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THE CHARACTER OF GOD
Exodus 15:11. Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
EXALTED favours may well be repaid in devout acknowledgments: they are the least returns that we can make to our heavenly Benefactor: and so reasonable is this tribute, that persons who are far enough removed from solid piety, will, under a sense of recent obligations, often cordially unite in paying it to the God of their salvation. The hymn before us was composed by Moses, on occasion of the deliverance vouchsafed to Israel at the Red Sea: and it was sung by all the Israelites, probably by the men and women in an alternate and responsive manner, Miriam leading the women, and, together with them, accompanying the song with timbrels and dances [Note: 0, 21.]. It is the most ancient composition of the kind, that is extant in the world. The two first verses are a kind of preface, declaring the occasion, and the inspired penman’s determination to celebrate it [Note: Somewhat like that in Psalms 45:1.]. The mercy then is stated in a most animated manner; and afterwards, its effects, both immediate and remote, are circumstantially predicted. But, between the statement of the mercy and its effects, is introduced an apostrophe, addressed to the Deity himself, and ascribing to him the glory due unto his name. To this portion of the hymn we would now direct your more particular attention. It declares that God is,
To be admired for his holiness—
God is essentially and supremely holy—
[He is not only called, by way of eminence, “The Holy One,” but this attribute is said exclusively to belong to him; “Thou only art holy.” As for the gods of the heathen, many of them were no other than deified monsters, patrons of lewdness, of theft, of drunkenness, and every kind of iniquity: and among the rest there was not found even the smallest semblance of real universal holiness. Well therefore might the challenge be made in reference to this, “Who among the gods is like unto thee, O Lord?” This attribute is, in fact, the crown of all the other attributes of the Deity; for, without it, no other perfection could be either amiable in itself or worthy of the Supreme Being. But, without entering into the general view of this subject, we need only look at the “wonders done” on this occasion; and there we shall see a display of this attribute in its most striking colours. Behold his indignation against sin, how it burned against the oppressors of his people, and the contemners of his authority! The very elements themselves were made to rise against the proud associates in iniquity, and to execute upon them the vengeance they deserved — — —]
For this he is greatly to be admired and glorified—
[No other perfection more attracts the attention of all the glorified saints and angels in heaven, than this [Note: Compare Isa 6:3 with Revelation 4:8.]. And, notwithstanding it is hateful and terrific to impenitent sinners, it is an object of the highest admiration amongst those who have learned to appreciate it aright. David was altogether enraptured with it [Note: Psalms 99:3; Psalms 99:5; Psalms 99:9.] ; and every real saint will “give thanks at the remembrance of it [Note: Psalms 30:4. See an animated description of their imbecility, Jeremiah 10:3-24.10.7.] ” — — —]
Whilst he is thus admired for his unspotted holiness, he is also,
To be feared for his power—
God is a God of unrivalled power—
[The gods of the heathen cannot hear, or see, or move: but the power of Jehovah is infinite. What less than omnipotence could have performed the “wonders” which are here celebrated? See how easily the expectations of his enemies were disappointed, and their bloody purposes were frustrated, by one blast of his displeasure [Note:, 10. The picture here is highly finished. The amplification in the former verse, and the conciseness of the latter, form a beautiful contract; whilst the image that closes the description, strongly marks the completeness of the judgment executed.] ! — — —]
For this he is greatly to be feared—
[For this exercise of his power indeed he was praised; as well he might be for such a merciful and complete deliverance. But it may truly be said, that he is “fearful in praises [Note: The last clause of the text may be understood as limiting and illustrating the two that precede it. Compare Luke 1:49.]:” for this display of his power clearly shews, that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Accordingly we find, that the inspired writers generally make this improvement of God’s omnipotence, and suggest it as a motive to reverence his majesty, to regard his will, and to tremble at his displeasure [Note: Psalms 89:6-19.89.8; Hebrews 12:28-58.12.29; Deuteronomy 28:58-5.28.59.] — — —]
We may learn from hence,
How the mercies of God are to be improved—
[All of us have experienced mercies in abundance: and from them we may obtain the brightest discoveries of our God. O what displays of power, of goodness, and of truth, might all of us behold, if we called to mind the various deliverances which God has wrought out for us, and especially that redemption which was prefigured by the history before us! The connexion between the two is expressly marked by God himself; and we are told, what a mixture of admiration and reverence, of love and fear, a just view of these miracles of mercy will assuredly create [Note: Revelation 15:3-66.15.4.]. Let them then produce these effects on us; and let us now begin, what we hope to continue to all eternity, “the song of Moses and the Lamb.”]
How every attempt against him or his people shall surely issue—
[Here we see a lively representation of the final issue of every contest which man shall enter into with his Maker. The forbearance of God may be long exercised; and his enemies may appear for a time to have gained their point: but in due time, hell shall open wide its jaws to swallow them up, and they shall become the wretched victims of their own impiety. Against God and his Church, there is no device, no counsel that shall stand.
His Church is founded on a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it The enemies of our souls may follow us even to the last moment of our lives; but when the appointed moment is arrived for the completion of all God’s promises to us, our souls shall be freed from every assault, and “death and hell, with all their adherents, be cast into the lake of fire [Note: Revelation 20:14.].”]
THE WATERS OF MARAH SWEETENED
Exodus 15:24-2.15.25. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There he made for them a statute and an ordinance; and there he proved them.
GREAT are the vicissitudes of human life: nor is there any person exempt from them. Even the most favoured servants of God, when moving expressly in the way that he has appointed for them, may be reduced as it were in an instant from the highest pinnacle of earthly prosperity to a state of the deepest distress and anguish. Not to mention an imprisoned Joseph, a dethroned David, an incarcerated Daniel, we notice the whole nation of Israel exulting in the completest deliverance that ever was vouchsafed to any people in the world, and within three days brought down to utter despondency. But from this we may derive much profitable instruction; whilst we notice,
This was indeed severe—
[We have no idea in general how much our happiness, and even our very lives, depend on the common bounties of Providence. We acknowledge this indeed in words; but we have by no means a proportionate sense of our obligations to God for a regular supply of water. The Israelites had travelled three days, and had found none; till at last, coming to Marah, they found an abundant supply: but, behold, the water was so bitter, as to be incapable of being turned to any general use. When the Israelites, in addition to their want, were made to experience this painful disappointment, they broke out into murmuring and complaints.]
But their murmuring was wrong—
[Had the question they put to Moses, been nothing more than a simple interrogation, it had been innocent enough: but it was an unbelieving, passionate complaint. (How often are our words also, or our actions, inoffensive perhaps as to their external form, while, on account of the spirit with which they are blended, they are most hateful and detestable in the sight of God!) But why should they murmur against Moses? He had not conducted them thither of his own mind, but by God’s command. Their displeasure against him was, in fact, directed against God himself. (And it will be well for us to remember, that in venting our wrath, and indignation against the instruments by whom God at any time afflicts us, we vent it in reality against him who uses them.) And why should they murmur against God? Had he committed an oversight in leading them into that situation? Had he forgotten to be gracious? Was he so changed within the space of three days, that he could no longer devise a way for their relief? Or was his ear become so heavy that he could not hear, or his hand so shortened that he could not save? Should they not rather have concluded, that now, as on many recent occasions, he had permitted their trial to be great, in order that he might the more abundantly magnify his own power and mercy in their deliverance? Doubtless this would have become them who had seen so many and such stupendous miracles wrought in their behalf.]
We next fix our attention upon,
Some have thought, that the healing of the waters by casting a tree into them, was intended to typify the sweetening of all our afflictions, and the removing of all our sorrows, by the cross of Christ. It might be so: but we are afraid to venture upon any ground not expressly trodden by the inspired writers. We therefore rather content ourselves with shewing what God indisputably declared by this singular interposition:
That he is never at a loss for means whereby to effect his purposes—
[If we cannot see some opening whereby God can come to our relief, we are ready to think that he is quite excluded from us. But what need has he of any means at all? What means did he employ in constructing the universe? Indeed the very means he does use, are generally such, as tend only to evince, by their utter inadequacy, the mighty working of his own power. It was thus when he healed the deleterious waters of a spring, and the barrenness of the land through which they ran, by a single cruse of salt [Note: 2 Kings 2:21.]: and thus also when he restored the serpent-bitten Israelites by the mere sight of a brasen serpent. As to the idea of the tree itself possessing qualities calculated to produce the effect, it cannot for one moment be admitted; because the waters were sufficient for the supply of two millions of people, besides all their cattle; and because the effect was instantaneously produced. We therefore say again, that the insufficiency or the means he used, displayed only the more clearly the all-sufficiency of his own power, precisely as when by the voice of a feeble worm he awakens men from their death in trespasses and sins [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:7.].]
That he will put honour upon humble and believing prayer—
[There is such “efficacy in the fervent prayer of a righteous man,” that God, if we may be permitted so to speak, is not able to withstand it. See persons in any circumstances whatever, and you are sure to find them extricated from their difficulties, and made victorious over their enemies, when once they begin to pray. Even if the people themselves be ever so unworthy, yet, if they have an Advocate and Intercessor for them at the throne of grace, they almost invariably escape the judgments which God had denounced against them; so cordially does “God delight in the prayer of the upright,” and so desirous is he to encourage all persons to pray for themselves. The murmuring spirit of the people might well have provoked God to decline all further communication with them: but Moses prayed; and his cry entered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts.]
