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Exodus 4:1. Kept] Not merely once upon a time; but statedly, as his usual occupation: lit., “he had come to be shepherding,” the participle denoting continuance. Backside] That is, “to the west:” the east being the quarter towards wh. one is supposed to look (Gesenius, Fürst, Davies).
Exodus 4:2. A bush] Lit., “the thorn-bush.” According to Brugsch, the thorny acacia. The definiteness may be accounted for on the ground of either (a) local notoriety—“the well-known thorn-bush of the neighbourhood;” or (b) historical familiarity—“the particular thorn-bush of wh. M. had so often spoken.” Prob. the humble thorn-bush represented Israel in the fire of affliction. Burned] Render, more vividly: “was burning” Note also the repetition of the noun; who both for this reason, and because of its position in the Hob., is emphatic, as if asking to be reiterated with the tone of surprise: “Behold the THORN-BUSH was burning with fire, and yet the THORN-BUSH was not consumed!”
Exodus 4:3. Is not burnt] Better: “does not burn up:” the imperfect tense.
Exodus 4:5. Shoes] That is, “sandals.” This command “may be accounted from the custom, in the East, of wearing shoes or sandals merely as protection from dirt. No Brahmin enters a pagoda, no Moslem a mosque, without first taking off at least his overshoes; and even in Grecian temples, the priests and priestesses performed the service barefooted. When entering other holy places also, the Arabs and Samaritans, and even the Yezidis of Mesopotamia take off their shoes, that the place may not be defiled by the dirt or dust upon them.” (Keil).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:1-5
THE DEGRADATION OF USEFUL THINGS
Moses held a rod in his hand—useful for support—for help—for advancement—for protection—as a token of office—which, being cast upon the ground, lost all capability for usefulness, became offensive, injurious, poisonous; but the Divine command restored it to its original condition of utility and worth. This incident is typical of much that is going on around us in every-day life, where useful things, intended for the political, social, and moral good of men, are so cast upon the ground and degraded, that they become positively inimicable to the welfare of the race. Also, there is in the world a Divine power whereby all this degradation is divested of moral injury, and restored to its original condition of utility. We wish to regard this incident in a parabolic light:—
I. That man has, to an alarming extent, the ability to degrade useful things. “And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent.”
1. He has the ability to degrade Divine Truth. Heavenly truth and doctrine, as made known by God—as enunciated in the Bible—when held as a rod in the hand of man for his moral direction, guidance, and advancement—is most useful and absolutely needful to his salvation; but when, by profanity, by unholy doubt, by wilful rejection, by cold scepticism, it is cast on the ground, it becomes a serpent, the enemy of man, to predict his ruin. Who can look out upon the world without seeing to what an alarming extent the sublime truths, books, people of God, are degraded by the worldly and the sceptical? We wonder that the men who occasion such degradation do not flee from before their own profanity.
2. He has the ability to degrade the pulpit. All must admit the great utility of the pulpit, especially when they consider how it instructs the mind of the nation, how it appeals to the consciences of men, and how it quickens and cultures the spiritual life of the Church. Yet, how frequently is it cast upon the ground, by giving forth uncertain doctrine, by pandering to the sensational requirements of the age, and by ministerial inconsistency. At such times it becomes as a serpent to inflict moral injury upon the weak and scoffing. How many have been brought to reject religion by the unhallowed conduct of its professed teachers. May the Christian Church be delivered from the venom of this serpent!
3. He has the ability to degrade the press. None will deny the utility of the press. It is the great instrument of civilization—has done more than any other agency of human invention to instruct the world in the truth of the Bible, in the mystery of science, in the philosophy of history. If you were to remove the printing press out of the world, men would soon return to the darkness of the middle ages. Yet, how has this valuable instrumentality been degraded. Think of the pernicious literature that it annually circulates, with inaccurate views of life—exciting, false, unhealthy—altogether enervating to the manhood of those who read it. This degradation of the press is one of the most solemn and lamentable facts of the age. It has indeed become a serpent of the most formidable character, and is doing more to injure the mental life of the young than perhaps anything else.
4. That men are often terrified by the degradation they have occasioned. “And Moses fled from before it.” No doubt many an infidel has fled from before the phantoms of his own unbelief, and from before the dark abyss toward which his conscience has pointed him. Many a fallen minister has fled from before the enormity of his own sin and ruin. And who will say that many a novel writer and newspaper contributor has not, in quiet moments of reflection, trembled at the result of his own profanity. All men will one day experience a desire to flee from before their sins, to escape their terrible retribution.
II. That there is in religion a restoring influence, whereby useful things that have been degraded may be uplifted to their proper condition. “And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand.”
1. This restoration is exclusive and extensive. It is exclusive in that it can only be accomplished by religion. Nothing can re-change the serpents of daily life into rods but the Word of God, and Divine influence working in the line of human effort. God told Moses to put forth his hand and take it by the tail. Men must do their part, then Heaven will help them in this great work of restoration. Legislation cannot make a sceptic into a believer of Divine truth. It may do much to suppress a pernicious literature, but with great difficulty, as men immediately cry out for the freedom of the press; it will never remove the desire for a mental stimulant in the shape of unreal fiction. Education may do something towards taming the serpents of human life, but it will leave them serpents—it cannot change them into rods. This Christianity alone can do; and happily her influence is co-extensive with the degradation. Not one serpent in the universe is beyond the charm of her voice. She can uplift the press. She has done much already to purify it. Her Bible has already done much to reclaim the literature of our land. It has, in fact, created a heavenly literature of its own, which is exerting a most salutary influence upon thousands of human souls. Thus the restoring influence of Christianity is not only exclusive, but all-extensive in its capability. 2 This restoration is sympathetic and happy. God has great sympathy with the world, afflicted by these degradations, and sends the mitigating influence of a peaceful religion to relieve its woe. And this token of pity and help—this prophecy of hope—is welcome to, and happy in its effect upon, humanity. A mind permeated with Divine truth, a pulpit refulgent with true piety, a press sending forth to the world the messages of Heaven, are happy results, and are the chief outcome of Divine grace as purifying the heart of society. LEARN—
1. That the creation of evil is within the power of man.
2. That our highest gifts may be prostrated to the lowest ends.
3. That it should be the aim of men to elevate everything with which they are brought into contact.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
THE LAMENT OF THE PULPIT
I. The Preacher has frequently to lament the scepticism of his congregation. “But behold they will not believe me.” Moses feared the Israelites would not credit the probability of the freedom he had to declare unto them. Insuperable difficulties would appear in the way. They would not sufficiently take God into the matter. Ministers have now to complain of this kind of thing. Sinners are told that the intention of Heaven in reference to them is their moral emancipation. They reflect upon their natural wickedness—upon their wilful departure from the law of God—and regard the proclamation as visionary. They despair of freedom from sin, self, and Satan. Ministers frequently carry glorious tidings to their congregations—the willingness of God to save them there and then—the ultimate conquest of goodness; and yet are treated with practical unbelief.
II. The Preacher has frequently to lament the inattention of his congregation. “Nor hearken unto my voice.” Nothing is worse on the part of a congregation than inattention, and disobedience to the messages of God. The Divine claims are of the first importance, and demand immediate attention. They respect our future—they are for our spiritual good—they design our eternal freedom. To such a message all men ought to give the most earnest heed.
III. The Preacher has frequently to lament the querulous spirit of his congregation. “For they will say the Lord hath not appeared unto thee.” How many congregations practically question the announcements of the pulpit. They challenge the inspiration, the Divine preparation, the Divine qualification, the heavenly visions of their teacher. And often they do this in an unkind, factious spirit. They should rather welcome him as from God, sent and wishful to achieve their moral freedom. This would be more to their credit.
IV. That this conduct on the part of congregations has a most depressing influence on the minds of ministers. How can a man preach to people whom he knows are in the habit of practically denying, or refusing his statements of the Divine willingness to save them. He needs the attention, sympathy, prayers, help of those whom he seeks to free from the tyranny of sin. He has enough to contend with external hindrances, with the opposition of Pharaoh, without having added to it that of the slave whose fetter he seeks to break.
Human distrust is a difficulty which every preacher, teacher, and holy labourer has to encounter. All great movements are carried by consent of parties. God himself cannot re-establish moral order without the concurrence of the powers that have rebelled against His rule.… After all, the spiritual labourer has less to do with the unbelief of his hearers than with the instruction and authority of God. We have to ascertain what God the Lord would have us say, and then to speak it simply and lovingly, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. The preacher must prepare himself for having doubts thrown upon his authority; and he must take care that his answer to such doubts be as complete as the authority itself. God alone can give the true answer to human doubt. We are not to encounter scepticism with merely ingenious replies and clever arguments, but in the power and grace of the living God [City Temple].
How indisposed is man to believe the testimony of God! Whether He denounce vengeance upon obstinate offenders, or promise acceptance, assistance, and salvation to the returning sinner, we are ever prone to question His truth. Thus some are hardened in presumption, others sink into despondency, and others are discouraged, and through unbelief continue heartless in all they attempt. But the Lord deals not with us according to our sins; else the strongest believer upon earth, instead of being saved by his faith, might righteously be condemned for his unbelief [Henry and Scott].
Moses objects that in all probability the people would not hearken to his voice; that is, they would not take his bare word, unless he shewed them some sign, which he had not yet been instructed to do. God empowers him to work miracles. Miracles are the most convincing proof of a Divine mission. But those who are employed now to enforce the authenticated revelation need not such testimonials; both their character and their doctrine are to be tried by the Word of God, to which they appeal [Henry and Scott].
We might suppose that Moses had seen and heard enough to set his fears entirely aside. The consuming fire in the unconsumed bush, the condescending grace, the precious, endearing, and comprehensive titles, the Divine commission, the assurance of the Divine presence—all these things might have quelled any anxious thought, and imparted a settled assurance to the heart. Still, however, Moses raises questions, and still God answers them; and each successive question brings out fresh grace [C. H. M.].
1. Present discouragements often arise from former disappointments.
2. Wise and good men have sometimes a worse opinion of people than they deserve. Moses said “they will not believe me,” and yet we find (Exodus 4:31) “the people believed.”
Dissatisfaction is incident to good souls in difficulty, even after God has answered all their questions.
Infirmity of faith may make men suggest things contrary to the promise of God.
Men may tax others with unbelief, and yet be unbelievers themselves.
The obstinacy of the human heart often makes God’s ministers despair of success.
It is incident to sinners to deny the appearance of God to His ministers; and God’s ministers are apt to regard such denials as discouragements to their work.
Why did Moses imagine that the Israelites would not believe him?
1. Because he knew that they were a stiff-necked people.
2. Because he considered himself of insufficient authority to command their respect.
3. Because the power and tyranny of Pharaoh would deter them from believing him.
4. Because they would think it unlikely that God, who had never been seen by man, should appear to him.
Exodus 4:2. “What is that in thine hand? And he said, a rod.” A staff—a shepherd’s crook—the staff which indicated his return to the pastoral habits of his fathers—the staff on which he leaned amidst his desert wanderings—the staff with which he guided his kinsman’s flocks—the staff like that still borne by Arab chiefs—this was to be the humble instrument of Divine power. “In this”—as afterwards in the yet humbler symbol of the cross—in this, the symbol of his simplicity, of his exile, of his lowliness, the world was to be conquered [The Jewish Church, by Dean Stanley].
“A rod”—probably the shepherd’s crook—among the Arabs; a long staff, with a curved head, varying from three to six feet in length.… God followeth expostulations with resolutions to satisfy the troubled souls of His servants.
God sometimes exercises His power in connection with small things—a rod.
1. The subject of Divine inquiry.
2. The token of a shepherd’s office.
3. The symbol of a leader’s power.
4. The prophecy of a nation’s freedom.
A TRIVIAL POSSESSION
I. God frequently makes inquiry about the most trivial possessions of men.
1. Have they been honourably gained?
2. Are they being put to their proper use?
3. Are they in a line with Divine power?
II. God frequently makes the most trivial possessions of men teach great truths.
1. This shews the Divine adaptability to the circumstances of men.
2. This shews the Divine wisdom in making insignificant things teach Divine truth.
3. This shews the Divine simplicity of the plans and purposes of Heaven.
III. That the most trivial possessions are useful to others as well as those to whom they belong. This rod taught the Israelites that God was with Moses. So the smallest treasure possessed by a man may at times be instructive to other lives around him.
IV. That the most trivial possessions of men prove after all the most useful, and ought therefore to awaken human gratitude. We are taught here not to calculate the worth of things by their market price, but according to their adaptation to the circumstances of life in which we may then be placed. At this moment, and throughout the conflict with Egypt, this rod was the most valuable thing that Moses could have possessed. There are times when the smallest things become of the greatest value. This is true when they are used by God for the moral conviction and freedom of others. Moses would, throughout his life journey in the wilderness, be thankful for the rod. So we ought to be grateful to God that, whether we have great possessions or not, yet we have our little treasure which renders happy and effective our entire life mission.
God takes up the weakest instruments to accomplish his mightiest ends. “A rod,” “a ram’s horn,” “a cake of barley meal,” “an earthen pitcher,” “a shepherd’s sling,” anything, in short, when used by God, will do the appointed work. Men imagine that splendid ends can only be reached by splendid means; but such is not God’s way. He can use a crawling worm as well as a scorching sun—a gourd as well as a vehement east wind [C. H. M.].
THE MEANING OF THIS MIRACLE
Exodus 4:3. Varied suppositions as to the meaning of this miracle:—
1. That hereby Pharaoh is set forth, who, at the first entering of the Hebrews into Egypt, was as a rod, easy to be handled, but afterwards as a serpent; and again, at the time of their going out, he was as a rod, gentle and harmless
2. That hereby the state of the children of Israel was set forth, who at the first, under Joseph, had dominion, signified by a rod, but afterwards were cast down, and hated, as a serpent; but finally, at their going out of Egypt, returned to their power and authority again.
3. That hereby was signified the honour of God’s judgments; till they be brought none fear them; but, being brought; the very best are made to tremble; but, being renewed again, all fear is taken away.
4. That Moses was set forth by this staff: for he in himself, being but a shepherd, obscure and living in exile, was no more to Pharaoh to move him than a staff in a shepherd’s hand; but, going to him at the command of the Lord, he became as the staff at his command cast upon the ground—a terrible serpent to him—he should not need any other armies to terrify Pharaoh; but, going with this staff, by a Divine virtue, he should be made to flee before him. But in that being laid hold upon by Moses again, it is turned into a staff, it was signified that the same which should be terrible to Pharaoh should be a comfort to Moses and to Israel [Calvin].
5. That hereby Christ crucified is set forth, and by his death, subduing the devil that he cannot hold the people of the Lord any more in bondage, as Pharaoh could not hold the Israelites [Augustine].
The serpent is entirely under the hand of Christ; and when he has reached the highest point in his mad career he shall be hurled into the lake of fire, there to reap the fruits of his work for ever [C. H. M.].
From the story of Moses’ rod the poets invented fables of the thyrsus of Bacchus, and the caduceaus of Mercury. Homer represents Mercury as taking his rod to work miracles, precisely in the same way as God commanded Moses to take his.
There are many serpents in the world from which a good man should flee.
When God commandeth small things be worketh miracles to confirm them.
The true transubstantiation of creatures is the alone work of God.
God’s miracles may be terrible to his servants, when intended to be comfortable.
Sense is terrified at the miraculous tokens of God.
Exodus 4:4. Faith in God’s word dare meddle with the most terrible signs from God.
God can make staves into serpents, and serpents into staves, terrors to enemies, and supports to His own.
“Take it by the tail.” Which was dreadful to be done, because of the antipathy and likely danger; but faith fortifies the heart against the fear of the creature, and carries a man through the difficulty of duty [Trapp].
I. That men have often to come into contact with the morally sinful and dangerous. Moses is brought into contact with a serpent. Dangerous to him. So good men are frequently obliged to encounter the morally sinful—for commercial—ministerial purposes—they are thus rendered liable to the sting—contagion of sin—and will, unless careful, receive spiritual injury.
II. That good men should not enter into contact with the morally sinful and dangerous, except by the direct permission of God. “And the Lord said unto Moses,” etc. The good are permitted to have intercourse with worldly men, for ministerial and commercial purposes—but they must remember that the Divine sanction does not extend to anything but the furthest point of contact. Moses was only told to take the serpent by the tail. There are many things in the world that the good man is only to touch. They are poisonous.
III. That when good men are brought into contact with the morally sinful and dangerous, they should endeavour to aid its reformation.
“And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand.” The good may not take hold of serpents for play, or for imagined gratification, but only that they may co-operate with the Divine power and mercy in the holy work of restoration.
IV. That when good men achieve the reformation of the morally sinful and dangerous, they find ample reward in the result. “And it became a rod in his hand.” How many a good man has found that the sinner converted by his instrumentality has become a help—a stay—a moral power—in the spiritual life and journeyings of his own soul! Especially do ministers find that their converts become instruments in their hands for great good to others.
THINGS THAT FRIGHTEN
“And the Lord said unto Moses, put forth thy hand, and take it by the tail.”—Exodus 4:4.
We may learn from the text, and the words immediately preceding, that—
I. In passing through life we must expect to meet with many things that will frighten us.
II. We shall gain nothing by running away.
III. The best thing we can do is to grapple with them.
IV. Acting thus we may always rely upon Divine aid [Christian World Pulpit].
Exodus 4:5. Miracles are given by God to turn from unbelief to faith in the Divine word.
True miracles are the only work of the true God, the God of Abraham.
That God does much to render easy and successful the mission of the true preacher.
That the great thing for a preacher to demonstrate to his people is that God has appeared to him.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Exodus 4:1-5.—Bible Degraded!—Some men imagine that they could do well enough without the Bible, the Church, the ministry. Conceive a patient with a shattered limb coming to the sage conclusion that the best way to become whole is to thrust the skilled surgeons and their surgical splints out of doors. They did not fracture the limb; they only propose to set it. The Bible did not dislocate the human intellect, it only proposes to restore it to soundness. Far better to have the leg set than to leave the shattered bone to heal unsplintered.
“The Lamp of Revelation not only shows
What human wisdom cannot but oppose,
That man—in nature’s richest mantle clad
And graced with all philosophy can add,
Though fair without, and luminous within,”
cannot heal his own malady—cannot restore his fractured soul, but it offers to effect the cure. Is anything too hard for the Lord?
Infidel Terrors!—Paine boastfully vaunted that he had gone up and down through the Christian garden of Eden, and with his simple axe had cut down one after another of its trees, until scarce a sapling remained to weep over the chaos of ruin. He lived to flee from his own guilt, and amid agonies of remorse to exclaim that he would give worlds never to have published his “Age of Reason,” never to have moulded his “simple axe,” never to have lifted its edge upon the Tree of Life. So it was with Bion the atheist philosopher, who on his deathbed offered up prayers to God for mercy and recovery—
“And as he writhed and quivered, scorched within,
The fury round his torrid temples flapped
Her fiery wings, and breathed upon his lips
And parched tongue, the withered blasts of hell.”
Christianity!—Quaint Thomas Fuller says that Charnock met with a very sad disaster in his efforts to discover the philosopher’s stone; for just as he was on the point of completing the grand operation, his work fell into the fire. As this is a calamity which has happened to all alchymists; so is it always the misfortune of legislators. They are always on the point of discovering the grand panacea for all evils, yet they never succeed. Christianity steps in, and succeeds.
“Religion! Providence! an after state!
Here is firm footing; here is solid rock!
This can support us; all is sea besides:
Sinks under us; bestorms, and then devours.”
Christianity Beneficent!—Ancient tradition records a contest said to have taken place at Rome—in the presence of the Emperor Constantine and his mother, the Empress Helena—between the Jewish and Roman philosophers on the one hand, and Sylvester, the Christian patriarch, on the other. The leader of the philosophers showed the superiority of their system over Christianity by miraculously KILLING a fierce bull with uttering in his ear a single word. Sylvester, with a word, not only restored the wild animal to LIFE, but raised it tame and gentle as if it had been in the yoke from birth. Christianity is happy in its effects upon untameable human nature—raising it to life—and making it to sit clothed and in its right mind at the feet of the Founder.—
“As when a wretch, from thick polluted air,
Darkness and stench, and suffocating damps,
And dungeon horrors, by kind fate discharged,
Climbs some fair eminence, where ether pure
Surrounds him, and Elysian prospects rise,
His heart exults, his spirits cast their load,
As if new born, he triumphs in the change.”
Christianity versus Philosophy!—Tillotson says that philosophy has given us several plausible rules for attaining peace and tranquility of mind; but these fall very much short of bringing men to it. They have expanded our ideas of creation; but they neither inspired a love to the moral character of the Creator, nor a well-grounded hope of eternal life.—
“Philosophy did much, refining and exalting man;
But could not nurse a single plant that bore
True happiness. From age to age she toiled;
Shed from her eyes the mist that dimmed them still,
Looked forth on man: and then retired far back
To meditation’s silent, shady rest.
Like Moses who must DIE on Pisgah, philosophy enables us to ascend to the heights of human discovery—there to PERISH. Christianity is the medium, and the only medium, by which “death” can be turned into “life.”
Exodus 4:1—Depression!—Dr. Stevens narrates how an eminent minister was very much depressed by the unbelief of his congregation, and how his spirit of depression was shaken off. He dreamed that he was working with a pickaxe on the top of a basaltic rock, which remained non-riven in spite of repeated strokes of his arm of muscle. When about to give up in despair, a stranger of solemn and dignified demeanour appeared on the scene, who reminded him that as a servant he was bound to go on whether the rock yielded or not. “Work is your duty; leave the results to God,” were the last words of his strange visitor. The result was that the discouraged pastor resumed his work, and was abundantly rewarded by “the shattering of the rock of unbelief and indifference” among his flock. For
“Perseverance is a virtue
That wins each Godlike act, and plucks success,
E’en from the spear-proof crest of rugged danger.
Exodus 4:1—Prayers!—An anecdote is told concerning a popular preacher who gradually lost his influence and congregation. The church officials were authorized to wait on him with the frank avowal that the whole blame was at his door. With still more frankness the condemned pastor acknowledged his failure, adding that in former times his flock had been a praying people, that many had joined in prayer that his preaching might be blessed to the conversion of souls, but that now prayer had been abandoned. The result, he added, of such restraint in prayer was the failure of his church, and he begged them to renew their pleadings in his behalf. For
“More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day,
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”
Exodus 4:2—Miracles!—Fuller calls them, in his quaint method of expression, the swaddling clothes of the infant churches. They are not, says Trench, the garments of the full-grown. They are the bright clouds which gather round and announce the sun at his first appearing; but the midday splendour knows not those bright heralds and harbingers of his rising. Such were miracles at the dawns of the Mosaic. Prophetical, and Christian dispensations; they were like the framework on which the arch is rounded, and which is taken down as soon as it is completed. Beecher thinks that they are mid-wives of young moral truths-like candles lit up till the sun rises, and then blown out, While Macmillan declares that they are not only emblems of power in the spiritual world, but also exponents of the miracles of nature—experiments, as it were, made by the Great Teacher, on a small scale, to illustrate to mankind the phenomena that are taking place over longer periods throughout the universe.
Exodus 4:2—Ministerial Difficulties!—Simeon says that he had been used to read the Scriptures, to get from them rich discoveries of the power and grace of Christ, so that he might learn how to minister to a loving and obedient people; but that now he was studying the Word of God in order that he might know how to minister to a conceited, contentious, and rebellious people “Two qualities,” he adds, “I am sure are requisite—meekness and patience; I have been used to sail in the Pacific, but I am now learning to navigate the Red Sea which is full of shoals and rocks, with a very intricate passage.”
“Toil on, faint not, keep watch and pray;
Be wise, the erring soul to win;
Go forth into the world’s highway,
Compel the wanderer to come in.
The toil is pleasant, the reward is sure,
Blessed are those who to the end endure.”
Exodus 4:2—Faith!—Faith is the mainspring of a minister.—Cecil.
“Beware of doubt—faith is the subtle chain
Which binds us to the Infinite; the voice
Of a deep life within, that will remain
Until we crowd it thence.”
Exodus 4:2—Gifts!—The discussion about gifts, says a glowing divine, amounts very much to a discussion whether the rifle, the carbine, the pistol, or the cannon is the best weapon. Each is best in its place The great point is that every one shall use the weapon best suited to him—that he charge it well—and that he see it is in a condition to strike fire.
“The solemn trifler, with his boasted skill,
Toils much, and is a solemn trifler still;
Blind was he born, and his misguided eyes
Grown dim in trifling studies, blind he dies.”
Exodus 4:3—Serpent-tail!—Bishop Patrick notes that Moses found his rod was a serpent until he took it by the tail, and then it became what it was before; and if we lay hold of things only by their END, we should find many things that seem terrible and noxious to be benign and salutiferous. But the band was that of faith; for
“Never was a marvel done upon the earth,
but it had sprung of faith.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:6-7
LEPROSY AS EMBLEMATICAL OF DOUBT
I. That as leprosy was the worst disease that could have been permitted to the hand of Moses, so doubt of the Divine Word is the most hurtful that can overtake the human mind.
1. Both are small in their commencement. Leprosy first manifests itself as a little spot upon the skin. Then it is not accompanied by any pain. Any one, unacquainted with the malady, from seeing its first indication would have no idea that it was leprosy, and that its end would be so terrible. And so it is with doubt in reference to divine truth. At first it presents itself to the mind in a very innocent form, as a question, or as a suspicion. There is no mental grief or conflict. The soul has no idea that a terrible moral sickness is coming upon it, but regards the little indication of unbelief as an effort of investigation, and brave progress. Whereas if it was acquainted with the reality of the case it would see the first spot of mental leprosy.
2. Both are progressive in their development. That spot of leprosy does not long remain such—it grows larger—spreads wider—from limb to limb—until the entire system is full of it—and the whole man is covered with it. So it is with doubt. It does not long remain as a question—or as a suspicion of the truth—it advances to great uncertainty—to dimness of moral vision—until the mind is plunged into an impenetrable gloom. The man no longer doubts one truth, but all truth; the entire habit of his soul is rendered sceptical to heavenly things.
3. Both are gloomy in their forebodings. What dark and terrible forebodings would naturally occupy the soul of the leper, after the first terror and consciousness of the disease had come upon him. He would feel that certain death was before him—that no remedy—care—skill could attain his recovery. The grim shadow of the future would ever rest upon his soul. Life would be a burden to him. And who can describe the painful forebodings which fill a sceptical mind. There are the inner reasonings of the soul—there are bitter cries for light and truth. In quiet moments the conscience reveals another life—an eternal destiny—toward which the man is travelling, and the thought of its mystery fills him with awe. In fact all the doctrines of the Bible are turned by his scepticism into phantoms, which haunt him ever, and torment him with a sad prophecy of his awful future.
4. Both are isolating in their tendency. The leper had to be separated from his family—from his neighbours—friends—companions—he had to go into solitude and loneliness—away from all the active scenes of life In all probability his malady was contagious. Equally has doubt an isolating tendency—how often has it broken up families and near friendships. Scepticism throws a man in upon himself too much—it alienates his sympathy from those who differ from him in opinion—it places him without the spiritual enjoyments of the church—and renders him intensely lonely in spirit. Doubt is also contagious—it spreads not only from subject to subject—but from person to person—by speech—by argument—and thus, if it does not isolate itself—the community ought to demand its removal—especially from near the young.
5. Both are paralysing in their influence. How thoroughly paralysed are the limbs of the leper. They are withered. They are incapable of activity. They are almost useless to him. And so what a paralysing influence has doubt. It paralyses the mental faculties of man, rendering them almost incapable of a healthful and vigorous investigation of truth. It paralyses the sympathies of men—rendering them almost incapable of pity. It paralyses the activity of men—rendering them almost incapable of spiritual effort in the church of Christ.
6. Both are deadly in their result. In the system of the leper all vitality is destroyed—there is no play of physical energy—all the streams of life have been one by one dried up—its ultimate issue is the grave. Equally deadly is the issue of scepticism. It destroys mental vitality, and its sad destiny is the second death, far more awful than the first.
II. That as leprosy comes upon men unexpectedly, so does doubt upon the human mind. The leprosy generally comes suddenly and unexpectedly upon the individual afflicted thereby, although it might have been lurking long within his physical constitution. And so it is with scepticism and doubt. It comes unexpected upon the mind, it may have been hiding there for months; the thinker knows not where he has imbibed it, from what book, conversation, or series of mental reasonings. The germ of scepticism often remains long concealed in the human mind, its workings are subtle, and we know not what will be the extent of their future harvest.
III. That as leprosy could only be removed by the Divine touch, so human doubt can only be removed by communion with God. We read in the New Testament of a leper coming to Christ, and being healed by the Divine touch The coming of that wretched man to the Saviour must be typical of the ad vent of all doubting sceptical souls to him, and the result will be equally beneficial and happy. Such a mental and moral attitude will not be healed by logic—by argument—by entreaty—by persuasion—but only by a personal and spiritual interview with the Saviour. True prayer is the only cure for unbelief. LEARN:
1. To watch the first outgoings of the mind in relation to Divine truth.
2. Not to cultivate a captious spirit in relation to heavenly things.
3. To spend much time in communion with the Eternal Truth.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 4:6. Varied suppositions as to the meaning of this miracle—
1. Some give it a moral signification—as that the leprous hand of Moses sheweth the works of the law that justifieth not
2. Some give it a mystical signification—that the leprous hand of the synagogue of the Jews was cast off as the leprous person out of the house, and the hand restored betokeneth the Gentile Church adopted instead of the Jewish [Augustine].
3. Some refer it to Christ, that he being the hand, that is, the power of his Father, by taking our nature upon him, became as it were leprous, that is deformed, by his sufferings and passion, but by his resurrection and ascension His glory appeareth
4. Some give it an historical signification—by the leprous hand they understand the miserable state of the Hebrews in the time of their cruel servitude, who in their deliverance received their former liberty.
5. Some think that the leprous hand signifieth the pollutions of Egypt, wherewith Israel was defiled, who being delivered were restored to the true worship of God.
6. That the first sending of Moses to the Israelites brought upon them more cruel treatment, but his after ministry brought them joy and deliverance.
7. That the hand being the instrument of working, betokeneth the ministry and authority of Moses, and that God would use a weak instrument to effect His will, Moses having lived a long time in banishment seemed a thing leprous and vile, yet God should in this His service make him a glorious vessel and instrument.
8. That as the leprosy is only cured by God so their deliverance was only God’s work, and to humble Moses by the remembrance of his own infirmity.
9. As far as the intrinsic significancy of the sign is concerned, it was evidently calculated to teach that whatever is new, vigorous, vital, and flourishing, may at once be withered at the word of Omnipotence; and again with equal facility restored to its pristine condition [Bush].
Power for God’s service:—
1. Human hands weak and unfit for service.
2. Sanctified power is only attained from God.
3. Hence the worker must be humble, but not impotent or paralytic in hand.
“Leprous as snow.” The white leprosy was that form with which the Hebrews were best acquainted, and the most difficult of cure.
God sometimes commands His servants in order to disease and try them.
A sudden change from soundness to leprosy is God’s miracle.
That there are times and circumstances when the use of legitimate things may prove injurious.
LEPROUS AS SNOW
I. “Leprous as snow.” Then our moral condition is a picture of woe. What more pitiable sight than a leper—with a fearful disease running through his veins. An outcast in the world. Contemplate the sinner. His natural bias to evil. Surrounded by his vices. He is restless. He is grief-stricken. He is without virtuous friendship. Truly he presents a sad spectacle. Contemplate the world—its passion and pride—its heathenism—superstition—and crime—it is “leprous as snow.”
II. “Leprous as snow.” Then our moral condition is an argument and a plea for Divine help. Would not a leper excite the pity of all who saw him. So our moral woe is a forceful appeal to the Divine mercy. Our grief is a prayer for the exercise of Divine power. Human aid is ineffective here. Men may pity the sinner. Only God can heal his leprosy. Every sinner in the universe is an object of Divine compassion. But wicked men will not allow the argument of their misery to find its conclusion in their moral reformation; they will not permit the prayer of their grief to be answered, they refuse the pardon it would obtain.
