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THE COMMAND GIVEN TO THE ISRAELITES IN THEIR STRAITS
Exodus 14:15. Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.
IT is truly said by the prophet, “He that believeth shall not make haste;” that is, he shall not yield to any fears, so as to be driven by them to adopt any hasty or improper measures for his deliverance. We may say on the other hand, He that believeth shall not delay: he shall, in proportion to the degree in which his faith is exercised, discern the seasons for action, as well as for prayer: nor shall he be so occupied in one duty, as to overlook and neglect another. That Moses believed God’s gracious promises of deliverance, we can have no doubt: for he reported them to the Israelites with unshaken confidence: yet it should seem, by the continuance of his urgent petitions after he had received these promises from God, that he was almost afraid that his enemies would be upon him, before the promises could be fulfilled. Doubtless God was pleased with his fervent prayers at other times: but here he gently reproves Moses for remaining occupied in one duty, when there was another which the immediate occasion more urgently required: “Wherefore criest thou unto me?” Go and give the proper directions to the people: go and execute your office as their leader, and command them to “Go forward.”
Though this command was given under peculiar circumstances in which it cannot literally be applied to us, yet, in the spirit of it, it is applicable to all the Lord’s people when reduced to difficulties in the way of their duty. And it may, not improperly, suggest to us the following reflections. Difficulties in the way of our duty,
May be expected—
God is pleased sometimes to screen his people from trials, so as scarcely to let them suffer at all from persecutions, and very little even from internal conflicts. As he led not the Israelites the near way to Canaan, lest they should, in their unprepared state, be discouraged by entering into immediate contests with the warlike Philistines [Note: Exodus 13:17.], so he sometimes leads his people now in a comparatively safe and easy path. But generally speaking we must expect difficulties—
[It cannot be thought that Satan will relinquish his vassals without making repeated efforts to reduce them to their former bondage. When commanded to depart from the youth whom he had so long possessed, he cast him down, and tare him in such a manner, that the spectators conceived him to be dead [Note: Mark 9:26.]. Thus does he also at this time frequently deal with those, whom by the superior strength of Jesus he is compelled to relinquish [Note: Luke 11:21-42.11.22.]: he endeavours to shut them up in despondency, or perhaps even to drive them to suicide. And when he has not prevailed in the first instance, he departs from them (as he did even from our Lord himself), only “for a season.” Methinks he is in this the very archetype of Pharaoh; who, having liberated the Israelites only by compulsion, rejoiced in a prospect of wreaking his vengeance on them, and collected all his forces to bring them back again to his dominion. To the latest hour of their lives will he avail himself of every opportunity to assault them, and will use all his wiles, and all his devices, to harass, if he cannot finally destroy, them.
Nor is it to be supposed that the world will sit contented with the loss of their former companions. It is said of Noah, that in building the ark, “he condemned the world [Note: Hebrews 11:7.]:” so, in turning from sin to God, we, in fact, condemn the world: our faith condemns their unbelief; our fear, their security; our obedience, their disobedience. This is clearly declared by Solomon; “They that forsake the law, praise the wicked; but such as keep the law, contend with them [Note: Proverbs 28:4.].” Our actions speak, though our lips should be silent: and the more bright our light shines, the more visible must be the surrounding darkness. The world are driven to the alternative of condemning either themselves or us, seeing that it is impossible that such opposite lines of conduct should both be right: we must not wonder therefore if they load us with reproach and ignominy, and if “those especially who are of our own household become our greatest foes.” This is the natural result of their self-love; I may add too, of their love for us.
Neither can we hope that all our former habits should be at once changed, so that we should feel no difficulty in mortifying our deep-rooted lusts, or in exercising graces, to which till lately we were utter strangers. Old passions will revive; old temptations will recur; and our natural indisposition to holy exercises will shew itself; however much we are on our guard, and however diligently we address ourselves to the great work that is before us. If even the Apostle Paul, after so many years spent in the service of his God, had reason to complain of “a law in his members warring against the law of his mind,” so that “the things which he would, he did not, and the things that he would not, those he did;” we cannot expect such an entire exemption from conflicts, but that we must sometimes have to cry out with him, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?”
Thus may all of us take to ourselves the advice that is given in the Book of Ecclesiasticus; “My son, if thou set thy heart to seek the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation.”]
It is well to be aware of the difficulties that are in our way; for they,
Must be encountered—
[We must not dream of neutrality. It is indeed said by our Lord on one occasion, “He that is not against us is with us [Note: Luke 9:50.] ;” but that referred only to persons really interested in his cause, though not moving exactly in the same way; and was intended to teach candour in judging those who differ from us. On another occasion he said, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth abroad [Note: Matthew 12:30.]:” and this was to inform us, that His cause admits of no neutrality: we must take a determined part against sin and Satan: and even to deliberate, in such a case, is to be guilty of treason and revolt.
Nor must we give way to fear. Let the trials that threaten us be ever so severe, we must not shrink back, as though we had not counted the cost. We must be prepared to “deny ourselves, to take up our cross, to follow Christ;” we must “be ready not only to be bound, but even to die for him,” at any time and in any manner that he shall see fit. If we saw the furnace now before us, and burning with seven times its accustomed fury, and men ready to cast us into it, we must take the same decided part that the Hebrew youths did: “Be it known to thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up [Note: Daniel 3:18.].”
Nor must we be discouraged by difficulties. To what purpose is there a complete set of armour provided for us, and a victorious issue assured to us, if we are to faint as soon as difficulties press upon us? We should rather rise to the occasion. “If the iron be blunt, we must whet the edge, or put to more strength [Note: Ecclesiastes 10:10.].” As soldiers of Jesus Christ, it is our very profession to endure hardships [Note: 2 Timothy 2:3.]. If at any time we find our strength decay, we must go to Him, who has promised to “renew” it to such a degree, that we may “mount up with wings, as eagles” after their plumage is restored, and pursue our course as racers, without weariness or fainting [Note: Isa 40:27-31]. Whatever be our trials, it is at our peril to draw back from the encounter [Note: Hebrews 10:38-58.10.39.]. “We must not even look back, after having put our hands to the plough.” It is “he only that overcometh,” who shall possess the crown of victory [Note: Revelation 3:21.].]
To meet all difficulties thus, we are encouraged by an assurance, that they,
Shall be vanquished—
[Consult the promises of God, and see what they say: are they not as extensive as our necessities? What is there that arrests your progress, or obstructs your way? Is it a mountain? You may say to it, “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain [Note: Zechariah 4:7.].” Is it a sea? God will “make even the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over [Note: Isaiah 51:10.].” Is it your own weakness that disheartens you? Behold, “one of you shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight [Note: Jos 23:10 with Deuteronomy 32:30.].” Is it rather your unworthiness? “It was for his own name’s sake that he made you his people; and for his own name’s sake he will not cast you off [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.].” You will not suppose that there was any great worthiness in the Chaldeans; but see how assured they were of victory when God was on their side [Note: Jeremiah 37:10.]. And shall your weakness or unworthiness be any effectual obstruction, if your God fight for you? You would not think there was any great cause for a lion to despair when contending with the defenceless lamb: yet that is the very image by which God has been pleased to designate the contest in which you are engaged, and the victory that awaits you [Note: Micah 5:7-33.5.8.].
If you need any thing else to encourage you, look at “the cloud of witnesses” that are now in heaven, with palms in their hands, and crowns on their heads, and everlasting songs of triumph in their mouths: were not they once in your state, conflicting with the same enemies, and complaining of the same discouragements? Do you not find amongst them many whose trials were far more severe than you ever experienced? And yet were they not crowned at last? Did not their difficulties yield to their repeated efforts; and was not “the grace of Christ sufficient for them?” Why then should not you. also triumph? “Is God’s arm shortened that he cannot save; or his ear heavy that he cannot hear?” Doubt not then but that you also shall see your enemies dead upon the sea-shore, and that, “through the strength of Christ you shall be more than conquerors.”]
To you then who have escaped from bondage, and are going under the guidance of your God towards the heavenly Canaan, we say, “Go forward.” But, that we may not leave you without some more particular directions, we say, Go forward,
[Your way is not so manifest, but that you need to explore it with continual care. You have indeed the pillar and the cloud; but it is visible only in the Holy Scriptures; it is to be found only in the precepts of the Gospel, and in the example of our Lord. If, because your views of Christian doctrines be clear, you suppose that you are not liable to err materially in your practice, you are greatly mistaken. The Apostle tells us, that “they who strove in the games were not crowned, unless they strove lawfully [Note: 2 Timothy 2:5.],” that is, according to the rules prescribed them. So neither shall we be approved by our Judge, if we do not regulate our spirit and conduct altogether by the rules contained in the inspired volume. Hence we need “to walk circumspectly [Note: Exodus 23:13; Ephesians 5:15.] ;” to look well to our ways; to consult the Scriptures; to mark the footsteps of our blessed Lord; and, above all, to pray, with the Psalmist, “Lead me, O Lord, in the right way, because of my enemies. [Note: Psalms 27:11.] ”]
[It is not on some particular occasions only that you are to serve the Lord, but at all times, and on all occasions. Whatever advances you have made, we still say, “Go forward.” Whatever obstacles are in your way, we repeat the word, “Go forward.” Yea, whatever sufferings await you, we say again, “Be not discouraged because of the way [Note: Numbers 21:4.],” but “Go forward.” Only be sure that you are in the way of duty; that you are following the Lord’s will, and not your own; and then go forward with all patience and perseverance. You must “know no man after the flesh:” you must, as our Lord says, “hate father and mother, and your own life also [Note: Luke 14:26.],” in comparison of him. Having nothing in view but the glory of your God, you must “forget what is behind, and press forward towards that which is before.” You must “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; and then your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”]
[In every other contest, men exert themselves with a degree of uncertainty respecting the issue: and to “boast, when girding on their armour, as though they had put it off [Note: 1 Kings 20:11.],” would be only a mark of folly and presumption. But things are far otherwise with you. Your victory depends, not on an arm of flesh, but on the power and veracity of God. While therefore you are yet on the field of battle, you may advance with David’s confidence against Goliath, even though you are only “a stripling with a sling,” and your enemies are deemed invincible. It was thus that Paul triumphed, and hurled defiance against all the foes that could assault him, whether on earth or in hell [Note: Romans 8:35-45.8.39.]. Thus also may you anticipate the shouts of victory, and say, “The Lord God will help me: therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint; and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me: who will contend with me? Let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? Lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up [Note: Isaiah 50:7-23.50.9.].”]
ISRAEL’S DELIVERANCE AT THE RED SEA
Exodus 14:31. And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses.
THE state of man on earth is diversified with trials and deliverances, more or less, to the latest hour of his life. Even when we have the clearest evidence that we are in the Lord’s way, we shall yet meet with many things which will involve us in trouble and perplexity. The disciples were ordered by their Lord to cross the sea of Tiberias: but in passing it, they were overtaken with a storm, which threatened them with destruction. It was not possible for the Israelites to doubt, but that they were precisely in the place where God would have them; yet were they menaced with instant death by the proud vindictive monarch, from whose tyranny they had just escaped. But this grievous affliction was only introductory to a signal deliverance. God now interposed on their behalf, and wrought for them a “great work.”
That we may make a profitable use of this part of scripture history, let us consider,
The work referred to—
This is justly called “great:” for it was no less than the destruction of all the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. But that we may view it distinctly in all its parts, we observe, that it was,
A discriminating work—
[The pillar which had hitherto gone before the Israelites, to lead them in the way, removed, and stood behind them, as soon as their enemies had come within sight of their camp. But to the Egyptians it presented only a dark side, increasing thereby the natural darkness of the night, and preventing them from continuing their march; while to the Israelites it was a light of fire, enabling them to do whatever their situation and safety required.
Again, the sea which was divided by the east wind, opened a secure retreat for all the hosts of Israel: but as soon as the Egyptians attempted to follow them, it resumed its wonted state, and overwhelmed them utterly; thus affording a passage to Israel, but only a grave to Egypt.
Now this manifest distinction which God made between the Israelites and the Egyptians, might well exalt the work in the eyes of those who were so greatly benefited by it.]
A judicial work—
[Pharaoh and his courtiers had hardened their hearts against him, so that all the successive plagues could not bring them to submit to his will. Now therefore God gave them an opportunity to harden their hearts yet more against him. Instead of leading the Israelites at once into the wilderness, he led them aside to a situation, from whence apparently there was no escape. Rocks and morasses were on either side, and the Red Sea before them. This seemed a favourable opportunity for Pharaoh to overtake them, and to wreak his vengeance upon them: and Pharaoh, instigated by his resentment, determined not to lose the opportunity: he instantly collected all the chariots and horsemen in his army, and pursued them: and he rushed into the very snare, which God had predicted he would fall into.
Again, Pharaoh had destroyed the male children of the Israelites in the river Nile: and now God visited this iniquity on him, and on all his army, in the Red Sea. Who does not see in these things a judicial infatuation, and a judicial sentence; both of which, when contemplated by the Israelites, must raise this work yet higher in their estimation?]
A glorious work—
[God had said, that he would get himself glory on Pharaoh and on all his subjects; and that the Egyptians should at last be constrained to acknowledge Him as the one supreme God of all the earth. And truly this work did bring glory to God [Note: Isaiah 63:12-23.63.14.] ; for it displayed and magnified everyone of his perfections: his wisdom in so accomplishing his own will, while no restraint whatever was imposed on the will of Pharaoh; his power, in dividing the sea, and making the waters to stand as a wall, while the Israelites passed through “dry-shod;” his justice, in suffering the Egyptians to proceed so far, as that, when enclosed in his net, they might all be destroyed; his truth and faithfulness, in accomplishing to the posterity of Abraham the deliverance which he had promised four hundred years before.
This work did indeed manifest to Egypt and to Israel, that Jehovah “is the Most High over all the earth,” “a God, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders.”]
Let us now proceed to notice,
The effect it produced—
Stupid and insensible as that nation had shewn themselves in the midst of all the mercies vouchsafed to them in Egypt, they could not but be affected with this. Accordingly we find that, on seeing the hand of God thus stretched out for them, they began to feel,
A regard for his authority—
[Fear is of two kinds, filial and servile; and it is probable that in some of the people the former predominated, and in others the latter. On an occasion somewhat similar, where God, in testimony of his displeasure against his people for desiring a king, sent a tremendous storm of thunder and lightning, we are told that “the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel [Note: 1 Samuel 12:18.].” This was certainly a servile fear: and it should seem that the greatest part of the Israelites at the Red Sea were affected with no higher principle; because they even “within a few days forgat this work [Note: Psalms 106:12-19.106.13.],” and all the others that God had wrought for them. Indeed temporal deliverances, however great, will produce only transient impressions, if not accompanied with the grace of God. But a view of that redemption which we have in Christ Jesus—what will not that effect I That will implant a fear in the heart, a fear that shall be mighty and uniform in its operation [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-47.5.15.], a fear that shall expel all other fear, and “bring the whole soul into a willing captivity to the obedience of Christ” — — —]
Confidence in his protection—
[As fear, so faith also, is of different kinds. We read of many who, when they saw the miracles of Jesus, believed in him; and yet he would not commit himself to them, because he knew that their hearts were yet unrenewed [Note: John 2:11; John 2:23-43.2.24.]. And Simon Magus is said to have believed [Note: Acts 8:13.], whilst yet he remained “in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Such in too great a measure, we fear, was the faith which the Israelites now reposed in God, and in his servant Moses. They were struck with an irresistible conviction, that God was all-sufficient for them, and that Moses was infallibly directed by him to manage every thing for their good. In the very next trial, however, they lost the remembrance of their present convictions, and began to doubt and murmur as before. Not so the persons whose faith is truly spiritual; who, being united to Christ, are partakers of his redemption: they “know in whom they have believed;” and, whatever difficulties occur, they “hold fast their confidence,” saying with the Apostle, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” — — —]
Let us take care that our religious affections be sincere and permanent—
[Many good feelings may be excited in the heart by some particular occurrence, or some moving discourse. But “our goodness is apt to be like the morning dew, or the early cloud that passeth away.” Such affections however will afford us no support in a trying hour; much less will they benefit us at the bar of judgment. Let us see to it therefore that we obtain, not merely some transient feelings of good, but a new nature: that so our fear of God be such as to make us obedient to his will, and our faith such as shall enable us to commit ourselves entirely to his disposal.]
Let us, for the purpose of generating those affections in our hearts, contemplate deeply the great work of Redemption—
[We never improve aright a typical deliverance, unless we turn our thoughts to the deliverance which it prefigured. What was intended by that before us, we can be at no loss to determine, since God himself has declared it to us [Note: Isaiah 51:10-23.51.11.]. The redemption of the world by Christ’s obedience unto death, and our consequent deliverance from death and hell, should never be far from our thoughts. It is so stupendous a work, that it has filled all heaven with wonder; and the “riches” of divine grace contained in it are absolutely “unsearchable.” To know this, to feel this, to be interested in this, will produce a change in our hearts, which shall last for ever [Note: The conversion of the soul is spoken of in terms directly referring to this event. Isaiah 11:15-23.11.16.]. And when we shall see our enemies dead upon the sea-shore, and ourselves placed beyond the reach of harm, it will furnish us with an inexhaustible subject of gratitude and thanksgiving.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 14". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany