Lecture 11. Spirit and Flesh (Exodus 17.)

"Bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure," says the prophet of salvation. We have seen how the first part of this was fulfilled to delivered Israel; we are now to see the fulfilment of the rest; with deepest significance in their application to us, as those upon whom "the ends of the ages have come," and for whom their accumulated wealth of blessing has been reserved.

In the gift of water, as of bread, we find the stamp of grace. It was in answer to the people's murmuring that it was sent.

"And the people did chide with Moses, … and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? They be almost ready to stone me. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel, and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thy hand, and go: behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink."

Grace is a mightier triumph over sin than is judgment. When we look through the figure to the reality, how mighty is the triumph here! For the interpretation we have the 7th chapter of John, as the 6th has already interpreted the manna for us.

In this 7th chapter the Feast of Tabernacles had come — the remembrance of that wilderness-journey past, of which the manna speaks as of a present thing. Divine power has brought them to the land, but, alas, Israel has not recognized the Hand that has led them there. Himself is there, but unknown, unrecognized He is not the Master of the feast, but the witness of its hollowness. Thus He goes not up at first, but after it has begun, and not openly, but in secret. Then in the last, the great, day of the feast, in which its mockery would become apparent, "Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." And the inspired historian adds, "This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

Thus if the manna shows forth the Lord upon earth, in humiliation and rejection, the living water depends upon His exaltation and glory. If men are to be recipients of the Holy Ghost, His blessed life on earth alone suffices not for this: the work must be accomplished for them which alone enables them to receive, or God to give, this unspeakable gift. The glorification of Jesus in fact begins in the very depth of His humiliation. It is on the night of His betrayal the traitor having been dismissed to do the terrible work to which he had sold himself, and the cross being now in near and full view that the Lord says to His few faithful ones, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him" (John 13:31-32). Thus, in the cross, the Son of Man was glorified, and all the bright display of divine perfection shone out there. What manifestation of power could so exhibit God in His innermost nature, as where for man He stooped to human weakness and more than human suffering? What judgment upon sin could so tell out His holiness as where in atoning sorrows "righteousness and peace kissed each other?" Nowhere was sin seen so evil nowhere God so supreme in goodness.

Hence if God were glorified in the Son of Man after this fashion, God must, as the result of this, glorify Him in Himself. Christ's present place is the witness of what that work is to God. He is exalted to heaven that all may see and rejoice in it. And, upon earth, the descent of the Holy Spirit as the divine seal put upon the men who are the fruit of His work, is as complete a testimony to the efficacy of His work.

In view of all this, this scene in Exodus becomes most significant. Here Horeb, "the dry place," yields water. The Lord Himself is there. He stands upon the rock which is to display at once His power, His sufficiency and His grace. The rod which had smitten the river smites it — the rod of power in behalf of His people — and the streams gush out in abundant supply for all Israel's thirsty multitude. The smiting of our living Rock has created for us a spring of refreshment and satisfaction as inexhaustible as the eternal source from which it comes; and its source is in God Himself — the God whose name is love.

The type of water is pregnant with instruction, as that which supplies man's strongest craving, and deepest necessity. Thirst unsatisfied kills sooner than hunger; nor can hunger itself be really satisfied where thirst is not, at least in a measure, met. A glance at the need to which water ministers will enable us to understand this.

Without water most fruitful soil is unable to yield nourishment to the rootlets of the plant, which will die of drought in the midst of abundance. Water dissolves the nutriment, and supplies it in a shape suited to be taken up and assimilated into sap and juice. In the plant, and in the animal body, every constituent part is saturated with water, which alone enables it to fulfil its function and take its place in living relation to the whole. How perfect and beautiful an expression thus of that constant ministry of the Spirit, with which for due and healthy life we must be "filled," and by which alone we are enabled to absorb and digest all spiritual food!

From the beginning of all true life on earth it was so. Every one who has preceded us upon the path of faith has been sustained of the Spirit as born of the Spirit at first. This is not peculiar to Christian times. Yet the streams from the smitten Rock have in them that which is peculiar, and we should learn surely to appreciate and thankfully acknowledge the distinctive grace that has been shown toward us. All streams carry with them the witness of their source to the soil through which they flow. The Spirit of God is come down to us, is the fruit of accomplished redemption and of our acceptance, and the Spirit of adoption is within us, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. A new relationship to God, in and through His Beloved, such as could not have been known before is now made consciously our own. "At that day," says He, in anticipation of it, "ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in Me, and I in you." Thus the Spirit ministers Christ, and in Him the Father; communion with the Father and the Son becomes our portion, and herein fulness of joy is ours. It may rebuke the littleness of our apprehension of it to be told that, in result of the Spirit's presence in us, "rivers of living water" would flow out from us; for the vessel is not the measure of the stream at all.

The last half of our chapter is the history of another thing. A new foe appears; one but too well known, and conflict with whom is but too constant an experience of the redeemed of the Lord.

The new foe is Amalek; we have his genealogy in the book of Genesis. He was a grandson of Esau or Edom, whose latter name, earned by his actions, is almost iden- tical with Adam. Esau, the "profane person, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright," and when he would have inherited the blessing was rejected, is thus a representative of the "old man."

If we compare this chapter in Exodus with the 20th of Numbers, we shall find a strikingly similar scene in the first part of each, though separated in time by nearly forty years. The murmuring of the people in their thirst; the name Meribah (strife) given in each case to the place; the water brought from the rock to supply their thirst; and while in Exodus conflict with Amalek follows, in Numbers, correspondingly, follows a scene with Edom. There are great differences too, but the coincidences are not meaningless; there is nothing hap-hazard in the word of God; and I point them out as confirmation of the view I take, that Amalek typifies the flesh's will, or lust. The apostle Peter refers to this, it seems to me, when he says, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."

"The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to the other, so that ye may not do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:17). "May not" is the literal rendering of this passage — not "cannot," as the common version reads. The constant opposition between "flesh" and "spirit" is to hinder the man who has the Spirit from doing what he would. If it said "cannot," it would deny the power of the Spirit to control the flesh. On the contrary, the apostle says, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh." But the flesh is still there for all that; ready, alas, ever to assert itself. How solemn in this way to find, when spiritually interpreted, after the water from the rock, the conflict with Amalek!

We must mark just with what Scripture associates this attack of Amalek. The connections in Scripture are very important; and the exact connection we shall find to be this:

"And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not? Then came Amalek and fought with Israel in Rephidim."

That is, the moral link as thus given, is not between the gift of the water and Amalek's onset, but between the unbelief of the people and this attack.

Let us particularly note that Amalek assaults Israel, not Israel Amalek. God had not called to this war. He had not said, Seek out Amalek and destroy him; but Amalek seeks out Israel; and Israel's unbelief exposes them to the attack. So the apostle does not say, "War against fleshly lusts," but "abstain" from them — which, if it were done, no war would ensue; if not, then fleshly lusts war against you: you are entangled, and need to fight.

This sort of conflict is not a necessity of God's imposing, but the result of faith not having been in exercise as it should be. Did we "hold off from" the lusts of the flesh by the whole length of death with Christ to sin, as we have already seen it — were we actually reckoning ourselves dead, as we are bound and entitled to do — conflict of this kind we would not have: dead men neither fight nor are allured. The apostle similarly presses the force of it by saying, "He that is dead is freed" (or rather "justified") "from sin." That is, you cannot charge lusts upon a dead man. This, of course, is faith's reckoning, but it is a true one. Let us hold fast to this, that we have died with Christ, and give no place to the flesh and its lusts. This is faith's prerogative, our privilege, our duty.

This conflict, then, comes from faith's failure, with us as with Israel in the picture here. Being entangled, we must fight in order to be free; and this chapter in Exodus may teach us the method of it.

A new leader appears now against this new foe:

"And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek … So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek."

Joshua is Jesus. The names, as we know, are the same, and Christ in us is our Leader now. Christ acting by the Spirit is distinctively what Joshua represents to us, the Captain of our salvation, who leads us into the practical apprehension of our portion in the heavenly places into which He is gone. It is most important to realize that, for fighting the battles of the wilderness, we want such a Leader. A positive link with the heavenlies must be sustained in order to have successful conflict upon earth. Thus the appearance of Joshua fitly connects with the water from the rock, type, as we have seen, of the ministry of the Spirit. This tells us too that, while in a certain sense, wilderness experience may precede Canaan experience, yet the two must in fact go together for successful traversing the wilderness itself. We want the positive enjoyment of what is ours in the heavens in order to be really pilgrims and strangers upon earth. And this we shall find all through these types henceforth.

Joshua, then, is our leader; but even Joshua's success is dependent, as we see directly, upon Moses being on the hill-top before God, and the holding up of the rod of power — God's rod, as it is significantly called here — before Him. If Moses' hands are kept up, Israel prevails; but if Moses' hands are let down, then Amalek prevails. They put, therefore, a stone under Moses, and Aaron and Hur on either side hold up his hands, and his hands are upheld till the going down of the sun. "And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword."

Moses is here also a type of Christ, as he is almost everywhere. And his position on the mount, holding up the rod of power, speaks plainly enough of Christ gone in to God, presenting before Him the value of that work in which divine power has acted in behalf of His people. All spiritual actings in us depend upon the position Christ has taken for us. And these supporters of Moses' hands figure, as it seems, that in Him (not external to Him) which keeps Him in the place He has taken for us. On the one hand Aaron represents the priestly character of One "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," gracious and compassionate; on the other, Hur, "white," speaks to us as the manna did, of one who fully reflects the light which God is. Here, then, is mercy towards man, with righteousness Godward: an "Advocate with the Father," and also "Jesus Christ the righteous."

Thus we prevail: Christ's action in us depending upon His acting for us; and Amalek is defeated. Blessed be God for this security as to all His own! It is our only hope and confidence.

But, while all this is surely true, I feel that some will ask, Is there nothing on our part in defeating the enemy? The question is reasonable and right. Let us seek to answer it.

In the first place, it is as important as it is plain, that our dependence is upon Christ all through. Joshua, Moses, Aaron, Hur, surround us with testimonies of our dependence and His care. And he who knows himself best, will know how needful is this reminding. We are prone to go in our own strength instead of His, and even when failure testifies of our weakness, we are still prone to lean upon it as if we had strength.

Here, Joshua is the Leader, that is, Christ as entered into the heavenly places. It is occupation with Him there that gives power over our enemies here, and frees us from the power of earthly things. Of this the whole series of wilderness types constantly bears witness. We cannot insist too strongly upon its importance.

Let us remember, too, that it was "with the edge of the sword" Joshua discomfited his enemies; and the "sword of the Spirit is the word of God." It is this which "pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." It is this which enables for self-judgment, which is really the judgment of the foes of our peace and blessing. Our Amalek is within. Our battleground is that of our own hearts. The citadel secured, all foes have lost their vantage ground and means of access to us; God Himself can be manifestly for us; and if God be for us, who can be against us?

How good to have in this Word what completely exposes us to ourselves, and the world also amid which we move, and with which our natural links are! How blessed, above all, is its testimony to my soul that Christ is for me, loves, is mine own; who not only searches me out, but enables me to welcome the searching! The light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shines down into my heart, and my heart unfolds to receive it as a flower to bathe itself in the warmth and brightness of the summer sun. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Real dependence upon God on the one hand, thorough subjection to His Word on the other, these principles with one who knows redemption and acceptance in the Beloved, are what will carry him safe and victorious through all oppositions and hindrances. They will enable him to break through every entanglement and allurement of the "fleshly lusts which war against the soul." Only let us again remember, and be thankful for it, that what we are called to is not continual conflict, nor (properly indeed) conflict at all, but the happier path of those who have died unto sin once, and in that they live, live unto God; who reckon themselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amalek is beaten off, but Amalek is not destroyed. Israel have gained nothing by the conflict; and by the victory only a free and unobstructed road. If we know what this means, let us bless God for it, and in peace pursue our way. The battle with Amalek was but an episode in their history, not a day by day struggle, as so many of us find it, and make it to be. In the epistle to the Philippians, the epistle of Christian experience, properly so called, the flesh is only mentioned to say, "We have no confidence in it"; and these "are the true circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." May we be more fully such!

We reach in the next chapter the end of the first section of the book of Exodus; and of this final chapter I can say little in connection with the story of our redemption. I shall close, therefore, here. We have followed out, so far as I have been able to read it, the deliverance of the people of God from the hand of the enemy, a type of our own from one more dread and mighty. We have traced out briefly, the provision made for them in the wilderness into which they are now come.

May our hearts prize these wonderful lessons more; and may God make them to us all that He designed in writing them, and laying them up for instruction!