III. “Leprous as snow.” Then our moral conversion is a triumph of Divine grace. What a conversion for a leper to become a healthy, vigorous man. What a change in all his surroundings. How happy. How benevolent. So it is equally a marvellous transition for the sinner. Spiritual life courses richly through his soul. He is surrounded by heavenly companions, and animated by new hopes. His unrest is calmed. His grief is removed. His moral disease is healed. He is indeed a trophy of Divine grace.
IV. “Leprous as snow.” Then the greatest sinner is within the reach of Divine restoration. Your leprosy may be of the worst kind—may have been long continued—yet there is hope. For the sympathiser is Divine. The healer is God. Wherefore He is able to save to the uttermost, etc.
Exodus 4:7. After trial God commands His servants again in order to healing.
God answers the obedience of His servants with wonderful healing.
It is God’s prerogative alone to send disease and healing to his creatures, miraculously by His word.
I. As undertaken by a Divine Teacher. The Divine Being is here instructing Moses about his mission to Israel. There are many instructors of human souls in the world. God is the supreme. There are lessons for every man to learn which heaven only can teach. Happy the soul that receives the lesson of its life from God. Ministers who aim to instruct the souls of men are in true sympathy with the Divine.
II. As employing the most impressive symbolism. The burning bush. The rod turned into a serpent. The hand made leprous. The Divine teaching is always suggestive, never exhaustive. Heaven has always fine illustrations at command in which to convey truth. Hence our attention is gained. Our souls are impressed. We are made to feel that duty is imperative and responsible, and to prepare for its discharge. The pulpit would be much more effective in its work of soul-instruction if it employed more impressive imagery.
III. As occupying but a short space of time. The Divine Being was not long in giving these signs to Moses, they followed in quick succession. Heaven is spontaneous in its teaching. It can teach a soul an eternal lesson in a moment. Ministers in these days are too long in their communication of spiritual truth. They spend too much time on detail.
IV. As preparing for important duty. God is preparing Moses to achieve the freedom of Israel. The Divine instruction always has a definite result in view. It is not aimless. It is not random. It is designed not merely to make men clever, but to give them the power of moral emancipation. God teaches human souls not merely for their own welfare, but that they may make a practical use of their knowledge by striving to enhance the spiritual condition of humanity.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:8-9
THE DIVINE TREATMENT OF HUMAN DOUBT
I. That the Divine Being recognises the probability that men will not welcome the truth upon its first presentation to them. “And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign,” etc. If this history had not been complete before us, we should have imagined that the Israelites would at once have welcomed the message which Moses had to declare unto them, and that they would immediately have received him as their deliverer.
1. The message he proclaimed was adapted to their condition. They were slaves; he preached to them of freedom. Their lives were saddened by oppression; he announced the removal of their tyranny. They were degraded; he proclaimed to them moral elevation. In this light how astonishing is their unbelief. We should have expected that the Israelites would have gladly responded to his voice, and have followed him to demand of Pharaoh their release. Equally surprising is the unbelief of men to-day in reference to the Gospel. It announces the moral freedom of humanity, of release from the tyranny of sin, from envy, from disappointment, from degradation, and in place thereof to give enjoyment, rest, and ultimately heaven. Yet men hesitate to believe the glad news, or to receive those who bring it. Is it not surprising that men should reject a Gospel so thoroughly adapted to their moral need. See the folly of unbelief, in that it will not accept a divine freedom of soul when benevolently offered. The tendency of all unbelief is to intensify the slavery of the moral nature.
2. The message he proclaimed was wonderfully simple. It was simply a message of freedom. True, at certain points this proclamation of Israel’s freedom bordered on the supernatural and sublime, as when associated with the mystery of the burning bush, with the progressive revelation of the name of God, and with the difficulties to be overcome in the future; yet this was but natural, as freedom, wherever found, must inevitably be connected with mystery, as it is the work of God. Yet the message of freedom to Israel was simple. Their bondage was acknowledged. Here is a leader. They have the power of numbers; They have the aid of Heaven. What great mystery, then, in its practical side, could their freedom present? And so the truth of the Gospel presented for the credence of humanity is simple. It is but a message of moral freedom. True, there are points at which it enters into the mystery of God; but this fact ought to make the freedom more probable, as it is an indication of Divine thought and energy. But unbelief is associated with prejudice, sees difficulties in the most simple truth, and even rejects a freedom which one effort to attain would demonstrate to be true.
3. The message he proclaimed was Divinely authenticated. The Israelites were not called merely to receive the tidings of their freedom upon the bare word of Moses, although that ought to have commanded their attention, but upon the evidence of the Divine power. Moses was empowered to work miracles before them, so that, reasoning from the evidence of sense, they might attain ultimately to the evidence of faith. But miracles will not convince a sceptic. His unbelief will question their reality. Scepticism is well-nigh invincible. It is certainly unreasonable. The gospel of freedom now proclaimed to men is well authenticated by prophecy, and miracle, by its internal consistency and purity, and by its external achievements and progress. It bears Divine credentials. Yet men will not believe it. They call it fable Truly God might well tell Moses that the first sign would not win the confidence of Israel, even though the message he proclaimed was what they needed, was simple in its meaning, was well authenticated in its evidence, and sublimely grand in its destiny. Ministers of Christ know right well, and may truly wonder, that their hearers do not more often embrace the truth upon its first presentation to them, impelled not only by the woe of sin, but also by the well-authenticated grace of God.
II. That the Divine Being mercifully makes provision for the conviction and persuasion of men in reference to the reality of the truth proclaimed; notwithstanding their confirmed unbelief. “And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken to thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river,” etc.
1. This method of treatment is considerate. It would be considerate towards the Israelites; it recognised their degraded position, and their consequent difficulty of entering into a message of freedom, however simple in its terms. Much of the unbelief of the Gospel arises from the moral degradation of men. They consider the freedom of a degraded soul an improbability. This method of treatment is considerate toward the mental and moral condition of the race, and gives men repeated opportunities for examination in reference to the truth. The truth is not arbitrary in its demand of credence. It gives every facility for complete investigation. In fact it is often much more considerate than many who pretend to advocate its claims.
2. This method of treatment is merciful. The Divine Being might have required the Israelites to have credited the message of their freedom on the bare word of Moses; or, He might have given them one token of approval, and then have left them to their own reasonings and effort. But not so. He gave sign after sign, to convince them of the necessity and likelihood of their freedom as declared by Moses. So, we have been repeatedly urged to welcome the salvation of Christ, the glad tidings of the Gospel. Have we not had many tokens of its divinity? Truly we have. God might have left Himself without a witness, but He has not done so, and this merciful arrangement is in harmony with the holy and kindly freedom He offers to our souls.
3. This method of treatment is condescending.
III. That the persistent unbelief of men is likely to awaken evidences of truth indicative of the Divine displeasure. “And the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.”
1. Evidences that recall past sorrows. Moses was to take water from the river, and it should be turned into blood. This would remind the Israelites of the murder of their children in those waters. So if we are persistent in our unbelief, God can make recollections of past grief come anew to our minds with deep significance of woe, to give emphasis to the Gospel He wishes us to welcome.
2. Evidences prophetic of future woe. Who can tell the depth of meaning there would be to Israel in this miracle of the water being turned into blood? It would indicate a strange and unhappy transition in their condition, if they embraced not the message of Moses. And so God will send evidence of the truth to convince the unbelieving which shall but faintly foreshadow their end if they obey not the Gospel.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 4:8. These signs were spoken to the ear of reason, if not of sense:—“They will believe the voice of the latter sign.” This is not, perhaps, to be understood as a positive affirmation; for the next verse intimates the possibility that they may require still further evidence. The words appear designed to express the intrinsic adaptedness of the signs to produce belief, or the effect which might be reasonably anticipated from their exhibition. The circumstance strikingly shews the extent of the Divine indulgence. The perverse rejection of the great sign alone would clearly show them unworthy of being favoured with another. But God multiplies mercies, even when judgments are most richly deserved. He gives sign upon sign, as well as line upon line [Bush].
That a true minister, notwitstanding
1. His call.
2. His spiritual preparation.
3. His knowledge of the Divine name.
4. His supreme moral power—and,
5. Intimate communion with God—is exposed to the unbelief of those whom he seeks to benefit.
Miracles at first may miss their end, and not persuade men to faith.
Second miracles may do that which the first failed to effect.
God’s word and promise alone can make miracles themselves effectual means of faith.
Miracles have voices which should command faith and obedience.
“The voice of the first sign:”—
I. It speaks of the thraldrom of man.
II. It speaks of the inability of man to liberate himself therefrom.
III. It speaks of the agency that God has provided for the freedom of man
IV. It speaks of the strange unwillingness of man to credit the tidings of freedom.
Exodus 4:9. “Take of the water of the river”—that is, of the river Nile. Thus, it would appear, was a miracle to be wrought for the confirmation of Moses’ calling before the Israelites, and not before the Egyptians; for in that mentioned (Exodus 7:17), the waters in the river were to be turned into blood; here the water taken out of the river, this was done before the elders of Israel; but that was turned into blood before Pharaoh, and continued so seven days, to his great annoyance.
The Nile was venerated as a divinity, under the name Hapi, cognate, if not identical, with Apis. Its waters were therefore regarded as sacred, and highly esteemed as salubrious to the drinker, and fertilizing to the soil. If Moses was endowed with the power to turn these waters into blood, it was a pledge that his delegated power should prevail over all the power of Egypt.
This sign also denoted that the time was now at hand when God would judge the Egyptians for the death of the Hebrew infants whose blood they had shed in the waters.
Some would yield to the evidence of the first miracle; others would hesitate till they had seen the second; and others would not believe till they had seen the water of the Nile turned into blood, when poured upon the dry ground [A. Clarke].
The obstinacy of unbelief:—It will reject the truth.
1. In opposition to the word of Him by whom it is brought.
2. In opposition to the Divine power by which it is accompanied.
3. In opposition to the benevolent design it contemplates.
4. In opposition to accumulative demonstration.
God trebleth His indulgence to help the infirmities of His servants.
It is natural to sinful man to mistrust the wonders of God.
Such incredulity may discourage God’s wonder-working instruments in their work.
God knoweth this evil of men, and permits it—but not approves it.
God works not only strange, but terrible signs to make sinners believe.
When God giveth forth His word, water shall blood the land, not water it.
When waters are made blood-guilty, they are justly turned into blood.
Signs demonstrative of God’s power, unto His servants, are vindictive unto His enemies.
God is willing more abundantly to show the truth of His word, and is not sparing in His proofs; the multitude and variety of the miracles corroborate the evidence.
Unbelief shall be left inexcusable, and convicted of a wilful obstinacy.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Exodus 4:6-7—Leprosy!—In the cabbinical books of the Jews there is a curious tradition about the growth of leprosy, that it began with the walls of a man’s house—then, if he did not repent, it entered his garments—then it affected his body, until it spread over every part—
“His skin grew dry and bloodless, and white scales
Circled with livid purple covered him.
And then his nails grew black, and fell away
From the dull flesh about them, and the bues
Deepened beneath the hard, unmoistened scales.”
So with unbelief, it first affects the walls of the mind—thence extending its corruption to the heart—and onwards through the entire inner man; until death ensues.
Exodus 4:6-7—Sceptic Fears!—History relates of David Hume that, having visited the family of the worthy La Roche, where the consolations of the Gospel were practically evidenced, he was afterwards heard to confess that there were moments when, amid all the pleasures of philosophical discovery and the pride of literary fame, he wished that he had never doubted—
“And evermore his eyes about him went,
As if some proved peril he did fear,
Or did misdoubt some ill, whose cause did not appear.”
Exodus 4:6-7—Doubt-Paralysis!—We may as well, says Shepherd, expect a singing bird to be vocal in a receiver where it has little or no air to respire, as expect the genuine exercise of real goodness from the paralysed doubter. As leprosy is the destitution of those physical powers by which sound health can be sustained; so doubt of Divine truth is the destitution of those efficient principles of which the moral and spiritual life can be sustained. The experimentalist may display a vessel from which air has been more or less exhausted, and may tell us that there is nothing pernicious in it, but if we discover a deficiency of support for animal and vegetable life, we shall charge him with a paltry equivocation. Doubt is that air-void vessel, in which the mental, moral, and spiritual life cannot subsist—
“Doubt is the eternal shade by evil cast!
‘The vision and the faculty divine’
Fail when the spirit o’er its empire vast
Throws appetite and crimes.”
Exodus 4:6-7—The Divine Touch!—In healing the leper by a touch, our Saviour not only showed His power, but claimed a right that belonged only to the priest, and asserted His own exemption from ceremonial defilement; while in saying “I will, be thou clean,” He assumed a still higher prerogative, and pointed to a more thorough purification of the whole nature:—
“He took a little water in His hand
And laved the sufferer’s brow, and said, ‘Be clean!’
And lo! the scales fell from him, and his blood
Coursed with delicious coolness through his veins,
And his dry palms grew moist, and on his lips
The dewy softness of an infant’s stole.
His leprosy was cleansed, and he fell down
Prostrate at Jesus’ feet, and worshipped Him.”
Exodus 4:6-7—The Healer!—It is related that a student once visired Dr. Hodge regarding some doubts entertained by him as to the divinity of Christ, when the venerable man of God at once counselled: The best way to remove your doubts and guard yourself from future and greater troubles is to have Christ in you: learn His life—to trust in Him more—to love Him more; become identified with Him, and your doubts as to His Divinity will disappear:—
“Abide in me, I pray, and I in Thee;
From this good hour, Oh! leave me nevermore,
Then shall the discord cease, the wound be healed,
The life-long bleeding of the soul be o’er.”
Exodus 4:6-7—Sinner Leprous!—What a pitiable, repulsive sight! We pass by a leprous stone unnoticed; it is unconscious of its state, and meant to be trampled under foot. But rising, says Trench, to a step higher in the scale of creation—to an unclean, leprous plant—we become conscious of a slight emotion of dislike; because we see that which might have pleased the eye disfigured. But a leprous human being excites our loathing more than all. It presents our nature in a light so disgusting, that it lessens our pity for him if he be miserable, and excites in us ideas of disease, contamination, and pain:—
“Depart, and come not near
The busy mart, the crowded city, more;
Nor set thy foot on human threshold o’er;
And stay thou not to hear
Voices that call thee in the way.”
But a leprous soul—a sinner—how loathsome above all things! It is the most unclean object in the universe—the soul and essence of pollution—the spectacle which appals angelic hosts and excites deep abhorrence in the mind of God.
Exodus 4:6-7—Nil Desperandum!—The healer is God; and who can tell what God can do? A man utterly despairing of his soul’s salvation thought that he might as well be in the woes of hell’s abyss at once. He therefore went to a river, designing to throw himself in; but as he was about to commit the mad deed, he seemed to hear a voice saying to him, “Who can tell?” His thoughts were arrested, and thus began to work on what he had heard. “Yes, who can tell what God can do? Who can tell what purposes God will serve in my recovery?” By such thoughts as these, it pleased God to enable him to shake off the delirium of despair, and to throw himself into the arms of hope in Christ as able to save to the uttermost.
“He came—a leper all unclean and foul:
He left, as fresh as freshest infancy.
So come I to Thy feet, unclean in soul,
So leave I, Lord, cleansed and restored by thee.”
Exodus 4:6-7—Illustrations!—Robert Hall, on one occasion, when criticising a sermon in the hearing of the preacher, said: “Yon have no likes in your sermon! You tell us what they are, ‘but not what they are like.’ ” As Hood says, there can be no doubt that for the purpose of teaching, one illustration is worth a thousand abstractions; a sentiment reciprocated by a famous judge of the Supreme Court, who exclaimed to a divine: “I am glad that you employed that touching story ‘to illustrate your thought.’ ” Analogies are the windows of speech; through them truth shines. Ordinary minds fail to perceive truth clearly, unless it is presented to them by expressive imagery, which appeals both to the reason and to the imagination. It is Salter who says that illustrations are like the painting on canvas which, while it charms the eye, also interests the mind. They resemble the incense which flamed on the Jewish altar, and which, while it arrested the eye with its cloudy pillar, regaled the senses with its fragrance—
“Wherefore, it is wise and well—to guide the mind aright—
So to talk of spirit by analogy with substance:
And analogy is a truer guide than many teachers tell of.
