness was the suited figure for enabling Moses to grasp the great lesson God had to teach him, and to cause the words which were said to him to sink deep into his soul: "Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." (Ex. 3:5.) The God who was here revealing Himself to Moses was the same who had led the fathers in His perfect grace, and could therefore say to him, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob;" so that his affections might be drawn to God by the remembrance of His goodness to the patriarchs. Thus was Moses prepared for the reception of all the teaching expressed in the burning bush. We also see through the whole of his subsequent history how deeply this lesson was engraven on his heart, and how it formed the basis of all his relations with God. (Comp. Ex. 33; Deut. 4:24; 9:3, etc.) God said to him, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people . . . and I am come down to deliver them." This involved the near relationship of the people with God, a relationship which could only exist on the ground of HOLINESS. GOD IS LOVE, and HE IS LIGHT. W. J. Lowe.