Lecture 9. The Song and the Testing (Exodus 15.)

Having seen the salvation wrought by Jehovah, and the carcases of their enemies upon the sea-shore, the people sing of their deliverance with praises to God. He has delivered; He will deliver, and bring them in the land to which they are going. Not until now was salvation apprehended in its fulness.

Three things mark this song: First, the deliverance just effected from Pharaoh and his hosts. Second, the assurance that God will bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of His inheritance, in the place which He has made for himself to dwell in. Thirdly, they themselves are going to prepare Him a habitation.

We have already dwelt at length on the deliverance. But we may yet observe, that while the deliverance itself is once for all effected, there is need to have it kept in remembrance continually. While "Christ died to sin once," and therefore we are dead to sin, once and for ever, we have yet to be reckoning ourselves dead to sin continually. We have not to die continually, nor die at all. We are dead, and must be, before we can rightly reckon ourselves dead. The fact itself is independent of our faith about it, but our faith in the fact is nevertheless what is needed in order that sin may no more reign in our mortal bodies. "Let not sin, therefore, reign." On the Egyptian side of the sea there could not be an exhortation to that effect. It would have been of no use to bid Israel not to let Pharaoh reign. He was master on that side, and not they. But now we can be addressed as consciously masters. If sin reigns, we let it reign. But our death to it must be a constant realization, that sin may not re-assume power in any measure. "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof," says the apostle.

Scripture makes a distinction here. Our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin may be annulled — practically brought to nothing — that henceforth we should not serve sin. It does not say the flesh is crucified with Christ, but our old man is. Our old man represents what we were by nature — the man in the flesh; but although we are not in the flesh (that is a wholly past condition), yet the flesh is in us, and we may permit it, in fact, to assert itself. It is we that are dead, not the flesh; the flesh remains , but as a foreign thing which is no more accounted our own, from the Christian point of view — that is, from the wilderness side of the sea. It is, in fact, a mere Egyptian carcase; nothing but corruption attaches to it; nothing but corruption can we expect from it; it is the carcase of an enemy, not ourselves. That we are not men in the flesh is a matter of faith entirely. The moment, therefore, we slip out of this, we have the flesh to deal with, either as an antagonist or a tempter.

But notice now, how strikingly God guards His truth from the abuse which man might make of it. It is easy to say that if you reckon yourselves dead to sin it leaves you free to do as you list. But the apostle shows (what is evident indeed upon a moment's consideration) that if we are holding ourselves dead, we have no will of our own to serve, no lusts to serve. It is therefore impossible for a man to be reckoning himself dead to sin and yet living in it we cannot. If we do, the necessary conclusion is that in our actual faith at the moment, we are not dead to it; and to assert that we are dead would be hypocrisy, which would stand self-convicted. So in this sixth chapter of Romans, the apostle points out to us the responsibility of this position if we take it. First, he asserts positively, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace;" then he asks the question, "What then, shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?" And he adds, in answer, another question: "Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey — whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?"

A person who takes distinctly the position of being, in this sense, free from the dominion of sin, if he is yielding himself to it, chooses a master. He is not at all the person in the 7th chapter, who mourns under captivity to the law of sin in his members, and cannot escape. He is a free man choosing a service; and if as a free man he can choose the service of sin, this will only manifest in the fullest way what he is. Therefore says the apostle, If you yield yourselves servants to sin, the wages of sin is death. You have chosen a master, and will get his wages, however much you may talk about deliverance.

Still, the fact remains that if we are reckoning ourselves dead to sin, we are free, free from conflict and free from its allurement. This position is therefore the very basis of holiness, and of a life to God.

We may notice here, too, the importance of salvation being their song. The apostle enforces this upon the Colossians, that they be established in the faith as they have been taught, and abounding therein "with thanksgiving." If our hearts are not full of the joy of the deliverance, the deliverance can scarcely be in proper realization. There is power in joy to keep the soul. "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Happiness with Christ and holiness are linked together; therefore the apostle at the close of the first part of the Epistle to the Romans speaks of "joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the reconciliation." Joy in God is indeed a further thing, a thing beyond joy in salvation, but here they unite. This song on the other side of the sea is a song of praise to God, and if our hearts are there we shall find emphatically how strong we are. The apostle therefore urges upon us: "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice;" and this joy is of necessity worship also: it is a song of salvation.