But both the trial and deliverance were sent with a view to some ulterior good: let us consider,
God’s design in each—
Amongst other objects which God designed to accomplish, the two following seem to be peculiarly prominent. He sought to bring them to a sense of,
[What particular statutes and ordinances God promulged to them at this time, we are not informed. But there is one thing which he certainly made known to them; namely, the conditional nature of the covenant which he was about to make with them, and the suspension of his favours upon their obedience [Note: 6.]. They had hitherto dwelt only on their privileges, without at all considering their duties: they thought of what God was to be to them; but not of what they were to be to God. Now God, having softened their minds by a heavy trial, and conciliated their regards by a miraculous interposition, opens to them the connexion between duty and privilege; and thereby prepares them for becoming “a holy and peculiar people, zealous of good works.”]
[This mixture of judgment and mercy was well calculated to bring them to a knowledge of themselves. The trial alone would only irritate and inflame their minds: but the deliverance applied a balm to their wounded spirits. By the union of them they would be humbled, and led to acknowledge the heinousness of their ingratitude, their unbelief, their querulousness, and rebellion. This is expressly declared to have been a very principal end of all the dispensations of God towards them in the wilderness [Note: Deuteronomy 8:2.]: and it is a main object of his diversified dealings with his people at this day.]
Let us learn from this subject,
To mark the effect of trials and deliverances on our own minds—
[If trials always, instead of humbling, disquiet us; and if deliverances produce only a temporary impression, and not a lasting change on our hearts; can we be right before God? They ought to “work patience, experience, and hope;” and by means of them our faith ought to be so purified, as to tend “to the praise and honour and glory of our God at the appearing of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.].” By examining into this point we may “prove our own selves,” and ascertain with considerable precision our true character.]
To distrust our religious feelings—
[We may be moved under a sermon or any particular occurrence; we may sometimes be dissolved in tears, and at other times be elevated with joy; and yet have no root in ourselves, nor any inheritance with the saints in light. Who that had heard the devout songs of Israel at the Red Sea, would have thought that in three days they could so totally forget their mercies, and indulge such a rebellious spirit? But look within; and see whether, after an occasional exercise of religious affections, you have not, within a still shorter space of time, been hurried into the indulgence of the most unhallowed tempers, and the gratification of a spirit that is earthly, sensual, and devilish? Ah! think of “the stony-ground hearers, who received the word with joy, and yet in time of temptation fell away.” Lay not then too great a stress on some transient emotions; but judge yourselves by the more certain test of a willing and unreserved obedience.]
To place an entire and uniform dependence on God—
[God may see fit to try us, and to delay the relief that we implore. But let us not entertain hard thoughts of him. From the time of Abraham it has passed into a proverb, that “in the mount the Lord shall be seen.” Our Isaac may be bound, and the knife actually lifted up to inflict the fatal blow, and all who might interpose to rescue the victim may be at a great distance; but, in the moment of need, God’s voice from heaven shall arrest the murderous hand, and deliver us from the impending stroke. “The vision is yet for an appointed time; therefore, though it tarry, wait for it: for at the appointed season it shall come, and not tarry [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.].” Whether our afflictions be of a temporal or spiritual nature, we may rest assured of this blessed truth, that “they who wait on him shall never be confounded.”]
CHRIST THE HEALER OF HIS PEOPLE
Exodus 15:26. I am the Lord that healeth thee.
SCARCELY had the Jews passed the Red Sea before they began to murmur: as the Psalmist has said, “They provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea [Note: Psalms 106:7.].” True it was that they must have suffered greatly, both they and their cattle, when they were three days without water; and when, on finding water, it was so bitter that they could not drink it. But, when they had been conducted thither by God himself, (for the pillar and the cloud never left them day or night [Note: Exodus 13:22.],) they might be assured that He, who had so miraculously delivered them hitherto, would, if they cried unto him, supply their wants. They should have had recourse to prayer therefore, and not to murmuring. But this conduct of theirs gave occasion for a rich display of God’s mercy towards them, and for an explicit declaration on his part what the rule of his procedure towards them in future should be. They were delivered from the Egyptian yoke: but they were not to cast off obedience to their God. They were, as his redeemed people, to consecrate themselves to him, and to obey his voice in all things: and, according as they performed or neglected their duty to him, he would extend to them his favour, or visit them with his displeasure; either loading them with, or exempting them from, the diseases with which the Egyptians had been visited, and which they greatly dreaded [Note: 6 with Deuteronomy 28:27; Deuteronomy 28:60.].
This declaration of God to them was so important, that the Prophet Jeremiah, a thousand years afterwards, referred to it, to shew, that, from the very first moment of the people having been taken into covenant with God, their sacrifices had been held as of no account in comparison of obedience. “I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you [Note: Jeremiah 7:22-24.7.23.].” Nor is it less important to us, at this day; for God will still deal with us according as we conduct ourselves towards him. The retribution indeed may not now be so visibly marked by external dispensations; but it shall be maintained in reference to our souls, God either healing our spiritual maladies, or giving us up to the power of them, according as we approve ourselves to him, or walk contrary to his commands. If we offend him by a wilful and habitual disobedience to his will, none shall be able to protect us: but, if we surrender up ourselves unfeignedly to him, “none shall be able to harm us:” whatever we may either feel or fear, we may assure ourselves of his favour; for he is, and ever will be, “The Lord that healeth us.”
In further discoursing on these words, we shall be led to point out,
The office which God executes in behalf of his people—
As God inflicts judgments on his enemies, so does he administer healing to his people: and this he does,
In a way of gracious exemption—
[The Hebrews were exempted from the various calamities with which Egypt was overwhelmed. And this is particularly noticed in the words preceding my text: “I will put none of these diseases upon thee which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” In like manner, if we are exempt from many diseases under which others labour, and by which their whole lives are imbittered, we should acknowledge God as the Author of this distinction, and receive it as a special mercy at his hands. We know that even under the Christian dispensation bodily diseases are often sent by God, as the punishment of sin [Note: 1Co 11:30 and James 5:14-59.5.15.]: and we cannot but feel that we have merited, on many occasions, such tokens of his displeasure. If therefore we, like the Hebrews, have been more highly favoured than others, we must, like them, be instructed that it is God alone who has healed us.
But in this general description of Jehovah we must not overlook that which, after all, was chiefly intended—his special favour towards his redeemed people, in reference to spiritual disorders. Thousands are given up, like Judas, to an obdurate heart and a reprobate mind; whilst some, like David and Peter, are recovered from their falls. To whom must the recovery of these be ascribed?—to themselves? They had in themselves no more strength or power than the unhappy Judas had. It was to sovereign grace alone that they owed their restoration to the divine favour, and their return to the paths of holiness and peace. And have not we similar obligations to our heavenly Physician? How often have we indulged in our hearts propensities, to which if we had been given up, we should have fallen a prey, and perished for ever! The sins of the most abandoned of the human race were small in their beginning, and by repetition became inveterate. O! what do we owe to God, who, whilst he has left others to follow the imagination of their own hearts, has restrained us, “hedging up our way with thorns, and building a wall, that we might not be able to prosecute the paths” which our corrupt hearts so perversely sought! As far then as by his preventing grace he has kept us from evil, we have reason to adore him as “the healer” of our souls.]
In a way of effectual interposition—
[On many occasions did God visit his people with severe chastisements; which he as often removed, at the intercession of Moses, or on the humiliation of their souls before him. And have there not been times when, by disease or accident, are have been brought low; and when, if the evil inflicted had been suffered to attain the same resistless power as it has acquired over others, we must have fallen a sacrifice to its assaults? Whence is it, I would ask, that we have been restored to health, whilst others have sunk under the influence of the same disease? Greatly do we err, if we ascribe our recovery to any thing but the gracious favour of our God. He may have made use of medicine as the means: but whatever may have been the secondary cause, the one great primary cause of all has been the good pleasure of God, whose province alone it is “to kill and to make alive, to wound and to heal [Note: Deuteronomy 32:39.].”
And what shall we say, if we have been healed of spiritual disorders? It is well known that man is altogether corrupt; so that we may apply to him that description which is given of the Jewish state, “from the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in him, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores [Note: Isaiah 1:6.].” In every faculty of our souls we are corrupted and debased by sin: our understanding is darkened; our will rebellious; our affections sensual; our very conscience is blind and partial. Now, if God has dealt with us as he did with the springs of Jericho [Note: 2 Kings 2:20-12.2.22.], if he has cast the salt of his grace into our souls, and healed us at the fountain-head, have we not cause to bless and magnify his name? It is expressly in reference to such a miracle as this that God assumes to himself the name contained in our text. The waters of Marah being so bitter as to be unfit for use, God directed Moses to cast a certain tree into them, by means of which they were instantly made sweet [Note: 5.]. And are not we also directed to “a tree, whose very leaves are for the healing of the nations [Note: Revelation 22:2.] ?” Its virtue indeed is not known by thousands, in whose presence it stands; and therefore they continue ignorant of its healing efficacy. But was its virtue ever tried in vain? No: nor ever shall be. Only let Christ be received into the heart by faith, and the whole man will be renewed; the understanding will be enlightened, the will subdued, the affections purified, and the whole soul be “changed into the divine image in righteousness and true holiness. Now, what if God has pointed out this tree to us? What if we have experienced its healing efficacy? Then have we in ourselves an evidence that our blessed Saviour sustains the office claimed by him in our text: and then are we called to acknowledge it with gratitude, and to adore him for this stupendous exercise of his power and grace.]
