Lecture 12. The Giving of the Law, and its Typical Meaning (Exodus 20.)

We are come now to the second part of the book of Exodus. In the first part we have seen the grace of God meeting the miserable condition of the people, putting away the moral barriers to their deliverance, and then freeing them from the bitter and galling bondage under which they groaned. We have seen, too, His gracious care of them in the wilderness into which He had brought them. We are now to see the throne of God established over the people He had redeemed to see them under divine government. This is the meaning of the giving of the law at Sinai.

But we must distinguish between the type and the anti-type. The law in its typical meaning is in contrast to its literal meaning, which is true of many another type. Law and grace are on the one hand perfect contrasts; and this has hindered many from seeing that Sinai has a typical side at all. They could not deny this as to the tabernacle and its ordinances, which have so large a place in the latter half of the book, and they have no difficulty as to the typical character of the deliverance which fills up the former part of this book; but the law itself is to them only bitter, and in the book of redemption seems like a disfiguring scar to them. Yet God has given it a place there, and we must keep it in its place. Nay, God has stamped the redemption-character upon the law itself in an unmistakable way. "I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage," is His preface to the ten commandments. In fact, only to a redeemed people could He give a law at all — a truth however which some have turned into positive mischief. We shall do well therefore to look at both the literal and typical aspects of the "mount that might be touched."

As I have just now said, until God had a redeemed people, a people in relationship to Himself in another way than that of nature merely, He could not give a law at all. Of course you will understand that I am speaking of man's condition since the fall. That God gave Adam a law in paradise we all know; but that law, suited to an innocent man, was not and could not be a moral law, commanding right affections, and forbidding wrong ones, as the ten commandments do. It simply forbade the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a thing which was only immoral as forbidden of God. Thus, as it would seem, Adam might have learned what good and evil was in a happier way than by the actual experience of evil. But he chose the experience, tasted of the tree, and fell. Thus he became a sinner, cursed under the law which he had broken, and communicating to his seed the sad inheritance of sin in which he now was.

But the Eden-law passed away. Outside of paradise it could have no existence, no meaning; and, outside of paradise, to children of corruption and of wrath, God could not come and speak of law-keening to bring us back to what disobedience had deprived us of. A deliverer was what God spoke of, even before Adam had left the garden of delight; sacrifice, as we see in Abel, became the way of acceptance proclaimed by Him; and a long silence of 1600 years followed, unbroken so far as we know — except Enoch's removal might be so spoken of — until Noah's testimony began, 120 years before the flood, in which the whole world perished, except those sheltered in the ark.

After the flood human government was established for the repression of those deeds of violence which had just brought down the visible judgment of God. But He still established no moral code, gave no law as at Sinai. Of grace — much older than law — He still spoke; to Abraham He reckoned faith for righteousness, and therewith linked a promise of blessing to his seed, and to all nations of the earth through him, entirely apart (as the apostle argues) from all condition of law, which came 430 years after.

Thus the whole of this period, from Adam to Moses, was what the apostle Paul calls "the time before the law." A law to bring into relationship to Himself by obedience to it, God never proposed. Relationship to Him, for sinners, must be of His grace. Outside of this there can be only wrath and judgment; and from this, as our natural portion, there must be deliverance, wrought by God Himself, before there can be any proper relationship to Him. This the sacrifices always recognized, and in the most solemn way we have seen the passover enforcing it. Brought into relationship, God gives them a law upon the express basis of the wonderful deliverance He had vouchsafed to them: "I am the Lord thy God that brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage: thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

But while God thus maintains His testimony to man's condition, to his need of divine mercy, man, ignorant of himself as of God, needed yet a deeper lesson — a more personal searching out. For this cause the law was given — a cause which in some shape or other is in man's heart everywhere — as the condition of approach to God. God then takes it up in order that man by personal experience might learn his inability to stand before Him. Without this personal experience man will not believe God's testimony as to him: the personal experience therefore he shall have. "Ye have seen," says God to them, "what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagle's wings, and brought you unto Myself." The truth is insisted on, of how this relationship to Himself was of His gift alone. Then He says,

"Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people (for all the earth is mine); and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

"And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do."

Thus they undertook to fulfil the law as the condition of continuance in relationship to God according to His nature. They must be a "holy nation," to suit His holiness. They would be a holy nation if they obeyed His voice, and so, as a "kingdom of priests," have continual access to Himself.

But they were never able to put in their claim to this; for the law they never fulfilled. Instead of a national priesthood, one family alone, the family of Aaron, was taken up to be priests for a people unfit to approach God in the mass; and even from these the face of God was hidden. The high priest alone, and he but once a year, could enter the holiest; for he was but on the same ground as others: "No man can see Me, and live."

Yet in all this the purpose of the law was fulfilled — completely to expose man to himself. "God is come to prove you," says Moses at the time it was given; it was the proving of one already pronounced a sinner, continually evil in every imagination of his heart — for so had God declared him at the flood: so the law could be but the manifestation of this to himself. God of course knew well; He had spoken; no discovery could be new to Him.

Of this trial then, as given in this book, there are two parts, answering to the giving of the law the first and second times. Of the issue of it the New Testament speaks. When summing up the condition to which Christ's death applied, and speaking of the "due season" in which that precious death took place, it says, "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Ungodly, and without strength, are what these givings of the law respectively reveal. And that word "yet" tells us of the long time of expectancy in which man had been allowed, if he could, to show himself other than the issue declares.

In fact the first part of the trial was soon over. "Ungodly" indeed was he who in the space of forty days from the time in which he heard the voice of God out of the mount, could turn from the God who had manifested Himself in delivering them with a mighty arm from Egypt's bitter bondage; and give the glory of his Redeemer to the similitude of an ox that eateth grass! And of this the people in one mass were guilty. Under the shadow of Mount Sinai they "sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play" — in honor of a graven image such as Jehovah had expressly forbidden, and in evident remembrance of those gods of Egypt upon whom He, under their very eyes, had executed judgment.

The tables of the covenant had not come down to them from God when they were already convicted and condemned under it. Moses breaks them therefore in testimony against them, and judgment takes its course, till God at Moses' intercession (the figure of a greater One) takes them up again. Here the second trial begins, which from its nature, not from any change in them, was necessarily of longer continuance.

Under the law as given the second time the people took possession of the land of promise, and held it for 800 years. But they held it, not as those who had kept the covenant, but in the long-suffering of a patient God, whom day by day their iniquities provoked. And with the captivity in Babylon this also was ended. Then the glory of God (which went outside the camp at the time of the first trial being over) departed from the city and went up to heaven. They were then Lo-Ammi, not Jehovah's people, and have never since been recognized as that. Only the voice of prophecy remains, calling the things that are not as though they were anticipating the Voice that shall yet call them out of their graves, when redeemed from their iniquity and gathered out of their long dispersion, the glory shall yet dwell upon every dwelling-place in Zion. But that will be under the new covenant, and not under the old.

The question in this second trial was not any more whether man was ungodly, but whether he had power of self-recovery — whether he had "strength." Hence the ground was no longer that of pure law which gave no room for repentance. The same ten commandments were given again, neither more nor less, for the standard of holiness could never be lowered, but they were now in the hand of the mediator, and attended with the proclamation of Jehovah's Name and goodness, who "forgave iniquity, transgression and sin," if yet He could not, as under strict law He could not, "clear the guilty."

Thus the law became, according to what was of afterwards its type, a Bethesda, in which if divine power manifested itself in an extraordinary manner, to give virtue to that in which naturally there was none, yet the really "impotent," the helpless, got no healing. The condition of healing was that he should do that which his disease forbade his doing.

Yet a gleam of light shone out, as at the first giving of the law, there had not been. No goodness of Jehovah had been mentioned at the first, and no glory shone as the result in the face of the Mediator. Yet even with goodness shown, God is not seen face to face. When Moses asks to be shown His glory, he is told, "Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see Me and live." Solemn preface to declarations of goodness, but not yet over-abounding mercy! "And Jehovah said, There is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock; and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock and cover thee with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see MY BACK PARTS; but my face shall not be seen." What a distinct declaration of a glory yet unrevealed, which is the "excelling" glory of Christianity! Long after this an apostle says, as echoing what is here: "No man hath seen God at any time;" but then adds, as looking at the glory of the Word made flesh, "The Only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him."