The second point which we find in the song is that now of a certainty they see that God will bring them through to His own habitation. We shall find this character marking the close of the two divisions of the doctrinal part of the Epistle to the Romans. First, in the fifth chapter we have this conclusion, "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." And again, "If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." "His life" here, we must remember, is not Christ's life before the cross, but after it, life in resurrection, that life in which He lives before God for us; that life therefore of which He says to His disciples, "Because I live, ye shall live also." It is Himself in the presence of God, Himself accepted, brought finally out of death — Himself abiding in His own unchangeable perfection, abiding there for us and we in Him, which is the absolutely sufficient argument for the perseverance of the saint himself. His perseverance is in fact Christ's perseverance for him; his being carried through is linked with Christ being his representative already in the presence of God.

Therefore in the question of priesthood, of who is able to carry a people through the wilderness — spite of all that is in them and all that is around them — it is the rod that buds out of death in the sanctuary, and bears blossoms and yields almonds, which is the sign of a true priest. He has come through death, and come out of it. He is a risen priest, the representative of His people, whose own presence in the glory necessitates theirs. If justified by Christ's blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. If reconciled by His death when we were enemies, much more we shall be saved by His life.

In the 8th chapter — our position as having passed to the other side of the sea — we have a more decisive challenge, as it were a defiance of everything to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. There everything that can possibly come is looked at: "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come." "Things to come" necessarily must cover whatever there may be of suffering; whatever there may be of temptation; whatever there may be of change.

But notice another thing here; it is to God's habitation we are coming. Now God brings us to His own house. We have nothing of this until we have the story of redemption complete. A redeemed people is redeemed to God — to have for Himself and with Himself forever. "In my Father's house," says the Lord, "are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am ye may be also." "Where I am," is Christ's own eternal dwelling-place. "I am" is the phrase descriptive of unchanging Deity. No earth however beautiful and adorned, not even a new earth, we may say, is for us the "Father's house." The Father's house is where the Father is, where the Son dwells from eternity to eternity.

But there is a third thing, another habitation which His people are to prepare for Him. "He is my God, and I will prepare Him a habitation," they say. This points, clearly, to the tabernacle in the wilderness in which God's presence was manifested to His people. This tabernacle which the people's hands and hearts prepared for Jehovah, was of course a very different thing from the people who prepared it. Israel was in no sense God's house. We must go to the New Testament to find this. Now, Christians are His house. We have thus the truth of 1st Corinthians uniting to the truth of Romans. We have passed through the doctrine of Romans, we may say, and now find ourselves in Corinthians. The Church is the house of God. It is also the body of Christ, and here we have what passes all figures. What a wonderful testimony it is, even now, to the completeness of our redemption, that God Himself can, as Scripture expresses it, dwell in us and walk among us! The Holy Ghost can dwell in our bodies, as individuals, and dwell in the saints collectively as the house of God.

It is evident that this could not be, if the question of our sins were not settled, and of our nature also. It is as in Christ before God, sanctified in Christ, and therefore absolutely perfect, that the Holy Ghost can dwell in us. And if we have the house of God before us, and the saints as that house in which He dwells, we cannot but remember how holiness is linked with this house. "Holiness becometh thy house, O God, for ever." He who dwells in it, must have it according to His own mind — must be Master in it. Our own wills will not do, even religiously. It is not every one doing what is right in his own eyes, even though it be right. God's word must be that by which our service is in all things directed.

How little, oftentimes, we think of this. Measuring things by a mere rule of right and wrong, we never really estimate them aright. The question is, What is His will for us? Can He be unconcerned about our path, our walk and ways? Who would desire any other than the way of perfect wisdom and perfect love? Who would desire to follow his own will into the ditch, where it surely would lead him? Who could think of taking more care for himself than God takes for him? or of being wiser than He? or of having power to shape his path which God has not? Thus that sanctification which is ours in Christ becomes a practical thing to us.

We must now follow Israel into the wilderness, which begins from this point. It is not a condition of failure to be in the wilderness, but a consequence of redemption. The world is not for sense a wilderness; it is for faith.

This truth of a wilderness is not in itself a pleasant, but a bitter thing. The good of it is in the necessity that brings God in. The wilderness is a place of most wonderful display of divine power and of divine love, but it is evidently the necessity of the people which occasions it. Had the wilderness brought forth bread for them, there would have been no bread from heaven. Had it producea water, there would have been no need for the water from the rock. God's supplies are not proportioned to the necessity, but occasioned by it. They are more than proportioned; the supply is over-abundant.

Here, in this chapter which is begun with the joy of salvation, we find for the first time the true meaning of the wilderness.

"And when they came to Marah they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore the name of it was called Marah."

Lying low by its shore, the saltness of the sea rendered, and still renders, the waters brackish. It is the sea itself, let us notice, that makes the bitterness of Marah. Now, if the sea is death, as we have seen, we shall easily understand how this gives the realization of the wilderness as the place of death, which not only provides nothing for our thirst, but what is there is provocative of thirst. Just so is the wilderness to us as a redeemed people. It is a place where that death, which in Christ we have passed through, as Israel passed through the sea, meets us and presents itself to our taste.

Naturally we shrink from it. The people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? Marah is in itself never pleasant. The Christian's spirit with regard to all the sorrow and sin that is in the world can never be apathy, never indifference. We are never placed in a position in which not to feel what a scene we are passing

through. On the contrary, we are in the very position in which we shall feel it. It is as redeemed we come to Marah. It is as having been brought through the sea that we have to drink it. The Lord has not tasted this path for us to keep us from tasting it; but on the contrary, the death which we have escaped from we are yet called to realize as characterizing the whole scene through which we pass.

But God has a remedy:

"The people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet."

We know this tree. Surely it is a simple fact that the cross of Christ makes what is naturally bitter sweet to us. It is the fellowship of His sufferings; and the knowledge of suffering with Him, what can it not sweeten? We are sharing His experiences who gives us therein to realize the wonderful path in which divine love led Him for our sakes. We have the reality of His sympathy with us. We have communion with Himself in such a way as we could not else enjoy, for nothing brings hearts together like sharing a common lot of toil and sorrow.

The cross was, as we know, not only that upon which atonement was wrought, but it was also the end of His whole sorrowful pathway; the lowest point in it, which He had been steadfastly pursuing from the first moment of His entrance upon the path. The body prepared Him was that He might die in it. It was necessary for Him to be made in all things like unto His brethren. It became Him for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering. Perfect in Himself He always was. Perfect, as the Leader of salvation, He became through suffering, and we follow our Leader in this — not as regards atonement, of course, which is His work alone, as the Lord distinguishes in His words to Peter. He tells him, "Thou canst not follow Me now." When atonement was in view, Peter could not follow; when atonement is made, Peter can follow, "Thou shalt follow Me afterwards."

In that sense, the cross is that which we may bear with Him. It is linked with the glory, as what characterizes our path now. We follow a rejected Master. We are made partakers of His sufferings — sufferings which are peculiar to us as His followers — not the experience of what falls to the common lot of men. It is not the bitterness of enduring the ills which "flesh is heir to," but that which results from being linked with Christ in His path of suffering here. "If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him." If we endure shame, rejection, persecution for Him, the sweet reality of being thus linked with Him makes Marah sweet.

Then, it is added, "He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee which I have brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord that healeth thee." Here a special exemption is promised them: the diseases which God brought upon Egypt are to be escaped from conditionally. But in order to escape from them, they must endure the test which God here applies to them. Marah is in fact this test. It is at Marah, that the Lord makes this ordinance with them. If we accept the path of sorrow and trial which the Lord gives us, we shall escape the afflictions which are His judgments upon His people when they take their place with the world. And how many of His people prove them, because they will not accept the path of rejection with Himself.

How important it is to realize this condition — which, let us remember, is not a legal one in any wise. Let us not confound conditions with legality. Very different, they are. Under the government of God, we must of necessity submit ourselves to the laws of His government, and God will and must manifest Himself a holy governor, who has power to enforce also the statutes of His holiness. And let us be assured, He has made for us too a statute and an ordinance whereby He proves us. The question is to us also, whether we will hearken to His voice and do that which is right, not in our own sight, but in His.

This is what divine love says to us as His redeemed. Love itself cannot give us escape from the necessity of conforming to these conditions. It would not be love to do so. We shall find at the last how only in this way we could enter into some of the deepest secrets of God. It is here in this scene of sin and sorrow that we are in fact learning Christ — the Christ whom we are to enjoy forever. We cannot even in the glory learn what we must learn here upon earth. But to learn Christ's path of sorrow, there must on one hand be sorrow of our own, as on the other hand it is, so to speak, lost in the infinite joy of being made like Him, and learning that in Him which is to be ours forever.

Marah being passed, "They came to Elim where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees, and they encamped there by the waters." They are the divine provision of refreshment for a thirsty people. When we have conformed ourselves to God's conditions we find that the water is not always such as must be sweetened for us, but refreshingly sweet — a pure unalloyed satisfaction and joy, which has no sorrow in it.

Twelve wells of water give us the thought of God's grace being still in the order of His government. It is in having submitted ourselves to Christ's yoke that we come to this rest — "Ye shall find rest to your souls" (Matt. 11. 29).