Similitudes are scattered round to help us—not to hurt us;
MOSES in his every type, and the greater than a Moses, in His parables,
Preach in terms that all may learn the philosophic lessons of analogy.”
Exodus 4:6-7—Definite Result!—Look at that parent bird picking at the nest which she has built for her tender offspring! See how she breaks off one twig after another—exciting her brood to leave their nest and soar on high amid the sunshine of heaven. And if they will not leave it, she will break it further and further until it is utterly broken up, and they are forced to fly or fall. They would prefer to linger in downy ease; the mother would teach them to fly. Her aim is definite—her purpose one. So God teaches; and never without a design worthy of Him self. And that design is His own glory in man’s everlasting good—
“Oh! I doubt not through the ages one in. creasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the sun.”
Exodus 4:8-9—-Human Folly!—One can hardly conceive a poor way worn wretch, as he lies on the arid waste, panting with blackened lips and swollen tongue, striking the kind traveller’s flask from his hand, and spilling the precious water among the blistering sands. The slave boy—now an African bishop—exulted gleefully when a British cruiser snapped the fetters from his youthful limbs and bore him to free Liberia. Can folly surpass that insensate madness which makes the sinner spurn the clear, cool, crystal drops of life, and perversely traverse the wilds of sin? Can madness outrival that supreme folly which leads the bapless bondsman of sin to hug the chains of condemnation, and obstinately kiss the fetters of wrath?
“Woe; woe to the sinner who lives in his sin,
Unrighteous without, and unholy within:
Each thought of his heart, and each look of his eye
Is tainted with sin, and his doom is to die.”
Exodus 4:8-9—Unbelief and the Bible!—An infidel said that there was one thing which marred all the pleasures of his life: whereupon a friend enquired of him what it was. He quickly responded, “I am afraid the Bible is true; if I could know for certain that death is an eternal sleep, I should be happy; but the thought that, if the Bible is true, my soul is lost for ever, stings me like a thorn—pierces me like a sword.”
“The avenging horror of a conscious mind,
Whose deadly fear anticipates the blow,
And sees no end of punishment and woe;
But looks for more, at the last gasp of breath;
This makes a hell on earth, and life a death.”
Exodus 4:8-9—First Sign!—Few but have observed a startling picture suspended on the walls of our metropolitan and suburban railway stations. It is a lion—with shaggy mane, and eyes glaring half with anger, half with fear. Around its agile form are the meshes of a net.—
1. That net speaks of the thraldom of the monarch of the forest.
2. That net speaks of the inability of the lion-king to free himself. And,
3. That net speaks of the agency by which the wild beast is to have liberty; for a tiny mouse is busily employed nibbling the meshes one by one. None can mistake the expression of that animal’s eye—its eagelness to escape—its gleesomeness as it feels one mesh after another give way. Alas! That picture does not speak of what “the voice of the first sign” does:—unwillingness to believe in freedom:—
“He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves beside. There’s not a chain
That hellish foes confederate for his harm
Can wind around him, but he casts it off.”
Exodus 4:8-9—Obstinate Unbelief!—Away at sea, the mariner will sometimes come upon a bottle floating upon the wide waste of waters. For month—ay, years—the waters have been surging round and round it, and yet not a drop is within. So it is with our hearts, unbelief closes them so that that the water of life cannot fill them; and no matter how numerous and copious mercy’s showers, they remain persistently sealed. The Orientals have a proverb—
“The cocoa-palm leaves infidels without excuse,
For nine and ninety are its common uses;
In hardened carelessness they wait a hundredth use,
Until some new discovery introduces!”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:10-14
THE OBJECTIONS MADE TO RELIGIOUS SERVICE
I. These objections were made after God had given him a full insight into the nature of the service required.
1. The insight given to Moses was infallible. It had been Divinely imparted. God had appeared to him in the burning bush, had informed him of the bitter servitude of Israel, and of His intention to achieve their freedom through his instrumentality. Moses could not be mistaken in all this. His observation and hearing had not been deceived. He could retrace his own mental and moral experience occasioned by the phenomenon. Nor was the burning bush the only token that he had received, but he had also long communion with God. The Divine name, in all its significance and grandeur was unfolded to the vision of his soul. And the sacred presence before which he stood, had made him feel that his mission to Israel was a solemn reality, requiring all the energy and devotion of his nature. Thus, had an insight into the nature—requirements—success—and method of his work been Divinely and infallibly communicated to him. And good people in these days have an equally infallible insight into the religious service that is required of them. It is found in the Bible. It is given in the life of Christ. It is seen in the moral want of humanity. They learn it not from the burning bramble-bush, not from the audible voice of God, not from the miraculous turning of rods into serpents, but in hours of quiet communion with the Infinite; in times of severe grief the soul is infallibly taught the meaning of these great calls to service.
2. The insight given into the nature of this service was forceful. What could have been more sublime, more instructive, more impressive, and consequently more calculated to command attention and obedience, than a service made known by such a grand display of heavenly glory, of the Divine name, and of the Divine power. This was designed to lend moral force to the duty made known to the desert shepherd. And so in these days our calls to spiritual service come to us full of heavenly meaning and grandeur. They gather emphasis from our lonely and dependent condition, from the fact that they come from God, from the fact that they plead the cross of Christ as a claim upon our obedience, from the fact that all the motives of the Bible are on their side, and from the fact that there is given a Divine inspiration to enable us to perform them. Every enlightened conscience knows the forcefulness of these Divine appeals. Let us not be found disobedient to duty so impressively made known, so solemnly required, and so awful in its possibility of eternal retribution.
3. The insight given into the nature of this service was sympathetic. God did not merely tell Moses of the work he had to perform in relation to the freedom of Israel, and then withdraw Himself from the vision of the bewildered shepherd, but remained for a length of time in conversation with him, answering questions, dispelling doubts, removing difficulties, giving a new revelation of the Supreme life, and finally delegating to him the Divine power. Hence the Divine Being manifested the truest sympathy, the sympathy of friendly intercourse and help, with Moses in his very arduous undertaking. “Certainly I will be with thee,”—nothing could have been more sympathetic than this. And so, to-day, good men have given to them a sympathetic insight into the service that is required of them. God bears with their moral weakness. Answers their objection. Forewarns them of difficulty. Inspires them with bright hopes. Announces Himself as their unerring Friend and Guide.
II. These objections frequently arise from an undue consciousness of self.
1. From a consciousness of natural infirmity. “And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent,” etc. Moses has now narrowed the mission to himself and his own ability for it, leaving altogether out of calculation his heavenly preparation, and the Divine promise of help. And here is the weakness of an undue consciousness of self, in that it tends to put God out of our service. Unaided human ability cannot achieve the service of God. If Moses had been eloquent he could not have accomplished the freedom of Israel without the Divine aid. In undertaking moral service, men must not think too much about their own physical, mental, or moral capabilities, but mainly of Him who has called them to the work. He can make provision for all their defects. It is quite true that many good people have a natural hindrance to religious work—they are slow of speech—they find it difficult to pray in a prayer meeting—or to undertake any duty requiring publicity—but this does not place them outside the range of service. God sometimes calls such to achieve the freedom of the slave. It ought to inspire within them a more thorough determination to rely on Divine help. Silence is often more eloquent and valuable than speech.
2. From a supposition of moral incapacity. Moses did not think himself capable of securing the freedom of a vast nation like Israel, a nation of such historic grandeur, and of such holy moral relationships and covenant, hence distrustful of self, he cried; “Who am I?” And this feeling of incapacity is frequently shared by good men when they are called to the performance of religious service. And apart from the Divine call, preparation, and help, all men are totally unfit for such work, but the vision of heaven and the revelation of God are calculated to lift them above their natural infirmities, to place them on a level with their duty, and enable them to rise superior to difficulty. The call of God is calculated to educate all the sublime tendencies of the soul, and render men fit for heroic toil.
3. That rather than self, God must be the supreme idea of the soul when about to enter upon religious service. At such times the good man must forget his natural infirmity for service in the all-absorbing thought of the Divine love, companionship, and power. His soul must rest in the arms of the Infinite, and catching the smile of the Divine face, it will ever be cheered, and inspired for duty, and in the happiness of such an experience, all painful thoughts of self will be excluded from the mind. The Christian service of men in these days retains too feebly the thought of God, hence its unrest, its inefficiency. Our hearts should be a temple in which every act of service should be rendered to the Infinite.
III. These objections do not sufficiently regard the efficiency of the Divine help that is promised in the service. “Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.”
1. The Divine help is adapted to our natural infirmity. God promised to aid the speech of Moses. And so it is now. God always meets men, in the performance of their religious service, at the point of their weakness. The natural powers of men are used in the missions of God. The Divine plan is to strengthen them if weak; to guide them if strong. If our natural infirmity is diffidence, God will give us courage. He sends power and help to men in that department of soul where it is most needed. It is far better to have God joined to our infirmity, than to have the eloquent tongue without Him. Thus there are times when an infirmity may be of inestimable advantage to a Christian worker.
2. The Divine help is adapted to our full requirement. God did not merely promise to aid the speech of Moses, but also to teach him what he should say. So in the Christian service of to-day, good men are not merely aided in the line of their natural infirmity, but also to the extent of their requirement. See the variety of the Divine help given to Moses: the vision of the bush; the revelation of the great Name; an insight into the success of his mission; the miracle. Thus, not merely was he aided in speech, but in all the need of his soul. A grand encouragement for Christian workers to-day. God is with us to the full extent of our want.
IV. These objections are a reflection on the propriety of the Divine selection for the service. “And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth,” etc.
1. This method of conduct is ungrateful. Instead of mentioning this one natural infirmity, Moses ought to have been thankful that he had so many aids to the work required of him. Was the impediment of speech more to him than the vision, revelation, and miracles with which he had been favoured? Certainly not. Hence his ingratitude. Moses has many imitators to-day. Men are called to religious service. But instead of reviewing their favourable circumstances, the holy qualifications that have been imparted to their souls, they fix their attention upon one drawback unto they complain and become discontented. What ingratitude!
2. This method of conduct is irreverent. Moses ought to have remembered that he was in converse with God, that he was commanded by God to this work. This ought to have subdued his mind. It ought to have silenced objection. He is not now paying sufficient deference to the Divine presence. So, good men should ever remember that it is God who calls them to service, and that therefore they must merge all their natural reasonings into a faithful compliance with His will. We must be more reverent in our service-relations with Heaven.
V. These objections do not sufficiently recognise the dignity and honour which the service will command.
1. There was the honour of achieving the freedom of a vast nation.
2. There was the honour of conquering a tyrant king.
3. There was the honour of becoming the Lawgiver of the world. All religious service is honourable, and this is especially shewn in the history of Moses. It elevated him from the sheepfold to the throne. Instead of the crook it gave him the sceptre. And many a man, whose name is known to fame and history, has gained eminence through co-operation with the providence of God, and undertaking a work for the moral good of men. If men did but realise the dignity of religious service, they would never be deterred from it by their own natural infirmities.
VI. These objections are liable to awaken the Divine displeasure. “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.”
1. This anger may be manifested in our removal from service.
2. This anger may be manifested by the positive infliction of penalty.
3. This anger may occasion our moral ruin. It is dangerous to trifle or contend with the Divine call to religious duty. There is a point beyond which God will not permit a human soul to do so. Our prompt obedience will be the most welcome to heaven, the most effective in service, and the most kindly to others, whom our disobedience might have called into perilous prominence. Aaron. LEARN:—
1. Good men ought to know better than to object to the service of God.
2. That in the service of God, men find the highest reward.
3. That in the service of God, men attaineth divinest immortality.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
1. Some suppose that Moses being astonished with God’s glory, since his beginning to talk with Him, which they gather was three days, one after another, was thus disabled in the use of his tongue, and though eloquent before, yet now in this Divine mission he seemed a child unto himself, and unable to speak to men. (Philo, Origin, Gregory). But this supposition is plainly against the meaning of the text, which is as if Moses had said, “I have not only wanted eloquence heretofore, but ever since thou has spoken to me. I have not found this faultamended.” And if he had only at this time been taken with a lack of words. there would have been no need for the oratorical help of Aaron afterwards.
2. Some imagine that Moses had been a shepherd so long that he had, to a large extent, lost the power of words.
3. Some imagine that Moses meant his inability to speak to Pharoah in the Egyptian tongue.
4. Some imagine that Moses had a natural impediment in his speech.
5. Probably Moses found a difficulty in readily e pressing his thoughts. He was slow of speech. And such an instrument did God choose for his own greater glory; and thus doth Moses write of himself, laying open his imperfections, and backwardness in obeying God’s calling in humility; whereby we must also learn to lay open and confess our own faults, that they may be forgiven unto us out of God’s mercy [Mayer].
Moses had not that first, second, or third of an orator, elocution, or pronounciation. And yet God made choice of him rather than eloquent Aaron to pray (Exodus 17:12). Not gifts but graces prevail in prayer [Trapp].
Moses still continues backward to the service God had designed him for; we can no longer impute it to humility and modesty, but must own that there was too much of cowardice, slothfulness, and unbelief in it. Moses pleads that he was no orator. He was a man of clear head, great thought, and solid judgment, but had not a voluble tongue, or ready utterance. We must not judge of men by the readiness and fluency of their discourse. What he said distilled as the dew. Christ’s disciples were no orators, till the spirit made them such [Henry and Scott].
God does not always make it appear that he hath furnished men for services till they are actually called to engage in them, but we may depend upon Him to qualify us for whatever He commands us to do. All knowledge, wisdom, and utterance, with every good gift, are derived from Him; but many endowments are supposed needful or useful in the public service of God and His Church, which He pours contempt upon, as mere tinsel, worthless, if not pernicious. Such are all the studied and affected arts of human cratory, which the great apostle would not condescend to employ, “that the faith” of the people “should not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God” [Scott].
Let a man look unto himself, and measure his work by himself, and the movement of his life will be downward and exhaustive. Let him look away from himself to the Inspirer of his life, and the Divine reward of his labours, and he will not so much as see the difficulties which may stand ever so thickly in his way [City Temple].
Infirmity of faith maketh those called by God to object to the service He commands of them.
Miracles sometimes will not silence such objections of doubting souls.
Unwilling souls for God’s work are apt to plead real infirmities for excuse.
Weakness of faith will urge against God’s call, not only self-insufficiency, but also the lack of Divine supply in the direction of infirmity.
Infirmity in speech may be an argument to men against the work of God, but it is not to God Himself.
I. “I am not eloquent.” Then true eloquence may have its use:—
1. To explain Divine Truth.
2. To inspire men with the thought of freedom.
3. To manifest the perfection of the gift of speech.
II. “I am not eloquent.” Then do not condemn men who are. Some people are in the habit of condemning in others what they do not find in themselves. Many public speakers denounce their eloquent compeers for the simple reason that they are not so gifted themselves.
III. “I am not eloquent.” Then do not envy those who are acknowledged to be so. Nature has unequally distributed her gifts. She has given the thinking power to one, the speaking power to another. If we have not eloquence we have some other equally valuable talent in its place. Let us therefore be thankful, not envious.
IV. “I am not eloquent.” Then the Lord can use a feeble instrumentality. We should have antecedently imagined that God would have selected Aaron for the work of Israel’s freedom. But not so. God can send a great message by a man of slow tongue. This will enhance the Divine glory.
V. “I am not eloquent.” Then words are not the chief conditions of service. In the service of the good, ideas—thoughts—emotions—and moral influences occupy a more prominent place than mere words.
VI. “I am not eloquent.” Then do not grumble, but seek the Divine aid in your infirmity. If the time spent in lamenting our natural infirmities was only occupied in prayer to God for help in our work, and for his blessing thereon, the world would soon be emancipated from the bondage of sin.
SLOWNESS OF SPEECH
“But I am slow of speech.”
I. An Infirmity.
II. A Discretion.
III. A Discipline.
Exodus 4:11. The Hebrews, in giving a reason why the Lord speaketh of His making dumb, and deaf, and blind, as well as giving a mouth to speak, say, that these things were spoken in allusion to His past operations with Moses; because, when he had slain the Egyptian that wronged the Hebrew, and was by Pharaoh therefore committed to the gaoler, the gaoler was immediately smitten with blindness, and so Moses had opportunity to escape from him, and the King, seeing that he fled, was stricken dumb, so that he could not speak nor make any sign to have him apprehended again. But whether this is true or not, it is certain that God can thus in judgment smite whom it pleaseth Him, as He did the Sodomites with blindness [Mayer].
To balance the weakness of Moses, God here reminds him of his own power. To encourage him in this great undertaking. He repeats the promise of His presence, not only in general, but in particular [Henry and Scott].
By this appeal to Moses respecting the origin of the human faculties, God would have him to infer, that he who bestowed them upon the first man, could, with infinite ease, endow him with those which were lacking, and remedy those which were imperfect [Bush].
How sublime is the rebuke of God! Cannot the Maker of man’s mouth touch with eloquence the lips which He has fashioned? What is human eloquence but the expression of Divine music? Pedantic, rhetoricians may fashion rules of their own for the refinement of human speech; but he who waits diligently upon God, and whose purpose is to know the will of God, that he may speak it to men—will be entrusted with an eloquence rhythmic as the sea and startling as the thunder. Rhetoric is the gift of God. Eloquence is not a merely human attainment. The secret of convincing and persuasive speech is put into the hearts of those who forget themselves in the homage of God and truth [City Temple].
Jehovah indulgeth his weak servants to object, that he may multiply satisfaction to their doubts.
God teacheth and checketh his servants sometimes by questioning with them.
Man’s mouth is from God, and so ought the use of it to be.
Defects of speech and senses are incident to some amongst men.
THE DIVINE CREATORSHIP
I. Should silence the voice of complaint under natural infirmities.
II. Should become an argument for the ready performance of any mission on which we may be divinely sent.
III. Should lead us reverently to acknowledge the Sovereignity of God in the varied allotments of life.
NATURAL INFIRMITIES IN RELATION TO MORAL SERVICE
I. That God does not always see fit to remove natural infirmities from those who are commissioned to important service:—
1. They keep us humble.
2. They remind us of God.
3. They prompt us to prayer.
II. That God renders natural impediments effective to the clear manifestation of His power and glory:—
1. Should win our submission.
2. Should gain our confidence.
3. Should inspire our praise.
III. That God so far compassionates our natural infirmities as to relieve them by congenial and efficient help:—
2. Adapted to need.
Exodus 4:12. There is no mouth into which God cannot put his words. Balaam’s ass was enabled by God to convince his master [Trapp].
God’s injunction of duty justly follows his satisfaction to doubts.
God utters successive injunctions to duty, even though men try to withdraw from them.
God’s promise of presence and influence aids his injunctions, and renders them more welcome to his servants.
A mouth divinely instructed, is mighty in the word of wisdom.
I. The Divine Commission.
II. The Divine Companionship.
III. The Divine Instruction.
Exodus 4:13. Does not this hold up to us a faithful mirror, in which we can see our hearts reflected? Truly it does. We are more ready to trust anything than the living God. We move along, with bold decision, when we possess the countenance and support of a poor frail mortal like ourselves; but we falter, hesitate, and demur, when we have the light of the master’s countenance to cheer us, and the strength of His omnipotent arm to support us [C. H. M.]
Send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.”
1. Some think that Moses meant his brother Aaron, who was older, and of more eloquent speech; but no mention had yet been made of Aaron, whom Moses knew not to be alive till the Lord told him. (Exodus 4:18).
2. Some think that Joshua was meant, whom God revealed to Moses as the Leader of Israel into the Land of Promise. This would make Moses appear somewhat envious of Joshua.
3. The majority of the ancient writers think that Moses here speaks of the Messiah.
4. The meaning of Moses is, that whereas God might find out many more fit than himself, He would send by their hand, whoever they might be.
Unbelief has still something to oppose against God’s call and promise.
A weak faith is ever willing to avoid the difficulty of work.
Infirm believers are willing to put off God’s work to any from themselves.
The weak in faith would yet have them to be of God’s sending that shall be employed for the freedom of the Church.
AN EVASION OF SPIRITUAL WORK
I. He recognised the necessity that the work should be accomplished. Moses did not cast a doubt upon the need, utility of the mission given to him; yea, he virtually acknowledged that it was worthy of more able instrumentality. Like many to-day. They acknowledge that certain work in connection with the Church ought to be done. But that is all.
II. He manifested a disposition to shrink from achieving the work himself. There are hundreds in our churches who acknowledge the need of certain religious enterprise, but they do nothing to it themselves.
III. He expressed a desire that some other person should be called to, and entrusted with, the work. This course is often pursued by people. The very enterprise that they refuse to undertake themselves, they propose should be carried out by another. They hope thus to relieve themselves of its difficulty.
IV. He was in danger of losing the honour of the work to which he was called. God might have refused to send Moses after all this indolence and unbelief. People do not know the moral good and honour they miss by refusing the work of the Church.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
(1)—Hesitation!—A youth erasing a narrow tree-trunk bridge kept looking at the gorge below, down which foamed and thundered the mountain cataract. His conductor saw that he was turning giddy and faltering: whereupon he counselled him to fasten his eye on the lovely scenery in the front. A boy climbing the ladder of ropes leading to the top mast began to tremble as he looked down at the deck and yawning waters, which, when his father noticed, he endeavoured to prevent by shouting: “Look up!” Moses hesitated; therefore God tells him two things:
1. To look up to Him: and
2. To look at the holy land whither He would bring His people from Egypt—
“With eyes turned upward, whence her help descends,
She waits expecting till the tempest ends.”
(2)—Worthlessness.—The meek Moses lost sight of the fact that God does not of necessity require good material. The paper manufacturer is not nice in the choice of his materials. He does not, writes Arnot, reject a torn or filthy piece as unfit for his purpose. All come alike to him; for he knows what he can make of them. The filthy rags can be made serviceable. So God needed not a man highly endowed with mental gifts and intellectual energies, with commanding presence and persuasive eloquence. His providence and grace could prepare Moses for his mission. Yet
“No mortal eye the manner sees,
The imperceptible degrees,
By which our Lord conducts His plan,
And brings us to a perfect man.”
(3)—Try and Trust!—The missionary John Williams once said that there were two little words which were able to make the most lofty mountains melt: “Try” and “Trust.” Moses had yet to learn the use of these words. God taught him. The sailor has to be taught that he must not look on the dark and troubled waters, but at the clear blue heavens where shines the pole-star. Moses was gazing at the surging sea of Egyptian wrath, and God taught him to direct his gaze heaven-ward. then to try and trust, for greater is He that is with you than all that be against you. As an early Christian writer enjoins, let us not forget—as Moses did at first-that all God’s biddings are enablings, and that it is for us not to ask the reason but to obey. As Luther said, “I would rather obey than work miracles.”
(4)—Success!—Moses was looking at himself, not at God, who was issuing the commands, and therefore was responsible for its fulfilment. With the issue Moses, had nothing to do—with the execution very much. Certain officers, says Dr. Scudder. once spoke in the presence of the Duke of Wellington of the missionary enterprise as though there could be no rational prospect of its success. The old iron Duke replied by asking them what they had to do when the commander-in-chief issued marching orders? On receiving their ready response, “To march,” he quickly enquired for a Bible. Opening it, he told them that the marching orders of the chief of the missionary army were: Go ye into all the world and preach. He added, “Your duty is to march and fight. The responsibility of success lies with the commander, not with you. If you do not march I shoot you”—
“Let me to Thy wisdom leave
When and what thou are to give:
All Thy works to Thee are known,
Let Thy blessed will be done.”
(5)—Disinclination!—When Palamedes came to Ithaca to invite Ulysses to join in the expedition against Troy, the latter, unwilling to engage in the undertaking, betook himself to ploughing the sand, as an evidence of insanity, and consequent unfitness. Moses pretended unfitness to excuse himself from the duty to which God was calling him, but upon the discharge of which he was very unwilling to enter:—
“Be not too fast, be not too slow;
Be not too early, not too late;
Go, where His orders bid thee go;
Wait, when His orders bid thee wait.’
(6)—Gifts and Graces!—The meanest grace is above the highest intellectual gifts, as the smile of a sunbeam is more powerful to chase away the grim and sour darkness of the night than the sparkling of a million diamonds. As Beecher says, mere eloquence is like the light of shavings, which burn with a sudden flash, blazing for an instant, and then going out without leaving either coals or beat behind. It is like the harp which, while the wind touched its chords, discoursed harmonious strains; but music and breeze died away together. Man’s eloquence is mighty, but it is transient.
“Could I command with voice or pen
The tongue of angels and of men,
A tinkling cymbal, sounding brass,
My speech and preaching would surpass;
Vain were such eloquence to me
Without the grace of charity.”
(7)—Divine Help!—Changes take place above and around the fortress; but its massive buttresses still stand unmoved, and its battlements frown defiance at the strength of the foe. Certainly I will be with thee. The clouds above are fleeting past, it may be in pall-like gloom The leaves are budding or fading according to their seasons upon the earth. There, however, stands the Rock of Ages, upon which is rooted the Fortunes of Truth and Faithfulness:—
“And truth shall live for ever,
And through endless ages give
Her blessings to the sainted,
And fail them never—never.”
(8)—Work!—Moses was evidently at ease, and disliked action. Evidently his mind was in a dangerous condition, for, as Cecil says, a man who gets into the habit of enquiring about proprieties and expediencies, and occasions, often spends his life without doing anything to purpose. The state of the world is such, and so much depends upon action, that everything seems to say loudly to every man: Do something—do it. Moses was well nigh forgetting all about Egypt in his quiet and happy home in Midian:—
“Offer thy light on the altar;
In the high purpose be strong:
And if the tired spirit should falter,
Then sweeten thy labour with song.”
(9)—Duty!—Duty is first; pleasure comes second. God first; then self. His glory; then our own ease. The welfare of Israel’s host before the comfort of the shepherd Moses. When Pompeius Magnus prepared and freighted a ship with provisions for beleagured Rome, his friends endeavoured, with persistent importunity, to dissuade him from so doing. With great vehemence he responded: “It is necessary that I should go, not that I should live.” Moses needed not to be concerned about his own safety, so long as the freedom of Israel was accomplished.
“Away, then, causeless doubts and fears,
That weaken and enthral;
Wipe off, my soul, thy faithless tears,
And rise to duty’s call.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:14-17
MUTUAL AID IN RELIGIOUS WORK
I. That sometimes good men are called to undertake a work, against the performance of which they imagine themselves to have a natural impediment. Moses was called to go and achieve the freedom of Israel. But he says that he is a man slow of speech, and that as he is unlikely to succeed in such an undertaking, he asks that God will send another in his stead. Thus Moses was designated to a work, against the performance of which he imagined himself to have a natural infirmity, the lack of ready utterance
1. Men should be certain that their so-called impediment is a real hindrance in the service to which they are sent. Was Moses certain that his lack of speech would prove a real hindrance in the performance of his mission, especially when he considered the preparation he had already received, and the miracles he had been empowered to work? If so, he was mistaken. He looked more on the surface of things than into their depths. He probably regarded his own comfort more than the real bearing of his infirmity upon his mission. He wanted an excuse, and found one in his natural deficiency of language. He probably wanted to appear before Israel as some great one. He wanted to accomplished his mission without encountering difficulty. He looked more at secondary causes than at primary, more at himself than at God and his promised help. And men who do this will be sure to have infirmities, fancied or real. Thus we are not quite so sure that Moses was right in supposing that his lack of speech was a real hindrance to his mission. If he had been gifted in the direction of language, he might have been in danger of betraying his mission by indiscretion. It is a dangerous thing for a man that has moral power and a great mission to have the gift of language, he will almost be sure to talk too much about the honour of his calling, and the power he has to work miracles. Many such enterprises have been wrecked by so-called eloquence. True the public like a man that can talk; he is more likely to become a general favourite; he may win their pleasantry, but will he achieve their moral conviction? Many a minister would have been more successful in his work if he had been more slow of tongue. Thus, before we lament our natural impediment to service, and say that God has called the wrong man for the work, we must look into the reality of things, and see whether our infirmity is a real hindrance or not. In these days when people are called to work, they at once refer to their infirmity and unfitness for it, but their real infirmity is not so much their slowness of speech, as this unbelief and unwillingness to follow the Divine command. They have not the moral courage to encounter difficulty. They think more of Pharaoh and his army than of the Divine companionship that has promised to be with them.
2. But we admit that sometimes men are called to religious service against the performance of which they have a natural impediment. Sometimes men of little courage are sent on errands which require them to be brave; sometimes men of little faith are sent on errands which require them to have strong confidence in the Unseen; sometimes men of slow speech are sent to give the law of God to the assembled multitudes at Sinai. And why this apparent anomaly and invertion of things.
(1.) Is it not an injustice on the part of the Divine requirement. Can God fully expect men of small courage to go to Pharaoh and demand the freedom of a nation. It is just, because with the command He gives the moral energy necessary for its execution. He gives the timid man the stimulus of the vision. He gives him the inspiration of a miracle.
(2.) Its design is to educate man on the side of his weakness. The man lacks courage. The mission requires it. God awakens it. Hence the man who left home a coward, returns a hero. Moses hesitated to undertake the journey to Israel; he did not hesitate to take that still more formidable journey up the mountain of Nebo, into the arms of death. No; the discipline of the mission has been effectual. He has been educated thereby on the side of his weakness. Thus the calling of men to work for which they are antecedently unfitted, is purely educational in its design.
(3.) It is to render the mission all the more triumphant when accomplished. The strong man is familiar with victory, it has ceased to awaken him to enthusiasm as once it did. But for the weak to be the victorious is a new thing, it occasions a new experience, and renders the occasion worthy of more triumphant plaudits. It is the distinguishing glory of Christianity that it makes provision for the victory of the weak who have within their souls the grace of God.
II. That at such time good men require the aid of others whose talents compensate for their infirmity. Sometimes the Divine discipline requires that the weak shall go alone to the mission, for their greater spiritual good and honour, but in the case before us so arduous was the duty, so destitute were the times of religious light, and so vague were the ideas of men on moral service, that God responded to the implied wish of Moses, and gave him the direct help he needed. God does not entirely leave men of natural infirmity alone in their Christian service, but sends them external aid, most helpful and welcome.
1. This help was adapted to the infirmity of Moses. “Is not Aaron, the Levite, thy brother? I know that he can speak well.” Moses was a thinker. So there is a variety of gifts and talent in the Church. Some have the gift of wealth. Others have the gift of originality. Others have the gift of legislation. Others have the gift of great influence. One star differeth from another star in glory. How happy when the whole system of Christian work is revolving in harmony, giving light and hope to the universe. Thus the weak catch the light and impetus of the strong, and the lack of talent in one direction is made up by its supply in another. It is by this combination of Christian talent that all great enterprises will be carried to their successful issue. Let no Christian speaker refuse to aid a Christian thinker. The one is the complement of the other.
2. This help was arranged by the providence of God. “And also, behold He cometh forth to meet thee.”
(1.) As to the time of meeting.
(2.) As to the place of meeting.
(3.) As to the purpose of meeting. Thus the useful combination of talent in the enterprise of human emancipation from moral evil has the Divine sanction, its blending is arranged by the providence of God, and its entire out-working is superintended by Him. “I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.”
3. The help was founded upon and rendered welcome by family relationship. “Thy brother.” God did not bring a stranger to the aid of Moses. Moses could not well have communicated his history, his moral experiences to such an one, but he was glad to meet his brother, the sadness of his new mission was removed by the joyful interview, and together, animated by new impulses of hope, they would look over their work and enter into each other’s feelings respecting it. The talents of a family are variously distributed, and when all are consecrated to the Divine service, one may aid another in the great spiritual enterprise of his life.
III. That such co-operation renders religious work much more jubilant and successful.
1. It is happy. It is adapted to our weak conditions of faith. God is unseen and we are liable to think him distant from us in our work. His companionship seems unreal, and communion with Him is, at times, very difficult. Our unbelief robs us of the great repose and hope we ought to experience in His presence. But Aaron was seen by Moses. They could converse one with the other. They could walk together, not by faith, but by sight. And in converse with each other they might rise into higher communion with God. So mutual help in religious service is happy, it links soul to soul, and becomes the inspiration of richer communion with heaven.