And thus with Christ that Father's name is revealed. "I have declared unto them thy Name," are His words. In Exodus it is not the Father's but Jehovah's, an immense difference, which left God indeed in His proper character unrevealed. And all the Old Testament names of God are similar. "Almighty" to Abraham is the declaration of His power, not His Person. "Most High" is His title as assuming His great power over the earth. "Lord" spoke of authority as His. And "Jehovah" here speaks of the Eternal, and it may be Omnipresent, and so Omniscient. But who is He to whom all these titles of glory belong? Alas, poor man, that has to ask it!  —  thy God and thou knowest Him not! thou canst not see His face! For us, the darkness is passing, and the true light now shineth; for us, the Father has been seen in Him who is the "brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Person" in the meek and lowly Man on earth, and yet "the Son of Man who is in heaven."

The goodness of Jehovah proclaimed in the 34th chapter, is the goodness of a Lawgiver and Judge, the wise and gracious Governor of His creatures.

"And Jehovah descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Jehovah. And Jehovah passed by before him, and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children unto the third and to the fourth generation."

It is plain that this is not the announcement of the gospel, of One who "justifieth the ungodly." It is goodness that can take up a wicked man to bid him "turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, and he shall save his soul alive." It is the putting a man upon the ground of self-salvation, to see If he has "strength." The past may be forgiven, the future he must provide for; and after all, there is a God who can by no means clear the guilty to be met at last.

The apostle Paul tells us plainly that the law so given, when the glory of Jehovah reflected itself in Moses' face (not as when first given, when no glory accompanied it), was still a "ministration of death" and of "condemnation." Man could not save himself, nor be helped to do it. Law for him, however put, was curse, not "glad tidings." Upon this ground the trial might be, and was, a long one, for the patience of the Lord would give ample time to let the result be seen. That result, after 1500 years of patient waiting, was declared: "There is none righteous." Man is "without strength" as well as "ungodly." Put on the ground of requirement in any form, however softened, he cannot meet it. He has nothing wherewith to pay: grace and forgiveness alone will suit him. But that is not here revealed.

And thus the glorious face of God is hidden, even when the tabernacle becomes His habitation, and He dwells among the people of His choice. But in that tabernacle is given us, in types, the reality and the justification of that grace which could not as yet be spoken out. The veil over Moses' face was the type of the hiding of that mercy in which the God, who dwelt in the thick darkness, ever acted toward those in whom He wrought — the men of faith in that and other generations. The veil is done away in Christ, and "hidden things" are now unsuited to the plain speech of Christianity. God Himself is in the light — revealed to us.

If we see only the letter of this law given at Sinai, we must renounce the thought of its being consistent with the grace of the book of Redemption. But must we take it only in the letter? Cannot the law be typical of something that is not law, and which suits the truth of redemption? "Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood," is the song of the worshiping elders before the throne. "Redeemed to God," what does it mean, but that by redemption we become as much the property of God as when unredeemed we were the miserable slaves of sin? Blessed be God that, in our guilt and misery, He should have attached value enough to us to make us His own! It will be our everlasting joy that we are His. But does not this involve His setting up His throne in us, and making good His claim to possess us wholly?

Thus as part of our very deliverance, or what is involved in it, we must reckon the establishment of the Redeemer's throne over us. If for us it is a "throne of grace," as in the fullest sense it is, it is none the less a throne; as in the New Jerusalem, the city of eternal gladness, from "the throne of God and of the Lamb pours, clear as crystal, the "river of the water of life."

In harmony with this, the gift of the Holy Ghost as the living water to us, is the fruit of the session of Christ upon the Father's throne. "Thou hast gone up on high, Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men." "Therefore," says the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, "being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear." Thus the water of life even now comes from the throne.

In this thought of the throne, the two special features of this last half of Exodus unite together: the giving of the law and the tabernacle. The latter, which especially manifests the provisions of grace, is yet God's dwelling-place, where between the cherubim He sits sovereign. The ark and mercy-seat are His throne, and in the ark the tables of the law are continually kept.

Viewed as a type then, we see in the law the presenta tion of that holy government of God under which as His redeemed we come. Even that which was said of old to Israel, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities," contains a principle as distinctly recognized in the New Testament as it is in the Old. A father corrects and chastens his own children, not those of other people. And so the dear relationship of grace involves that our Father "scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." This makes its sternest lessons precious to the soul of the saint: it is ever His dealing with us "for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness."

Thus, upon the ground of being brought to God, we are brought under the yoke of His commandments. The law is only the type of this, for it is not under the law we come. It is not our "rule of life," for the simple reason, that it was the Israelite's. It is plain, then, that as the Christian is not a Jew, the law is not for him. "Holy, just and good" it is, but the Christian's rule, as given in Gal. 6:15, is another thing. That rule is, "In Christ, a new creature." The Christian's place and rule is to walk as a "pilgrim and a stranger" upon the earth. The law has nothing of this. Had it been fulfilled, it would have made earth morally a paradise; and will, when written upon Israel's heart in millennial days. But strangership on earth and a heavenly walk, it never taught.

In this typical teaching of the law then, the second part of the book of Exodus is in full moral keeping with the first part. And, however sternly evil may be dealt with, we who see the Deliverer's heel upon the head of the serpent, can even rejoice in it. Would we have God less holy? Would we have His ways less characteristic of Himself?

Thus then we may read the scene at Sinai. In the second giving of the law we learn, however, that the God of judgment remembers that the creature He is dealing with is but dust. Even in government, while maintaining fully His holiness, He can nevertheless show patience and long-suffering mercy. In judgment He remembers mercy. Surely His people daily realize that.

Yet, if long-suffering be shown, holiness is in no wise touched by it. While forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, He w ill "by no means clear the guilty." Thus to us it is written, that "what a man soweth, that he shall also reap" (Gal. 6:7). And the same apostle writes to the Corinthians: "If we would judge ourselves we should not be judged; but when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." Thus it is clearly taught that the holiness of God's government requires His judgment of sin in this life, or eternally. The work of Christ therefore has not set aside this necessity, and we see still further how the setting up of the throne of God over the redeemed should have place in the redemption-book.

We reap what we sow; but thank God, that does not mean to the full extent of what we sow. No; for it is our Father, who "without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work;" and thus there is no exacting of penalty, as will be the case for those who have despised His grace.

"I will put thee in a cleft of the rock," the Lord says to Moses, "and cover thee with my hand, while my glory passeth by." And which of us knows not this cleft of the rock from which alone the glory of Him who passeth by in the cloud of judgment can be rightly seen? Yet we must notice that even so, it is not His "face." His ways of holy government are in question here, and in the path of His judgments we do not meet Him face to face. From our place of repose and security, our cleft in the rock, hidden in His wounds, so to speak, can we alone hold aright the glory of Him who (even as our God) is "a consuming fire."

Yet, even so, "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous;" it is not the same as the enjoyment of the sunshine of a presence where, as we sometimes sing, there is,

"Not a cloud above"

to dim it; just as, looking at ourselves as in the Beloved, there is,

"Not a spot within."

It is a different line of things, though not contradictory. The same grace is acting; for if there be spots, it is a Father's eye that discerns, and a Father's love deals with them. Still, chastening is not in itself joyous, nor the undimmed manifestation of the blessed face of God. He is there, however, even if He wrap Himself in the cloud; and I know that He who has manifested Himself to me in Christ is unchangeably the same for me there.

The first part of Exodus is thus the preparation for the second part; the delivering grace enables for the learning of His ways in holiness. We do, in fact, prove how far we have learned the grace by our practical subjection to, and delight in, His ways in holiness. Too many who talk much of grace show how little they have learned it by their practical distaste for this line of things. Here where God's voice is heard, nature quakes, the people tremble and stand afar off. His own saints are practically saying, "Let not God speak with us, lest we die." And still Moses' words apply: "Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not."

The throne for us is a "throne of grace." It is grace that speaks, as we shall surely know, if indeed we have learned to recognize its voice. "Nature shrinks," as we often say, meaning rather the nature of the "old man" than the nature of the "new:" "All the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning," may be its sore complaint. But what does that prove, but that we are out of the "sanctuary," where alone the meaning of all this can be rightly apprehended? There we learn to apprehend our nearness to God as that which necessitates and secures to us all this painstaking care and love. "Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thy right hand upholdeth me." And "it is good for me to draw near to God." Yea: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee."

Near Him, the strokes which we almost felt as from the hand of an enemy are but delivering strokes for us, not against us. We realize the words of the prophet: "The Lord his God is with him; and the shout of a king is among them" — our jubilee-shout. Yes, we learn of Thee, Lord Jesus, who vast meek and lowly in heart; we take thine easy yoke, and thy light burden, and we find rest to our souls.