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Then sang Moses and the Children of Israel.
The Song of Moses at the Red Sea
Unwonted interest attaches to this song--the earliest on record of all the sacred odes, and the very foremost in the annals of Hebrew anthology. To the Jewish people themselves, it is what they have long called it, “The Song”; a designation to which it is entitled, alike from its inherent pre-eminence and its unrivalled associations.
1. It is Israel’s natal song. For, in crossing the Red Sea, they passed through the birth-throes of their national existence, and from this epoch dates a new chronology in Israel’s calendar. The oppressed tribes have become a commonwealth; and a commonwealth of the free.
2. It is Israel’s emancipation song, or song of liberty. It signalises a triple deliverance; marking the supreme moment of rescue from the threefold evils of domestic slavery, political bondage, and religious thraldom.
3. It is Israel’s first National Anthem and Te Deum in one. The Exodus was not a mere effort on the part of the Hebrew race to achieve their independence and realize their aspirations after a separate nationality. The spirit of even this idea had yet to be created within them; but everything depended on their being first delivered from the corrupting influences of Egyptian fetichism and idolatry, no less than from the yoke of Egyptian bondage. Not that the mass of them could at all appreciate the full meaning of the grand event as a mighty religious movement, repeating on a larger scale the migration of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, and breaking away from idolatrous and debasing superstitions, to find a home for the free development of a higher creed and worship. But the eye of their great leader descried this Divine purpose; and he had gone with this first tentative proposal to Pharaoh from God “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness.” It is Israel’s Te Deum, or song of thanks and praise to God. An overwhelming sense of the Divine interposition is the predominant sentiment in the song from first to last. It is no mere secular ode; no mere war-song or outburst of patriotic triumph; no exultant shriek of insult over a fallen foe; but an anthem of blessing and gratitude for a great deliverance, a devout and solemn psalm before God, to whom, of whom, and for whom it is sung. This high and sacred intent keeps it from degenerating into a wild strain of vindictiveness or vainglory.
4. It is Israel’s Church-song; the type of all songs of redemption and salvation. The very words “redemption” and “salvation” are first introduced in connection with this great deliverance. “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm”; and again, “Fear ye not; stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” The people had become unified into a worshipping assembly. It is Israel’s triumph-song of deliverance. The note is that of joy and victory; and is prophetic of the success of every battle and struggle for the Lord’s cause and kingdom, fought in the Lord’s name and in His strength. This triumph is the precursor especially of that final and glorious one at the end of the ages, when the spiritual Israel, which no man can number, from every people, and tribe and language, “having gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name,” shall take up a position like their prototypes of old not, however, by the shore of the Red Sea, with the mere emblem of God’s presence before them--but as John saw them in apocalyptic vision, standing by the sea of glass mingled with fire; no longer led merely by Miriam and her chorus, but all of them having the harp of God in their hand, singing, not only “the Song of Moses, the servant of God,” but “the Song of the Lamb.”
I. Introduction: or the triple aim of the song (verses 1, 2). Thus the song is, first of all, inscribed and offered to the Lord. He also is its great theme or subject; and it is His exaltation that constitutes its one and expressly avowed aim. To God, of God, for God--these are the three pivot-thoughts regulating and determining the movement of the opening strophe, and, indeed, of the entire hymn. Here, as not infrequently with later psalms, we have the whole song concentrated in the first verse. The occasion of the song, its subject, its design, are all indicated. First, there is here a singing to the Lord. The simplest idea we can attach to the opening words, “I will sing to the Lord,” is this--I will bring myself into the immediate and felt presence of Jehovah, and will address and offer my song to Him! How near has He been to us during the eventful and stupendous transactions of the night! Under a realizing sense of that Dearness I will direct my song to Him. To what a pitch of solemnity this conception raises the singer I But, while this idea of singing to the Lord is expressive of the singer’s attitude as immediately before the very face of the Supreme, it no less indicates that the song is an acceptable offering and oblation to the Lord. It is no self-pleasing exercise of gift and faculty, but “a sacrifice to the Lord, the fruit of the lips.” “Singing,” says one, “is as much the language of holy joy as prayer is the language of holy desire.” How sublime a sight! The whole of a people singing before the one invisible God, and consciously realizing more or less their direct relation to the Eternal, under no outward form or image or material symbol! Secondly, the Lord is the subject or theme of the song. Underlying all is the sense of the Divine personality. Nothing but this could have kindled the soul to song. If God is to be the subject of hymning praise, it must needs be the thought of a living, personal One, to evoke the spirit of glorying in and praising His name. Thirdly, there is here a singing, not only to the Lord and of the Lord, but for the Lord. To extol and exalt the Lord is declared to be the ultimate end and aim of this song. And indeed this is the highest reach and the final purpose of all praise--to manifest and express the Divine character, the Divine working and ways, the Divine glory and honour. We are taught to pray for God as well as to Him; and to put this ever in the foreground of our prayers, as of all things the first, the best, the supremely desirable. “Hallowed be Thy name: Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done”--these petitions have the precedence over any for either ourselves or others. But not only to do this, but also to express it and set forth our purpose to do it--this is the special aim and function of praise, of which “Doxology,” or the ascription of power, blessing, dominion, and every excellency, is the highest climax. It is the very anticipation of heaven itself and of all its worship.
II. The body, or subject-matter of the song (verses 3-13). The third verse seems to be designed for a great chorus--probably meant to be re-echoed by a body of deep-voiced warriors. It marks a transition from the declarative style of the introduction, to the alternation of recitative and ascriptive portions in the main body of the song. It forms also a suitable link between the two, being a fit climax to what precedes, because it sets forth why and in what character the Lord is to be exalted--“the Lord is a Man of War”--and a fit index to what follows, because it suggests, so strikingly, the nature of His triumph which is now about to be celebrated; a triumph involving struggle and conflict. He is “a Man of War” in accordance always with His sublime and sacred name Jehovah. The song proceeds to develop the three great qualities of the Jehovah-warrior, the Warrior who is Divine.
1. He is in power resistless. This power is seen first in the magnitude of the scale on which it operates--the sense of this being enhanced by the detail of particulars in verse 4. Pharaoh’s chariots, and his host, and his chosen captains. Then, again, in the ease with which it effects its object as He “casts” them into the sea--it is as if He had caught up the whole host in His hand, and slung it like a stone into the deep; and finally, in the completeness of the overthrow and the irreversible and irretrievable nature of the result. Having thus signalized the catastrophe, the poet’s inspiration seems to catch a new afflatus. The style suddenly changes in verses 6, 7, and 8; it ceases to be merely descriptive, and becomes directly ascriptive. The tone is now lofty and devout, God being addressed immediately in the second person, and the whole event being attributed to the interposition and miraculous operation of His power alone.
2. He is in equity and righteousness unchallengeable. The “equity and righteousness” is as manifest as the power. We are taught in verse 7 to regard the whole situation as intended for a display of “the Divine excellency”: so true, so timely, and so exemplary it is in its manifestation. With consummate ease, but with no less consummate justice, the dread penalty is enacted; to show how “He is glorious in holiness and fearful in praises” while “doing wonders.” For it is intimated that Egypt, in what it was doing, was not only “the enemy” of Israel, but it was “of them that rose up against Thee”; fighting against the Almighty and violating the first principles of Divine justice, truth, and mercy. The victims of the catastrophe were the fit subjects of a retributive and self-vindicating economy. Moreover, it was so well-timed. They were taken, as it were, red-handed, in the very act; at the very moment they were anticipating their revenge and gloating in its gratification. While they were intoxicated with insolence and pride: while they were breathing out threatening and cruelty, the Lord speaks to them in wrath; the Lord holds them in derision.
3. Yet, finally, He is in mercy plenteous. We have to note the goodness, no less than the severity, of God here. The reiteration in verse 12 of what has been said before, seems designedly made to enhance the sublime and suggestive contrast.
III. The threefold issues (verses 14-18). In this third and last wave of the anthem, the Divine mercy in the redemption of Israel is illustrated. The song becomes prophetic; and three grand issues are described and anticipated, an immediate, an intermediate, and a final one.
1. The immediate influence of the Exodus and passage of the Red Sea, on the tribes and peoples around, verses 14-16. A striking gradation is observed in describing the various effects: there is first a widespread panic and commotion in general, then the chiefs or “phylarchs” of Edom are paralyzed with terror; the mighty men of Moab tremble with uncontrollable fear; and finally the Canaanites melt away in despair.
2. There is an intermediate or remoter influence on the ultimate settlement and final destiny of Israel. So great an initial triumph was a happy augury and a sure prognostication of coming success. It was to be accepted as a Divine pledge of all needful aid and succour, until at length they should be firmly established in the promised land, as a nation, a race or family, and a Church. For in verse 17 we have a climax with three particulars, in which Israel is presented in three aspects, and their land is set forth in the triple character of an inheritance, a home, and a sanctuary, awakening the chords of patriotism, ancestry, and worship.
3. There is the last great issue of all, “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.” The prophecy of this song reaches thus onward to the end of all things; for the deliverance of Israel was not merely typical of, but actually a part and instalment of, the final redemption. And therefore, this song of Moses is not only the key-note and inspiration of the songs of the Old Testament Church, but a song of the Church in every age, celebrating as it does an event and deliverance not only pledging but vitally contributing to the last great acts in the onward triumph of Christ’s complete redemption. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
The Song of Moses
I. The history which the song celebrates.
II. The reflections which the history thus celebrated suggests.
1. The history affords an awful instance of persevering rebellion against God, notwithstanding the infliction of repeated and awakening chastisements.
2. The tendency of the human mind to forget past mercies, when we are involved in present afflictions.
3. The duty of yielding obedience to God, even when His commands seem to be opposed to our interests and our happiness.
4. The certainty that God will appear on behalf of His people, however long His interposition may be delayed.
5. The history reminds us of a nobler deliverance which God has effected for His people by Jesus Christ.
6. We may learn from the history with what grateful joy the disciples of Christ will celebrate His power and grace, when they have crossed the river of death. (J. Alexander.)
I. It will be instructive to notice the time of the singing of this song. To everything there is a season: there is a time of the singing of birds, and there is a time for the singing of saints. “Then sang Moses.”
1. It was first of all at the moment of realized salvation. When we doubt our salvation we suspend our singing; but when we realize it, when we see clearly the great work that God has done for us, then we sing unto the Lord who hath for us also triumphed gloriously. How can our joy of heart any longer be pent up?
2. So is it also in times of distinct consecration. I would remind you that the apostle assures us that all Israel were “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” That passage through the Red Sea was the type of their death, their burial, and their resurrection to a new life; it was their national baptism unto God: and therefore they sang as it were a new song. It is the happiest thing that can ever happen to a mortal man, to be dedicated to God.
3. It was also a day of the manifest display of God’s power.
4. But this song may be sung at all times throughout the life of faith. Let your hearts begin to ring all their bells, and let not their sweet chimes cease for evermore.
II. The tone of this song.
1. Note, first, that the tone is enthusiastic.
2. The tone is also congregational, being intended for every Israelite to join in it. Though Moses began by saying, “I will sing unto the Lord,” yet Miriam concluded with, “Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously.” This is a hymn for every child of God, for all that have come out of Egypt. Let the song be enthusiastic and unanimous.
3. Yet please to notice how very distinctly personal it is. “I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously. The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation; He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” Do not lose yourself in the throng.
4. Note, again, the tone of this song is exceeding confident. There is not a shadow of doubt in it: it is all the way through most positive in its ascriptions of praise.
5. And this song is exceeding comprehensive. It sings of what God has done, and then of what God will do in bringing His people into the Promised Land; nor does it finish till it rises to that loftiest strain of all: “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.”
6. Note, too, all through, that this song is immeasurably joyous. The Israelites were slaves enjoying new liberty; children let out to play. They did not know how to be glad enough. Let us give to God our unlimited joy.
7. Yet I must say, however enthusiastic that song was, and however full of joy it was, it was only such a song as was due unto the Lord.
III. The first clauses of this song. “The Lord is my strength and my song,” etc.
1. Notice, the song is all of God: there is not a word about Moses. Let us forget men, forget earth, forget time, forget self, forget this mortal life, and only think of our God.
2. Observe, the song dwells upon what God has done: “The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” Let us trace all the mercies we get to our God, for He hath wrought all our works in us; He hath chosen us, He hath redeemed us, He hath called us, He hath quickened us, He hath preserved us, He hath sanctified us, and He will perfect us in Christ Jesus. The glory is all His.
3. The song also declares what the Lord will yet do. We shall conquer yet in the great name of Jehovah. Take up the first note: “The Lord is my strength.” What a noble utterance! Poor Israel had no strength! She had cried out by reason of her sore bondage, making bricks without straw: The Lord is my strength when I have no strength of my own. It is well to say, “The Lord is my strength” when we are weak and the enemy is strong; but we must mind that we say the same when we are strong and our enemies are routed. The next is, “The Lord is my song,” that is to say, the Lord is the giver of our songs; He breathes the music into the hearts of His people; He is the Creator of their joy. The Lord is also the subject of their songs: they sing of Him and of all that He does on their behalf. The Lord is, moreover, the object of their song: they sing unto the Lord. Their praise is meant for Him alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Song of triumph
The Song of Moses has never been surpassed for the poetical beauty of its imagery and its expressions. It is, besides, so full of holiness and adoration, as to render it incomparable.
I. Let us recount all the causes for gratitude which are enumerated in it.
1. The Israelites had been delivered from a terrible danger. The enemy had said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.”
2. They had been delivered from inevitable danger. None could save them but God only. Before them was the sea; behind them were Pharaoh and his host.
3. They had been delivered from universal danger. Not the lives of a thousand only, or even of ten thousand, among them had been threatened; all, old and young together, were to have been slain.
4. They had been delivered by most glorious miracles; the strong east wind, the pillar of light, the sea changed, as it were, into walls of ice.
5. They bad been delivered notwithstanding their sins. Oh, what an example of the free grace of God! They had scorned His words, had murmured; it was, so to speak, in spite of themselves that God had saved them.
6. They had been delivered altogether, not one was missing, not one had perished, not even the youngest child. No mourning marred their triumph, as often happens to the nations of the earth when they are celebrating a great victory.
7. They had been saved by the power of God alone. It was not their work, it was that of the Lord, who had said to them, “Stand still, and ye shall see the salvation of the Lord; the Lord shall fight for you.”
8. Lastly, their deliverance was accompanied by promises for the future. God had brought them out of Egypt, but it was to lead them to Canaan.
II. If we are true believers, and if Jesus is our Saviour, we have the same reasons that the Israelites had for singing the song of praise.
1. Like them, we have been delivered from a terrible danger. It was the danger of death,--not of the body, for that is comparatively nothing, as our Lord has said, but of the soul; that is to say, condemnation, alienation from God, a whole eternity passed “in outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
2. Like the Israelites, we have been delivered from inevitable danger. There is no way of escape--no salvation in any other than in the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. We have been delivered from a universal danger. Indeed, we are all by nature under condemnation. “There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
4. We have been delivered by most glorious marvels. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God,” exclaims the apostle John. These things are so sublime, that the angels desire to look into them.
5. We have been delivered notwithstanding our sins; for “God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
6. Like Israel, we have been delivered altogether. Not one of the chosen people of God will be missing; the youngest child, the most despised, the most forgotten of men, if he has put his trust in the Lord, will not perish.
7. God has saved us without any strength of our own, for we were incapable of doing anything. “I have trodden the winepress alone,” saith the Saviour by the mouth of Isaiah. He obeyed for us, He has borne our sins, He has accomplished all the work of our salvation.
8. Lastly, our deliverance has been accompanied, like that of the Israelites, with glorious promises. The Lord will guide us with His counsel, and afterwards He will receive us to glory. He will be our strength, because He has been our Saviour. (Prof. Gaussen.)
Among the mass of men how little there is of that frank, manly gratitude, that openly, and in the sight of a scoffing world, acknowledges the delivering, saving hand of God. Amid such wide-spread forgetfulness of the hand of an overruling Providence, it is a satisfaction to record the case of a thankful British seaman, a fine young man in the naval service on board Her Majesty’s ship, Queen. They were cruising off Cape Finisterre. The hands had been turned up to reef top sails for the night; the work was just finished, when the young captain of the mizzen top overbalanced himself and fell. He came down a distance of a hundred feet or more, and would have fallen on the deck, where no doubt he would have been instantly killed or seriously injured; but as he fell he clutched the foot-brail of the mizzen--this threw him against the sail, which broke his fall, and he was saved! And as he touched the deck he knelt down in the sight of the throng of officers and men who composed the crew, and offered up his thanks to Almighty God for his safe deliverance, during which time the silence and discipline was such one might have heard a pin drop on the deck.
After deliverance there should come a song
Gratitude is an imperative duty; and one of its first and finest forms is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise. It is true that it will not be worth much if it expends itself only in song; but wherever the psalm is sincere, it will communicate its melody also to the life. Too often, however, it does not even give a song. You remember how only one of the ten lepers returned to thank the Lord for His cleansing; and, perhaps, we should not be far wrong if we were to affirm that a similar proportion prevails to-day between the thankful and the ungrateful. Yet it would be wrong if we were to leave the impression that such gratitude as this of Moses is almost unknown. On the contrary, the pages of our hymn-books are covered with songs which have been born, like this one, out of deliverance. Many of the finest of David’s psalms are the utterances of his heart in thanksgiving for mercies similar to those which Moses celebrated; and some of the noblest lyrics of Watts and Wesley, of Montgomery and Lyre, have had a similar origin. Nor is this all; we can see that in all times of great national revival there has been an outburst of song. At the Reformation, no result of Luther’s work was more remarkable than the stimulus it gave to the hymnology of the Fatherland. In fact, that may be said to have been as good as created by the Reformation; and in our own country each successive revival of religion has had its own special hymn. But we have not all the genius of Wesley, or the inspiration of Moses, or of David; and what shall we do then? We can at least appropriate the lyrics of those who have gone before us, and use them in so far as they meet our case; and I can conceive no more pleasant or profitable occupation for the household than the singing of those hymns which have become dear to us because of the personal experiences which we can read between the lines. But we can do better still than that; for we can set our daily deeds to the music of a grateful heart, and seek to round our lives into a hymn--the melody of which will be recognized by all who come into contact with us, and the power of which shall not be evanescent, like the voice of the singer, but perennial, like the music of the spheres. To this hymnology of life let me incite you; for only they who carry this music in their hearts shall sing at last on the shore of the heavenly land, that song of “pure concert” for which John could find no better description than that it was” the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” But to sing of deliverance, you must accept deliverance. Open your hearts, therefore, for the reception of salvation. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The Lord is my strength and my song.--
The citadel and the temple
I. What the Lord is to his people.
1. “The Lord is my strength,” sang the enraptured host, when they saw how He had “triumphed gloriously” for them--and this has ever been the song of God’s people as they have passed through dangers and tribulations in their way to the heavenly Canaan (Isaiah 26:4).
2. But if the Lord be the strength of His people, it must imply that they themselves are weak.
3. But the Lord is our strength; and if the Church be likened unto things which are weak, the figurative language of the Bible is equally strong in setting forth the Lord as her strength (Proverbs 28:10; Psalms 18:2). The Lord Jesus is called the Captain of her salvation, her Deliverer, Governor, Guide.
4. But the Lord is not only the strength of His people, but also their song. He is a very present help in trouble, and He sometimes raises the head, and cheers the heart, even in the midst of sorrows and trials (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
5. The Lord is also the salvation of His people. He sometimes saves them, in a miraculous manner, from temporal evils.
6. He is their God: and this is everything. Infinite power, wisdom, mercy, goodness, love, pity, truth, justice, are all exerted in their behalf; for, in one delightful word, He is their God--yea, and He will be their God for ever and ever, and their Guide even unto death.
II. The resolutions which a sense of His goodness leads them to make.
1. “I will prepare Him an habitation,” alluding, probably, to the Temple which the Jews afterwards built. But it is in the humble, contrite heart that the Lord delights to dwell; and we prepare Him a habitation when we open our hearts to receive Him, when we devote them entirely to Him, and when we make Him the principal object of our desires.
2. “My father’s God”--the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of all our pious ancestors--“and I will exalt Him.” With my tongue will I praise His name, and my soul shall exalt in Him. (B. Bailey.)
My father’s God.--
The pathos of theology
A song is the proper conclusion of a victory. Fasting is the worship of sorrow; singing is the worship of joy. The words specially chosen for meditation show that the victory did not end in itself; it touched the holy past; it consummated the promises and hopes of ages.
I. “My father’s God.” Then religion was no new thing to them. They were not surprised when they heard the name of God associated with their victory. Religion should not be an originality to us; it should not be a novel sensation; it should be the common breath of our daily life, and the mention of the name of God in the relation of our experience sought to excite no mere amazement.
II. “My father’s God.” Then their father’s religion was not concealed from them. They knew that their father had a God. It is possible not to suspect that a man has any regard for God until we see his name announced in connection with some religions event. We cannot read this holy book without being impressed with the fact that the men who made the history of the world were men who lived in continual communion with the spiritual and unseen.
III. “My father’s God.” Yet it does not follow that the father and the child must have the same God. You have power deliberately to serve the connection between yourself and the God of your fathers. It is a terrible power!
IV. “My father’s God.” Then we are debtors to the religious past. There are some results of goodness we inherit independently of our own will. This age inherits the civilization of the past. The child is the better for his father’s temperance. Mephibosheth received honours for Jonathan’s sake. The processes of God are not always consummated in the age with which they begin. Generations may pass away, and then the full blessing may come. Practical questions:
1. Your father was a Christian,--are you so much wiser than your father that you can afford to set aside his example? There are some things in which you are bound to improve upon the actions of your father; but are you quite sure that the worship of the God of heaven is one of them?
2. Your father was a holy man--will you undertake to break the line of a holy succession? Ought not the fame of his holiness to awaken your own religious concern?
3. Your father was deeply religious,--will you inherit all he has given you in name, in reputation, in social position, and throw away all the religious elements which made him what he was?
4. Your father could not live without God,--can you? (J. Parker, D. D.)
A noble ancestry and a glorious resolution
I. A noble ancestry. “My father’s God.” Who are the men who have the most illustrious ancestry? The men who honoured, served, and trusted the one true and living God. The same God does for all ages; His character commends itself to the adoration of all souls. It is natural to value anything our loving fathers love. We value their favourite books, but how much more their God, the totality of goodness, the fountain of all blessedness?
II. A glorious resolution. “I will exalt Him.” How can we “exalt Him?” Enthrone Him in our affections as Lord of lords, and King of kings, ruling all thoughts, animating and directing all activities. (Homilist.)
The living God
I. Who was the God of our fathers?
1. A pure Being, not the “chance” of the atheist.
2. A conscious Being, not the “mere law” of the deist.
3. A personal Being, not “the all” of the pantheist.
4. A perfect Being, as revealed in the Bible.
5. An emotional Being, as manifested in Christ.
6. A communicative Being, as imparted by the Holy Spirit.
II. What is it to exalt Him?
1. Not by tall spires.
2. Not by gorgeous ritual.
3. To adore Him as the object of our worship.
4. To give Him the chief place in our affections. (W. W. Wythe.)
My mother’s God
At a fashionable party a young physician present spoke of one of his patients, whose case he considered a very critical one. He said he was “very sorry to lose him, for be was a noble young man, but very unnecessarily concerned about his soul, and Christians increased his agitation by talking with him and praying for him. He wished Christians would let his patients alone. Death was but an endless sleep, the religion of Christ a delusion, and its followers were not persons of the highest culture or intelligence.” A young lady sitting near, and one of the gayest of that company, said, “Pardon me, doctor, but I cannot hear you talk thus and remain silent. I am not a professor of religion; I never knew anything about it experimentally, but my mother was a Christian. Times without number she has taken me with her to her room, and with her hand upon my head, she has prayed that God would give her grace to train me for the skies. Two years ago my precious mother died, and the religion she loved through life sustained her in her dying hour. She called us to her bedside, and with her face shining with glory, asked us to meet her in heaven, and I promised to do so. And now,” said the young lady, displaying deep emotion, “can I believe that this is all a delusion? that my mother sleeps an eternal sleep? that she will never waken again in the morning of the resurrection, and that I shall see her no more? No, I cannot, I will not believe it.” Her brother tried to quiet her, for by this time she had the attention of all present. “No!” said she. “Brother, let me alone; I must defend my mother’s God, my religion.” The physician made no reply, and soon left the room. He was found shortly afterwards pacing the floor of an adjoining room, in great agitation and distress of spirit. “What is the matter?” a friend inquired. “Oh,” said he, “that young lady is right. Her words have pierced my soul like an arrow. I too must have the religion I have despised, or I am lost for ever.” And the result of the convictions thus awakened was that both the young lady and the physician were converted to Christ, and are useful and influential members of the Church of God.
The Lord is a man of war.
The triumphs of Jehovah
I. The thought of God’s triumphs as a man of war seems to be valuable as giving in its degree a proof of the truth of Holy Writ. The moral expectations raised by our Lord’s first sermon on the Mount are being actually realized in many separate souls now. The prayer for strength to triumph against the devil, the world, and the flesh is becoming daily more visibly proved in the triumph of the Spirit, in the individual lives of the redeemed.
II. The triumphs of the Lord in the individual hearts among us give an increasing hope for unity throughout Christendom. We cannot deny the debt we owe to the labours of Nonconformists in the days of the Church’s lethargy and neglect. We cannot join them now, but we are preparing for a more close and lasting union, in God’s own time, by the individual progress in spiritual things.
III. We must do our part to set our seal to the triumphant power of Divine grace. It is the half-lives of Christians which are such a poor proof of the truth of our Lord’s words. They do not begin early enough; they do not work thoroughly enough. We have the promise that this song shall be at last on the lips of all who prevail, for St. John tells us in the Revelation that he saw those who had overcome standing on the sea of glass, having the harps of God, singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. (Bp. King.)
The enemy said.
The enemy’s spirit
Observe the spirit of the enemy of Israel. It was characterized--
1. By great ambition. It was the love of power and dominion. To hold human beings as property is the vilest display of ambition.
2. Great arrogance and pride. I will pursue (rather “repossess”), overtake, divide, etc. What self-confidence! What boasting! What assumption! Pride goeth before destruction.
3. Insatiable avarice. Divide the spoil. Had not Pharaoh enough? An avaricious spirit unceasingly cries, Give! give! What a cursed spirit it is! Well has it been said that nature is content with little, grace with less, but the lust of avarice not even with all things.
4. Reckless malevolence and cruelty. “My lust shall be satisfied, I will draw my sword,” etc. What thirsting for blood! Ambition and avarice render the mind cold and the heart callous. Tears, wailings, groans, mangled bodies and the flowing blood of mankind allay not the fires of human malevolence and lust.
5. Presumptuous confidence and security. I will do, not endeavour, no peradventure. Contingency and doubt have no place. How foolish for the man who puts on the armour to boast. (A. Nevin, D. D.)
God’s Church and her enemies
Israel was a type of the Church, Pharaoh a type of the Church’s enemies in all ages of the world, both of the spiritual enemy Satan, and of the temporal, his instruments. The deliverance was a type of the deliverance that Christ wrought upon the cross by His blood; also of that Christ works upon His throne, the one from the reign of sin, the other from the empire of antichrist. The text is a part of Moses’ song; a song after victory, a panegyric; the praise of God, attended with dancing, at the sight of the Egyptian wrecks (Exodus 15:20).
1. It was then real; the Israelites then sang it.
2. It is typical; the conquerors of antichrist shall again triumph in the same manner (Revelation 15:3).
3. It was an earnest of future deliverance to the Israelites.
1. The greatest idolaters are the fiercest enemies against the Church of God. It is the Egyptian is the enemy. No nation had more and more sordid idols.
2. The Church’s enemies are not for her correction, but her destruction: “I will pursue; my hand shall destroy them.”
3. How desperate are sometimes the straits of God’s Israel in the eye of man! How low their spirits before deliverance.
4. God orders the lusts of men for His own praise.
5. The nearer the deliverance of the Church is, the fiercer are God’s judgments on the enemies of it, and the higher the enemies’ rage.
6. All creatures are absolutely under the sovereignty of God, and are acted by His power in all their services.
7. By the same means God saves His people, whereby He destroys His enemies: the one sank, the other passed through. That which makes one balance sink makes the other rise the higher.
8. The strength and glory of a people is more wasted by opposing the interests of the Church than in conflicts with any other enemy.
9. We may take notice of the folly of the Church’s enemies. Former plagues might have warned them of the power of God, they had but burned their own fingers by pinching her, yet they would set their force against almighty power, that so often had worsted them; it is as if men would pull down a steeple with a string.
But the observations I shall treat of are--
1. When the enemies of the Church are in the highest fury and resolution, and the Church in the greatest extremity and dejection, then is the fittest time for God to work her deliverance fully and perfectly. When the enemy said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil,” etc., then “God blowed with His wind,” then “they sank.”
2. God is the author of all the deliverances of the Church, whosoever are the instruments. “Thou didst blow with Thy wind; who is like unto the Lord among the gods.” Uses: How dear is the Church to God!
2. Remember former deliverances in time of straits.
3. Thankfully remember former deliverances. (S. Charnock, B. D.)
Vanity of boasting
When Bonaparte was about to invade Russia, a person who had endeavoured to dissuade him from his purpose, finding he could not prevail, quoted to him the proverb, “Man proposes, but God disposes”; to which he indignantly replied, “I dispose as well as propose.” A Christian lady, on hearing the impious boast, remarked, “I set that down as the turning-point of Bonaparte’s fortunes. God will not suffer a creature with impunity thus to usurp His prerogative.” It happened to Bonaparte just as the lady predicted. His invasion of Russia was the commencement of his fall.
Triumphing before the battle
Nothing can be got, but much may be lost, by triumphing before a battle. When Charles V. invaded France, he lost his generals and a great part of his army by famine and disease; and returned baffled and thoroughly mortified from an enterprize which he began with such confidence of its happy issue, that he desired Paul Jovius, the historian, to make a large provision of paper sufficient to record the victories which he was going to acquire!
During the last summer, at Coblentz, we saw a monument erected to commemorate the French campaign against the Russians in 1812. It was a gigantic failure; 400,000 men set forth for Moscow; 25,000, battered and worn and weary, tattered and half famished, returned. Do you ask how it was done? Not by the timid Alexander’s guns and swords. We read in one place that “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera”; in another, how God has sent an army of locusts to overthrow an army of men; but here the very elements combine to drive the invader back in disgrace. Yes. “He gave snow like wool, He scattered His hoar-frost like ashes, He cast forth His ice like morsels--who can stand before His cold?” Who? Not Napoleon who, with self-sufficient heart, boasted in his own right hand, and sacrificed to his insatiable ambition the blood of myriads of murdered men. No! God blows upon him with His wind out of the north, and, shivering and half-starved, he slinks back in defeat. What a picture! But Alexander had not forgotten to prepare his ways before the Lord and seek the God of Jacob’s aid. And in recognition of the Divine interposition and help, he struck a medal with a legend: “Not to me, not to us, but unto Thy Name.” Thus the lesson taught by ancient and modern history is, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but to the man who prepares his ways before the Lord his God. (Enoch Hall.)
Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods?
The incomparable God
I. Who is like unto thee, o lord, among the gods?
1. King of kings and Lord of lords! Who among the gods is like unto Thee in majesty and power? Well might Israel exultingly make this inquiry.
2. Who is like unto Thee in the ineffable purity of Thy nature? “Glorious in holiness!”
3. Who is like unto Thee in the solemnity and sanctity of Thy worship?--“fearful in praises!” The gloriously holy God is alone worthy to be praised, but that praise ought to be offered with “reverence and godly fear.”
II. Who does like Thee?--“doing wonders.”
1. The wonders alluded in the text were undoubtedly the miracles recently wrought by Jehovah for the salvation of His people. “Thou art the God that doest wonders,” etc. (Psalms 77:14-20).
2. But not only miracles, which imply an inversion or suspension of the laws of nature, but nature and her laws--every part of the work of God in the heavens and in the earth is wonderful, and amply shows forth the power and wisdom of the Creator (Job 37:14-23; Psalms 8:3-4; Psalms 19:1-7). If we only study our own frame, we shall be led to exclaim with the Psalmist, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”
3. The Lord sometimes does wonders in judgment, flood, etc.
4. The Lord does wonders in mercy. Redemption. (B. Bailey.)
Glorious in holiness.--
The holiness of God
Plutarch said not amiss, that he should count himself less injured by that man that should deny that there was such a man as Plutarch, than by him that should affirm that there was such a one indeed, but he was a debauched fellow, a loose and vicious person. He that saith, God is not holy, speaks much worse than he that saith, There is no God at all. Let these two things be considered:
1. If any, this attribute hath an excellency above His other perfections.
(1) None is sounded out with such solemnity, and so frequently by angels that stand before His throne, as this.
(2) He singles it out to swear by (Psalms 89:35; Amos 4:2).
(3) It is His glory and beauty. Holiness is the honour of the creature--sanctification and honour are linked together (1 Thessalonians 4:4)--much more is it the honour of God; it is the image of God in the creature (Ephesians 4:24).
(4) It is His very life; so it is called (Ephesians 4:18).
2. As it seems to challenge an excellency above all His other perfections, so it is the glory of all the rest; as it is the glory of the Godhead, so it is the glory of every perfection in the Godhead; as His power is the strength of them, so His holiness is the beauty of them; as all would be weak without almightiness to back them, so all would be uncomely without holiness to adorn them. Should this be sullied, all the rest would lose their honour and their comfortable efficacy; as at the same instant that the sun should lose its light, it would lose its heat, its strength, its generative and quickening virtue.
I. The nature of Divine holiness. The holiness of God negatively is a perfect freedom from all evil. As we call gold pure that is not imbased by any dross, and that garment clean that is free from any spot, so the nature of God is estranged from all shadow of evil, all imaginable contagion. Positively, it is the rectitude of the Divine nature, or that conformity of it in affection and action to the Divine will as to His eternal law, whereby He works with a becomingness to His own excellency, and whereby He hath a complacency in everything agreeable to His will, and an abhorrency of everything contrary thereunto. In particular. This property of the Divine nature is--
1. An essential and necessary perfection. He is essentially and necessarily holy. His holiness is as necessary as His being, as necessary as His omniscience.
2. God is absolutely holy (1 Samuel 2:2).
3. God is so holy, that He cannot possibly approve of any evil done by another, but doth perfectly abhor it; it would not else be a glorious holiness (Psalms 5:3), “He hath no pleasure in wickedness.” He doth not only love that which is just, but abhor with a perfect hatred all things contrary to the rule of righteousness. Holiness can no more approve of sin than it can commit it.
4. God is so holy, that He cannot but love holiness in others. Not that He owes anything to His creature, but from the unspeakable holiness of His nature, whence affections to all things that bear a resemblance of Him do flow; as light shoots out from the sun, or any glittering body. It is essential to the infinite righteousness of His nature, to love righteousness wherever He beholds it (Psalms 11:7).
5. God is so holy, that He cannot positively will or encourage sin in any.
6. God cannot act any evil in or by Himself.
II. The proof that God is holy.
1. His holiness appears as He is Creator, in framing man in a perfect uprightness.
2. His holiness appears in His laws, as He is a Lawgiver and a Judge. This purity is evident--
(1) In the moral law, or law of nature;
(2) In the ceremonial law;
(3) In the allurements annexed to it for keeping it, and the affrightments to restrain from the breaking of it;
(4) In the judgments inflicted for the violation of it.
3. The holiness of God appears in our restoration. It is in the glass of the gospel we “behold the glory of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18); that is, the glory of the Lord, into whose image we are changed; but we are changed into nothing as the image of God but into holiness. We bore not upon us by creation, nor by regeneration, the image of any other perfection. We cannot be changed into His omnipotence, omniscience, etc., but into the image of His righteousness. This is the pleasing and glorious sight the gospel mirror darts in our eyes. The whole scene of redemption is nothing else but a discovery of judgment and righteousness. “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness (Isaiah 1:27).
(1) This holiness of God appears in the manner of our restoration, viz., by the death of Christ.
(2) The holiness of God in His hatred of sin appears in our justification, and the conditions He requires of all that would enjoy the benefit of redemption.
(3) It appears in the actual regeneration of the redeemed soul, and a carrying it on to a full perfection. As election is the effect of God’s sovereignty, our pardon the fruit of His mercy, our knowledge a stream from His wisdom, our strength an impression of His power, so our purity is a beam from His holiness. The whole work of sanctification, and the preservation of it, our Saviour begs for His disciples of His Father under this title (John 17:11; John 17:17).
III. The third thing I am to do, is to lay down some propositions in the defence of God’s holiness in all His acts about or concerning sin.
1. God’s holiness is not chargeable with any blemish, for His creating man in a mutable slate. It was suitable to the wisdom of God to give the rational creature, whom He had furnished with a power of acting righteously, the liberty of choice, and not fix him in an unchangeable state, without a trial of him in his natural. And if he did obey, his obedience might be the more valuable; and if he did freely offend, his offence might be more inexcusable.
(1) No creature can be capable of immutability by nature. Mutability is so essential to a creature, that a creature cannot be supposed without it.
(2) Though God made the creature mutable, yet He made Him not evil. There could be nothing of evil in him that God created after His own image, and pronounced good (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 1:31).
(3) Therefore it follows, that though God created man changeable, yet He was not the cause of his change by his fall.
2. God’s holiness is not blemished by enjoining man a law which He knew he would not observe.
(1) The law was not above his strength.
(2) Though the law now be above the strength of man, yet is not the holiness of God blemished by keeping it up. It is true, God hath been graciously pleased t,, mitigate the severity of the law by the entrance of the gospel; yet, where men refuse the terms of the gospel they continue themselves under the condemnation of the law, and are justly guilty of the breach of it, though they have no strength to observe it.
(3) God’s foreknowledge that His law would not be observed lays no blame upon Him. Though the foreknowledge of God be infallible, yet it doth not necessitate the creature in acting.
3. The holiness of God is not blemished by decreeing the eternal rejection of some men.
4. The holiness of God is not blemished by His secret will to suffer sin to enter into the world. God never willed sin by His preceptive will. It was never founded upon, or produced by any word of His, as the creation was. Nor doth He will it by His approving will; it is detestable to Him, nor ever can be otherwise. He cannot approve it either before commission or after.
IV. The point was, that holiness is a glorious perfection of the nature of God. We have showed the nature of this holiness in God, what it is, and we have demonstrated it, and proved that God is holy, and must needs be so, and also the purity of His nature in all His acts about sin. Let us now improve it by way of use.
1. Is holiness a transcendent perfection belonging to the nature of God? The first use shall be of instruction and information.
(1) How great and how frequent is the contempt of this eminent perfection in the Deity!
(2) It may inform us how great is our fall from God, and how distant we are from Him.
(3) All unholiness is vile and opposite to the nature of God.
(4) Sin cannot escape a due punishment. A hatred of unrighteousness, and consequently a will to punish it, is as essential to God as a love of righteousness.
(5) There is therefore a necessity of the satisfaction of the holiness of God by some sufficient mediator. The Divine purity could not meet with any acquiescence in all mankind after the Fall.
(6) Hence it will follow, there is no justification of a sinner by anything in himself.
2. The second use is for comfort. This attribute frowns upon lapsed nature, but smiles in the restorations made by the gospel.
3. Is holiness an eminent perfection of the Divine nature? Then--
(1) Let us get and preserve right and strong apprehensions of this Divine perfection.
(2) Is holiness a perfection of the Divine nature? Is it the glory of the Deity? Then let us glorify this holiness of God.
(3) Since holiness is an eminent perfection of the Divine nature, let us labour after a conformity to God in this perfection.
(4) If holiness be a perfection belonging to the nature of God, then, where there is some weak conformity to the holiness of God, let us labour to grow up in it, and breathe after fuller measures of it.
(5) Let us carry ourselves holily in a spiritual manner in all our religious approaches to God (Psalms 93:5).
(6) Let us address for holiness to God the fountain of it. As He is the author of bodily life in the creature, so He is the author of His own life, the life of God in the soul. (S. Charnock, B. D.)
God the pattern of holiness
No creature can be essentially holy but by participation from the chief fountain of holiness, but we must have the same kind of holiness, the same truth of holiness; as a short line may be as straight as another, though it parallel it not in the immense length of it; a copy may have the likeness of the original, though not the same perfection. We cannot be good without eyeing some exemplar of goodness as the pattern. No pattern, is so suitable as that which is the highest goodness and purity. That limner that would draw the most excellent piece fixes his eye upon the most excellent pattern. He that would be a good orator, or poet, or artificer, considers some person most excellent in each kind as the object of his imitation. Who so fit as God to be viewed as the pattern of holiness in our intendment of, and endeavours after, holiness? The Stoics, one of the best sects of philosophers, advised their disciples to pitch upon some eminent example of virtue, according to which to form their lives, as Socrates, etc. But true holiness doth not only endeavour to live the life of a good man, but chooses to live a Divine life. As before the man was “alienated from the life of God,” so upon his return he aspires after the life of God. To endeavour to be like a good man is to make one image like another, to set our clocks by other clocks without regarding the sun; but true holiness consists in a likeness to the most exact sampler. God being the first purity, is the rule as well as the spring of all purity in the creature, the chief and first object of imitation. (S. Charnock, B. D.)
The holiness of God and that of His best saints
There is as little proportion between the holiness of the Divine majesty and that of the most righteous creature, as there is between the nearness of a person that stands upon a mountain to the sun, and of him that beholds him in a vale; one is nearer than the other, but it is an advantage not to be boasted, in regard of the vast distance that is between the sun and the elevated spectator. (S. Charnock, B. D.)
God loves holiness
God is essentially, originally, and efficiently holy: all the holiness in men and angels is but a crystal stream that runs from this glorious ocean. God loves holiness, because it is His own image. A king cannot but love to see his own effigies stamped on coin. God counts holiness His own glory, and the most sparkling jewel of His crown. “Glorious in holiness.” (T. Watson.)
The people shall hear, and be afraid.
The world afraid of God’s people
What shall make these mighty men melt away? Seeing two or three millions of unwarlike folks marching towards them--an unarmed rabble, without military discipline, and without the appliances of war? Is it before such that the mighty men of Moab are to fall back, that the chivalrous sons of Edom are to be put to flight; that all the inhabitants of Palestine are to melt away? Nothing of the kind. Those Israelites were not going to terrify all these nations with any display of their own power or prowess. It was the story of the Exodus, the story of a divided sea, the story of a certain mysterious pillar of fire, the story of the wonderful overthrow of Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea; it was this that was to fill them with despair. Many of us are at the outset terribly afraid of these hostile forces; is it not a comfort to know that on account of redemption they are actually afraid of us? In a very memorable period in “our island story,” when Admiral Howard and Drake had defeated the Spanish Armada after the first great battle, they continued to pursue them for a fortnight without having a single shot or a single charge of powder left in their ships. They had nothing left but air to fill their guns with. Yet thus without any ammunition our fleet went sailing on and sailing on, while the terrified strangers fled before them, until they were driven right into the Northern Sea. Then the Admiral thought they could not do much harm there, and so he left them and came back to get powder and shot for his own ships. Our fleet, with empty guns, chased their enemies because that enemy was afraid of them. They had had one terrible defeat, and that was enough. And even so may we deal with the forces of this world. Count upon your enemies being afraid of you. If instead of being afraid of them you will only carry the war into the enemy’s camp, and seek to win them for Christ, instead of allowing them to draw you away from Him, you will find that redemption has already stripped them of their courage and paralyzed their power to do you any injury. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Thou shalt bring them in.
Anticipations of faith
We are, perhaps, hardly surprised at the tone of jubilant confidence which pervades this glorious psalm of thanksgiving. Very strong indeed is the language used; but perhaps not stronger than might naturally have been expected to spring from such circumstances; for what a wonderful event had just transpired! Here they were then, on the other side of the Red Sea, the vast wilderness stretching before them, their long weary march not yet commenced, and wholly destitute of any adequate supplies, and without either arms, or discipline, or any capacity for warfare. Surely the prospect might have seemed most discouraging. They must have known perfectly well--what they soon found out to be a fact--that the wilderness swarmed with wandering nomad hordes, Bedouins of the desert, men of war, who might at any moment come down upon them, cut off their stragglers, or even put the whole undisciplined rabble to rout and make a prey of them. And even supposing they should overcome these difficulties of the journey, what then? There lay Canaan before them, but how were they, who could hardly hold their own against the tribes of the desert, to undertake aggressive warfare against nations dwelling in cities with walls great and high, and equipped with all the appliances of ancient warfare? How chimerical their enterprise would seem on reflection! how improbable that they would ever succeed in taking possession of the land which God had promised to them! But faith looked on beyond all difficulties. Faith never stops for commissariat supplies! Faith does not ask, Where is my daily bread to come from? Faith does not wait to be clothed with armour, save such armour as the power of God supplies. Faith does not stop to weigh the adequacy of the means within our reach to induce the end. Children of God, it is time we endeavoured to apply the lessons suggested by all this to ourselves. We too have been the subjects of a great deliverance, a deliverance as supernatural in its character and as astonishing in its conditions as ever was the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. This deliverance is also the product of redemption. We are saved in order that we may rise to the prize of our high calling, and become inheritors of our true Land of Promise; and the first great deliverance is with us also surely an earnest and a pledge of all that is to follow. I suppose it is because we so imperfectly apprehend the miracle of our deliverance and its completeness, and the new relations which it establishes between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and sin, that our feelings at the outset of our new life are so often just the opposite of those depicted in this triumphant song. Instead of joyous anticipation, how common a thing it is to meet with gloomy forebodings on the part of the newborn children of God, fresh from the Cross of Christ, just rising, as we may say, spiritually out of the waters of the Red Sea. And many of us have scarcely been saved from our condition of condemnation and spiritual bondage before we begin to consider the difficulties that lie before us, the enemies that we shall have to encounter, the sacrifices that we may have to make, the trials that we may have to undergo. The wilderness seems so vast, the enemies so mighty, the supplies so inadequate or precarious; and while our eyes of unbelief are resting upon all these adverse considerations, our heart seems to sink within us until we are ready to turn back again into Egypt. How common a thing it is to meet with young Christians who seem indeed to be on the right side of the Red Sea, but who appear to be more inclined to wring their hands in terror than to “sound the loud timbrel” in exultation! (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
An encouraging deliverance
Two ways this great deliverance was encouraging.
1. It was such an instance of God’s power as would terrify their enemies and quite dishearten them (Exodus 15:14-16). It had this effect (see Deuteronomy 2:4; Numbers 22:3; Joshua 2:9-10).
2. It was such a beginning of God’s favour to them as gave them an earnest of the perfection of His kindness. This was but in order to something further (Exodus 15:17). (M. Henry, D. D.)
Christ for ever
When Luther went to his trial at Augsburg from Wittemberg he walked all the distance. Clad in his monk’s brown frock, with all his wardrobe on his back, the citizens, high and low, attended him in enthusiastic admiration. As they went they cried, “Luther for ever!” “Nay! nay!” he answered, “Christ for ever!”
Hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed.
1. God’s future providence as well as past deliverance is the matter of faith’s praise.
2. God, as a shepherd, leadeth His people through their course to rest, and will lead, as if it were done.
3. Mercy is the rule of all God’s conduct to His Church here below.
4. God hath saved, and will redeem His Israel out of all their troubles. It is His promise (Psalms 130:8).
5. God’s holy habitation, Sion in type and heaven in truth, is the end of all His providential guidance unto His.
6. God’s strength secureth the Church’s conduct to His holy habitation.
7. Tender, sweet, and gentle is God’s guidance of His Church through their way to rest (Isaiah 40:11).
8. All this promised guidance faith must return to the praise of God. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The song of Moses
I. Past mercies acknowledged. The fact celebrated is redemption from Egypt--“Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth Thy people which Thou hast redeemed.” The whole glory of deliverance is ascribed to the Lord, without any reference to second causes. The believer will often look back and contemplate his mercies, and celebrate his deliverances; like Samuel, he will raise his Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:12).
II. Future mercies anticipated. “Thou hast guided them, in Thy strength, unto Thy holy habitation.” Here is the language of strong faith, as if they were already in Canaan. Moses knew that God had promised to bring them to His holy hill, and to His dwelling; he knew that God’s promises were as good as His performances; and we may say so too, for they are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus. The Lord had done so much for Israel, that Moses felt no doubt as to the future--“Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance.”
III. Israel’s enemies confounded. “The people shall hear and be afraid, sorrow shall take hold of the inhabitants of Palestine,” etc. The world has now much to say against the people and cause of God. Religion is denounced by them as a delusion--a gloomy thing--as madness; but then every objection will be silenced. Satan, too, is now very busy with his temptations and accusations; but this state of things shall not always last. Trembling shall take hold of the believer’s enemies, when the people of God are safely brought to the heavenly Canaan. Then where will be the venom of the world? where the accusations of Satan? Not one mouth will then be opened against the meanest and most neglected of God’s people on earth. He shall then have nothing to fear; admitted within the pearly gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, he shall be for ever with the Lord. All enemies will be for ever excluded. The Church shall be saved and God glorified.
IV. The Kingdom of God permanently triumphant. “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.”
1. To the enemies of Christ. You see that the Lord must reign; then what must become of you?
2. To the friends of Christ, yea, to those who wish to love the Saviour.
(1) Look back and review your mercies; how numerous, how seasonable, how undeserved! See the Lord’s hand in them, and this will add to their sweetness.
(2) Look forward. Consider what God has promised to do for you. You have your trials, and you will have them; but you have not one too many.
(3) Look upward to that promised rest--that “inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away,” etc. (George Breay, B. A.)
With timbrels and with dances.
Song, timbrel, and dance
The monuments reproduce this scene in all its parts. Separate choirs of men and women are represented on them, singing in alternate responses; the timbrel, or tambourine, is represented as the instrument of the women, as the flute is that of the men; and the playing of the tambourine, unaccompanied, as here, by other instruments, is represented in connection with singing and the dance. Further, it appears from the monuments that music had eminently a religious destination in Egypt, that the timbrel was specially devoted to sacred uses, and that religious dances were performed in the worship of Osiris. (E. C. Wines, D. D.)
In the tombs at Thebes timbrels, like Miriam’s, round and square, are seen in the bands of the women; while pipes, trumpets, sistrums, drums, and guitars are there in great abundance and variety; and harps, not much unlike the modern instrument, with varying numbers of strings up to twenty-two. (S. C. Bartlett, D. D.)
Cheering effect of music
Whilst the Federal army lay before the city of Richmond, the regimental bands were silent. When they began to retreat to Malvern, the troops marched through the acres of ripe grain, cutting off the tops and gathering them into their haversacks, being out of rations, as well as lame and stiff from marching. Orders were here given for the bands to strike up playing, and the effect on the dispirited men was almost magical as the patriotic airs were played. They seemed to catch new hope and enthusiasm, and a cheer went up from each regiment.
Serving God with a cheerful spirit
When the poet Carpani inquired of his friend Haydn how it happened that his church music was always so cheerful, the great composer made a most beautiful reply. “I cannot,” said he, “make it otherwise; I write according to the thoughts I feel. When I think upon God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap, as it were, from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart, it will be pardoned me that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”
They came to Marah.
I. The water was deleterious, not distasteful only. Had the people drunk it, it would have wrought disease; but it was healed by the obedience of Moses to God’s directions. So if we are attentive and obedient to His voice He will find us remedies from all things that might hurt us.
II. It was not possible, perhaps, that the children of Israel should, by persevering in the unwholesome draught which is there typical of sin, have vitiated their taste till they delighted in it. But it is too possible in the antitype.
III. Though we axe compelled by God’s providence to pass through difficulty and temptation, we are not doomed to dwell there. If we are faithful, it is but in passing that we shall be endangered. If we use the remedy of obedience to God’s Word to-day, to-morrow we shall be beside the twelve ever-springing fountains, and under the shade of the palm-trees of Elfin. (Archbishop Benson.)
The waters of Marah
We have here a parable of the deep things of Christ.
I. Israel was in those days fresh from the glorious deliverance out of Egypt; they had sung their first national song of victory; they had breathed the air of liberty. This was their first disappointment, and it was a very sharp one; from the height of exultation they fell almost at once to the depths of despair. Such disappointments we have all experienced, especially in the outset of our actual march, after the first conscious sense of spiritual triumph and freedom.
II. Of us also it is true that God hath showed us a certain tree, and that tree is the once accursed tree on which Christ died. This is the tree of life to us, though of death to Him.
III. It was God who showed this tree unto Moses. And it was God who showed it to us in the gospel. Applied by our faith to the bitter waters of disappointment and distress, it will surely heal them and make them sweet. Two things there are about the tree of scorn which will never lose their healing power--the lesson of the Cross and the consolation of the Cross; the example and the companionship of Christ crucified.
IV. The life which found its fitting close upon the cross was not a life of suffering only, but emphatically a life of disappointment. Here there is comfort for us. Our dying Lord must certainly have reflected that He, the Son of God, was leaving the world rather worse than He found it in all human appearance.
V. Whatever our trials and disappointments, let us use this remedy; it will not fail us even at the worst. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
I. That great joy is often closely followed by a great trial. “Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong” is the grateful word of many a rejoicing Christian; and lo! suddenly touched by the finger of Providence, it reels and rocks as though heaved by an earthquake, and falls into the depths of the sea. In the day of prosperity be wise! Rejoice with trembling! Do not presume on the possession of present good. In the hour of peace forget not the preparation for a possible storm. Trust in God with a firm hand, both in sunshine and in shade.
II. Here is a great trial transformed into a great blessing. The bitter was not removed, but converted into sweet. So God can make the grief a grace anti change the burden into a blessing. The rod itself shall bud and blossom and bring forth almonds, so that the very thing that chastens the trustful soul shall present beauty to the eye and fruit to the taste. It was a Divine work. The Israelites, even with Moses at their head, had no skill to meet the given necessities of the hour. “The Lord showed them a tree,” and so miraculously healed the forbidding spring. Brothers! human wisdom, earth’s philosophies, the world’s limited resources are all useless in the midst of our desperate needs.
III. Here is a great trial, so transformed, preparing for and leading to a still greater blessing. (see Exodus 15:27). Christian, be of good courage. Egypt’s chains were heavy; but the Red Sea victory made thee glad. Marah’s waters were bitter; but the Lord distilled sweet streams therefrom to strengthen and refresh thy soul. Then He led thee to beautiful Elfin, with its springs and palm-trees, and its grateful rest, and in all and through all thou art “nearer” Canaan than when first thou didst believe. Amid all thine alternations of joy and sorrow there shall be, if thou art faithful to thy God, a clear current, progressive gain, and it shall still be better further on.
IV. This gracious alternation and abundant deliverance was all experienced on the line of march. Let the Christian never forget that these are the conditions necessary to secure his gracious progression of conquest, transformation, and exceeding joy. (J. J. Wray.)
The sweetening tree in life’s bitter streams
Heaven has prepared a sweetening tree for the bitter waters.
I. Of our secular life. Wrecked plans, blasted hopes, etc. The “tree” to sweeten this is Christ’s doctrine of a Fatherly providence.
II. Of our moral life. The bitter waters of an accusing conscience. “Whom God hath set forth,” etc.
III. Of an intellectual life. God’s revealed character in Christ--all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful.
IV. Of our social life. “I am the Resurrection,” etc. “Them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”
V. Of our dying life. (Homilist.)
The mysterious tree
I. That prayer will meet every painful crisis in human experience.
II. That all men, everywhere, are athirst.
III. That every man will at length come to his well; but the water thereof will be bitter to his taste. Sensual indulgence. Fashionable amusement; inebriety; riches; worldly renown; infidelity. All mere earthly pools are acrid and unsatisfying.
IV. That there is a tree which can sweeten all earth’s waters. “The tree of life”--the Cross of Christ. “He, every one that thirsteth, come.” (S. D. Burchard, D. D.)
The wilderness brings out what is within. It also discovers God’s goodness and our unworthiness.
I. Earth’s rottenness.
1. We must expect bitter pools in a bitter world.
2. Many of us make our own Marahs.
II. Heaven’s remedy.
1. To the praying man the Lord reveals the remedy.
2. God uses instramentality.
3. God does not always take away the Marah, but drops an ingredient into it to sweeten its bitterness. (Homilist.)
The waters of Marah
Had they been allowed to select their path, they would have taken the short cut by the seaboard to their own promised land. But the cloud steered their pathway through difficulty and into difficulty. Behind them was the blood of the lamb. They were ransomed. Behind them the wonders of Egypt wrought on their behalf. Behind them the passage of the Red Sea. And they might have expected that, the moment they had left their foes behind, they had left all trouble and sorrow too. But instead of that, their redemption from Egypt was their redemption from comparatively easy circumstances into arduous and difficult straits. God led His redeemed in the very heart and teeth of difficulty. I am often met by men who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, who are truly His servants, behind whom there lies a wondrous story of deliverance, and they have come to me with complaints, and they have said, “I thought when I had given up my old sins that my life would be calm and placid, and that difficulty would be at an end; but instead, I never did in all my life go through such a sea of difficulty as I have known since I became a Christian.” Friend, that is always God’s way with His redeemed ones. You must not think that difficulty is a proof that you are wrong. Difficulty is most likely aa evidence that you are right. Never be daunted by it. Why? Those verses we read from Deuteronomy answer the question. It is in order to humble us, to prove us, and to knew what is in our heart. Difficulty is sent to humble you. If I offer my hand to a little maiden on a cold and frosty day, and she thinks she can keep her feet by herself, she is net likely to take my strong hand until she has been humbled by a tumble or two. God has been compelled to break down your self-confidence. When you started the Christian life you thought your arm was so strong it could beat down every barrier, or that you were so elastic that you could leap over any wall, or that your brain was so keen that you could see through any difficulty. God began by little difficulties, and you leapt over them; and then He put greater ones, and you successfully overcame them; and God has been compelled to pile difficulty upon difficulty until you are now face to face with a very desert on the one hand, and an Alpine range upon the other; and now broken, cowed, defeated, you are just at the very position in which to learn to appreciate, and to appropriate, the infinite resources of God. And there is another thing that difficulty does for a man. It proves him. “He made a statute and an ordinance, and proved them.” There are so many counterfeits, you do not know that you have got the real thing till you have tested it. You do not know the stability of a house till it has been tested by the storm. And it is only when difficulty comes that we really know what we are. You say that you have faith. How do you know? All your life has been sunny. Wait till God hides Himself in a pavilion of cloud. You think that you obey God, but up till now the path that God has led you hath been such an easy path, through a meadow where the flowers have been bestrewn. You do not know how much you will obey until you are proved. You say you have got patience; and there is nothing sweeter than patience--the patience and gentleness of Christ. Yet you wait until you are put into the midst of trying and difficult circumstances, and then you may talk about possessing patience. And then, once more, God not only humbles and proves us, but He tries what is in our hearts; not that He needs to know, but that He may give us the opportunity of equipping ourselves for larger work. For God thus deals with us: He puts us into difficulty and watches us lovingly to see how we act, for every day He stands before His judgment bar, and every hour is the crisis of our life. If we stand the test, He says, “Come up higher,” and we step up to the wider platform and plateau of usefulness. But if, on the other hand, we cannot stand the test, we step down. Will you take heart from this? Will you mind the difficulties? Oh, meet difficulty in God, and see if it be not a training-ground for great and noble work in the hereafter. But there is disappointment too. It was hard enough to have difficulty, but it was harder to be tantalized. They marched on three days; they exhausted the water they had brought, or what was left was stinking, and they could not drink it. Ah, how weary they were! Ah, you men and women, so disappointment comes to all of us. The youth has disappointments. The lad at school thinks that he is a slave, that the drudgery of Egypt was nothing compared to this. How he longs for the time when he will be his own master! And off he starts. He buries his school books, and goes forth into the world. Alas, poor lad! he finds there is no way to Canaan except by the hard plodding sultry desert march. So it is with age--mature life! mean. So it is with the young convert. They think Christian living is a great holiday, a march-past with banners and bands. But they soon find that there is a stern warfare. They are disappointed in the Church they join, they find all Christian people do not act as they thought; they are disappointed because they do not at once find sin die within them, or the devil yield, or Christianity become what they hoped, just wandering through a pleasant garden plucking flowers. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Moses at Marah
I. “They could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter”--so the greatest triumphs of life may be succeeded by the most vexatious inconveniences. You may be right, even when the heaviest trial is oppressing you. You may be losing your property, your health may be sinking, your prospects may be clouded, and your friends may be leaving you one by one, yet in the midst of such disasters your heart may be stedfast in faithfulness to God.
II. “The people murmured against Moses”--so the greatest services of life are soon forgotten.
III. “And Moses cried unto the Lord”!--So magnanimous prayer is better than official resignation. All great leaderships should be intensely religious, or they will assuredly fail in the patience without which no strength can be complete. Parents, instead of resigning the oversight of your children, pray for them! Pastors, instead of resigning your official positions, pray for those who despitefully use you! All who in anywise seek to defend the weak, or lead the blind or teach the ignorant, instead of being driven off by every unreasonable murmuring, renew your patience by waiting upon God!
IV. “And the Lord showed him a tree”--so where there is a bane in life there is always an antidote. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The waters of Marah
I. A grievous need. Do we not see in mankind a weary marching host of pilgrims, looking eagerly for the next well, and hoping there to find satisfaction? It is trite but true of the greater part of them, “Man never is; but always to be blest.” There are deep yearnings after unattained good; a burning desire for rest. Moreover, even to them who have found “the living waters” there may be many a weary march.
II. A sore disappointment. Intense as are human desires for final good, they are doomed, so long as fixed upon created objects, to perpetual and agonizing disappointment. The apples that seemed ripe for the gathering and fit for “baskets of silver” are found to contain only rottenness and dust. It is wisely ordered that no creature should give satisfaction to the heart. Even those who have chosen “the Lord” as their “portion” need to be perpetually quickened, lest they should cleave to the dust.
III. A rebellious and unreasonable treatment of afflictions. “The people murmured against Moses.” So men complain still. They “charge God foolishly”; and governmental measures, blights, panics, failure of success, etc., are suffered to engender their thoughts and hard speeches.
IV. The true and sure refuge in time of affliction. There is no might of influence like that which is wielded by those who are “hid in the pavilion” of “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.”
V. The Divine sovereignty. When men are “willing” to see what God shows, how quickly is the bitterness of life changed into “peace and joy through believing “ “Looking away unto Jesus,” they hear Him saying, “I am the Lord that healeth thee!” The mystic tree is “set forth” before the eye of faith, and its goodly boughs bend to the touch even of the chief of sinners.
VI. Another and most significant passage occurs in connection with Israel’s sojourn by the bitter well, and which shows the continual obligation of Divine ordinances even in great exigencies. “There He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them.” They were now tested as to their disposition to obey alike the stated and occasional commandments of God; and it is possible that some further instructions were conveyed on Divine authority. But “the statute and ordinance “ plainly refer to the “solemn assembly” which was now to be observed.
VII. Once again, we learn beside the waters of Marah the compensatory law of Divine proceedings. We are “pilgrims as all our fathers were,” and often reach a bitter well in our march through the wilderness; but beside each there is a tree whose virtue makes the nauseous waters sweeter than all the streams of Goshen. (J. D. Brocklehurst, D. D.)
Bitter things made sweet
But we have here also the means of sweetening all bitterness. The bitterness of repentance is sweetened by this consideration, that, being a godly sorrow, it worketh a repentance unto life, which no one repenteth of. The bitterness of denying the world and self is sweetened by this, that he who renounces everything for His sake receives it again a hundredfold. The bitterness of the spiritual combat is alleviated by this, that it is the good fight of faith to which the victory and the crown of glory is held out. The bitterness of the various sufferings we have to endure is sweetened by the consideration that they are not worthy of the glory that shall be revealed; and also of the various temptations by which we are assailed, of which it is said, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for after he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which God has promised to them that love Him.” In short, this wondrous tree can sweeten all the suffering that would be otherwise intolerable. But still it is necessary that the remedy be shown and pointed out to us by the Holy Spirit. (G. D. Krummacher.)
Marah; or, the bitter waters sweetened
I. The evils of the wilderness.
1. The perils and trials of the wilderness occur very early in the pilgrim life.
2. These evils assume varied shapes.
3. They touch very vital matters. God may touch you in the most beloved object of your heart.
4. There is a reason why the earthly mercies which supply our necessities must be more or less bitter. What can you hope for in a wilderness but productions congruous to it? Canaan! Who looks for bitterness there?
II. The tendency of human nature.
1. They murmured, complained, found fault. A very easy thing. No sense in it, no wit in it, no thought in it: it is the cry rather of a brute than of a man--murmur--just a double groan. Easy is it for us to kick against the dispensations of God, to give utterance to our griefs, and what is worse, to the inference we drew from them that God has forgotten to be gracious. To murmur is our tendency; but do we mean to let the tendencies of the old nature rule us?
2. Observe that the murmuring was not ostensibly against God. They murmured against Moses. And have you ever noticed how the most of us, when we are in a murmuring vein, are not honest enough to murmur distinctly against God. No; the child is dead, and we form a conjecture that there was some wrong treatment on the part of nurse, or surgeon, or ourselves. Or we have lost money, and have been brought down from opulence to almost poverty; then some one person was dishonest, a certain party betrayed us in a transaction by failing to fulfil his part; all the murmuring is heaped on that person. We deny, perhaps indignantly, that we murmur against God; and to prove it we double the zeal with which we murmur against Moses. To complain of the second cause is about as sensible as the conduct of the dog, which bites the sticks with which it is beaten.
3. Once more, while we speak of this tendency in human nature, I want you to observe how they betrayed an utter unbelief in God. They said unto Moses, “What; shall we drink?” They meant by it, “By what means can God supply our want of water?” They were at the Red Sea, and God cleft the intervening gulf in twain, through the depths thereof they marched dryshod; there is Marah’s water--shall it be more difficult for God to purify than to divide? To sweeten a fountain--is that more difficult than to cleanse a sea? Is anything too hard for the Lord?
III. The remedy of grace.
1. Take the case of prayer to God.
2. As soon as we have a prayer, God has a remedy. “The Lord showed him a tree.” I am persuaded that for every lock in Doubting Castle there is a key, but the promises are often in great confusion to our minds, so that we are perplexed. If a blacksmith should bring you his great bundle of picklocks, you would have to turn them over, and over, and over; and try half of them, perhaps two-thirds, before you would find the right one; ay, and perhaps the right one would be left to the last. It is always a blessing to remember that for every affliction there is a promise in the Word of God; a promise which meets the case, and was made on purpose for it. But you may not be always able to find it--no, you may go fumbling over the Scriptures long before you get the true word; but when the Lord shows it to you, when it comes with power to the soul, oh, what a bliss it is!
3. Now that remedy for the healing of Marah’s water was a very strange one. Why should a tree sweeten the waters? This was no doubt a miraculous incident, and it was also meant to teach us something. The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was eaten by our first parents and embittered all; there is a tree of life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations.
4. That remedy was most effective. When they cut down the tree, and put it into the water, it turned the water sweet--they could drink of it; and let me assure you, that in the case of our trouble, the Cross is a most effective sweetener.
5. It is transcendent. The water was bitter, but it became absolutely sweet. The same water that was bitter became sweet, and the grace of God, by leading us into contemplations that spring out of the Cross of Christ, can make our trials themselves to become pleasant to us. It is a triumph of grace in the heart when we not only acquiesce in trouble, but even rejoice in it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The well of bitterness
I. That the first day’s journey, in spite of the splendid scenery of the coasts of the gulf, is probably the most wearisome and monotonous of the whole way. Sand-storms, white limestone plains, the dust caked into a hard surface intensely hot and dazzling, no water, no trees--it is as if the desert put on its dreariest dress to greet its pilgrims, and gave to them at once a full taste of the foils and wants which they must endure in traversing its wastes. And is it otherwise in life? Is not the same character impressed for us on earth and life, when we enter on its sterner era, when we leave the home of our childhood, the Egypt of our careless, half-developed youth, and go out into the wilderness, to wander freely there under the law of duty, and before the face of God. Does it not seem to all of us strange and dreary? Who ever found the first aspects of duty pleasant? Is it holiday pastime, the first grappling with the realities of life? Who has not been choked and parched by the hot dust of the great desert! though it be full of looms, and mill-wheels, and manifold activity, it is a desert at first to us before we get accustomed to its atmosphere and at home in its life. Well does the schoolboy know it, as he plods into the wilderness of study, and faints under the first experience of its dryness and dust. Let him but hold on awhile, and lie will find springs and palm-trees, where he may rest and play; but it wants large faith and a goad of sharp necessity to get him through the weariness of those first days. God does not conceal from any one of us the stern conditions of our discipline.
II. It is a trite saying, that disappointment is the hardest of all things to bear. Hardest, because it finds the soul unbraced to meet it--relaxed, at ease, and tuned to indulgence and joy. Who has not muttered “Marah” over some well in the desert, which he strained himself to reach and found to be bitterness? It strikes me that we have, in this miracle, most important suggestions as to the philosophy of all miracles. I believe that the object of all miracles is to maintain, and not to violate--to reveal, and not to confound--the order of God’s world. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Marah and Elim
I. The thoughts suggested by the changes here described.
1. That the life of a God-led man is full of changes in outward circumstances.
2. That these changes are divinely ordained.
3. That each change brings its own temptations.
4. That these varied changes are intended to develop all our graces.
II. Thoughts suggested by the halting-places here mentioned.
1. Marah was a place of temptation.
2. Marah was a place of disappointment.
3. Marah was a place of trustfulness and prayer.
4. Elim has its suggestiveness. God’s bountiful goodness. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The moral lessons of Marah
I. We have an expressive type of human trial in the bitterness of the waters.
1. The bitterness of the waters disappointed their most eager expectations.
2. The bitterness of the waters left them apparently without a grand necessity of life.
3. The bitterness of the waters immediately succeeded a remarkable deliverance.
II. We have unreasoning mistrust of the Divine providence the murmuring of the people.
1. Their mistrust was unreasoning, considering the person against whom they murmured. Not Moses, but God, was their Guide, as they well knew.
2. Their mistrust was unreasoning, considering the Divine promises they had received.
3. Their mistrust was unreasoning, considering the displays of Divine power which they had witnessed.
III. We have an instructive appeal for Divine help in the prayer of Moses.
1. It indicates the importance of earnest supplication to God in all our trials.
2. It suggests the importance of a submissive spirit in supplicating deliverance from our trials.
IV. We have a gracious display of Divine power in the sweetening of the waters. God answers prayer in the hour of trouble.
1. By influencing the mind in the direction whence relief may be obtained.
2. By transmuting the temporal affliction into a rich spiritual blessing.
V. We have an intimation of the design of all affliction in the declared purpose of this particular trial. “There He proved them”--tested their faith and obedience. Afflictions prove us.
1. By discovering to us the unsatisfying nature of earthly things.
2. By disclosing the true measure of our piety. (W. Kirkman.)
What is all this, but a striking picture of human life, and of that which the grace of God can and does effect? All the waters of human life have been poisoned by sin. There is not one drop that has been left quite pure,--all has been made bitter. Much there is still which at a distance looks beautiful and refreshing; and those who walk by sense and not by faith, are often, may, always, deceived by appearances just as Israel was. It is not until they taste for themselves that they find out the truth of Solomon’s words, that all is “vanity and vexation of spirit.” Look at the attractions of the world, which cause so many souls to wander. What are they all but a vain show, which can intoxicate or lull the soul for a time, but which leave it, oh, how weary and restless afterwards! The waters of the world are truly bitter waters. Or, look at the occupations of life. To some energetic spirits the very difficulty and toil of labour are attractive; but, after a while, will not the question thrust itself upon the busy mind--oh, what is the profit? what the end of all this? Suppose that everything prospers. Suppose that I have enough to satisfy every earthly want, to secure me every gratification, to encompass myself and children with every luxury. What then? There is a voice, a penetrating voice, that says, “Prepare to meet thy God!” that proclaims, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after that the judgment.” And then, what will become of me? Or, look again at the relationships of life. Instituted though they are by God, yet sin has embittered them also. Whence is it, that some of the deepest and most certain trials of life come to us? It is through our relationships and our friendships. Deep affection, sacred as it is, has always many anxieties associated with it. How many a mother’s heart is gradually worn out by cares about her children! How many a father, when surveying the disturbances of his family, is impelled to adopt the words of the aged Jacob, “All these things are against me!” And then, how many a heart is left widowed even early in life, with a void which nothing earthly can ever fill! Is it too much to say that this world, viewed as it is in itself, is “Marah”? Its waters are bitter. Have not numbers who have embraced it as their all, gone down to the grave, restless, discontented and murmuring? It may seem to some as if we had invested the world with its pleasures, its occupations, and its relationships, in too thick a gloom. If so, we would remind you that we have been speaking of the world, as such, as it is in itself--of pleasures which are far from God--of business and occupation from which God is excluded--and of relationships which are put in the place of God. (G. Wagner.)
Such are often the consolations of this world. We ardently long for them, and when we obtain them they are bitter. The things we have most wished for become new sorrows. And this is to teach us to seek our true joys in God alone, to make the wilderness of this world distasteful to us, and to cause us to long for eternal life. Suppose a man to be so poor as to earn his bread with difficulty; he can scarcely provide for his family. “Ah!” he may perhaps say to himself, “if I were only like so many people around me, who are not obliged to work, and are so happy in this world!” Suppose this man to become rich; but still a prey to care, surrounded by enemies, and unhappy in his children. How many bitter sorrows are still his lot: he was once in the desert of Shur, now he is at the waters of Marah! A woman finds herself solitary and lonely; she wishes for a friend and protector; she marries. But she finds out too late that her husband is a man of bad character or of bad habits. She was in the desert, she is now at Marah. (Professor Gaussen.)
Sweetening the waters
I. Marahs of disappointment.
I. The young convert imagines that when he has got to the Cross he has got, so to speak, next door to heaven; he imagines that, once he has got pardon, he will never have another sigh; but oh! it is only a three days’ march from the City of Destruction to the Slough of Despond, only a little way out to the darkness and the trouble; and then, when it comes, the young convert is sometimes tempted to look back to the delights of the old days, when he had not any fear of God before his eyes; for he has thus to learn in bitterness and disappointment that it is through much tribulation he is to be perfected for the kingdom.
2. So, too, with the mature believer; life is full of disappointments. It takes very little to turn the waters of our best comforts into bitterness; and disappointment in any case is hard to bear; but sometimes it is doubly hard when it comes upon the back of other trials.
II. Marahs of mercy.
1. God sends no needless trims. He does not afflict for His own pleasure, but for our good.
2. For every need God has provided the supply, for every bane the antidote. But you will not discover it yourself. He must point it out.
3. Notice the method of the Divine mercy. God does not take away the burden; He will give you more strength; and then you will have the strength, even after the burden is removed. You will be permanently the better for it. (G. Davidson, B. Sc.)
The tree of healing
God’s plans of mercy to mankind are remedial. He allows sin and suffering to exist, but He provides means for the cure of these evils. The religion of Jesus Christ is the great healing and curative influence in the world.
1. Take, for example, the bitterness of temptation. A man has made noble resolutions, formed high plans of life, and lo, he finds, to his utter mortification, that his sinful nature still yields to any blast of temptation. He is like one who has built a noble palace and finds that some foul infection renders it hateful. Before the solemn aspect of the Crucified, the powers of evil lose their fascinating glow.
2. And then there is the bitterness of remorse, the sting of remembered guilt. A German writer describes a youth who returned, after a long absence, to his home. All welcomed him with joy. Everything was done to make him happy; but he still was oppressed with a silent gloom. Some friend urged him to say what ailed him and kept him so depressed amidst their happiness, and at length, with a groan, he explained, “A sin lies heavy on my soul.” But the Cross of Christ removes this bitter sorrow, for He who is our peace has nailed “the writing which was against us” to His Cross.
3. What shall we say about the bitter cup of suffering which God, in His inscrutable dealings, places in the hands of so many to drink? Yet the sufferer finds succour in remembering that his Saviour has also suffered, and for his salvation. A poor woman in a ward of one of the great London hospitals had to undergo a fearful operation, and, as a special favour, besought that it might be performed on Good Friday, which was close at hand, that the reflection on her Redeemer’s agony might the better enable her to endure her own sufferings. Is the bitterness of poverty, or of contempt, our lot? So was it that of Jesus, our Lord; and turning to Him, with all confidence we appeal to His sympathy. Are we called on to feel the terrible bitterness of bereavement, to gaze on the empty cradle, or the unoccupied chair? Then think how the Cross points upward! (W. Hardman, LL. D.)
Anticipated pleasure alloyed
We look with great expectancy for the arrival of some pleasure which we imagine will afford us the most complete satisfaction, and no sooner does it arrive than we find in its train a whole host of petty annoyances and unwelcome accompaniments. It is not only so in social life, but also in the material world. Mr. Matthew Lewis, M.P., in his interesting “Journal” of a residence among the negroes in the West Indies, relates how eagerly in Jamaica, after three months of drought, the inhabitants long for rain; and when the blessing at last descends, it is accompanied by terrific thunder and lightning, and has the effect of bringing out all sorts of insects and reptiles in crowds, the ground being covered with lizards, the air filled with mosquitoes, the rooms of the houses with centipedes and legions of mosquitoes. And it will, on inquiry, be found that the enjoyment of nearly every anticipated pleasure is in like manner more or less alloyed by reason of the unpleasant things which seem inevitably to attend it. (Scientific Illustrations.)
We have not done with hardship when we have left Egypt
This may be regarded as a universal law so long as we are in the present life, and may be illustrated as really in common and secular matters as in spiritual things. The schoolboy is apt to imagine that he is a slave. He is under tutors and governors; and as he grinds away at his studies, not seeing any relation between them and what he is to do in the future, he is tempted to think that the drudgery of the Hebrews in the brickyard was nothing to that which he has to undergo, and he longs for the day when he shall be a free man and enter upon the active duties of life. His emancipation from the dry and uninteresting labours at which he has so long been held marks an epoch in his history, and he sings over it a song as sincere, if not as exalted, as that of Moses at the sea. The burial of the books by our graduating classes may be in the main a foolish freak; but yet it is the expression, in its own way, of relief from that which has hitherto been felt to be a restraint, and each of those who take part in it is intensely jubilant. But after he has entered on the active duties of the work to which he devotes himself, the youth has not gone far before he comes to Marah, and his first experience is one of disappointment. Ah! well for him then if he cries to God, and finds the healing tree which alone can sweeten its waters of bitterness! So it is, also, with every new enterprise in which a man engages. After his first victory comes something which empties it of half its glory. Pure and unmingled success is unknown in the world, and would be, let me add, a great calamity if it were to be enjoyed; for then the man would become proud and forget God, and lose all remembrance of that precious influence by which the disappointments in our experience are transmuted into means of grace. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
A valuable tree
The eucalyptus tree is efficacious in preventing malaria. The cause is supposed to be that its thirsty roots drain the soil for many yards around, and that its large leaves exhale an aromatic oil and intercept the malarious germs. An incident shows its efficacy: An officer in India whose troops were often attacked by sickness removed their huts to a place where several large trees grew between them and the swamp, and from that time until the trees were cut down the troops enjoyed excellent health; afterwards sickness reappeared. It appears to be only in the case of zymotic diseases that the trees operate as a preventative, but that is of no slight value in many districts. (Youth’s Companion.)
A heaven-sent plant
It is impossible for us to win any victory over this terrible evil in our own strength. Even heathen teachers acknowledge this. Many of you will remember the classic fable when Ulysses was on his way from the ship to deliver from Circe those companions of his who had been changed into swine by the power of the enchantress of sensuality, he was met by the legendary god Mercury, who told him that he would never be able to overcome the enchantress by his own sword. Mercury gave him a plant, the root of which was black and the flower of which was white, and it was by the power of this plant that he was to win his victory over the enchantress. There is a deep moral truth in that myth of the old Greek poet. We have an enchantress to contend against; we have to contend against a mighty power that is changing our fellow-men into swine every day, and we cannot attain the victory over that power except by means of a heaven-sent plant, the Tree of Life, the blessed Cross of Christ. (Dean Edwards.)
Difficulties of leaders through opposition among followers
What a hard place was this of Moses here! Every great reformer has had to go through a wilderness to the promised land of his success; and always some of those who left Egypt with him have turned against him before he had gone far. I think of the almost mutiny of his men against Columbus, as, day after day, he steered westward and saw no land; I think of the trouble which Luther and Calvin had so often with their own followers, and of the banishment at one time of the latter from that Geneva, which, even to this day, is the creation of his greatness; I think of the curs that yelped at the heels of the Father of his country, when he was following that course which now the universal voice of posterity has applauded; I think of the difficulties which have embarrassed many meaner men in lower works of reformation, which have at length benefited and blessed the world; and I blush for the selfishness of those who prefer their own interest to the welfare of the community, while, at the same time, I honour the conscientious courage which determines to go on, in spite of opposition in the front and dissatisfaction in the rear. Oh! ye who are bravely battling for the right, the pure, the benevolent, whether it be in the sweeping out of corruption from political offices, or in the closing of these pestilential houses which are feeding the intemperance of our streets, or in the maintenance in the churches of the faith once delivered to the saints--take heart of grace from Moses here. Go with your causes to the Lord, and be sure that they who are on His side are always in the end victorious. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The sin of murmuring
Consider that murmuring is a mercy-embittering sin, a mercy-souring sin. As the sweetest things put into a sour vessel are soured, or put into a bitter vessel are embittered; so murmuring puts gall and wormwood into every cup of mercy that God gives into our hands. The murmurer writes “Marah,” that is, bitterness, upon all his mercies, and he reads and tastes bitterness in them all. As “to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet,” so to the murmuring soul every sweet thing is bitter. (T. Brooks.)
The evil of murmuring
I have read of Caesar, that, having prepared a great feast for his nobles and friends, it so fell out that the day appointed was so extremely foul, that nothing could be done to the honour of the meeting; whereupon he was so displeased and enraged that he commanded all them that had bows to shoot up their arrows at Jupiter, their chief god, as in defiance of him for that rainy weather; which, when they did, their arrows fell short of heaven and fell upon their own heads, so that many of them were very sorely wounded. So all our murmurings, which are as so many arrows shot at God Himself, they will return upon our own pates’ hearts; they reach not Him, but they will hit us; they hurt not Him, but they will wound us; therefore it is better to be mute than to murmur; it is dangerous to provoke a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:1-29.). (T. Brooks.)
Murmuring, the mother sin, to be fought against
As the king of Syria said to his captains, “Fight neither with small nor great, but with the king of Israel,” so say I, Fight not so much against this sin or that, but fight against your murmuring, which is a mother-sin; make use of all your Christian armour, make use of all the ammunition of heaven, to destroy the mother, and in destroying of her, you will destroy the daughters. When Goliath was slain, the Philistines fled; when a general in an army is cut off, the common soldiers are easily and quickly routed and destroyed: so destroy but murmuring, and you will quickly destroy disobedience, ingratitude, impatience, distrust, etc. (T. Brooks.)
Misery of murmurers
Every murmurer is his own tormentor; murmuring is a fire within that will burn up all; it is an earthquake within that will overturn all; it is a disease within that will infect all; it is poison within that will prey upon all. (T. Brooks.)
Murmuring, the parent of other sins
As the river Nile bringeth forth many crocodiles, and the scorpion many serpents at one birth, so murmuring is a sin that breeds and brings forth many sins at once. It is like the monster Hydra--cut off one head, and many will rise up in its room. It is the mother of harlots--the mother of all abominations--a sin that breeds many other sins (Numbers 16:41; Numbers 17:10); viz., disobedience, contempt, ingratitude, impatience, distrust, rebellion, cursing, carnality; yea, it charges God with folly, yea, with blasphemy. The language of a murmuring soul is this: Surely God might have done this sooner, and that wiser, and the other thing better. (T. Brooks.)
Murmuring, a time-destroying sin
The murmurer spends much precious time in musing--in musing how to get out of such a trouble, how to get off such a yoke, how to be rid of such a burden, how to revenge himself for such a wrong; how to supplant such a person, how to reproach those that are above him, and how to affront those that are below him; and a thousand other ways murmurers have to expend that precious time that some would redeem with a world. Caesar, observing some ladies at Rome to spend much of their time in making much of little dogs and monkeys, asked them whether the women in that country had no children to make much of. Ah, murmurers, murmurers! you who by your murmuring trifle away so many golden hours and seasons of mercy, have you no God to honour? Have you no Christ to believe in? Have you no hearts to change, no sin to be pardoned, no souls to save, no hell to escape, no heaven to seek after? Oh! if you have, why do you spend so much of your precious time in murmuring against God, against men, against this or that thing?, (T. Brooks.)
Murmuring at joys
I was tired of washing dishes; I was tired of drudgery. It had always been so, and I was dissatisfied. I never sat down a moment to read that Jamie didn’t want a cake, or a piece of paper to scribble on, or a bit of soap to make bubbles. “I’d rather be in prison,” I said one day, “than to have my life teased out,” as Jamie knocked my elbow, when I was writing to a friend. But a morning came when I had one plate less to wash, one chair less to set away by the wall in the dining-room; when Jamie’s little crib was put away in the garret, and it has never come down since. I had been unusually fretful and discontented with him that damp May morning that he took the croup. Gloomy weather gave me the headache, and I had less patience than at any other time. By and by he was singing in another room, “I want to be an angel,” and presently rang out that metallic cough. I never hear that hymn since that it don’t cut me to the heart; for the croup-cough rings out with it. He grew worse towards night, and when my husband came home he went for the doctor. At first he seemed to help him, but it merged into inflammatory croup, and all was soon over. “I ought to have been called in sooner,” said the doctor. I have a servant to wash the dishes now; and when a visitor comes, I can sit down and entertain her without having to work all the time. There is no little boy worrying me to open his jack-knife, and there are no shavings over the floor. The magazines are not soiled at looking over the pictures, but stand prim and neat on the reading-table just as I leave them. “Your carpet never looks dirty,” said a weary-worn mother to me. “Oh! no,” I mutter to myself, “there are no little boots to dirty it now.” But my fate is as weary as theirs--weary with sitting in my lonesome parlour at twilight, weary with watching for the arms that used to twine around my neck, for the curls that brushed against my cheek, for the young laugh that rang out with mine, as we watched the blazing fire, or made rabbits with the shadow on the wall, waiting merrily together for papa coming home. I have the wealth and ease I longed for, but at what a price! And when I see other mothers with grown-up sons, driving to town or church, and my hair silvered over with grey, I wish I had murmured less.
Seneca hath his similitude to set out the great evil of murmuring under small afflictions. Suppose, saith he, a man to have a very fair house to dwell in, with very fair orchards and gardens, set about with brave tall trees for ornament; what a most unreasonable thing were it in this man to murmur because the wind blows a few leaves off the trees, though they hang full of fruit. If God take a little and give us much, shall we be discontent? If He take our son and give us His own; if He cause the trees to bring forth the fruit, shall we be angry if the wind blow away the leaves? (J. Venning.)
It is not wise to fret under our trials: the high.mettled horse that is restive in the yoke only galls his shoulder--the poor bird that dashes itself against the bars of the cage only ruffles her feathers and aggravates the sufferings of captivity.
The Lord that healeth thee.--
No human experience is uniformly joyful or sorrowful. A great triumph is succeeded by a great obstacle and sometimes by a great defeat. But there is another equally constant fact to offset this. As we look at this alternation of Elims and Marahs in our life, and recognize it as a law of our human experience, we find it supplemented by something else which is equally a law; and that is the economy of God by which this alternation is happily adjusted. In other words, I mean this: that if it is a law of our life that joy and sorrow succeed each other, it is equally a law of our life that God interposes and keeps the joy from corrupting and the sorrow from crushing us. If sorrow is a part of God’s economy, healing is equally a part. You hear abundance of popular proverbs to the effect that clouds have often silver linings; that calamity usually stops short of the very worst; that time dulls grief; that nature reacts from its depression, and much more of the same sort, all which may be more or less true, but which do not cover the same ground as this blessed name, “Jehovah that healeth thee”: which throw man for his compensation for sorrow merely upon nature and circumstances. Both are-lawless and accidental, the alleviations no less than the sorrow itself. But there is a radical difference between a grief which is accidental, and a grief which falls in with happier things into an order arranged to make the man purer and more blessed. There is a radical difference between accidental mitigations, and the firm, wise, tender touch of an omnipotent Healer upon a sorrow: and there is a radical difference between that conception of sorrow which makes it an intrusion and an interruption, and a conception which sees both sorrow and healing as parts of one Divine plan, adjusted by that same Divine hand all along the line of man’s life. With the alleviations of sorrow which come in what we call the natural order of things, I have therefore nothing to do here. That nature has certain recuperative powers is a familiar fact: that God often uses these or other natural means in His own processes of healing, as a physician uses for medicine the herbs and flowers which he gathers by the roadside, is an equally familiar fact. But we are not concerned with the question of means. Our text leads us back of the means. That to which alone sorrow can grapple securely is not means but God. God, on this occasion, though He uses a branch to sweeten the water, also uses it to direct the attention of the people to Himself. When He gives Himself a name by which they are to know and remember Him all through this desert journey, it is not, “the God of the branch,” nor “the God of the rod,” nor “the God of the strong east wind,” but simply, “I am Jehovah that healeth thee.” No matter what means I use. If He had called Himself the God of the rod, the people would have despaired of healing in any case where there was not a branch or a rod present. He would have them know that healing was in Him, by any means or by no means as He might choose. And thus it is well for us to bring every bitter experience of life at once to God--directly. The fountain of healing is there, and there is no need of our taking the smallest trouble in seeking any lower source of comfort. God is not like certain great medical authorities who leave all minor maladies to subordinates and hold themselves in reserve merely for consultation on cases of life and death. He wrought the great miracle at Marah, not only to relieve the people’s thirst on that occasion, but to encourage them to seek His help in smaller matters. God sometimes reduces a man to terrible straits so that he may learn that lesson. The branch which he throws in is this: Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. When one is in such confusion and bewilderment, a great deal of the distress is thrown off in the throwing off of all responsibility for the way out. Many years ago, while in Rome, I went down into the Catacombs. I had not gone five feet from the entrance when I saw that if I should try to find my way back, I should be hopelessly lost. Passages opened out on every side, and crossed and interlaced, and my life was literally in the hands of the cowled monk who led the way with his lighted taper. But that was a relief. Having no responsibility for finding the way, and having faith in my guide, I could give myself up to the impression of the place. There is a beautiful passage in the one hundred and forty-second Psalm which brings out this truth. The Psalm is ascribed to David when he was fleeing from Saul’s persecution and wandering in a labyrinth of caves and secret paths. “When my spirit is overwhelmed within me, Thou knowest my path.” Few things are more painful or humiliating than the sense of having lost the way. The sweetening branch then is just this blessed consciousness that Divine omniscience knows the path; that the knowledge is with one who knows just how to use it, who knows the path through, the path out, knows what the trend of the trouble is and what its meaning is. But let us not forget the other great truth of this story, a truth quite as important as the first, and perhaps quite as hard to learn; and that is, that God’s healing is a lesson no less than a comfort. The aim of a physician’s treatment is not merely to relieve his patient from pain. It is, further, to get him on his feet for active duty. God did not sweeten the waters of Marah in order that the people might stay there. Marah was only a stage on the way to Canaan; and the draught at the sweetened spring was but to give strength for a long march. And God never heals His people simply to make them easy. If He takes off a load it is that they may walk the better in the way of His commandments. Whatever God may say to us by sickness, when He comes to us as the Lord of healing He says, “I will raise thee up that thou mayst do that which is right in My sight; that thou mayst give ear to My commandments and keep My statutes.” Healing means more toil and more burdens and more conflict, and these will continue to the end. But let us remember that God never forgets to give rest along the road, and refreshment at the right places to His faithful ones. Even on earth there will be intervals of sweet rest, though the desert lie on beyond. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
The Lord that healeth
It is with healing power in the lowest form of its development, viz., the supplying of bodily wants--the healing of physical diseases--that this precious name is first brought to our notice. And even this is a blessing not to be lightly esteemed. But, if our powers of perception were so adjusted that we could estimate spiritual diseases, as God estimates them; then, we should see, in the walks of daily life, even in the case of those who are said to possess sound minds in sound bodies, sights sadder far than any to be met with in our hospitals and asylums for physical and mental diseases. And the power to heal which the Lord claims when He is pleased to reveal Himself as Jehovah-Ropheka, is this power in its higher form--the power to heal the diseases of the soul.
I. He is an efficient healer. He puts His own Omnipotence into the grace by which He heals; and what can resist that grace? He has fathomed the lowest depths of human depravity, and the chain of His grace has reached even unto that.
II. He is a practical healer. It sometimes happens with earthly physicians that the medicine is mingled with our daily food, and that the food itself of which the patient partakes is made the means of healing. But this is what our heavenly Healer does continually. He connects the process of His healing with the food on which the souls of His people live, and the daily experience of life through which they are passing.
III. He is a universal healer. In many of our hospitals there is a ward for incurables. There are cases which every physician will decline to undertake because he knows that nothing can be done with them. But Jehovah-Ropheka knows no such cases. In the hospital of His grace there is no ward for incurables. There are no limits to the range and operation of His wisdom and power. He has not made a specialty of any particular case. There is no form of spiritual disease that can be incurable to Him.
IV. He is a permanent healer. No earthly physician will undertake both to restore his patient to health, and at the same time to give him the assurance that the disease from which he has suffered shall never return to him. This is a matter quite beyond the reach of ordinary medical ability. But it is not so with our heavenly Healer. He undertakes to make His healing work not only perfect but permanent. Two things show us this.
1. One of these is the state into which Christ introduces the saved soul after death. It is a state in which there will be no sickness, sorrow, or sin. And what that state is, as the healed soul enters into it, it will be for ever. It is a “continuing city.”
2. And then the state of the soul as it enters that blessed abode will show the same thing. “Presented perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).
V. He is a glorious healer. Most physicians are satisfied if they can restore their patients to the condition in which they were before the disease seized upon them. If they can heal a man’s wounds they are satisfied. They will not pledge that in securing this result there shall be no disfiguring scars remaining. But it is different with our heavenly Healer. He restores the sin-sick soul, not to its original state, but to one infinitely better than that. The creation state of the soul was pronounced good, the redeemed state of the soul is declared to be perfect. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The Lord that healeth
“Many a time have I been brought very low, and received the sentence of death in myself, when my poor, honest, praying neighbours have met, and, upon their fasting and earnest prayers, I have recovered. Once, when I had continued weak three weeks, and was unable to go abroad, the very day that they prayed for me, being Good Friday, I recovered, and was able to preach and administer the sacrament the next Lord’s day; and was better after it, it being the first time that ever I administered it. And ever after that, whatever weakness was upon me, when I had, after preaching, administered that sacrament to many hundred people, I was much revived and eased of my infirmities.” “Oh how often,” he writes in his “Dying Thoughts,” “have I cried to Him when men and means were nothing, and when no help in second causes did appear, and how often, and suddenly, and mercifully hath He delivered me! What sudden ease, what removal of long affliction have I had! Such extraordinary changes, and beyond my own and others’ expectations, when many plain-hearted, upright Christians have, by fasting and prayer, sought God on my behalf, as have over and over convinced me of special providence and that God is indeed a hearer of prayers. And wonders have I seen done for others also, upon such prayer, more than for myself; yea, and wonders for the Church, and for public societies.” “Shall I therefore forget how often He hath heard prayers for me, and how wonderfully He often hath helped both me and others? My faith hath been helped by such experiences, and shall I forget them, or question them without cause at last?” (Richard Baxter.)
The pilgrim’s pathway
I. That, in life’s pilgrimage, God crowns His people with constant blessings and diversified tokens of His goodness. These blessings, as here implied, are of great practical utility; they are--
3. Diversified--“Wells and palm-trees.”
4. Proportionate,--“Twelve wells and threescore and ten palm-trees.”
II. That, in life’s pilgrimage, God’s blessings should be appropriated and enjoyed. “They encamped there.”
III. That, in life’s pilgrimage, Elim, with its refreshing shade, is frequently not far from Marah, with its bitter waters. Therefore, as pilgrims, we should not be too much elated or depressed with our camping-places. In the history of the Zion-bound traveller, it should not be forgotten, that it is always better further on.
IV. That, in life’s pilgrimage, we should remember that we are not yet home, only pilgrims on the way. Our immortality would starve to death on the richest oasis this desert world could give us, if we should attempt to make it our abiding home. So, they did not buy the land, or build a city, they only “encamped there.” (T. Kelly.)
Marah and Elim
I. The varied experience of human life.
1. There are the sorrowful scenes of life. You know well the sources from whence these sorrows arise. There is the sorrow that comes to us from our disappointments. We are constantly deceived and disappointed, partly because we indulge in unreasonable expectations, and partly because things differ so much in their reality from what they are in their outward appearance. Then there is the sorrow that proceeds from physical suffering. Another source of sorrow is our bereavements. A whole generation fell in the wilderness, and as the Israelites travelled onward, they had again and again to pause in their journey and bury their dead. Another source of sorrow is sin. This indeed is the great source of all sorrow, the fountain from whence these bitter waters flow.
2. There are the joys of life. Another day’s march, and the scene was changed; verdure refreshed the eye, there was Tater in abundance to quench the thirst, and the weary pilgrim could repose under the palm-tree’s welcome shade. True type again of human life--“Weeping endures for a night, joy cometh in the morning.” “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.” The most weary pilgrimage has its quiet resting places, and the saddest heart is not without its joys. God is kind even to the unthankful, for on them He bestows His providential bounties, but “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” He gives to them a “peace which passeth understanding,” a “hope which maketh not ashamed,” and “a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.” Life, then, has a varied experience.
II. But what are the reasons for it? There can be little doubt that if it were left to our choice, we should choose a less chequered course--we should avoid the bitter waters of Marah, and seek the palm-trees of Elim. Why is it that joy and sorrow, hope and fear, health and sickness, blessings bestowed and blessing removed, follow each other in such rapid succession.
1. It is to correct our self-will. Many whose hearts were stubborn enough when they began life, have found life so different to what they expected, that they have at length confessed--It is vain to fight against God; henceforth I place myself under His government--His will, not mine, be done.
2. To develop our character. If the events of life were exclusively sorrowful, then the test of our character would be but partial; so would it be if these events were exclusively joyful; and therefore it is sorrow to-day and joy to-morrow. Thus our whole character is developed.
3. To open our hearts to those sacred influences which soften and purify them. (H. J. Gamble.)
Elim: the springs and the palms
I. Elim rises before us as the representative of the green oases, the spots of sunny verdure, the scenes of heavenly beauty, wherewith God hath enriched, though sparingly, our wilderness world. This world is not all bad; its marches are not all bare. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake”--and because for thy sake, it is not cursed utterly. It is not all black, bare, lifeless, as the crust of a cold lava flood; a prison-house for reprobates, instead of a training school for sons.
II. The nearness of Elim to Marah opens up to us a deep truth in the spiritual history of man.
1. Had they pushed on instead of murmuring at Marah, they would have found all they sought, and more than they hoped for, at Elim. Ah! the time we waste in repining and rebelling--scheming to mend God’s counsels! How many Elims would it find for us, if employed in courage and faith!
2. How near is the sweetness to the bitterness in every trial! it is but a short step to Elim, where we may encamp and rest. The brightest spots of earth are amidst its most savage wildernesses, and the richest joys of the Christian spring ever out of his sharpest pains. The humbling pains of disappointment tune the soul for the joys which the next station of the journey affords. It is when we have learnt the lessons of the wilderness, and are resolved to press on, cost what it may, in our heavenly path, that springs of unexpected sweetness gush up at our very feet, and we find shade and rest, which give foretaste of heaven.
III. Let us endeavour to discern the principle of this alternate sweetness and bitterness of life. These lights and shadows of nature, this glow and gloom, are caught from a higher sphere. Nature is but the reverse of the medal whose obverse is man. The ultimate reason of the bitterness of Marah is the sin in the heart of Israel and all pilgrims; the ultimate reason of the sweetness and freshness of Elim is the mercy that is in the heart of God. There is a fearful power in the human spirit to make God’s brightest blessings bitter curses. Who was it who wanted to die, because God had found a deliverance for a great city in which were half a million of doomed men? At the door of your own spirit lie all the pangs and wretchedness you have known. You have cursed fate and fortune, and protested that you were the most wronged and persecuted of men. But the mischief lies not in God’s constitution of the world, nor in His government of it, but in your hearts. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Sweetness not far from bitterness
Sorrow is not all a wilderness, even to the most sorrowful. Amid all its bleakness and desolation it has oases of beauty and fertility. It has Elims as well as Marahs, and frequently these Elims are very near the Marahs--if we only knew it. But six short miles separated the twelve wells of water and the threescore and ten palm.trees from the bitter, nauseous well that filled the hearts of the thirsting multitudes with disappointment. And so near in human life is the sweetness to the bitterness in every trial. A few steps will take us through the valley of the shadow of death out into the green pastures and beside the still waters upon which it opens. Had the Israelites of old, instead of murmuring at Marah, pushed on a little further, they would, in two short hours, have found at Elim all they sought and more than they expected. And so the time we waste in repining and rebelling would be better employed in living faith and active duty, for thus would consolation be found. Instead of sitting down to murmur at Marah, let us march in faith under the guidance of our tender Shepherd, who will bring us to the next station, where we may lie down in green pastures and beside still waters. (Christian Age.)
The comparative duration of sorrow and joy
Is there ever a Marah without an Elim near it, if only we follow on in the way the Lord marks out for us through the wilderness? The notice of Elim occupies less than four lines, while there are as many verses in the record of Marah, and a whole chapter following about the wilderness of sin; and we are apt to draw the hasty inference that the bitter experiences were the rule, and the delightful ones the exception. And so it often seems in the checkered life of the tried disciple of the Lord. But look again. The bitter time at Marah was quite short, though it occupies a great deal of space in the history. These four verses tell the story probably of as many hours or less. But the four lines about Elim are the story of three weeks, during which they “encamped there by the waters.” When troubles come, the time seems long; when troubles have gone, the time seems short; and so many are apt to think that they are hardly dealt with, whereas if they would look more carefully into the Lord’s dealings with them, they might find that they have far more to be thankful for than to grieve over. Hours at Marah are followed by weeks at Elim. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20