2. It is sympathetic.
3. It is hopeful.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 4:14. The literal rendering of the clause is, “Is not Aaron thy brother, the Levite”? which we cannot but understand as implying, that in consequence of Moses’ unbelieving waywardness on this occasion, the distinguishing honour of the priesthood, and of being the official head of the house of Levi, the person in whom the dignity of that name should be especially centred, which would otherwise have been bestowed upon him, should now be conferred upon his brother Aaron, and perpetuated in his family. In this fact the expression of the Lord’s anger consisted. Otherwise, how was Aaron any more the Levite than Moses? We find accordingly the forfeited privilege of Moses thus secured to Aaron (1 Chronicles 23:13). This, we suppose would have been the honour of Moses, had he yielded a ready obedience to the divine mandate. The event teaches us that those who decline the labour and hazard connected with the call of God to a special service, may thereby forfeit and forego a blessing of which they little dream [Bush].
Thus Moses forfeited the dignity of being Jehovah’s sole instrument in that glorious work He was about to accomplish.
No wonder that the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses. Where God commandeth, there to ask a reason is presumption; but to oppose reason, is a kind of rebellion [Trapp].
Moreover, God condescended so far to the weakness of Moses, as to find him a coadjutor in his mission to the children of Israel and to the King of Egypt. Aaron could speak well. Moses was a thinker; Aaron was a speaker. Aaron was to be to Moses instead of a mouth, and Moses was to be to Aaron instead of God. Thus one man has to be the complement of another. No one man has all gifts and graces. The best and ablest of us cannot do without our brother. There is to be a division of labour in the great work of conquering the world for God. The thinker works; so does the speaker; so does the writer. We are a chain; not merely isolated links; we belong to one another, and only by fraternal and zealous co-operation can we secure the great results possible to faith and labour. Some men are fruitful of suggestion. They have wondrous powers of indication; but there their special power ends. Other men have great gifts of expression; they can put thoughts into the best words; they have the power of music; they can charm and persuade. Such men are not to undervalue one another; they are to co-operate as fellow-labourers in the Kingdom of God [City Temple].
Multiplied oppositions to God’s call may provoke Him to be angry with His servants.
When the Divine promise cannot persuade, God’s anger drives His servants from their excuses.
When one refuseth God’s work in redeeming His Church, He knoweth others to use for it.
God indulgeth the weakness of His servants to give associates, when they decline to go alone.
God’s knowledge of persons, relations, and conditions, puts them in a capacity to do His work.
God moveth the hearts of people sometimes to the same work when they are in remote places.
Some hearts are more ready to move about God’s work than others.
Providence moveth persons to meet, for carrying on His work, when they are at a distance.
God appointeth meetings of friends to enhance the welfare of His Church.
God useth the gladness of some to help on the deadness of others in His work.
THE TWO BROTHERS
I. As educated by different methods. Moses was educated in the palace of Egypt. In the desert. By the vision. By the miracles. Aaron was educated by his parents. Little is known of his early training. He was incidentally called into history. One good natural gift may be fortune and fame to a man. Moses was the greater man, yet Aaron, though of less moral energy, was useful to him. Smaller souls have their mission. Small souls are often gifted with speech. The education of these two brothers had led to different results. It is not the tendency of education to bring all men to one level of talent, but to draw out their distinctive gifts, for the common good of humanity.
II. As meeting after a long separation.
1. The meeting was providential.
2. The meeting had a moral and national significance.
3. The meeting was welcome to the brothers. What is more pleasing than the reunion of the members of a family after a long absence? What narratives each brother would record to the other. Especially would they talk about their new mission, and its likelihood of success. These brothers met in a wilderness. Joy and friendship is independent of locality. The brethren of the Christian Chuch will one day meet again, not in the wilderness, but in the paradise of God.
III. As uniting in a grand enterprise. These two brothers are going to accomplish the freedom of Israel! To the world, a folly; to faith, a victory. Brothers should always join in the enterprises of moral freedom. They should unitedly place themselves in a line with the providence of God.
IV. As entering upon an important future. What will be the issue of this meeting? Who can tell? It will have an influence upon both lives. All the casual meetings of life are important in their bearing upon present work and future destiny.
V. As reflecting commendation upon their family. Was it not a great honour to Amram and Jochebed that two of their sons should be called to be the deliverers of Israel? Sons honour their parents when they undertake an enterprise for the good of men. Brothers cannot be better united than in the cause of God.
The Divine anger:—
1. Often righteously provoked.
2. Often gentle in its reproof.
3. Truly benevolent in its disposition.
“I know that he can speak well.”
I. Then God takes knowledge of the varied talents of men.
II. Then God will hold men responsible for their talents.
III. Then the talents of men cannot be better employed than in the service of the Church.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
(10)—Moses and Aaron!—The cobbler, writes Smith, could not paint the picture; but he could tell Apelles how to put in the shoe-latchet. Two neighbours—one blind and the other lame—were called to a place at a great distance. It was agreed that the blind man should carry his lame friend, who would help his human house with his eyes;
“The lame man with his crutches rude
Upon the blind man’s shoulders broad;
United thus achieved the pair
What each would have accomplished ne’er.”
Moses and Aaron had each their defects. Moses and Aaron also had their qualifications. Moses was earnest. Aaron was eloquent. Moses had a bold heart. Aaron had a beautiful voice. Both aided each other. Mutual help.
(11)—Gifts!—Well does Salter put it when he points out that flowers, while they captivate us with their beauty, no less astonish us with their variety. Every country has its peculiar species. Some of these love the burning suns of India; some the barren deserts of Africa. America and New Holland are equally distinguished by the variety of its animals, as by the diverse flowers of singular and rare beauty. Then again there are some flowers which are the natives only of temperate climates, and a few are confined to the snowy regions of the north. All these are remarkable for their different qualities; since some have fragrance—others beauty—and others again the properties of medicine. So in the Christian Church. the gifts and graces of its members differ widely.
“And yet what godlike gifts neglected lie
Wasted and marred in the forgotten soul!
The finest workmanship of God is there.”
Guthrie aptly remarks that in Christians there are differences of character, which—springing from constitutional peculiarities or early education—grace will modify, but never altogether eradicate on this side the grave. But there are also differences which imply no defect; just as there are in countenances which are very unlike, and yet, be the complexion dark or fair, are very beautiful. We do not expect all good men to be alike, any more than we would have all the members of a family alike, or all the flowers alike. The Church of Christ—like the meadows below, or the star-spangled heavens above—owes its beauty to that variety in unity which marks the works of God and mars none of them.
“Every where about us they are glowing,
Some like stars, to tell us Spring is born;
Others, their blue eyes with tears o’erflowing,
Stand like Ruth amid the golden corn.”
(12)—Reward!—There is a beautiful tradition illustrating the blessedness of performing our duty at whatever cost to our inclination. A lovely vision of our Saviour had appeared to a monk. In silent rapture and bliss of ecstasy he was gazing upon it, when the hour arrived at which it was his duty to feed the poor of the convent. He lingered not in his cell to enjoy the vision, but left it to perform his humble duty. On his return, the legend runs that he found the vision still waiting for him to salute him with the words: “Hadst thou staid, I must have fled.” Ancient history (says Pilkington) stories of Dionysius that he caused a band of musicians to play before him on the promise of reward—and that he told them when they came for their reward that they had already had it in their hopes of it. Not so does God fulfil his promise. Moses had respect unto the recompense of the reward, and he now enjoys it.
“So do thy work; it shall succeed
In thine or in another’s day;
And if denied the victor’s meed,
Thou shalt not lack the toiler’s pay.”
(13)—Mutual Help!—Conceive a chain whose uppermost link was surely fixed in the living rock as your only hope of escape; would you not venture your body’s weight upon its strength? But what would be the result if the links were not within one another; but only attached externally by some brittle thing? You would simply be exchanging a slippery place of danger for inevitable death. No; the links must be within each other, and this is done in the fires. They were brought to a white heat ere they could be welded in. Moses and Aaron had thus to be welded together in the furnace of affliction—ere attached to the Eternal Rock—they were safe holding for the imperuled host of Israel.
“Steadfast and sure it cannot fail,
It enters deep within the veil,
It fastens on a land unknown,
And moors me to my Father’s throne.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:18
A TRUE RECOGNITION OF FILIAL DUTY
I. It consists in a true recognition of Parental Authority. “And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt.” Thus we find that Moses acknowledged the authority of his father-in-law, by asking his consent to a journey into Egypt.
1. Moses was animated by honesty. This Midianitish family had been very kind to him, they had given him a home when he was a wanderer; especially had the father of the family been his friend, in prompting the daughters to fetch the man who had protected them, in retaining him under his roof, and in his employment. Hence Moses could not honestly have left Jethro without his consent. He had become his servant, he must therefore acknowledge him as a master. He had become his son, he must therefore recognise him as a father. He had received his hospitality, he must therefore manifest gratitude in return. We have here a pattern worthy the imitation of all young men. Be honest in all your dealings with your parents. They have great claims upon you. Their attention to you in times of peril, the education they have given you, and the happy future they are opening to you, prove them to be your best friends, and therefore you ought in common honesty to recognise their authority over you. Especially should young men recognise the authority of their parents in the matter of leaving home; when the time come for them to quit the abode of their youth, it should be with the knowledge and consent of those who are so interested in them. The young man who leaves home with the blessing and prayer of his father carries a rich treasure with him, more valuable than gold. It will be the happiest remembrance of his after-life. Young men cannot be too open in their conduct with their parents.
2. Moses was related by marriage. He had married the daughter of Jethro, and was therefore under obligation to consult with him in the important movements of his life. Moses was evidently very sensitive to the claims of others. Many would have said that Jethro was only their father-in-law, and that therefore they were under no obligation to tell him their intentions. Marriage introduces a man into new relationships, it gives him new joys and new hopes, and also imposes new duties, which will ever be recognised by the true-hearted. Men cannot better show the worth of their social character than by recognizing the claims and opinions of those who may be distantly related to them. Let young men imitate the example of Moses, and consult the wish of their distant relatives prior to entering upon any great enterprise which may involve the welfare of those committed to their care.
3. Moses was obligated by kindness. As we have seen, Jethro had shewn him great generosity in providing him with a home, at the most destitute moment of his life. This required every return that Moses was capable of making. But Moses might have said that he had worked, that he had kept the flock of Jethro, in return for this kindness, and that this freed him from all obligation. He might have argued that Jethro was old and unacquainted with the requirements of life, and that he was man enough himself to know what was the most likely to enhance his future good, without consultation with anyone else. Many young men of the present day would have reasoned thus. But not so Moses. He was always responsive to kindness. He was a man of meek spirit. He knew that he had won the confidence of Jethro, and that therefore the old man would have no hesitation in allowing his daughter to accompany him on the destined journey. Some young men know that their parents cannot trust them, and this is one great reason why they seldom ask them to, Moses knew that the Divine claims were perfectly consistent with his recognition of the human responsibilities under which he was placed. God never requires a young man to go contrary to the prayerful wishes of a good and pious parent. A man is never too old to ask, and follow the judicious advice of his father.
II. It is compatible with silence in reference to the inner experiences of our spiritual life and work. Moses only asked the consent of his father-in-law to visit his brethren in Egypt; he did not name the primary object of his journey. This was quite consistent under the circumstances, with a true recognition of filial duty.
1. Silence is not necessarily cunning. Moses was not animated by a sinful motive to conceal from Jethro the object of his visit into Egypt, but by a prudential. He had no purpose o serve in acting clandestinely in the matter. He was going do nothing of which he would be ashamed; on the contrary, he was about to undertake a work required by heaven. Had he been actuated by a spirit of treachery, he would probably never have consulted with Jethro at all, but would have taken the matter entirely into his own hands. Cunning is always wicked, but never more so than when found in the family circle. In the home there should be freedom and frankness; one should never attmpt to impose on, or deceive, another. And when there is need of retaining in silence the deeper experiences of the soul, this can be done in perfect integrity, and in harmony with all the duties and requirements of filial love.
3. Silence may be discreet. It was so in the case of Moses. He had been favoured with a heavenly vision of remarkable significance. He had held communion with God. He had been divinely commissioned to undertake the freedom of Israel. If he had communicated all these experiences and facts to Jethro, he might have awakened prejudice, and rendered difficult his departure. Jethro might have derided his vanity. He might have considered him vain and deluded. He might have refused to permit him to go on such an errand. So, Christian workers must be careful how they talk about their soul-experiences; they are sacred, their meaning is not easily comprehended by the outer world, and even our nearest friends and companions are not always prepared to enter sympathetically into the visions, prayers, and toils of our moral life. Hence it is best to retain them within the privacy of our own hearts. These things penetrate deeper than any natural relationship, they enter into a realm where the spiritual and eternal take precedence of the natural and transitory. They are soul-histories; they cannot be uttered even by a child to his parent, and silence in reference to them, so far from being wilful, is discreet and consistent with filial duty.
3. Silence may be self-protective. Moses was about to enter upon a great work. It was an enterprise involving the destinies of empires. Had he communicated this fact to anyone, he might have put obstacles in his own path which would have been difficult to remove. Moses knew that the work with which he was entrusted had claims upon him as well as his father-in-law; he knew also which were the more authoritative. Hence this silence was needful to protect himself from misapprehension, to give his mission the opportunity of exerting its destined influence upon Israel, and to retain definite and influential the vision of heaven within his own soul. Many toils of Christian workers have been brought to naught by the lack of precautionary measures on the part of those who have been entrusted with them.
III. It should awaken kindly and judicious parental consideration and response. “And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace.”
1. Sometimes the request should be granted. Jethro made a favourable reply to the request of Moses. He did not unduly assert his parental authority. He recognized the age, the intelligence, the moral character, the wish of Moses, and felt that the request he made was likely to be right and reasonable, especially after so long an absence from his country. Some parents take a delight in an arbitrary assertion of their authority. They put no confidence in the moral rectitude of their children; they imagine evil where there is none; they regard their movements with suspicion, and but seldom grant their requests. This kind of treatment is a fruitful source of disobedience on the part of children who, if they were properly managed, would be most dutiful. Parents should make it easy for their children to consult them in all their movements. They should not keep them in constant awe. They should take a delight in granting their requests, when for their good. By refusing a son permission to leave home you may be intercepting the agency which is to give freedom to a nation. You should recognise the probability that he is acting under a spiritual inspiration unknown to you. Jethro, in allowing Moses to go into Egypt, gave Israel a deliverer. Many a kind and judicious parent has given the world a true hero.
2. Always goodwill should be expressed. “Go in peace.” Jethro did not manifest any token of disappointment or anger. Moses had been very helpful to him; had looked after his flock, and been useful to him in the way of service. We may presume therefore that Jethro would have been glad to retain him. Moses had also married his daughter, and on this account his departure would be regretted. But Jethro was generous. He rose above every feeling of regret into a full expression of goodwill. Parents cannot deal too generously with their children. A generous parent will make a generous child. Especially should parents express goodwill to their sons when they are about to leave home for the more active engagements of life; a kind word at such a time may be productive of a grand result in the future.
3. Supremely should self be forgotten. Jethro did not allow his own opinion or welfare to stand in the way of the departure of Moses. He forgot himself, sacrificed all his hopes and feelings of parental affection for his daughter, in the wish to grant the request of his son-in-law. Moses became the emancipator of Israel. And parents who are self-forgetful when the interests of their children are concerned may thereby bring them into the line of great usefulness and fame. The self-forgetfulness of the father will shine out and find its reward in the noble character and achievements of the son.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
(14)—Parental Respect!—It is reported of George Washington that, when quite young, he was anxious to enter upon a seafaring life against his mother’s wish. She, however, yielded to his going as a midshipman. When all was in readiness—when his trunk had been put on board—he went to bid her good-bye. The tears welled up in her eyes, and stealthily stole down the maternal cheek. Seeing how broken-hearted his mother was, he called to the servant to bring back his box, for he could “not go away to break his mother’s heart.” His mother assured him that since God had promised to bless those who honour parents, He would assuredly bless her son for his filial obedience.
“One lamp—thy mother’s love—amid the stars
Shall lift its pure flame changeless, and before
The Throne of God burn through eternity.”
(15)—Filial Memory!—It is only when we have lost our parents that we see how far short we came in filial obedience. An amiable youth was lamenting the death of a most affectionate parent. His companions endeavoured to console him by the reflection that he had always behaved to the deceased with duty. tenderness, and respect. This far from really comforting him only increased his self-reproach: “Whilst my father lived, I thought that I was a good son, but now, alas! I recollect with pain many instances of disobedience and neglect” How similar were the sentiments of Richard the Lion, when he stood in the church of Fontevraud, and gazed upon the face of his broken-hearted father’s corpse, upon which the broad light of noon was flung.
(16)—Gratitude! He that has nature in him must be grateful—
“’Tis the Creator’s primary great law,
That links the chain of being to each other,
Joining the greater to the lesser nature,
Tying the weak and strong, the poor and powerful,
Subduing men to brutes, and even brutes to men.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:19
THE DIVINE PRECAUTION FOR THE SAFETY OF CHRISTIAN WORKERS
I. It is sometimes manifested by removing good men and great workers from dangerous associations. The Divine Being uses every precaution for the safety of those employed in the great moral enterprises of humanity. He does not achieve their safety by miracles, but by prudence, even though it may involve delay in the completion of His plan. Sometimes we hear Christian workers say that they can go fearlessly into danger, because they are assured of the protection of heaven; they are not warranted in talking or acting thus, for, as a rule, God gives the truest safety to those who keep the furthest from peril. It is the Divine plan to take Moses away from Egypt until those who would will him are dead, rather than expose him to their continued rage.
1. Christian workers are sometimes removed from the pride of high society. Moses was providentially removed from the pride and splendour of the Egyptian palace, in order that he might retain the simplicity of a true servant of God. Gaiety is a great temptation to a Christian worker. It has ruined many men of early promise. How many workers in the world and in the Church to-day owe their utility and success to the fact that God removed them from the social allurements of their youth. True, the change from the palace of Pharaoh to the solitude of the desert may not have been welcome at first, but now it is the gladdest recollection of your life.
2. Christian workers are sometimes removed from the contamination of great sin. The palace of Pharaoh was most unfavourable to the cultivation of a pure life. It was the seat of despotism, and despotism is generally allied to almost every other sin. In this royal court Moses was in danger of contamination, and that at the most susceptible period of his life. Hence God removed him from this school of vice, and brought him into the primitive simplicity of a desert family. Many a youthful worker for God has been ruined by a bad example.
3. Christian workers are sometimes removed from the pedantry of great learning. In the Egyptian palace Moses had every facility for acquiring knowledge, and there was a possibility that he might become mentally proud, and think the claims of religious service beneath his talent and education. Multitudes have been turned aside from moral service by the conceit of imagined Wisdom
4. Christian workers are sometimes removed from physical peril.
II. It is sometimes manifested by informing good men and great workers of the removal of danger. God informs Moses that the men who sought his life are dead. See the folly of men who oppose themselves to the plans of heaven; they will soon die, and their death will be the signal of victory to the servant whose moral fitness has been enhanced by the solitude rendered necessary by their rage. Time aids the enterprises of heaven. Death subdues the hatred and passion of men. God is interested in the mission of His servants, so that He aids them in its fulfilment.
III. That the Divine Precaution does not allow an abandonment of the work committed to the good. Moses was to go to his work again. Temporary perils and hindrances are not to entirely set aside Christian toil. Israel must be emancipated. The servant of God must fulfil his calling, even though he has to wait years in the desert before he can commence it.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
(17)—Parental Dealing!—On one occasion a minister of God was counselling a little girl to evince gratitude always for the kind father whom God had graciously given her, when she looked up in his face with her soft, blue eyes, and exclaimed, “He never speaks kind to me.” Can we wonder if that child grows up undutiful—disobedient—void of all confiding tenderness towards her parent?
(18)—Presumptuous Christian!—That sailor is a fool who wilfully runs his vessel among the foaming breakers because his ship is stout—bears a lifeboat on her deck, and can be rescued by watchers on the shore. Trench relates the visit of a gentleman to the scene of a colliery explosion. The mine was full of chokedamp; and yet his guide persisted in entering it with his Davy-lamp. That light was invented to protect miners, and not to make them presume. Christians presume on the providence of God when they rush recklessly and uncalled into danger.
“Whate’er our thoughts or purpose be,
They cannot reach their destined end,
Unless, oh God. they go with Thee,
And with Thy thoughts and purpose blend.
(19)—Confidence!—Luther, when making his way into the presence of Cardinal Cajetan, who had summoned him to answer for his heretical opinions at Augsburg, was asked by one of the cardinal’s minions where he would find a shelter if his patron the Elector of Saxony deserted him. His immediate reply was, “Under the shield of heaven.” Under that shield Moses was to enter Pharaoh’s presence.
“A strong tower is the Lord our God,
To shelter and defend us;
Our shield His arm, our sword His rod.
Against our foes befriend us.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:20
THE JOURNEY TO EGYPT
I. That a good man journeying on the service of God should take his family with him. “And Moses took his wife and sons,” &c. When a man is going on the errands of God he should always take his family with him, that they may participate in his work, its responsibility, its sorrow, and its victory. Never go on any good errand without your family; it is well to teach the youthful feet to walk in obedience to God. Many a young man has learned the art, and gathered the spirit and desire for Christian service, by being taken to it by a godly parent. Are you journeying to heaven? Take your family with you.
II. That a good man journeying on the service of God should take his rod with him. Never go on a journey of moral service without God. Especially if you are a minister of the Gospel, take the rod on your journey to Egypt.
1. It will keep you humble. It will remind you of your humble occupation in the desert, when you are tempted to pride, in the great service to which God has called you. Every Christian worker needs to have something within his soul to inspire humility.
2. It will make you happy. When you are desponding and sad, when the work does not open up to your effort as you would wish, the rod will remind you of the vision at the bush, and of the miracles wrought at the commencement of the mission. The reason why there are so many unhappy workers in the Church is because they have left the rod at home.
3. It will make you powerful. With this rod Moses was to work miracles. So if Christian workers had the rod of God in their hand, they would be able to show to the world much more effectively than they do, the holy tokens of their mission. To all the emancipators of the souls of men we would say, Never journey to Egypt without your rod. God has given it to you. He has consecrated it by His promise. He has made it the symbol of his power. You cannot afford to travel without it. No other rod can supply its place.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:21-23
THE ANTICIPATION OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE
I. That very frequently God causes good men to anticipate Christian service.
1. It is often anticipated as the hour of severe trial. “See that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh.” It is almost instinctive in man to anticipate the future, especially if any important duty is awaiting him. And the mental experiences awakened by the thought of future service are often more painful than those which come upon the soul in the hour of its performance. It is right and wise of good men to anticipate religious work, that by prayer and thought they may get prepared for it, that it may not take them by surprise. This kind of anticipation will make them strong in their appearance before Pharaoh. But at such a time it is distrustful of the Divine promise and aid to harbour feelings of timidity and painful anxiety, as they will cover a Christian worker with defeat before he comes to the battle. Good men should not doubtfully anticipate the hour of service, they have everything on their side indicative of victory and success. The joyful experiences in the service, of vision and communion with heaven, will compensate for the difficulty of the work.
2. It is often anticipated as the moral crisis of life. Sometimes a man views a certain service demanded of him as most difficult and important—as more so than any before undertaken. All his fears are awakened, and surround the future toil with a gloom into which there scarcely gleams one ray of hope. The Pharaoh of difficulty is far more prominent in the picture than the God who has promised to help him. Moses no doubt felt that this conflict with Pharaoh would decide his entire future; if successful, he will proceed on the mission of Israel’s emancipation; if not, he will return, a runaway from duty. Christian workers know what this means. They have frequently undertaken work with the feeling that its issue would have a very happy or injurious effect upon their lives. The destiny of a man has more than once depended upon the performance of one act of important service.
3. It is often anticipated with a desire to make the best use of all the means placed at the disposal of the worker. Moses feels that he must employ in the act of service all the instrumentalities that he can command. God has abundantly prepared him for the task. The Divine Being never sends any man to a great mission without placing at his disposal all the necessary aids to it, and he who neglects to make use of them is guilty of supreme folly and sin. When God sends Christian workers to appear before Pharaoh, He always provides them with a rod to take with them. If we spend much time in thinking over the agencies that are calculated to give success in the approaching mission, we shall be more likely to use them well, than if our only thought be of the difficulty of the work.
4. It is often anticipated as shewing the intention of Providence in reference to the future. After Moses had appeared before Pharaoh, and had passed through his hour of trial, his work would not be ended as the servant of God in the emancipation of Israel. But the result of this interview with Egypt’s monarch would indicate new work. One service is always suggestive of, and leads into, another. Men, if they are willing, will find employment in the service of God to occupy the whole of their lives.
II. That when God causes good men to anticipate Christian service, He often informs them of their probable difficulties, and of the best method of work.
1. Moses was informed of the moral obstinacy of Pharaoh. The Divine Being is here said to harden the heart of Pharaoh. In subsequent chapters it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. We must therefore view both sides of the case, and find a principle of underlying harmony. God works directly and indirectly: the former when He exerts His own power in any undertaking, the latter when He employs a secondary agency, or when He permits anything to be done. God presented his wish to Pharaoh in reference to the freedom of Israel, accompanied by evidences which ought to have wrought a conviction of duty within his heart, but, being rejected by him, they tended to moral obstinacy. The sun melts some substances while it hardens others, and so it is with the revelation of the Divine will in its effect upon human hearts. Pharaoh had the power to let Israel go free, but he had not the disposition. Moses was informed that he would have to contend with the unwillingness of this monarch. He was thus prepared to meet it.
2. He was told to make use of all his resources of work. “See that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand.” The Christian has more resources of work than any other workman. They are God given. They were at one time miraculous. Now they are of a purely moral character, and are far more influential, and adapted to the present requirement of human experience and thought. If Christian workers would but make use of all the resources at their command, they would not so frequently have to lament failure, but they would achieve great victories of service.
3. He was told of the method of argument which he was to employ. “And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first-born: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold I will slay thy son, even thy first-born.” This language was authoritative in its demand, pathetic in its mention of Israel, and terrible in its threat to Pharaoh if he refused to grant the request of Moses. LESSONS.
1. It is not wrong to anticipate Christian service.
2. That the voice of God should ever be heard by Christian workers.
3. That a remembrance of God should give hope to all our anticipations of great toil.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 4:21. God is at hand to instruct servants who are willing to undertake His work.
God alone can put it into the power of creatures to work miracles.
It is God’s will that His servants should see and consider that power delegated.
God’s will is that His miracles should be wrought before His proudest enemies.
Miracles sometimes will not prevail with persecutors to dismiss God’s people.
Hardness of heart is that which makes men resist God’s wonders.
When men harden themselves by sin, God often hardens them by judgment.
1. A great sin of man.
2. A common sin of man.
3. A sad judgment on man.
MOSES BEFORE PHARAOH
There are, of course, many difficulties, by us insoluble, in connexion with the sovereignty of God. This must be distinctly recognised, and no man must expect to have all mysteries dwarfed to the measure of his own understanding. The greatest of all mysteries is God himself, yet we are not therefore to doubt His existence, or to deny His loving Providence. The mere fact of any question being mysterious does not alter its truthfulness. Look at the text in this spirit; generally in relation to Divine sovereignty three things are clear.
I. That all nations are not equally honoured. This difference amongst the nations is not made by the Bible, or by any system of theology; it is simply a matter of fact. One nation is highly civilized, another is in the lowest condition of barbarism; yet all nations are under the government of the same gracious God. Every day the sun sees some nations worshipping the true Spirit, and others bowing to idols. This is matter of fact, however we may account for it.
II. That all individuals are not equally endowed. We are all men, and yet no two men are alike. In every history you find the great man and the little man, yet all are men, and acknowledge the same God.
III. That Divine judgment is regulated by Divine allotment. We open the Bible and find that to whom much is given, from him shall much be required, and that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than fur nations which enjoy a fuller revelation of Divine purpose and requirements. First of all, and last of all, it must be our unalterable conviction that God must do right, or He is no longer God. Israel was under the sovereign control of the King of Egypt. He had property in them. Moses in the name of the Lord suddenly asked Pharaoh to give Israel their freedom. He was startled. He did not acknowledge the Lord. A political petition was presented to him, and he dealt with it on political grounds. It was not a spiritual question which was proposed to Pharaoh. It was exclusively a political question. It was therefore within this sphere that the Divine action was taken, and that action is fitly described in the text as a hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The question will then arise, what the meaning of that hardening was, and what useful results accrued from a process which appears to us to be so mysterious. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, as involving the development of a merely political scheme, may amount in effect to no more than this, “I will delay the process, this request shall not be granted at once; and I will prolong the process in order that I may bring out lessons for Pharaoh himself, for the children of Israel, and for mankind at large; were Pharaoh to let the children of Israel escape from him at once, the result would be mischievous to themselves; therefore in mercy, not in anger I will harden Pharaoh’s heart. So far, the question is not a moral one, except in the degree in which all questions have more or less of a moral bearing. It has been supposed by some that in the case of this exercise of Divine sovereignty, the sum total of Pharaoh’s wickedness was increased. Not so. There is the greatest difference between wickedness being localized and wickedness being increased. As the history proceeds, we see that the political situation enlarges itself into a spiritual problem. Pharaoh made a promise to Moses, which he did not keep. Thus he hardened his own heart. Apply these lessons to ourselves as sinners, I have now to teach that Jesus Christ tasted death for every man, and that whosoever will may avail himself of the blessings secured by the mediation of the Saviour. If any man who now hears me is excusing himself on the ground that God has hardened his heart, I charge that man with trusting to an excuse in the most solemn affairs of his being, which he would not for a moment tolerate in the region of family or commercial life. Were your servant to tell you that she is fated to be uncleanly in her habits, you would justly treat her with angry contempt. Were your travelling companion to tell you to make no attempt to be in time for the train, because if you were fated to catch it there would be no fear of your losing it, you would treat his suggestion as it deserved to be treated. Yet men who act in a common-sense manner in all such little affairs as these, sometimes profess that they will not make any attempt in a religious direction, because they believe in the doctrine of predestination. Wicked and slothful servants, they shall be condemned out of their own mouth, “Whosoever will let him come.”
THE PRIMOGENITURE OF THE GOOD
Exodus 4:22. “Israel is my son, even my first-born.”
I. That the good have a Divine Father.
1. He is merciful to the children. God was merciful to Israel. Though they had rebelled against Him, and given themselves up to idolatry and degradation, yet in the time of their sorrow, He came to deliver them from slavery. Is there a good man in the universe who can say that God has not been merciful to him? His mercy has been seen in the forgiveness of sin, and in our adoption into His spiritual and heavenly family.
2. He vindicates the children from their foes.
II. That the good have heavenly privileges.
As the sons of God.
1. They have the privilege of high birth. Men may boast of their descent from a renowned ancestry; what ancestry so ancient and renowned as that of the heavenly Father. When a man is born of God, he is allied to the grandest spirits of the unseen universe. Only they who are the subjects of this new birth know the privileges it confers upon them. Nor can the meanest ancestry of earth be excluded therefrom.
2. They have the privilege of good moral culture. In God’s family all the children are well disciplined. They are not exempt from sorrow and pain. Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth. We are made perfect through suffering. This culture of our moral nature is designed to fit us more thoroughly for the high relationship into which we are called, that we may be responsive to all its duties, and in harmony with its sacred destinies.
III. That the good have inspiring hopes.
1. The hope of a happy death. The children of God can die happily. When passing through the valley and shadow of death they are conscious of a companion who can chase away all their fears. He comforts them. In this trying hour the good man joyfully breathes his spirit into the hand of God who gave it. Instance Stephen. The end of that man is peace.
2. The hope of a vast inheritance. There is reserved in heaven for the good a vast inheritance, that is undefiled, and that can never pass away.25 This inheritance of our moral life is the animating hope of our soul.
3. The hope of a sublime future. A future to be spent in eternal communion with God, in perpetual study of His character, in a happy solution of the dark mysteries which so perplexed the soul on earth, and in a service ever welcome. They serve him day and night. In this future we shall be in companionship with the good of all ages, and with them shall hold inspiring converse. Christians are the sons of God.26
1. Live worthy of your Great Parent.
2. Act worthy of your noble ancestry.
3. Embrace your glorious privileges.
4. Let nothing dim your bright hopes.
Exodus 4:23. The Divine intention in the moral freedom of man. “Let my son go, that he may serve me.”
I. That God has a definite purpose in the moral freedom of men.
He does not relieve men from one kind of slavery that they may go into another—not that they may spend life in inactivity. Indolence is not freedom. His great aim is to bring men from the tyranny of passion, pride, covetousness, and self, into the freedom of a tranquil, humble, and self-denying service. Hence the Divine preparation that is given to the varied agencies that are to achieve this freedom.
II. That the purpose of God in the moral freedom of men is that they should serve Him.
1. That we should serve Him in our business.
2. That we should serve Him in our social life.
3. That we should serve Him with all our energies.
Why should we serve Him?
(1) Because we are His sons.
2. Because of the freedom He has wrought for us.
The service of God is perfect freedom. Would that men were as earnest about their moral freedom as they are in reference to their civil. In the service of God we gain the highest remuneration.
God’s ambassadors, though never so mean, must speak to kings what God enjoineth them.
God’s name must be attached to His message, that kings may stoop to hear it.
God’s Church is His first-born.
Jehovah requireth His first-born from the hand of all oppressors.
The wicked powers of Hell will deny the dismission of God’s Son as long as they can hold him.
The sons of the world God will slay for the redemption of His own.
God’s first-born sons are dearer to Him than all the first-born of the world.
A Divine threat:—
1. Claims attention.
2. Certain of Execution.
3. Stern in requirement.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
(20)—Hope!—Dr. Judson was once asked whether the prospect of the speedy conversion of the heathen was bright; whereupon he immediately responded: “as bright as the promises of God.” On these promises Moses was to rely. On these divine assurances Moses was to hope; for God assured him that. He would certainly be with him. This hope—as Smiles has it—is like the sun which, as we journey towards it. casts the shadow of our burden behind us. So Moses found when he laid hold of the Divine Assurance. The islanders of St. Kilda gain their subsistence by searching for nests along dangerous heights and down precipitous cliffs. Their waists are girdled with a cord let down from above. Moses girdled his heart with the golden cord of God’s promises, ere be lowered himself from Horeb’s frowning heights to Egypt’s dark abyss.
“With him went Hope in rank, a handsome maid,
Of cheerful look, and lovely to behold;
In silken samite she was light array’d,
And her fair locks were woven up in gold.”
(21)—Wonders!—The scientific man asserts as the latest generalization of his science that there is in nature the uniformity of natural sequence—in other words, that nature always moves along the same path, and that law is a necessity of things. He thus indirectly asserts the probability of miracles—indeed admits them; for where there is no law there is no transgression, and the very belief in miracles depends upon this uniformity. In nature there are deviations from this law of uniformity; and so it is in grace. God has a certain course of dealing generally with man, and He is pleased to diverge from that course at times—that the exception may prove the rule:—For
“Order is heaven’s first law—a glorious law,
Seen in those pure and beauteous isles of light
That come and go, as circling months fulfil
Their high behest.”
(22)—Fear!—Fear secretes acids, but love and trust are sweet juices. Who has not learned this as truly as Moses did? The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso trusteth in the Lord, mercy encompasseth him on every side. It is like a hedge which keeps off the wild beasts; like the coral reef, which baffles the angry waves in their recurring daily attempts to leap over and disturb the calm still lagoon of tropical islands.
“The saints should never be dismayed,
Nor sink in hopeless fear;
For when they least expect his aid,
The Saviour will appear.”
(23)—Divine Sovereignty!—Bishop Hall says, “I leave God’s secrets to Himself: it is happy for me that God makes me of His court, and not of His counsel.” As another expresses himself, it is not given to man to discover all the works and ways of God, either in nature or in grace. Perhaps those of nature—notwithstanding all our beasted discoveries and pride of science—lie as unknown to us as the wide forest to the microscopic insect, whose life is a day, and whose world is a leaf. Laplace wrote that it was the little that we knew, the great that remained unknown. And Newton’s matchless imagery of the pebbles on the seahorse displays the profound conviction of the Christian philosopher that we areign rant of far more than we know. Nor is the warning of puritan Adams out of date when he monishes that he who will be sifting every cloud may be smitten with a thunderbolt:—
“Those puzzled souls of ours grow weak,
With beating their bruised wings against the rim
That bounds their utmost flying, when they seek
The distant and the dim.”
(24)—Mysteries!—It is for man to accept them. Grosart remarks that he could drink of the clear, cool spring, though he might not hope to pierce the awful foundation of granite from whence it came gushing up. I can rejoice in the shining sun, and fan my check with the breathing wind, though I am ignorant as an infant of the great palace of light, and know not whence the wind cometh. Believing, where we cannot prove—
“As sinks the moaning river in the sea,
In silver peace, so sinks my soul in Thee,”
(25)—Future Hopes!—Moses had respect unto the recompense of the reward. God’s reward is exceeding great. When Zelilaus lost his hand in the service of his master, the king of Poland, he received from him a golden hand in its place. Agrippa had suffered much for Caligula at Rome, who therefore upon his elevation to imperial power presented him with chains of gold equivalent in weight to the iron fetters he had worn in the dungeon. God’s reward reserved in heaven is a vast inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, a crown of righteousness, an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. And as the workman is paid after his work is done; so the Christian is rewarded when life is ended—
“For loss, nor shame, nor grief, nor sin, His promise may gainsay;
The name Divine bath spoke within, and God did ne’er betray.
(26)—Eternal Prospect!—Melvill likens it to a glorious morning, with the sun rising higher and higher—one blessed springtime, and yet richer summer, every plant in full flower, but every flower the bud of a lovelier. It would, however, be a poor prospect which such beings as ourselves could comprehend or anticipate. Give me, says one, the majestic cloud—the oracular veil—the mighty shadows which recede as we advance, filling the mind with amazement. I wish, when I have climbed the highest pinnacle that sanctified conception can soar to, to be compelled to own that I have not reached the base of the everlasting hills, whence to survey the eternal prospects:—
“Go, wing thy flight from star to star,
From world to luminous world as far
As universe spreads its flaring wall:
Take all the pleasures of all the spheres,
And multiply each through endless years,
One minute of heaven is worth them all”—Moore.
Exodus 4:25. A bloody husband.] An unfortunate rendering, bearing an opprobrious tone foreign to the Hebrew which is more exactly (with Benisch, Keil. Young, and others), “A bridegroom of blood,” or “blood-bridegroom,” “art thou to me.” Coupling the expressive Hebrew plural “bloods” with the circumstances of the case, we might perhaps render the original, “A spouse by bloody rites art thou to me.” As Kurtz well puts it: “Moses had been as good as taken from her by the deadly attack which had been made upon him. She purchased his life by the blood of her son; she received him back, as it were, from the dead, and married him anew; he was, in fact, a bridegroom of blood to her.” And thus the expression, while very naturally showing a mother’s instinctive repugnance to a painful rite, is mainly charged with the warm and tender emotion of revived nuptial love. Moses himself ought to have performed the ceremony before. He had failed—very possibly out of undue regard to the Midianitish aversion of his beloved Zipporah. No longer can such Gentile laxity be allowed: Israel’s leader must die to all neglect of the holy Abrahamic covenant. Hence this arrest on the way—this fiery ordeal. How natural it all seems, and how well it all ends. Moses is purified, and in a manner new born for his mission. His son is consecrated to Jehovah. His Gentile wife is taught a valuable lesson, becomes more fitted for her noble husband than before, is drawn to him with a deeper and purer love, and yet is reconciled to a most prudent return for a time to her father’s house. She shall have her reward: a little while and she shall be honourably brought back to find, in the lone fugitive of her first love, the acknowleged leader of a ransomed nation (Exodus 18:0). It is not the child that is the “bridegroom.” It may be true, as Aben Ezra says, that “It is customary for women to call a son when he is circumcised, bridegroom”—the custom itself may have sprung from a misunderstanding of this very passage; but surely it is very forced to attribute such an application of these words to Zipporah. That would involve too sudden a rebound on her part from the feeling of repugnance to that of an almost mystical admiration. Besides, the words “to me” are fatal to such an exposition: they decisively determine the exclamation to the winning back of Moses to herself, rather than to the giving up of the child to Jehovah.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:24-26
NEGLECTED DUTY A HINDRANCE TO THE PERFORMANCE OF RELIGIOUS WORK
I. Moses had neglected the duty of circumcising his son. It was divinely required of the Israelite that he should circumcise all his sons, and this Moses had neglected to do up to this time. Probably his wife was averse to a rite so bloody, and while living in her country and at her home, he yields the matter in deference to her wishes. But the claims of duty are not so easily dismissed. They are Divine and therefore imperative. If neglected they will follow a man through life and present themselves to him under every variety of circumstances, often with appalling effect and unhappy result. Service always finds out the weak point of our character and conduct, therefore if we would be ready for the work of God we must see to it that we are not guilty of neglected duty. One duty unperformed may nearly ruin us. We must never allow domestic relationship to hinder the performance of a Divine command; the wife that hinders her husband in the performance of religious duty is endangering his life, and her own comfort and safety. The day of retribution will come, and perhaps when it will be the least welcome. The Divine claims are supreme, and in their performance we find our truest safety and comfort.
II. That this neglect of duty introduced an experience of pain into his life. “And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him.” This does not mean that Moses and his family came to a house or building in which they could abide, but simply indicates a favourable place for halting and remaining for the night, perhaps under a tent, or in the open air. But here he was destined to pass through a very painful experience, which would probably make a lasting impression upon him and his wife. Some writers suppose that he was nearly slain by an angel; others that he was smitten with a terrible disease which nearly caused his death. However, all this came upon him as the penalty of neglected duty, and that in the presence of his family, who would see that the anger of God rested upon them. We all know the power of neglected duty to introduce painful experience into our lives, which put out all our lights of hope, and fill our souls with an inpenetrable gloom, indicative of Divine wrath and judgment. The bitterest moments of our history have been caused by a neglect of the commands of God. If we want a happy, peaceful life, we must perform every duty that presents itself gladly and at once A good conscience is a continual joy.
III. That this neglect of duty endangered the performance of his religious work. Many men have endangered the great religious enterprises of the world by their past neglect of an apparently trivial duty. The work of God requires that he who is called to it should be of pure soul, enabled to rebuke sin without rebuking himself. Unless able to do this, his mission will be vain. Many a Christian worker is rendered feeble to-day by the sin of his past life. Let us beware how we imperil the freedom of men and the work of God by our own neglect. Freedom from sin is the great essential to the success of Christian work.
IV. That the neglect of this duty was most foolish, as it had after all to be performed. “And Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son.” God had prepared Moses for his work in Egypt as far as he could. He had given him a vision, had conversed with him about the perplexities of his work, and had empowered him to work miracles: but God will not by a miracle overcome the defect arising from neglected duty. This must be removed by a moral method. As a rule, God does not work miracles to rid men of their sins; yet He does sometimes place man in such a position that a vivid impression of sin is made upon his mind, so that he must either perform the neglected duty, or die. Men will have to face their neglected duties again, if not for performance in this world, yet for judgment in the next.
THE PREPARATORY EXPERIENCES OF SERVICE
I. The experiences preparatory to Service are solemn. This eventful circumstance in the inn is connected with everything that can invest it with solemnity. Moses is prepared for his work. There is only one duty that requires doing. Then he can go to Pharaoh and demand Israel’s freedom. Will he circumcise his son? Will he make amends for the past? His future position, character, work, and relation to mankind, all depend upon the issue of this event, designed to prepare him for the future. The experiences in the inn are solemn.
IV. The experiences preparatory to Service are painful. These experiences are very intense. They penetrate our inmost heart. They reach wherever sin is to be found, that it may be removed, that it may not impede our destined toil. Even we who have to work upon the lower planes of moral service know somewhat of the deep soul-anguish occasioned by the conflict prior to our entrance upon it.
III. The experience preparatory to Service are instructive. This event in the inn would teach Moses the wickedness and folly of neglecting duty, no matter what excuse might appear for so doing. It would show him that God is cognizant of all the moralities of life; and probably he would argue from his own case to that of Pharaoh, and feel that the claim of God would be equally imperative upon him. We have sometimes learned more while waiting anxiously on the threshold of service than we have learned during years before.
IV. The experiences preparatory to Service are varied. The joy of the vision, the inspiration of the miracles, and the arrest in the inn. These experiences relate to man in every department of his life and service.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 4:24. After great encouragements many bitter discoveries are made by God to his servants.
In the way of obedience God’s servants may meet with the sharpest trials.
The place intended for rest by us may be turned into a place of trouble by God.
Jehovah may sometimes meet His dearest servants as an adversary.
It is a sad defect in God’s servants that puts Him to the necessity of calling them to pass through such painful experiences.
Exodus 4:25. When God threatens death to His servants, He sometimes allows means of escape.
It is the duty of the wife to save her husband from perishing at the hand of God.
God bears long with the sinful neglects of His people, but not with approval.
It is dangerous to neglect an initial sacrament ordained by God; it is safe to observe it.
Exodus 4:26. Deliverance is very near at hand to the obedience of God’s servants.
God ceaseth from plaguing when men cease from sinning.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:27-28
THE MEETING OF TWO BROTHERS
I. It was in a strange place. The wilderness would not be a very favourable place for the meeting of these two brothers It would be wild and lonely. But brotherly affection is not dependent upon time and place; it can turn a wilderness into a father’s hearth; it can make the dessert blossom as the rose The friendship of these brothers was real Some men are only brotherly before the crowd; in privacy or solitude they are social despots The wilderness will test our affection.
II. It was characterised by warmth of affection. They kissed each other. Brothers do not often act in these days. They think it unmanly to do so. The age is cold at heart. It is a token of courage as well as love that a brother will thus greet his brother. But let the kiss be accompanied by kindly attentions, otherwise it is a mockery
III. It was the occasion for religious talk and consultation. “And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him.” No doubt a word was passed about their aged parents, about the memories of youth; but the chief theme was their future mission. It is well for brothers to converse together about the work and words of God. All other themes are of minor import.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 4:27-28. Christian Brothers:—
1. Called by God to work.
2. Joined by God in work.
3. Conversing together about work.
4. Learning their respective work.
God may call the elder brother after the younger.
God can bring brethren together which were as lost to one another.
God makes the desert a place to meet in for the deliverers of His Church.
It is best for brothers to meet at the mount of God
It is just for Supreme Powers to open their commission from God to inferiors.
God’s wonderful works as well as His gracious works must be showed at His command.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 4:29-31
THE FIRST INTERVIEW OF MOSES AND AARON WITH THE ELDERS OF ISRAEL, AND THE WELCOME THEY RECEIVED
I. They acted upon the Divine suggestion. “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the Elders of the Children of Israel.” This is what God told them to do. All Christian work should be undertaken according to the Divine suggestion, and in harmony with the Divine will. God generally tells men how to work as well as what to do. If we were left to mark out our own methods of toil, we should often involve both ourselves and the enterprise entrusted to us in great danger.
II. They spake according to the Divine dictation. “And Aaron spake all the words which the Lord had spoken unto Moses.” In a great mission the sayings of a man are as important as his doings: hence these must be divinely directed Great workers require to be taught by God. In this consists their safety and success. A man who speaks to the world the messages of God will always be listened to.
III. They succeeded according to Divine intimation. “And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the Children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.” Thus Moses and Aaron awakened the—
(3). Direction—of Israel. Moses had previously said that Israel would not believe him. We mistake our missions. We cannot form an estimate of success. If we act and speak according to the instruction of God, we must succeed.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 4:29. The declaring of God’s will is suitably united to the assembling of His people.
God’s spokesmen made by Him are the best to declare His mind to His people.
God may unfold His mind more fully to one servant than to another.
Exodus 4:30-31. The faith of the people should closely follow upon the word of God ministered, and by His works confirmed.
All professed believers receive not God’s word with the same faith.
God’s gracious visitation of His Church, and providential sight of its afflictions are made known by His servants, and are welcome to them.
The tidings of God’s visiting love and redeeming providence must affect God’s Israel.
Worship is the most suitable return to God for His redemption.
HUMAN AND DIVINE ATTITUDES
I. The attitudes predicated of the people:—
1. Their belief.
2. Their reference.
3. Their devotion.
II. The attitudes predicated of God:—
1. He saw the affliction of Israel.
2. Visited Israel.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30