Such being the office of our blessed Lord, let us consider,
The duty which we owe him in reference to it—
This, though already in a measure anticipated, may with great propriety be now more distinctly noticed.
1. We should acknowledge him in the mercies we have received at his hands—
[Sure I am, that his preventing goodness is by no means appreciated as it ought to be. We see others sick and dying; and little think to whom we owe it, that their lot has not been awarded to us. We are restored after sickness; and how soon do we forget the hand that has delivered us [Note: If this were a Spital Sermon, or on occasion of a deliverance from childbirth, this would be the place for some appropriate observations.] ! Nor are we less insensible of our obligations to God for preservation from great and heinous sins; whereas, if we noticed the falls of others who were in every respect as likely to stand as ourselves, we should be filled with wonder and admiration at the distinguishing mercies vouchsafed unto us. Even converting grace, alas! how little gratitude does it excite in our hearts! We can see clearly enough the goodness of God to Israel in bringing them out of Egypt, and in making them a peculiar people to himself, whilst their Egyptian taskmasters were left to perish. But “that deliverance, though glorious, had no glory,” in comparison with that which is vouchsafed to us. But I call on all to look at the mercies which they have experienced, and at the means by which they have been procured for a ruined world. The tree that heals us has been felled: the Saviour has been “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; and by his stripes we are healed” Yes, the Saviour himself has died, that we may live [Note: Isa 53:5 with 1 Peter 2:24.]. Shall any one, then, that has experienced the virtue of his blood and the efficacy of his grace, not bless him? O! let every soul stir himself up to praise his God, and break forth like David, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thy sins, and healeth all thy diseases [Note: Psalms 103:1-19.103.3.] !”]
We should apply to him for the mercies which we may yet stand in need of—
[Wherefore does the Saviour proclaim to us his office, but that we may apply to him to execute it in our behalf? That you are all labouring under a mortal disease, is certain: and that there is but one remedy for all, is equally clear. But that remedy is all-sufficient: none ever perished, who applied it to their souls. See our Redeemer in the days of his flesh: was there any disease which he could not cure? Was not even a touch of his garment instantly effectual for one who had spent her all upon physicians, and to no purpose? Methinks I hear one complaining, that sin and Satan have such an entire possession of his soul, as to render his state altogether hopeless. But “is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no Physician there?” Look at the demoniac in the Gospel: so entirely was he possessed by Satan, that no chains could bind him, no restraints prevent him from inflicting deadly wounds upon himself. But a single word from the Saviour expels the fiend, and causes the maniac to sit at his feet, clothed, and in his right mind. Fear not then, thou desponding sinner; for there is nothing impossible with him. And if thou say, ‘True; but he has already tried his hand upon me in vain, and given me up as incurable;’ hear then what he speaks to thee by the Prophet Isaiah: “For his iniquity I was wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth; and yet he went on forwardly in the way of his heart.” (Here is your very case: and what says he to it? Does he say, ‘I have therefore given him up as incurable?’ No; but (“I have seen his ways, and will heal him.” Heal him, does he say? Yes; “I will heal him, and will restore comforts to him and to his mourners [Note: Isaiah 57:17-23.57.18.].” Go then to him, thou desponding soul. Say to him, as David did, “Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee [Note: Psalms 41:4.].” — — — If you reply, ‘There is no hope for me, because I have once known the Lord, and have backslidden from him;’ be it so; yet, as a backslider, hear what a gracious message he sends thee by the Prophet Jeremiah: “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings [Note: Jer 3:2].” One thing only would I guard you against, and that is, “the healing of your wounds slightly [Note: Jeremiah 6:14.].” Let your wounds be probed to the very bottom: and then, as the waters of Marah were healed so as that the fountain itself was changed, so shall your soul be purified throughout, and “the waters flowing from you spring up unto everlasting life [Note: John 4:14; John 7:38.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 15". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany