THE CALL OF THE DELIVERER
(Exodus, chap. 3.)
WE have looked at Israel's deliverer from Egyptian
bondage. We have seen him given over to death and brought up out of it. We have
seen him put himself forward as the saviour of his people, and rejected by
them. Then, as rejected by his own, making affinity for himself in the land of
his exile. Now we come to look at the call of the deliverer, in the next two
chapters. I only take up one of these tonight, as we shall find abundance in it
Here we see the one who was indeed to be the instrument of Israel's deliverance, who had hitherto run before his time, now drawing back when he receives the needed call. The man who had illustrated the forwardness of nature now illustrates the backwardness of nature. With instinct in his heart, forty years before, he had been ready to run without a call. But those forty years have made their mark upon him, and he is a changed man. The voice of God, now authoritatively urging him forward, is not enough for him. With his eyes upon himself, he responds, "Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
That may look like humility in us, but is not. When God has laid hold of us for a certain thing, to turn round and say, "Who am I, that I should do it?" is not humility. God did not raise any question as to who or what Moses was. If He chooses and sends, it matters not who the person is. The power lay in the One who was sending; so the Lord says, "Certainly I will be with thee." But, even so, Moses' reluctance is not overcome. There is just this tendency on the two sides. The forwardness of nature, I may say, is the failure of our youth, constantly - our spiritual youth, as well as our natural youth; eagerness to run in God's path, but not apprehending what the path is, or what it needs to walk in it. On the other hand, when the cost is counted, and our weakness known, the energy begotten of self-confidence being gone, we need a stimulating call on God's part, to get out of the persistent occupation with our weakness now, as with our strength before.
You find that very strikingly in the Gospel of Matthew, when our Lord, at the commencement of His labours, is addressing some of the disciples, at the end of the eighth chapter. One proposes to follow Him without any call at all. He says, "Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest." The Lord says - Do you know where this will lead you? "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has not where to lay his head." Of this man we hear no more; but to another He says, just as He says to Moses now, "Follow Me." But he says, "Suffer me first to go and bury my father." If we count the cost on our side, we shall always find it more than we have resources for. Yet we need to consider the cost; to look at it gravely and solemnly, until, in the sense of our utter insufficiency, faith roots itself in Divine omnipotence, and finds ability to stand where God calls.
Now let us look upon Moses as the type of One in whom was no defect. A very plain type he is. First, in that employment in which we find him. A shepherd was the type of the Divine deliverer and king. King David was a shepherd, and the beautiful word in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which speaks of Christ as the Governor who shall "rule" God's people Israel, is literally, "shall be a shepherd" to them. That is God's thought of a true ruler. Moses was trained for forty years as a simple shepherd, until he is fit to go forth to lead God's people; then power is entrusted to him - the meekest man upon the earth. We who know in whose blessed hands the sceptre of God's kingdom now is - for whom God's throne is a throne of grace - can realize a little the unspeakable blessedness of this!
You remember when the disciples were indignant with James and John because they had asked for places on the right and left hand in His kingdom, the Lord turned to them, and said, "You know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them; but so shall it not be among you; but whosoever will be great among you shall be your minister, and whosoever of you will be the chiefest shall be servant of all; for even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
How beautiful! Not merely does the Lord inculcate humility, and forbid the craving after place and power; but the places themselves are not such as would suit those ambitious to get them. They would not satisfy ambition - the greed for place. They are places of service in which the highest ministers to the lowest, as the mountain-tops send down their streams to the vales below; and the highest place of all is His whose love made Him come not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," is His own utterance, and ever true - in glory as well as on the way to it.
This training in service shows the character of the place for which He is training us. And He of whom Moses is but the picture, true Shepherd of the sheep, will never, however different the circumstances, give up the service to which love consecrated Him. With love, rule is service; and how blest the time when love alone shall rule!
We find Moses then, in the course of his service, leading his flock to the back side of the desert, to the Mount of God (called so, no doubt, from what now took place there) even Horeb. And there "the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. And he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." There the Lord addressed Moses; and, as the Angel of the bush, gives him his commission.
This is a wonder for our eyes as well as those of Moses. God had before, in reference to this very captivity in Egypt, revealed Himself under the similitude of fire. The "smoking furnace" had been His symbol, when (as we have already seen) in covenanting with Abraham He passed between the pieces of the sacrifice. And how striking is the symbol here! Abram had kept watch by the Victims, driving away the unclean birds which would have come down upon them. But the sun goes down; night comes on; a deep sleep overpowers him, and a horror of great darkness falls upon him. It is to these points that the vision addresses itself. The smoking furnace and the burning lamp are what the deep sleep and the darkness demand; and these the sacrifice secures, and the faithfulness of God supplies to His people. If the activity and vigilance of faith fail, the furnace of trial will not fail as the appointed means of purification; while for the darkness which is the result of unbelief, the burning lamp is equally provided. How sure the inheritance for those to whom God is thus pledged in Christ to bring them through to enjoy it, securing the conditions which His holiness of necessity imposes!
Thus the fiery trial which was trying them in Egypt was in reality God's remembrance of His covenant. It might not look like it. It might look any thing but that. Alas, unbelief mistakes the simplest dealings of God with us; nevertheless, if the people's deliverance from Egypt was to be really deliverance, they must realize in their own soul what bondage was. Thus it was God who raised up Pharaoh, just as it was God on the other hand who raised up Moses.
Now, if we look at this thorn-bush (for such it is), it is a striking picture of the people. In the tenth chapter of Isaiah, speaking of the Assyrian scourge, the prophet says: "And the light of Israel shall be for a fire and his Holy One for a flame! and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day." These thorns and briers picture those of whom David speaks as "sons of Belial" who "shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands." You remember that thorns were the sign of the curse at the beginning. They are, in fact, as botanists tell us (at least of the kind we have to do with here), abortive leaves, parts of a plant incapable of fulfilling their original purpose. Sinners are thus in this symbol naturally connected with the curse upon sin. And the thorn-bush itself we may, without forcing, view as the type of sinful flesh. This is what the people are: hence the fire; but the bush is not consumed - for the Angel of Jehovah, their covenant God, is in that fire.
As afterward, in the judgment which swept over Egypt the night of the passover, they had to be taught that, as far as they were concerned, there was no difference between them and the Egyptians. The judgment which delivered them must have fallen on them, had not grace provided them a shelter from it.
They needed tribulation then; needed the purifying fire, in which God was. For what were the Egyptians?- they had their part in what the fire symbolized. Nevertheless it was God who was dealing with Israel in love - a holy love, or it would not be God. It is a hard thing oftentimes to learn, that while God has power to save His own to the uttermost; while He has got in Christ's sacrifice a full and sufficient satisfaction for our sins, nevertheless the necessities of His holy government oblige Him to deal with us as to the very sins whic:h the sacrifice of Christ has put away as wrath bringing. For instance, in 1 Cor., chap. 11, we find this doctrine: "For 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" (ver. 32). Now mark, these are redeemed men.
They are those for whom Christ's blood was shed, and to whom Christ's blood had been applied. They were "in Christ" before God, and delivered from the wrath to come. Does it not seem strange to read that, if they were not chastened of the Lord, they would have to be condemned with the world?
Surely it was not because God had not sufficient power or grace for them. But God is a holy governor, and a throne of grace is still a throne. It is not a question of judgment in the sense of wrath, or of exacting anything from His people, but He must display Himself as the Holy One. And this is necessary in a double way: for the sake of His people and for those who are looking at them. All must learn and own the God of grace to be the thrice Holy One. Thus, again, the apostle Peter says: "The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God" (the people of God), "and if it first begin at us - what shall the end be of those who obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous are difficultly saved"- that is the force of it - He has, so to speak, to take pains about it, "where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?" We find this all through Scripture. God says to His people, "What a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Grace does not set this aside but confirms it. In reaping he finds out what it is that he has sown, and learns to judge in the fruit what he did not judge in the seed.
So also our Lord in His Sermon on the Mount: "With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will men give into your bosoms." Thus, as we can judge in others very clearly what in ourselves is not so clear, we are made to learn in others' dealings towards us, our own towards them.
It is so with the first thing: in repentance in order to salvation. God has to show us what sin is. I do not say it is by chastening; but still He has to bring us face to face with our sins, that grace may be grace, and salvation be from sin as well as from wrath to come. It is the necessity of His holy government that "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Not that repentance is the price we pay for salvation in anywise; for Christ's work is the only price of what to us is absolutely free. Repentance only makes us learn how needed and free it is.
This bush then reveals the ways of Him who is the Saviour of His people. And Moses' unshod feet should teach us reverent contemplation of them.
And now God reveals Himself to Moses as the God of their fathers, "the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;" to which He adds, when Moses further asks after His Name, "I AM THAT I AM: thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you . . . the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my Name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations."
That with which God begins here, and to which He returns, is that He is God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob. He has taken a name in relationship to men, which is to be His continual memorial. Back of that He has another name, which, simply rendered is, The Unsearchable. "I AM THAT I AM" does not so much reveal as declare the veil that hangs before Him, when man would "search out the Almighty to perfection." Inscruta-ble, He "dwells in the light unapproachable, whom no man hath seen, nor can see." He declares Himself the Ever-present: the One who is; the great fact for man always to realize, which gives reality and meaning to every thing else.
"Jehovah" is the title which God takes throughout the Old Testament, and which for us remains with all its significance, in spite of the dearer title, by which as sons now we know the "Father." Jehovah is the name by which He declares Himself in covenant with His people. Throughout their fleeting generations He abides "the same yesterday, today, and for ever."
What God here insists upon is, that He is the "God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob," and that this is to be His memorial unto all generations. He was to be known as in connection with those three honoured names.
(The Almighty) is the name God took with Abraham; "I Am" or "Jehovah" is that which He took with Israel; "The Highest" is that which He will show Himself to be in millennial times. None of these in themselves declare, His nature, or the character of His ways toward us. But in the mouth of the Lord Jesus, "Father" has become indeed a revealing name, and we know God as He was never revealed before.
He identifies Himself with them, as the apostle shows us, because of the practical faith they had in Him - a faith which manifested itself in a life of pilgrimage, in obedience to His call. God is not ashamed to link Himself with those whose faith in Him gave Him so good a character. If He had called Himself the God of Lot, what would Lot's conduct have led men to suppose God to be? But (spite of Abraham's failures) God's character is shown by calling Himself the God of Abraham. Look doser, and you will find this true in a still deeper way. Why does God connect Himself with just these three? Why no more nor less? These three displayed Him in His true character, in three ways, as the God of each separately. With the light of the New Testament, we should at once interpret what His threefold name expresses - as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Who can read the 22nd of Genesis without discerning in the offerer and the offered another Father than Abraham, and another Son than Isaac? As in the Gospel of John, which gives this side of the Cross, it is all between the Father and the Son. The Father is giving; the Son too is giving Himself up. There is no word of dissent from Isaac; and nothing is suffered to mar the precious representation of Him who spared not His own beloved Son who came expressly to do the Father's will. How the narrative dwells upon each point in the father's trial!- a three days' journey to the place - three days with the word in his heart which bade him give up his only, his beloved son! The whole extent of his sacrifice revealed to him in measured terms: "Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."
It is inexpressible comfort to see that God knows every ingredient in the cup of trial He mixes for us. It is His own heart He is telling out while He is thus searching out Abraham's? Did it not cost Him to give up His own beloved Son? Was the sacrifice all on the Son's part, and none on the Father's? Shall we call Him "Father," and not credit Him with a Father's heart? Is our God revealed as an impassive God who does not feel? We must not ascribe to Him human defect or frailty, surely, but must we not credit Him with love? He would rather come under imputation of defect than that we should think this of Him. "God is not a man that He should repent," yet He will talk about repenting. Nay, not only did it repent the Lord that He had made man, but "it grieved Him at His heart." Blessed to know such a heart; and that what the Son of His bosom suffered, the bosom that held the Son suffered also.
Thus the "God of Abraham" tells out the Father to us, and He bids us know Him as our Father also; for, as the apostle tells us in Gal. 4, Isaac was a picture of the sons of the freewoman; sons is what God calls us now - the child of the bondwoman having been put away. That the God of Isaac reveals the Son to us also, we have already seen. Every Christian heart will recognize in Isaac the figure of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only the 22nd of Genesis, but many other passages speak of him as such. I need not enter upon this as perhaps none will question it; although blessed it is to see God thus coming near to us in human guise to draw us as it were with the cords of love to Himself.
But what about "the God of Jacob?" Can self-seeking crooked Jacob speak of God to us? His brother Esau says, "Is he not rightly called 'Jacob'? for he has supplanted me these two times." Is he not a strange person to be linked with a holy God?- not concealing his name either; for He does not in this connection call Himself the God of Israel, but expressly the God of Jacob.
Do you realize how fearless a book Scripture is? Do you think all the infidels in the world could ever make God ashamed of what He has written? Never! No, the very things they think to shame Him by, are the very things He takes up to show us how His "foolishness" is wiser than all man's wisdom.
No, He is not ashamed to be the God of Jacob. Well for us that He is not. He takes up this Jacob as the very one in whom He can show His power and grace. Whom shall He take to show His grace, but the chief of sinners? Whom shall He take up, in order to show His power, but one of the most intractable material? And so Jacob is just the person in whom to display His grace and power. If He is the God of Abraham and Isaac on the one hand, it is not less Jacob's God. It is Jacob, in fact - crippled as to human strength, in which he trusts - who gets the name "Israel"- a prince with God. If the God of Abraham shows us God the Father, and the God of Isaac shows us God the Son, surely the God of Jacob shows us God the Holy Ghost.
How beautifully then does this last name (so different from the other two) unite to tell us what God will perpetually have as His memorial! What a gap there would be, if Jacob had not his place here! In it, our connection with God is seen; Jacob's need brings him in, as our need it is that practically brings us to God. God too has need of Jacob to display the riches of His grace and the power of His salvation.
Before we close, let us look at what answers to this memorial name of God in the New Testament. No need here to take up three men to tell Himself out. There is now One Man who is by Himself all-sufficient to tell out God. He does not now say, "I am the God of Peter, or of Paul, or of John," but He is "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." How could He put another beside Him? And as He stands upon earth, heaven opens, and the Father's voice is heard declaring, "This is my beloved Son in whom I have found my delight." The Holy Ghost comes down visibly upon Him in the form of a dove, and abides upon Him. God is manifested now, openly and completely.
A SAVIOUR'S SIGNS
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