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THE CALL AND MISSION OF MOSES.
THE MISSION OF MOSES. After forty years of monotonous pastoral life, affording abundant opportunity for meditation, and for spiritual communion with God, and when he had attained to the great age of eighty years, and the hot blood of youth had given place to the calm serenity of advanced life, God at last revealed Himself to Moses "called him" (Exodus 3:4), and gave him a definite mission. The present chapter is' intimately connected with the next. Together, they contain an account of that extraordinary and indeed miraculous interchange of thought and speech between Moses and God himself, by which the son of Amram was induced to undertake the difficult and dangerous task of freeing his people, delivering them from their bondage in Egypt, and conducting them through the wilderness to that "land flowing with milk and honey," which had been promised to the seed of Abraham more than six centuries previously (Genesis 15:18). Whatever hopes he had entertained of being his people's deliverer in youth and middle life, they had long been abandoned; and, humanly speaking, nothing was more improbable than that the aged shepherd, grown "slow of speech and of a slow tongue" (Exodus 4:10)—his manners rusticised—his practical faculties rusted by disuse—his physical powers weakened—should come forth from a retirement of forty years' duration to be a leader and king of men. Nothing less than direct supernatural interposition could—one may well believe—have sufficed to overcome the natural vis inertiae of Moses' present character and position. Hence, after an absolute cessation of miracle for more than four hundred years, miracle is once more made use of by the Ruler of the Universe to work out his ends. A dignus vindice nodus has arisen; and the ordinary laws of that Nature which is but one of his instruments are suspended by the Lord of All, who sees what mode of action the occasion requires, and acts accordingly.
Moses kept the flock. The Hebrew expresses that this was his regular occupation. Understand by "flock" either sheep or goats, or the two intermixed. Both anciently and at the present day the Sinaitic pastures support these animals, and not horned cattle. Of Jethro, his father-in-law. The word translated "father-in-law" is of much wider application, being used of almost any relation by marriage. Zipporah uses it of Moses in Exodus 4:25, Exodus 4:26; in Genesis 19:12, Genesis 19:14, it is applied to Lot's "sons-in-law;" in other places it is used of "brothers-in-law." Its application to Jethro does not prove him to be the same person as Reuel, which the difference of name renders improbable. He was no doubt the head of the tribe at this period, having succeeded to that dignity, and to the priesthood, when Reuel died. He may have been either Reuel's son or his nephew. The backside of the desert, i.e. "behind" or "beyond the desert," across the strip of sandy plain which separates the coast of the Elanitic Gulf from the mountains, to the grassy regions beyond. He came to the mountain of God, even Horeb. Rather, "the mountain of God, Horeb-way," or "towards Horeb." By "the mountain of God" Sinai seems to be meant. It may be so named either by anticipation (as "the land of Rameses" in Genesis 47:11), or because there was already a sanctuary there to the true God, whom Reuel and Jethro worshipped (Exodus 18:12).
The angel of the Lord. Literally, "an angel of Jehovah." Taking the whole narrative altogether, we are justified in concluding that the appearance was that of "the Angel of the Covenant" or" the Second Person of the Trinity himself;" but this is not stated nor implied in the present verse. We learn it from what follows. The angel "appeared in a flame of fire out of the midst of the thorn-bush"—not out of "a thorn-bush—which may be explained by there being only one on the spot, which however seems improbable, as it is a common tree; or by Moses having so often spoken of it, that, when he came to write to his countrymen, he naturally called it "the bush," meaning "the bush of which you have all heard." So St. John says of the Baptist (John 3:24) that "he was not yet cast into the prison, meaning, prison into which you all know that he was cast. Seneh, the word translated "bush," is still the name of a thorny shrub, a species of acacia, common in the Sinaitic district.
I will turn aside. Suspecting nothing but a natural phenomenon, which he was anxious to investigate. The action bespeaks him a man of sense and intelligence, not easily scared or imposed upon.
When the Lord saw … God called. This collocation of words is fatal in the entire Elohistic and Jehovistic theory, for no one can suppose that two different writers wrote the two clauses of the sentence. Nor, if the same term was originally used in both clauses, would any reviser have altered one without altering both. Out of the midst of the bush. A voice, which was the true voice of God, appeared to Moses to proceed out of the midst of the fire which enveloped the thorn-bush. An objective reality is described, not a vision. Moses, Moses. The double call implies urgency. Compare the call of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10).
Draw not nigh. The awful greatness of the Creator is such that his creatures, until invited to draw near, are bound to stand aloof. Moses, not yet aware that God himself spoke to him, was approaching the bush too close, to examine and see what the "great thing" was. (See Exodus 3:3.) On the general unfitness of man to approach near to holy things, see the comment on Exodus 19:12. Put off thy shoes. Rather, "thy sandals." Shoes were not worn commonly, even by the Egyptians, until a late period, and would certainly not be known in the land of Midian at this time. The practice of putting them off before entering a temple, a palace, or even the private apartments of a house, was, and is, universal in the East—the rationale of it being that the shoes or sandals have dust or dirt attaching to them. The command given to Moses at this time was repeated to Joshua (Joshua 5:15). Holy ground. Literally, "ground of holiness "—ground rendered holy by the presence of God upon it—not "an old sanctuary," as some have thought, for then Moses would not have needed the information.
The God of thy father. "Father" here is used collectively, meaning forefathers generally, a usage well known to Hebraists. (Compare Exodus 15:2, and Exodus 18:4.) The God of Abraham, etc; i.e. the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and entered into covenant with them (Genesis 15:1-21; Genesis 26:2-5; Genesis 35:1-12). The conclusion which our Blessed Lord drew from this verse (Matthew 22:32) is not directly involved in it, but depends on his minor premiss, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Moses hid his face. A natural instinctive action. So Elijah, on the same site (1 Kings 19:13) and the holy angels before God's throne in heaven (Isaiah 6:2). In the religious system of Rome, the augurs when discharging their office, and all persons when offering a sacrifice, veiled their heads. (See Liv. 1.18; Virg. Aen. 3.405; Juv. 6.390.)
I have surely seen. Literally "Seeing I have seen"—an expression implying continuance. On the force of the anthropomorphic terms "seeing, hearing, knowing," as used of God, see the comment on Exodus 2:24-25. Taskmasters. Not the general superintendents of Exodus 1:11, but subordinate officials, who stood over the labourers and applied the rod to their backs. (See above, Exodus 2:11.)
I am come down. Another anthropomorphism, and one very common in Scripture (Genesis 11:5, Genesis 11:7; Genesis 18:21; Psalms 18:9; Psalms 144:5, etc.), connected of course with the idea that God has a special dwellingplace, which is above the earth. To bring them up. Literally correct. Palestine is at a much higher level than Egypt. (Compare Genesis 12:10; Genesis 13:1; Genesis 37:25; Genesis 39:1; Genesis 42:2; Genesis 46:3, Genesis 46:4; Genesis 50:25.) A good land and a large. The fertility of Palestine, though not equal to that of Egypt, was still very great. Eastward of Jordan, the soil is rich and productive, the country in places wooded with fine trees, and the herbage luxuriant. Vast tracts in the spring produce enormous crops of grain, and throughout the year pasturage of every kind is abundant. "Still the countless flocks and herds may be seen, droves of cattle moving on like troops of soldiers, descending at sunset to drink of the springs-literally, in the language of; the prophet, "rams, and lambs, and goats, and bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan. The western region is less productive, but by careful cultivation in terraces may be made to bear excellent crops of corn, olives, and figs. Palestine proper to a modern European seems small, being about the size of Belgium, less than Holland or Hanover, and not much larger than Wales. It contains about 11,000 square miles. To an Israelite of the age of Moses such a land would appear sufficiently "large;" for it was considerably larger than the entire Delta of Egypt, whereof his nation occupied the smaller half; and it fell but little short of the entire cultivable area of the whole land of Egypt, which was the greatest and most powerful country known to him. It may be added that the land included in the covenant which God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21), and actually possessed by David and Solomon (1 Kings 4:21), was a "good land and a large," according even to modern notions, including (as it did) besides Palestine the whole of Syria, and thus containing an area of from 50,000 to 60,000 square miles. The phrase flowing with milk and honey, first used here, and so common in the later books (Numbers 13:27; Deuteronomy 26:9, Deuteronomy 26:15; Deuteronomy 31:20; Jeremiah 11:5; Jeremiah 32:22; Ezekiel 20:6, etc.) was probably a proverbial expression for "a land of plenty," and not intended literally. See what the spies say, Numbers 13:27
The enumeration of the nations of Palestine here made is incomplete, five only of the ten whose land was promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:19-21) being expressly mentioned. One, however, that of the Hivites, is added. We may suppose that they had succeeded to the Kenizzites or the Kadmonites of Abraham's time. The only important omission is that of the Girgashites, who hold their place in most other enumerations (Genesis 10:16; Genesis 15:21; Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 24:11, etc.), but seem to have been the least important of the "seven nations,"and are omitted in Judges 3:5.
This is a repetition, in substance, of Exodus 3:7, on account of the long parenthesis in Exodus 3:8, and serves to introduce Exodus 3:10. The nexus is: "I have seen the oppression—I am come down to deliver them—come now, therefore, I will send thee"
And Moses said … Who am I, that I should go, etc. A great change had come over Moses. Forty years earlier he had been forward to offer himself as a "deliverer." He "went out" to his brethren and slew one of their oppressors, and "supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them" (Acts 7:25). "But they understood not" (ibid.) They declined to accept him for leader, they reproached him with setting himself up to be "a ruler and a judge" over them. And now, taught by this lesson, and sobered by forty years of inaction, he has become timid and distrustful of himself, and shrinks from putting himself forward. Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh? What weight can I, a foreigner, forty years an exile, with the manners of a rough shepherd, expect to have with the mighty monarch of all Egypt—the son of Rameses the Great, the inheritor of his power and his glories? And again, Who am I, that I should bring forth the children of Israel? What weight can I expect to have with my countrymen, who will have forgotten me—whom, moreover, I could not influence when I was,in my full vigour—who then "refused" my guidance and forced me to quit them? True diffidence speaks in the words used—there is no ring of insincerity in them; Moses was now as distrustful of himself as in former days he had been confident, and when he had become fit to be a deliverer, ceased to think himself fit.
Certainly I will be with thee. Literally, "Since I will be with thee." Moses had excused himself on the ground of unfitness. God replies—"Thou wilt not be unfit, since I will be with thee—I will supply thy deficiencies—I will impart all the qualities thou needest—and this shall be a sign unto thee of my power and faithfulness—this shall assure thee that I am not sending thee upon a fruitless errand—it is determined in my counsels that not only shalt thou succeed, and lead the people out, but after that,—when thou hast so done—thou and they together shall serve me on this mountain." The "sign" was one which appealed to faith only, like that given to Hezekiah by Isaiah (1 Kings 19:1-21:29), but, if accepted, it gave a full assurance—the second step involved the first—the end implied the means—if Moses was of a certainty to bring the Israelites to Sinai, he must first lead them out of Egypt—he must in some way or other triumph over all the difficulties which would beset the undertaking.
What is his name? It is not at all clear why Moses should suppose that the Israelites would ask him this question, nor does it even appear that they did ask it. Perhaps, however, he thought that, as the Egyptians used the word "god," generically, and had a special name for each particular god—as Ammon, Phthah, Ra, Mentu, Her, Osiris, and the like—when he told his people of "the God of their fathers," they would conclude that he, too, had a proper name, and would wish to know it. The Egyptians set much store by the names of their gods, which in every ease had a meaning. Ammen was "the concealed (god)," Phthah, "the revealer," Ra,"the swift," etc. Hitherto Israel's God had had no name that could be called a proper name more than any other. He had been known as "El," "The High;" "Shad-dai," "The Strong;" and "Jehovah," "The Existent;" but these terms had all been felt to be descriptive epithets, and none of them had passed as yet into a proper name. What was done at this time, by the authority of God himself, was to select from among the epithets one to be distinctly a proper name, and at the same time to explain its true meaning as something more than "The Existent"—as really "The Alone Existent"—the source of all existence. Henceforth this name, which had previously been but little used and perhaps less understood, predominated over every other, was cherished by the Jews themselves as a sacred treasure, and recognised by those around them as the proper appellation of the one and only God whom the Israelites worshipped. It is found in this sense on the Moabite stone, in the fragments of Philo-Byblius, and elsewhere.
I AM THAT I AM. No better translation can be given of the Hebrew words. "I will be that I will be (Geddes) is more literal, but less idiomatic, since the Hebrew was the simplest possible form of the verb substantive. "I am because I am" (Boothroyd) is wrong, since the word asher is certainly the relative. The Septuagint, Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν, explains rather than translates, but is otherwise unobjectionable. The Vulgate, sum qui sum, has absolute exactness. The idea expressed by the name is, as already explained, that of real, perfect, unconditioned, independent existence. I AM hath sent me to you. "I am" is an abbreviated form of "I am that I am," and is intended to express the same idea.
The Lord God. In the original Jehovah elohey—"Jehovah, God of your fathers," etc. The name is clearly an equivalent of the "I AM" in the preceding versa The exact mode of its formation from the old root hava, "to be," is still disputed among the best Hebraists. This is my name for ever. Henceforth there will be no change—this will be my most appropriate name so long as the world endures—"The Existent"—"The Alone Existent"—"He that is, and was, and is to come" (Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:17; Revelation 16:5). My memorial. The name whereby I am to be spoken of.
Gather the elders. It is generally thought that we are to understand by "the elders" not so much the more aged men, as these who bore a certain official rank and position among their brethren, the heads of the various houses (Exodus 6:14, Exodus 6:25; Exo 11:1-10 :21), who exercised a certain authority even during the worst times of the oppression. Moses was first to prevail, on them to acknowledge his mission, and was then to go with them to Pharaoh and make his representation (Exodus 3:18). I have surely visited you. The words are a repetition of those used by Joseph on his deathbed (Genesis 50:24), and may be taken to mean, "I have done as Joseph prophesied—I have made his words good thus far. Expect, therefore, the completion of what he promised.''
They shall hearken to thy voice. Moses thought they would despise him—turn a deaf ear to his words—look upon him as unworthy of credit. But it was not so. The hearts of men are in God's hands, and he disposed those of the elders to receive the message of his servant, Moses, favourably, and believe in it. (See Exodus 4:29-31.) Thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt. This future is perhaps one of command rather than of prophetic announcement. The elders do not seem to have actually made their appearance before Pharaoh. (See Exodus 5:1-4.) They may, however, have authorised Moses and Aaron to speak in their name. The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us. Through our representative Moses. "Met with us" is undoubtedly the true meaning. That we may sacrifice. There was reticence here, no doubt, but no falseness. It was a part of God's design that sacrifice, interrupted during the sojourn in Egypt for various reasons, should be resumed beyond the bounds of Egypt by His people. So much of his purpose, and no more, he bade Moses lay before Pharaoh on the first occasion. The object of the reticence was not to deceive Pharaoh, but to test him.
I am sure. Literally, "I know," a better rendering, since, "I am sure" implies something leas than knowledge. No, not by a mighty hand. Or "not even by a mighty hand." Pharaoh will not be willing to let you go even when my mighty hand is laid upon him. (See Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:19, Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:12, Exodus 9:35; Exodus 10:20, Exodus 10:27.) "But by strong hand" (marg.) is a rendering which the rules of grammar do not permit.
I will stretch out my hand. To encourage Moses and the people, to support them in what was, humanly speaking, a most unequal contest, this important promise is made. It is a confirmation, and to some extent, an explanation of the pledge, already, given, "Certainly I will be with thee" (Exodus 3:12). It shows how God would be with him—he would smite Egypt with all his wonders—what those would be was left obscure. He would come to his people's aid, and openly assert himself, and afflict and strike terror into their enemies-until at last even Pharaoh's stubborn spirit would be broken, and he would consent to let them go.
Exodus 3:21, Exodus 3:22
The "spoiling of the Egyptians" has called forth much bitter comment. (See Kalisch, note on Exodus 3:22.) It has been termed a combination of "fraud, deception and theft"—"base deceit and nefarious fraud"—"glaring villainy," and the like. The unfortunate translation of a verb meaning "ask" by "borrow" in Exodus 3:22, has greatly helped the objectors. In reality, what God here commanded and declared was this:—The Israelite women were told on the eve of their departure from Egypt to ask presents (bakh-sheesh) from their rich Egyptian neighbours, as a contribution to the necessary expenses of the long journey on which they were entering; and God promised that he would so favourably incline the hearts of these neighbours towards them, that, in reply to their request, articles of silver and of gold, together with raiment, would be freely and bounteously bestowed on them—so freely and so bounteously, that they might clothe and adorn, not only themselves, but their sons and daughters, with the presents; and the entire result would be that, instead of quitting Egypt like a nation of slaves, in rags and penniless, they would go forth in the guise of an army of conquerors, laden with the good things of the country, having (with their own good-will) "spoiled the Egyptians." No fraud, no deceit, was to be practised—the Egyptians perfectly well understood that, if the Israelites once went, they would never voluntarily return—they were asked to give and they gave—with the result that Egypt was "spoiled." Divine justice sees in this a rightful nemesis. Oppressed, wronged, down-trodden, miserably paid for their hard labour during centuries, the Israelites were to obtain at the last something like a compensation for their ill-usage; the riches of Africa were to be showered on them. Egypt, "glad at their departing," was to build them a bridge of gold to expedite their flight, and to despoil herself in order to enrich her quondam slaves, of whom she was, under the circumstances, delighted to be rid.
Borrow. The Hebrew word means simply "ask" (αἰτήσει, LXX.; postulabit, Vulg.). Of her neighbours. The intermixture to some extent of the Egyptians with the Hebrews in Goshen is here again implied, as in Exodus 1:1-22 and Exodus 2:1-25. And of her that sojourneth in her house. Some of the Israelites, it would seem, took in Egyptian lodgers superior to them in wealth and rank. This implies more friendly feeling between the two nations than we should have expected; but it is quite natural that, after their long stay in Egypt, the Hebrews should have made a certain number of the Egyptians their friends.
Exodus 3:1, Exodus 3:2
The Burning Bush.
All nations have seen in fire something emblematic of the Divine nature. The Vedic Indians made Agni (fire) an actual god, and sang hymns to him with more fervour than to almost any other deity. The Persians maintained perpetual fires on their fire-altars, and supposed them to have a divine character. Hephaistos in the Greek and Vulcan in the Roman mythology were fire-gods; and Baal, Chemosh, Moloch, Tahiti, Orotal, etc; represented more or less the same idea. Fire is in itself pure and purifying; in its effects mighty and terrible, or life-giving, and comforting. Viewed as light—its ordinary though not universal concomitant—it is bright, glorious, dazzling, illuminative, soul-cheering. God under the Old Covenant revealed himself in fire, not only upon this occasion, but at Sinai (Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17), to Manoah (Judges 13:20), to Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1-3), to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:4-28), to Daniel (Daniel 7:9, Daniel 7:10); under the New Covenant, he is declared to be "a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29), "the Light of the world" (John 8:12), "the True Light" (John 1:9), "the Sun of Righteousness." Of all material things nothing is so suitable to represent God as this wonderful creation of his, so bright, so pure, so terrible, so comforting, To Moses God reveals himself not merely in fire, but in a "burning bush." In this respect the revelation is abnormal—nay, unique, without a parallel. Surely this was done, not merely to rouse his curiosity, but to teach him some lesson or other. It is well to consider what lesson or lessons may have been intended by it. First, Moses would see that "the ways of God were not as man's ways;" that, instead of coming with as much, he came with as little, display as possible; instead of showing all his glory and lighting up all Sinai with unendurable radiance, he condescended to appear in a small circumscribed flame, and to rest upon so mean, so poor, so despised an object as a thorn-hush. God "chooseth the weak things of the world to confound the strong;" anything is sufficient for his purpose. He creates worlds with a word, destroys kingdoms with a breath, cures diseases with clay and spittle or the hem of a garment, revolutionises the earth by a group of fishermen. Secondly, he would see the spirituality of God. Even when showing himself in the form of fire, he was not fire. Material fire would have burnt up the bush, have withered its fair boughs and blasted its green leaves in a moment of time; this fire did not scathe a single twig, did not injure even the most delicate just-opening bud. Thirdly, he might be led on to recognise God's tenderness. God's mercy is "over all his works," he will not hurt one of them unnecessarily, or without an object. He "careth for cattle" (Jonah 4:11), clothes the lilies with glory (Matthew 6:28-30), wilt not let a sparrow fall to the ground needlessly (Matthew 10:29). Lastly, he might learn that the presence of God is "consuming" only of what is evil. Of all else it is preservative. God was present with his people in Egypt, and his presence preserved them in that furnace of affliction. God was present in each devout and humble heart of his true followers, and his presence kept them from the fiery darts of the Wicked One. God would be present through all time with his Church and with his individual worshippers, not as a destroying, but as a sustaining, preserving, glorifying influence. His spiritual fire would rest upon them, envelop them, encircle them, yet would neither injure nor absorb their life, but support it, maintain it, strengthen it.
The impulse to draw nigh.
Moses saw a strange sight; one that he had never seen before; one that struck him with astonishment. His natural impulse was to inquire into its cause. God has implanted in us all this instinct, and we should do ill if we were to combat it. Natural phenomena are within reason's sphere; and Moses, who had never yet seen a supernatural sight, could not but suppose, at first beholding it, that the burning bush was a natural phenomenon. That he approached to examine is an indication that he was a man of spirit and intelligence; not a coward who might have feared some snare, not careless and unobservant, as too many country folk are. He drew near to see more clearly, and to use his other senses in discovering what the "great thing" was—acting like a sensible man and one who had had a good education.
The prohibition, and the ground of it.
Suddenly the steps of the inquirer are arrested. Wonder upon wonder! a voice calls to him out of the bush, and calls him by his own name, "Moses, Moses!" Now must have dawned on him the conviction that it was indeed a "great thing" which he was witnessing; that the ordinary course of nature was broken in upon; that he was about to be the recipient of one of those wonderful communications which God from time to time had vouchsafed to his forefathers, as to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Hence his submissive, child-like answer, "Here I am." (Compare 1 Samuel 3:4, 1 Samuel 3:6.) Then came the solemn prohibition, "Draw not nigh hither." Man, until sanctified, until brought into covenant, must not approach near to the dread presence of the Supreme Being. At Sinai Moses was commanded to "set bounds" to keep the people off, that no one might "go up into the mount, nor touch the border of it" (Exodus 19:12). The men of Bethshemesh were smitten with death, to the number of 50,070, for looking into the ark of the covenant (1 Samuel 6:19). Uzzah was slain for putting forth his hand to touch it, when he thought that there was danger of its falling (2 Samuel 6:7). God, under the Old Covenant, impressed on man in a multitude off ways his unapproachableness. Hence all the arrangements of the Temple; the veil guarding the sanctuary, into which only the high-priest could enter once in the year; the main temple-building, only to be entered by the priests; the courts of the Levites, of the Israelites, and of the Gentiles, each more and more remote from the Divine Presence. Hence the purifications of the priests and of the Levites before they could acceptably offer sacrifice; hence the carrying of the Ark by means of staves forming no part of it; hence the side-chambers of the Temple, emplaced on "rests" in the walls, "that the beams should not be fastened in the walls of the house" (1 Kings 6:6). It was so needful to impress on men, apt to conceive of God as "such an one as themselves," his awful majesty, purity, and holiness, that artificial barriers were everywhere created to check man's rash intrusion into a Presence for which he was unfit. Thus reverence was taught, man was made to know and to feel his own unworthiness, and, little by little, came to have some faint conception of the absolute perfectness and incomprehensible greatness of the Supreme One. Further, God being such as this, each place where he makes himself manifest, becomes at once holy ground. Though "heaven is his throne, and earth his footstool," and no "place" seems worthy of him or can contain him, yet it pleases him, in condescension to our infirmities and our finiteness, to choose some spots rather than others where he will mare himself known and make his presence felt. And these at once are sacred. So was the mount to which Moses went up; so was Shiloh; so was Araunah's threshingfloor; so was Jerusalem. And so in our own days are churches and the precincts of churches. God's presence, manifested in them, albeit spiritually and not materially, hallows them. And the reverent heart feels this, and cannot but show its reverence by outward signs. In the East shoos were put off. With us the head should be uncovered, the voice hushed, the eye cast down. We should feel that "God is in the midst of us." So felt Moses, when God had proclaimed himself (Exodus 3:6), and not only bared his feet as commanded, but shrouded his face in his robe "for he was afraid to look upon God." All his own sinfulness and imperfection rushed to his thought, all his unworthiness to behold God and live. Jacob had once seen God "face to face," and had marvelled that "his life was preserved" (Genesis 32:30). Moses shut out the awful Vision. So Elijah, on the same site, when he heard the "still small voice"(1 Kings 19:13); and so even the seraphim who wast continually before God's Throne in heaven (Isaiah 6:2). Consciousness of imperfection forces the creature to stand abashed in the presence of the Creator.
The call of Moses.
With face covered, but with ears attent to hear, Moses stands before God to learn his will. And God takes him, as it were, into counsel, not only calling him to a certain work, but revealing to him why he is called, what exactly he is to do, and what will be the issue of his enterprise.
1. WHY HE IS CALLED. He is called because the affliction of Israel—their sufferings—from the constant toil, from the brutal taskmasters, from the cruel Pharaoh, from the apparent hopelessness of their position—had reached to such a point that God could allow it to go on no longer. There is a point at which he will interfere to vindicate the oppressed and punish the wrong-doers, even if the oppressed are too much crushed, too downtrodden, too absolutely in despair, to cry to him. Their case calls to him; their "blood cries from the ground." But in this instance actual despair had not been reached. His people had "cried to him." And here was a second reason why he should interfere. God is never deaf to any prayers addressed to him for succour; he may not always grant them, but he hears them. And if they are sustained, and earnest, and justified by the occasion, he grants them. Such was the case now, and Moses was called because of the extreme affliction of the Israelites, and because of their prolonged and earnest cry to God under it.
2. Moses is told WHAT HE IS TO DO. He is to "bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:10); and, as a preliminary step, he is to "go to Pharaoh" (ibid.). Thus he is directed to return to Egypt forthwith, and to put himself into communication with the new king who had succeeded the one from whom he had fled. So much is made clear to him. He, an exile for forty years, and a mere hireling shepherd of the desert during that space, is to seek an interview with the great monarch of all Egypt, and to plead the cause of his people before him—to endeavour to induce him to "let them go." A difficult enterprise, to say the least; humanly speaking, a hopeless one. How should a king be induced to allow the departure of 600,000 able-bodied labourers, whose condition was that of state slaves, who could be set to any work which the king had in hand—to keep cattle, or make bricks, or build cities, or erect walls, or excavate canals? What inducement was to be offered to him to make the sacrifice? Such thoughts would naturally occur to Moses under the circumstances, and would naturally have risen to his lips but for the distinct announcement made with regard to the further point.
3. WHAT WOULD BE THE ISSUE OF THE ENTERPRISE. The Divine declaration, "I am come down to deliver them, and to bring them up out of that land into a good land and a large," was so definite and clear a statement, so positive a promise of success, as to override all objections on the score of the task being an impossible one. God "had come down to deliver" his people, and would undoubtedly do it, whatever opposition was raised. Thus, to counteract the despondency which the consideration of the existing facts and circumstances was calculated to produce, there was held forth before Moses the positive assurance of success; the certainty that God would make good his word; would, however difficult it seemed, lead his people forth, deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptian, and make them the masters of another land, large and good, flowing with milk and honey, into possession of which they would enter through his might and by his irresistible assistance.
Fitness of Moses to be God's instrument in delivering Israel.
The fitness of Moses to be Israel's deliverer will appear if we consider, first, What were the qualities which the part of deliverer required; secondly, how far they were united in him; and thirdly, what reasons there are for believing that, at the time, they were not united to the same extent in any other person.
1. NECESSARY QUALITIES OF THE DELIVERER. As having to deal, in the first instance, with a great king and his court, it was necessary that the Deliverer should be familiar with the habits of the court, should be able to assume its manners, speak its language, and not unwittingly infringe its etiquette. Not being set merely to petition, but to require—to prefer demands—it was requisite that he should feel himself, socially, on a par with the monarch, so as not to be timid or abashed before him, but able without difficulty to assert himself, to use freedom of speech, to talk as prince with prince, and not as mere courtier with monarch. Again, as having to meet and baffle Egyptian priests, and further, to be not only the Deliverer, but the Teacher and Educator of his nation, it was to the last degree necessary that he should be "learned in all the wisdom" of the time; that he should have had as good an education as any other man of the day; be able to foil the priests with their own weapons; and, after delivering his people out of bondage, be capable of elevating them, instructing them, advancing them from a rabble of slaves into an orderly, self-sufficient, fairly-enlightened, if not highly-civilised, nation. Once more: a moral fitness was necessary. The Deliverer needed to have high aspirations, a bold spirit, fervent zeal, and yet to have all these under control; to be calm, quiet, serf-contained, imperturbable in danger, persevering, prompt, considerate. Moreover, he needed to be a religious man. Anyone not upheld by high religious principle, anyone not possessed of deep and true faith, would have fallen away in some of the trials through which the nation had to pass; would have desisted, or murmured, or "lusted after evil things" (1 Corinthians 10:6), or waxed proud and wanton, or grown weary of seemingly interminable wanderings, and settled down in Arabia or even returned to Egypt.
2. MOSES' POSSESSION OF THESE QUALITIES. Moses was familiar with the customs of the Egyptian court, having been brought up in the household of a princess, and been himself a courtier until he was nearly forty years of age. Though he had subsequently spent forty years in the desert, this would not unfit him; since, in the first place, Egyptian manners and customs were unchanging; and secondly, life in the desert is at no time a bad school of manners. Arabian shepherds are not like European ones. As much politeness is often seen in the tent of a Bedouin as in the drawingroom of an empress. Moses probably thought that his forty years of seclusion rendered him less suited for the atmosphere of a court, but he was probably mistaken. What he may have lost in polish he gained in simplicity, directness, and general force of character. Moses,, again, could speak with the Pharaoh almost as an equal, since as the adopted son of a princess he had born accounted a prince, and may even, before his flight, have met Menephthah in the royal palace on terms of social equality. On the education and "wisdom" of Moses we have already descanted, and it will scarcely be questioned that in these respects he was eminently fitted for the part assigned to him by Providence. His character, too, as chastened and ripened in Midian, made him exceptionally fit. Audacity, high aspirations, strong sympathies, a burning zeal, had shown themselves in the conduct that led to his exile. These had been disciplined and brought under control by the influences of desert life, which had made him calm, self-contained, patient, persevering, considerate, without quenching his zeal or taming his high spirit. And of his religious principle there is no question. If he angered God once by "speaking unadvisedly" (Psalms 106:33; Numbers 20:10), this does but show that he was human, and therefore not perfect. Apart from this one occasion his conduct as leader of the people is, as nearly as possible, blameless. And his piety is everywhere conspicuous.
3. NO ONE BUT MOSES POSSESSED THE NECESSARY QUALITIES. With the limited knowledge that we possess, the negative is incapable of positive proof. But, so far as our historical knowledge goes, there is no one who can be named as possessing any one of the necessary qualities in a higher degree than Moses, much less as uniting them all. No Hebrew but Moses had had, so far as we know, the advantages of education and position enjoyed by Moses. No Egyptian would have been trusted by the Hebrew nation and accepted as their leader. No one who was neither Egyptian nor Hebrew would have had any weight with either people. Thus Moses was the one and only possible deliverer, exactly fitted by Providence for the position which it was intended he should take: raised up, saved, educated, trained by God to be his instrument in delivering his people, and so exactly fitted for the purpose.
Moses' timidity notwithstanding his fitness.
It is not often that those are most confident of their powers who are fittest for God's work. Great capacity is constantly accompanied by a humble estimate of itself. Jeremiah's reply when God called him was: "Ah! Lord God, I cannot speak, for I am a child" (Jeremiah 1:6). Newton seemed to himself a child gathering shells upon the shores of the ocean of Truth. The exclamation of Moses, "Who am I that I should go," etc. has been echoed by thousands. If, however, God's call is clear, the voice of self-depreciation is not to be much listened to. He knows best whether we are fit to work out his purposes, or no. Whether the call is to be an ordinary minister, or a missionary, or a bishop, or a civil leader, the foremost in a political movement, or a general at the crisis of a war, or anything else, too much timidity ought not to be shown. There is cowardice in shrinking from responsibility. If the call be clearly from without, not courted by ourselves, not sought, not angled for, not assignable to any unworthy motive, then it is to be viewed as God's call; and the proper answer is "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." Unfit as we may think ourselves, we may be. sure that he will not leave us to ourselves—his grace will be sufficient for us—he will give us all the strength we need.
God's revelation of himself under the name Jehovah, and the meaning of it.
At first sight the name by which God shall be called may seem unimportant, as it is unimportant whether a man be called Tully or Cicero. But, originally, each name that is given to God is significant; and according as one name or another is commonly used, one idea or another of the Divine nature will be prevalent. Hitherto God had been known mainly to the Semites as El, Eliun, Elohim, "Exalted, Lofty," or Shaddai, "Strong, Powerful." Another name known to them, but rarely used, was JHVH, "Existent." (The vocalisation of the name has been lost, and is uncertain.) God was now asked by Moses under what name he should speak of him to the Israelites, and was bidden to speak of him as JHVH. What, then, was the full meaning of JHVH, and why was it preferred to the other names? Probably as a security against polytheism. When words expressive of such attributes as exaltation, strength, knowledge, goodness, beautifulness, even creative energy, are made into names of God, there is a temptation at once to extend them from the one to the many, from the possessor of the attribute in the highest degree to others who possess it, or are supposed to possess it, in a high degree. Thus all such words come to be used in the plural, and the way is paved for polytheism. But if God is called "the Existent," this danger disappears; for there are but two kinds or degrees of existence, viz; self-existence, and created, dependent existence. "The Existent" must mean "the Serf-Existent," who must necessarily be One. Hence JHVH never had a plural. The only way by which an Israelite could become a polytheist was by deserting Jehovah altogether and turning to Elohim. In vindicating to himself the name Jehovah, "He who exists," or "He who alone exists," God declared himself to be—
He placed a gulf, profound—not to be bridged—between himself and every other being. He indicated that all other gods were unrealities—breath, vapour, shadows of shades; that he alone was real, stable, to be trusted; and that in him his worshippers might have "quietness and assurance for ever."
The Divine injunction to gather the elders.
God here added another injunction to those which he had previously given (Exodus 3:10), as to the modus operandi which Moses was to adopt. He was to go to the children of Israel, but not immediately or as the first step. Before making any appeal to them he was, in the first instance, to "gather the elders of Israel together." In this is involved a principle of very general application. When great designs are on hand, consultation should first be with the few. With the few matters can be calmly and quietly discussed, without passion or prejudice; questions can be asked, explanations given. And the few will have influence with the many. This was the whole idea of ancient government, which was by a king, a council, and an assembly of the people, which last was expected to ratify the council's decision. Direct appeal to the masses is, as much as possible, to be avoided. The masses are always, comparatively speaking, ignorant, stolid, unimpressible. Great ideas take root and grow by being first communicated in their fulness to a "little flock," who spread them among their companions and acquaintance, until at length they prevail generally. So our Lord called first the Twelve, and then the Seventy, and made known his doctrine to them, leaving it to them to form the Church after his ascension.
Exodus 3:17, Exodus 3:18
The promises to the elders, and to Moses.
The elders were promised two things:
(1) that they should be brought forth out of the affliction of Egypt, and
(2) that they should be established in a good land, "a land flowing with. milk and honey" Ordinary men—men who are, spiritually speaking, backward and undeveloped—require to be stirred to action by comparatively low motives. Escape from present suffering and unpleasantness, enjoyment of happiness in the future—these are practically the two chief moving powers of human action. Neither of them is a wrong motive; and Moses was instructed to appeal to each by a special promise. So may the preacher rightly do with his congregation, the minister with his flock, the father with his children. As long as men are what they are, appeals to the lower motives cannot be dispensed with at first. Care must, however, be taken that before each one, as he becomes fit for it, higher motives are set—such as duty, the love of goodness for goodness' sake, and—last, not least—the highest motive of all, the love of God, our Creator, Sustainer, Sanctifier, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being." Moses was promised at this point, to stimulate him to action, immediate success. He had doubted whether his people would listen to him, or regard him as anything but a dreamer. He is told, "they shall hearken unto thy voice." A great comfort to every one who feels that he has a mission is the acceptance of it by others. Each man, more or less, misdoubts himself, questions his own ability, sincerity, singleness of heart. The seal of an apostleship is the success of the apostolic efforts (1 Corinthians 9:2). Direct promise of success at the mouth of God was, to one so faithful as Moses, as powerful to cheer, encourage, and sustain, as success itself.
Exodus 3:19, Exodus 3:20
Pharaoh's obduracy, and God's mode of overcoming it.
There are stubborn hearts which no warnings can impress, no lessons teach, no pleading, even of God's Spirit, bond. With such he "will not always strive." After they have resisted him till his patience is exhausted, he will break them, crush them; overrule their opposition, and make it futile. God's will surely triumphs in the end. But it may be long first. God is so patient, so enduring, so long-suffering, that he will permit for months, or even years, the contradiction of sinners against himself. He will not interfere with the exercise of their free-will. He will warn, chide, chasten, afflict, contend with the sinner; try him to the uttermost; seek to lead him to repentance; give him chance after chance. But he will not compel him to submit himself; man may resist to the last; and even "curse God and die" at war with him. The final success in such a struggle cannot, however, rest with man. God "will not alway be chiding, neither keepeth he his anger for ever." At the fitting time he "stretches forth his hand and smites" the sinner, strikes him down, or sets him aside, as the storm-wind sets aside a feeble barrier of frail rushes, and works his own will in his own way. Mostly he works by natural causes; but now and again in the history of the world he has asserted himself more openly, and has broken the power and chastised the pride of a Pharaoh, a Benhadad, or a Sennacherib, in a miraculous way. Such manifestations of his might produce a marked effect, causing, as they do, "all the kingdoms of the earth to know that he is the Lord God, and he only" (2 Kings 19:19).
Exodus 3:21, Exodus 3:22
God brings good out of evil.
Had Pharaoh yielded at the first, the Egyptians would have seen the departure of Israel with regret, and would have in no way facilitated it. The opposition of the king and court, the long struggle, the ill-usage of the Israelites by the monarch who so often promised to release them, and so often retracted his word, awoke a sympathy with the Israelites, and an interest in them, which would have been altogether lacking had there been no. Opposition, no struggle, no ill-usage. Again, the plagues, especially the last, thoroughly alarmed the Egyptians, and made them anxious to be quit of such dangerous neighbours. "Egypt was glad of their departing, for they were afraid of them" (Psalms 105:38). But for Pharaoh's obduracy the plagues would not have been sent; and but for the plagues the departing Israelites would not have been looked upon by the Egyptians with the "favour" which led to their going out laden with gifts. Thus Pharaoh's stubbornness, though it led to their sufferings being prolonged, led also to their final triumphant exit, as spoilers, not as spoiled, laden with the good things of Egypt, "jewels of silver and jewels of gold," and rich apparel, the best that the Egyptians had to offer. History presents an infinitude of similar cases, where the greatest advantages have been the result of oppression and wrong. Extreme tyranny constantly leads to the assertion of freedom; anarchy to the firm establishment of law; defeat and ill-usage by a conqueror to the moral recovery of a declining race or nation. Each man's experience will tell him of the good that has arisen to him individually from sickness, from disappointment, from bereavement, from what-seemed at the time wholly evil. God brings good out of evil in a thousand marvellous ways; at one time by turning the hearts of oppressors, at another by raising the tone and spirit of the oppressed; now by letting evil run riot until it produces general disgust, anon by making use of adverse circumstances to train a champion and deliverer. Countless are the evidences that God causes evil to work towards good; uses it as an instrument-evolves his own purposes, in part, by its means, vindicating thus his absolute lordship over all, and showing that evil itself, though it fight against him, cannot thwart him.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Moses at the bush.
We do not now see burning bushes, or hear voices calling to us from their midst. The reason is, that we do not need them, The series of historical revelations is complete. Revelation in the sense of the communication of new truth—of truth beyond the range of our natural faculties, or not capable of being derived, under the guidance of God's Spirit, from revelations already given—is not to be expected. The Bible is the sum of God's authoritative revelations to the race. This bush, e.g; still burns for us in Scripture, where at any time we can visit it, and hear God's voice speaking out of it. But in another sense, revelation is not obsolete. It is not a tradition of the past, but a living reality. It has its objective side in the continuous (non-miraculous) revelation going on in nature (Psalms 19:1; Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20) and history (Acts 17:26, Acts 17:27); and in the tokens of a supernatural presence and working in the Church (Matthew 28:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Revelation 2:1). And it has its subjective side in the revelation (mediate) of Divine things to the soul by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17), and in the manifestation of God to the heart in private spiritual experience (John 14:21, John 14:23; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:16). The veil between the soul and the spiritual world is at all times a thin one. The avenues by which God can reach devout minds are innumerable. The Word, sacraments, and prayer are special media, the Divine Spirit taking of the things of Christ, and showing them to the soul (John 16:15), illuminating, interpreting, applying, confirming. But, in truth, God is "not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27); and by events of providence, in workings of conscience, through our moral and spiritual intuitions, enlightened and purified as these are by the Word, by numberless facts of nature and life, he can still draw near to those who tarry for him; meets them in ways as unexpected and surprising as at the burning bush; awes them by his wonders; flashes to them the messages of his grace. Viewing this revelation at the bush as a chapter in spiritual history, consider—
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF IT. The revelation came to Moses—
(2) while in the way of duty—he "kept the flock;"
(3) in a solemn place—"mountain of God," a natural oratory and place of sacred repute—and probably while revolving solemn thoughts;
(4) from a most unlooked-for quarter—a common bush; and at first
(5) impersonally. The bush burning had no apparent relation to Moses more than to another. It was there for him to look at, to inquire into, if he chose. It invited, but did not compel, or even ask for, his attention. All which circumstances are significant.
1. The Divinity is ever nearer to us than we think. So Jacob, as well as Moses, found it. "Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not" (Genesis 28:16).
2. Revelations are not to be expected, save in the way of duty.
3. God may be met with anywhere (John 4:24), but some places are more favourable for communion with God than others—the closet (Matthew 6:6), the sanctuary (Psalms 73:16, Psalms 73:17), natural solitudes (Matthew 16:23). And revelations have usually a relation to the state of mind of those who receive them—answering questions, resolving perplexities, affording guidance, adapting themselves to psychological conditions (cf. Job 2:12, Job 2:13; Daniel 2:29; Daniel 9:20, Daniel 9:21; Daniel 10:2-6; Acts 10:3, Act 10:10; 1 Corinthians 12:9; Revelation 1:10). It is in every way likely that Moses' thoughts were at that moment deeply occupied about Israel's future.
4. God's discoveries of himself are marked by great condescension. Lowliness of situation is no bar to the visits of the King of Heaven, while humility of heart is indispensable to our receiving them. He who dwelt in the bush will not refuse the dwelling place of the contrite heart (Isaiah 57:15). God's most wonderful discoveries of himself have been made through "base things of the world, and things which are despised" (1Co 2:1-16 :28). The highest example of this is Christ himself, of whose incarnation the angel in the bush may be regarded as a prophecy. "He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness," etc. (Isaiah 53:2).
5. God's revelations act as a moral test. This applies to the objective revelation—to the tokens of the supernatural strewn everywhere around us in life and history, as well as to Nature and the Bible. We may pass them unheeded, or we may draw nearer to inquire. The Bible invites attention by the supernatural in its history, as well as by its teachings. It is only when we draw nearer to it that the Word becomes personal, and seizes on the conscience with spiritual power. Attention on man's part is rewarded by further self-discovery on God's.
II. ITS INTEREST FOR MOSES. We may connect his turning aside to see (verse 4)—
1. With an appeal to his faculty of wonder. This is one function of miracle—to arrest attention, and awaken in the witness of it a powerful consciousness of the Divine presence.
2. With a general habit of devout inquiry. It may be true that "many a man has been led through the pale of curiosity into the sanctuary of reverence" (Parker); but it is also true that to a merely curious disposition God usually reveals little, and to an irreverent one nothing. The habit of inquiry is as valuable, if one's ultimate aim is in all things to become acquainted with God and his will, as in science and philosophy, or any other form of the pursuit of knowledge; but let inquiry be devout. "Search the Scriptures" (John 5:39). Ponder thoughtfully events of providence and facts of history. Study Nature with an eye to spiritual suggestions—to underlying spiritual analogies. Give to whatever you read or hear, which seems to have truth or value in it, the attention it deserves. Inquiry throws the mind into the attitude most favourable for receiving Divine revelations. Moses was not called by name till he "turned aside to see."
3. With the perception that in this circumstance God was specially calling him to inquire. As Moses gazed, he would be prompted to ask about this bush—What means it? What invisible power is here manifesting itself? Why is it burning at this place, and at this time? What mystery is contained in it? Has it a message for me? And he would not be long in perceiving that it must be burning there with the special view of attracting his attention. And is it not thus that the Divine usually draws near to us? Attention is arrested by something a little aside from the course of ordinary experience, and the impression it makes upon us produces the conviction that it is not unintended; that it is, as we say, "sent;" that it has a meaning and message to us we do well to look into. Every man, at some point or another in his history, has felt himself thus appealed to by the supernatural. The impression may be made by a book we feel drawn to read, or by something we read in it; through a sermon, through some event of life, by a sickness, at a deathbed, by the sayings and doings of fellow-men, or in hours of solitude, when even Nature seems peopled with strange voices, and begins to speak to us in parables. But, originate as it may, there is plainly in it, as in all special dealings of God with us, a call to inquire, to question ourselves, to ask whether, from the midst of the mystery, God may not have some further message for our souls.
III. THE SIGHT ITSELF. The bush that burned (verse 2) was—
1. A token of the Divine Presence. Moses would soon feel that he was standing in presence of the Unseen Holy.
2. A significant emblem. It represented the Israelites in their state of affliction, yet miraculously surviving. Possibly, in the questionings of his spirit, Moses had not before sufficiently considered the "token for good" implied in this astonishing preservation of the nation, and needed to have his attention directed to it. It was a clear proof that the Lord had not cast off his people. If Israel was preserved, it could only be for one reason. The continued vitality, growth, and vigour of the nation was the infallible pledge of the fulfilment of the promise.
3. An answer to prayer. For what could be the meaning of this portent, but that the long, weary silence was at length broken; that the prayer, "O Lord, how long?" was at last to receive its answer? Faith can see great results wrapped up in small beginnings. For nothing in God's procedure is isolated. Beginnings with God mean endings too.
IV. THE PERSONAL CALL. As Moses wondered—
1. The revelation became personal. He heard himself addressed by name, "Moses, Moses" (verse 4). Solemnised, yet with that presence of mind which could only arise from long habituation to the idea of an invisible spiritual world, he answered, "Here am I." This was to place himself unreservedly at God's disposal. Mark the order—
(1) God revealing (verse 1);
(2) man attending (verse 2);
(3) the revelation becoming Personal (verse 3).
Then followed the direction (verse 5), "Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes," etc. Thus Moses was instructed:
2. As to the right attitude towards God's revelations.
Moses doubtless obeyed the injunction he received. These qualities meet in all true religion: humility in hearing what God has to say; submission of mind and heart to it when said; readiness to obey. Glance for a moment at the requirement of reverence. One can understand how in the tumult of his feelings at the moment—in the very eagerness of his spirit to hear what further God had to say to him—Moses should be in danger of neglecting the outward tokens of the reverence which no doubt he felt; but it is instructive to observe that God recalls his attention to them. We are thus taught that reverence becomes us, not only in relation to God himself, but in relation to whatever is even outwardly connected with his presence, worship, or revelation. e.g; in our dealing with Scripture, in the use of Divine names and titles, in the ritual of Divine service. The attitude of the spirit is doubtless the main thing; but a reverent spirit will seek for itself suitable forms of expression; and respect for the forms is itself a duty, and an aid in the education of the sentiment. Those are greatly to be censured who, presuming on a supposed special intimacy with God not granted to others, venture to take liberties, and allow themselves in a demeanour and in a style of expression to the Almighty at the least irreverently familiar, and not unfrequently bordering on profanity. Raptures of piety, however sincere, do not justify us in forgetting that in communion with God we stand on "holy ground."—J.O.
The bush and its suggestions.
Glean here a few of the general suggestions of the passage:—
I. REVELATION. The appearance at the bush suggestive—
1. Of the supernatural in Nature. Bushes are aglow all around us, if only we had eyes to see them. Christ's teaching an illustration of the spiritual suggestiveness of Nature. "Consider the lilies" (Matthew 6:28). The parables.
2. Of the supernatural in common life. "Moses kept the flock of Jethro." The Higher Presence may be with us in the humblest occupations.
3. Of the supernatural in the Church—
(1) As a whole;
(2) Individual believers.
The bush, burning but not consumed, an emblem of Israel—of the Church—enduring in tribulation.
4. Of the higher supernatural of positive revelation. Authoritative revelation is suspended, but the sum of its results is given in Scripture. The Bible is the Bush of revelation, to which the student of Divine things will do well to direct his attention.
II. PREPAREDNESS. Cultivate with Moses—
1. A spirit of duty (Exodus 3:1).
2. A spirit of devout inquiry (Exodus 3:3).
3. A spirit of humility and reverence (Exodus 3:5, Exodus 3:6).
To such a spirit, God—
1. Reveals himself.
2. Addresses calls to his service (Exodus 3:4).
3. Gives work to do.
4. Honours in its work.—J.O.
The bush in history.
The bush had primary reference to Israel, and the fire in the bush represented Jehovah's fiery presence in the midst of his people—
1. For their protection. A fire flaming forth to consume the adversaries.
2. For their purification.
God was in the fires that tried them, as well as in the power that upheld them. The fire was thus a figurative representation at once of destroying punishment and of refining affliction. But the bush, while burning, was not consumed. This involves the principle that nothing, however weak and perishable in itself, with which God connects his presence, or which he wills to continue in existence, can by any possibility be destroyed. From this point of view—a thoroughly legitimate one—the emblem admits of various applications, and directs our attention to a series of supernatural facts yet greater than itself, and well deserving our turning aside to see.
1. There is the obvious application to the Church, which to a thoughtful' mind, pondering as it should the facts of history, is a veritable repetition of the wonder of the bush "burning but not consumed." The bush is an emblem of the Church in the other respect of outward plainness and unattractiveness. And it is noteworthy that the times when the Church has forgotten her calling to be meek and lowly in heart, and has aspired to great outward splendour, and been ambitious of worldly supremacy, have invariably been times of marked decline in purity and spirituality. She fares best when content with modest outward pretensions.
2. A second application is to the nation of the Jews—also a "sign and wonder" in history (see Keble's hymn, "The Burning Bush').
3. A third is to the Bible. What enmity has this book encountered, and what fierce attempts have been made to disprove its claims, destroy its influence, sometimes even to banish it from existene! Yet the miraculous bush survives, and retains to this hour its greenness and freshness, as if no fire had ever passed upon it.
4. Yet another application is to individual believers, against whom, while tried by fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12), neither the enmity of man, the assaults of Satan, nor providential afflictions and calamities (Job 1:1-22.) are permitted to prevail, but who, under all, enjoy a support, a peace, a comfort, plainly supernatural—"dying, and behold we live" (2 Corinthians 6:9). Flippant observers may see in these things nothing worthy of peculiar attention—nothing which cannot be explained by ordinary historical causes; but sober minds will not readily agree with them. They will regard the facts now referred to as truly "great sights," and will, like Moses, reverently turn aside to inquire into them further.
1. The true glory of the Church is God in her midst.
2. The outward weakness of the Church enhances the wonder of her preservation.
3. The Church has most reason to glory in those periods of her history when she has been most despised and persecuted (Matthew 5:11; 2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Peter 4:14).—J.O.
The God of the fathers.
"I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham," etc. In these words—
I. GOD CONNECTS HIMSELF WITH THE DEAD PATRIARCHS. They imply—
1. Continued existence; for God, who says here, not "I was," but "I am, the God of thy father," is, as Christ reminds us, "not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:32). The personal relation was not dissolved. The patriarchs still lived to him.
2. The resurrection of the body. This will not appear a far-fetched inference, if we consider the nature of the Bible hope of immortality. The Bible has little or nothing to say of an abstract "immortality of the soul." It nowhere regards the disembodied state as in itself desirable. The immortality it speaks of is the immortality of the "man"—of man in his whole complex personality of body, soul, and spirit. This implies a resurrection. The life forfeited by sin was a life in the body, and so must be the life restored by Redemption. The covenant-promise could not fall below the hopes of the heathen; and even Egyptian theology held by the notion of a revival of the body, as essential to perfected existence. Hence the practice of embalming, with which compare the care of the body by the patriarchs.
II. CONNECTS THIS REVELATION WITH FAST REVELATIONS, AS ONE OF A SERIES. It introduces what is to be said as the fulfilment of what had been already promised.
III. CONNECTS HIMSELF WITH THE EXISTING GENERATION. The God of the fathers is, in virtue of the promise, the God of the children.—J.O.
God's sympathy with the oppressed.
I. GOD IS EVER IN SYMPATHY WITH THE OPPRESSED, AND AGAINST THEIR OPPRESSORS (Exodus 3:7, Exodus 3:9). This is now, thanks to the Bible, made as certain to us as any truth can be. God's sympathy may be viewed—
1. As implied in his moral perfection.
2. As certified to us by the pity of our own hearts. He who put pity in these hearts must surely himself be pitiful. Yet, so much is there in the world which bears a different aspect, that—
3. It needs revelation to assure us of it—to put the fact beyond all doubt. And the revelation has been given. No student of God's character in the Bible can doubt that he compassionates.
(1) His words declare it.
(2) His deeds attest it.
(3) The Cross demonstrates it.
And, whatever mystery surrounds God's ways at present, he will one day make it plain by exacting a terrible retribution for all wrongs done to the defence-less (Psalms 12:5; James 5:4).
1. Comfort for the oppressed. Not one of their sighs escapes the ear of God.
2. Warning to the oppressor.
II. GOD IS PECULIARLY IN SYMPATHY WITH THE OPPRESSED, WHEN THE OPPRESSED ARE HIS OWN PEOPLE (Exodus 3:7, Exodus 3:10). Israel was God's people—
1. As Abraham's seed—children of the covenant—far gone indeed from righteousness, yet beloved for the fathers' sake (Romans 11:28).
2. As retaining, in however corrupt a form, the worship of the true God. They were his people, in a sense in which the worshippers of Osiris, and Thoth, and the other gods of Egypt, were not.
3. As containing many true believers. There was a spiritual Israel within the natural—an "holy seed" (Isaiah 6:13)—"a remnant, according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5). Therefore, because Israel was God's people, God was deeply interested in them. He knew their sorrows. He was zealous on their behalf, as One whose own honour was concerned in what they suffered. And as in all their affliction he was afflicted (Isaiah 63:9), so when the time came, he would avenge them of their adversaries. Believers have the same consolation in enduring trial (2 Thessalonians 1:4-10).
III. GOD'S SYMPATHY WITH THE OPPRESSED IS SHOWN BY HIS MERCIFULLY INTERPOSING ON THEIR BEHALF. As he interposed for Israel—as he has often interposed for his Church since—as he interposed for the salvation of the world, when, moved by our pitiable state under sin—afflicted and "oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10:38; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 1:13)—he sent his Son that "we should not perish, but have everlasting life' (John 3:16). His sympathy with his Church is shown, not only in the comforts he imparts, and the grace by which he upholds, but in the deliverances he sends; on which remark—
1. God has his own times for them.
2. Till the time comes, his people must be content to wait.
3. When it comes, no power can hinder the execution of his purpose.
4. The deliverance will bring with it compensation for all that has been endured—"a good land," etc. The ultimate compensation, when God has brought his people up out of the Egypt of all their afflictions, and planted them in the land of perfected bliss, will be such as to clear his character from all imputations of injustice and unkindness.—J.O.
A very different Moses this from the hero who was formerly so ready, even without a call, to undertake the work of Israel's deliverance. Probably failure in that first attempt led him to doubt whether he was the instrument ordained for so great a task. He may have concluded he was not, and learned his first lesson of acquiescence in the Divine will, by surrendering the hope. Or, he may have thought himself rejected for his fault. In any case, Moses had now much juster views of the magnitude of the work, and of his natural unfitness to undertake it. Who was he—a man of lonely, self-retired spirit—that he should brave the power of the Pharaohs, or think of bringing Israel out of Egypt?
1. Conscious unfitness for our work is one of the best preparations for it, The greatest of God's servants have had this feeling in a remarkable degree. They needed to be "thrust forth" to the harvest (Matthew 10:38, Or.).
2. Conscious unfitness for work grows with the clearness of our apprehensions of the Divine call to it. The nearer we are brought to God, the less we feel fit to serve him (Isaiah 6:5).
3. God's call and promise are sufficient reasons for undertaking any work, however deep our consciousness of personal unfitness. "Our sufficiency is of God" (2 Corinthians 3:6). The sign in Exodus 3:12 was a pledge to Moses that God would "make all grace to abound toward" him (2 Corinthians 9:8).—J.O.
The request of Moses to know the name of the Being who had filled him with such unutterable awe (Exodus 3:6), rested on ideas deeply rooted in ancient modes of thought. The "name" with us tends to become an arbitrary symbol—a mere vocable. But this is not the true idea of a name. A real name expresses the nature of that to which it is given. It is significant. This idea of the name is the ruling one in scientific nomenclature, where names are not imposed arbitrarily, but are designed to express exactly the essential characteristics of the object or fact of Nature for which a name is sought. The man of science interrogates Nature—allows it to reveal itself. He stands before his fact, asking—"Tell me, I pray thee, thy name?" (Genesis 32:29), and the name but expresses the properties which come to light as the result of the interrogation. Hence, as science progresses, old names are superseded by new ones-the former no longer proving adequate to the stage at which knowledge has arrived. This illustrates in some degree the ancient idea of a name, and the desire that was felt at each new stage of revelation for a new name of God. God's Name is the revelation of his attributes or essence—the disclosure of some part or aspect of the fulness of his Deity. The vocable is valueless in itself—its significance is derived from the fact of revelation of which it is the memorial. To know God's absolute Name—the Name, if one might so speak, wherewith he names himself, would be to wrest from him the secret of his absolute existence. And Jacob was rebuked when, in this sense, he sought to wrest from God his Name (Genesis 32:29). God's revealed Name expresses that of his Nature which is communicable and comprehensible—his attributes in their relations to the intelligence and needs of the creature. Each of his names is but part of the whole—a ray. The whole Name is given in the completed revelation. (An illustration of the extent to which in ancient times name and reality were held to interpenetrate each other is furnished by the practice of conjuration—the name being viewed as so truly a living part of the Being, so bound up with his essence and qualities, that to know it was to obtain a certain power over him.)
I. THE NAME ASKED (Exodus 3:13). Moses expected that this would be the first question the people would ask him—"What is his Name?"
1. It was natural to expect that a Being announcing himself, would do so by some name, either a name by which he was already known, or a new one given in the revelation.
2. It was probable, in analogy with past history, that the name would be a new one, and would serve—
(1) As a memorial of the revelation;
(2) As an exponent of its signfificance;
(3) As a clue to God's purpose in it; and
(4) As a name by which God might suitably be invoked in the new crisis of their nation's history.
3. It was certain that the people would ask this question, familiarised as they were in Egypt with the practice of invoking the gods by the one or other of their many names which bore particularly on the wants and circumstances of the worshippers. To Moses, however, this request for the Name had a much deeper significance. It originated, we may believe, in the felt inadequacy of all existing names of God to syllable the deep and powerful impression made on him by this actual contact with the Divine. Cf. Jacob at Peniel (Genesis 32:24 Genesis 32:30). God in that hour was nameless to the spirit of Moses—his experience of God went beyond any name he knew for him. A multitude of ideas crowded on him, and he could not fix or express them. Language thus fails us in moments of extraordinary experience, not always because none of the words we know would suit our purpose, but because language tends to become conventional, and the profounder meaning which lies in words gets rubbed off them. The name which God gave was after all not a new one, but an old name with new life put into it.
II. THE NAME GIVEN (Exodus 3:14, Exodus 3:15). God grants his servant's request. The name is given first explicatively,—"I am that I am" (Exodus 3:14), then as a denominative—"Jehovah" (Exodus 3:15); while he who gives it expressly claims for himself, as formerly (Exodus 3:6), that he is the God of the old covenants—the "Jehovah God" of the fathers (Exodus 3:15, Exodus 3:16).
1. The name, as above remarked, while new in this relation, is itself an old one. This is already implied in the expression—"Jehovah God of your fathers" (Exodus 3:16); and is proved by its occurrence in the earlier history, and by the name of Moses' own mother—Jochebed (Exodus 6:20), "she whose glory is Jehovah." This old and half-obsolete name God revives, and makes it the key-word of a new era of revelation.
2. He who assumes the name is the "Angel of Jehovah" of Exodus 3:1. The Angel—"a self-presentation of Jehovah entering into the sphere of the creature, which is one in essence with Jehovah; and is yet again different from him" (Oehler). The soundest view is that which regards the "Angel" as the Pre-incarnate Logos—the Divine Son.
3. The name was eminently suitable and significant. The ideas awakened in Moses by the revelation he had received would be such as these—God's living Personality; his enduring Existence (the same God that spoke to the fathers of old, speaking to him at Horeb); his covenant-keeping Faithfulness; his Self-identity in will and purpose; his unfailing Power (the bush burning unconsumed); his Mercy and Compassion. All these ideas are expressed in the name Jehovah, which represents the highest reach of Old Testament revelation. That name denotes God as—
4. Independent of his creatures.
6. Self-revealing and gracious.
1. Changeless in his purpose.
2. Faithful to his promises.
3. Able to fulfil them.
4. Certain to do so.—J.O.
The two messages.
I. THE MESSAGE TO THE ELDERS OF ISRAEL (Exodus 3:16-18). Moses was to go first to the elders of the people. First—before he went to Pharaoh; and first—before communicating with any of the people. This arrangement was—
1. Necessary. The people's consent must be obtained to their own deliverance. God would have them co-operate with him—
(2) Intelligently; would carry them with him as free agents in all he did.
This applies to the higher Redemption. Men cannot be saved without their own consent. We must, in the sense of Philippians 2:12, work out our own salvation—must co-operate with God, by freely adopting and falling in with his method of grace. There must be free choice of Christ as our Saviour, free compliance with the directions of the Gospel, free co-operation with the Spirit in the work of our sanctification.
2. Wise. The elders were the representatives of the people. They had a claim to be approached first. They were men of experience, and were better able to judge deliberately of the proposals laid before them. They had exceptional facilities for diffusing information, while communication with them would have the additional advantage of greater privacy. If Moses could satisfy the elders of his Divine commission, and could gain their intelligent consent to his proposals, the consent of the people would readily be forthcoming. So Paul, in going up to Jerusalem, communicated the Gospel he had received "privately to them which were of reputation,"—to "James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars" (Galatians 2:2-9). And it was not till Jesus had been decisively rejected by the authorities in Jerusalem that he commenced a popular ministry in Galilee. Learn lessons—
(1) Of the respect due to constituted authorities.
(2) Of the value of representative institutions.
(3) Of the need of prudence and caution in the initiation and conduct of public movements.
3. Kindly. No time was to be lost in carrying to the Israelites the tidings of approaching deliverance. The message brought to them was a true gospel. Mark its nature. It told how God had seen their affliction, and had visited them, and would redeem them from bondage. This gives no sanction to Ewald's theory, that the Exodus had its origin in a powerful movement in the nation itself—"the most extraordinary exertions, and most noble activities of the spirit wrestling for freedom." The narrative says nothing of this mighty spiritual movement, but represents the people as lying hopeless and helpless till God visited them; their help did not come from themselves, but from God. The two views well illustrate the two ways of conceiving the possibility of man's deliverance from the woes that oppress him. The one—the humanitarian—trusts to recuperative powers inherent in the race, to its own "extraordinary exertions" and noble spiritual activities—and predicts for it a glorious future wrought out by its own efforts. The other—the Christian—has no such hope. It views the race as lying in a state of moral and spiritual helplessness, and recognises the necessity of a salvation coming to it from without. "We look," says Neander, "upon Christianity, not as a power that has sprung up out of the hidden depths of man's nature, but as one which descended from above, when heaven opened itself anew to man's long-alienated race; a power which, as both in its origin and essence it is exalted above all that human nature can create out of its own resources, was designed to impart to that nature a new life, and to change it in its inmost principles."
II. THE MESSAGE TO PHARAOH (verse 18). Moses, with the elders, was to go to Pharaoh, and demand of him that the Hebrews be allowed to take a three days' journey into the wilderness, there to sacrifice to Jehovah. Note on this request—
1. Its honesty. The ultimate design was to lead Israel out of Egypt altogether. If this first request was studiously made moderate, it was not with the intention of deceiving Pharaoh, but that it might be the easier for him to grant it. The demand was made in perfectly good faith. What was asked sufficed to test the king's disposition. Had Pharaoh yielded, no advantage would have been taken of his compliance to effect a dishonourable escape from Egypt. New announcements would doubtless have been made to him, rewarding him as amply for obedience to this first word of God as afterwards he was punished for disobedience to it, and informing him further of the Divine intentions.
2. Its incompleteness. For this demand bore on the face of it that it was not the whole. It told Pharaoh his immediate duty, but beyond that left matters in a position requiring further revelation. Whatever was to follow the three days' journey, it was certain that "the God of the Hebrews," who had met with them, would never consent to his worshippers being sent back again to bondage. That Pharaoh must plainly enough have perceived, and Moses made no attempt to dissemble it. Learn—
(1) God's counsels are revealed to men bit by bit.
(2) When present duty is revealed to us, we ought to act on that, though ignorant of all that is to follow.
(3) God partially hides his counsels from men, that the spirit of obedience may be tested.
(4) The gravest consequences may hang on first acts of obedience or disobedience.
III. PHARAOH'S REJECTION OF GOD'S MESSAGE (verses 18-22.)
1. It was foreseen by God (verse 19). Yet—
2. It did not hinder the execution of God's purpose (verse 20). Whether Pharaoh willed or not, the Exodus would take place. If not with his consent, then against it, and "by a mighty hand." Pharaoh's disobedience would be overruled
(1) To God's glory. The clay cannot escape from the hand of the potter (Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:21). If Pharaoh will not be made a vessel unto honour, he will be moulded into a vessel unto dishonour, and made to subserve God's purpose in another way (Exodus 9:16).
(2) To his own hurt (verse 20). His disobedience would bring on him wrath and destruction. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!" (Isaiah 45:9).
(3) To the enrichment of the people (verses 21-22). The Egyptians would be glad in the end to give the Hebrews whatever they wished. So would they "spoil the Egyptians." Believers' trials tend to their ultimate enrichment (2 Corinthians 4:18). And it is the saints of God who shall yet inherit the earth. Learn also that whatever is valuable in the world's learning, science, literature, or art, is not to be despised, but to be freely appropriated by the Church, and used in God's service.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The burning bush.
I. OBSERVE THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH GOD FINDS MOSES. He is still with Jethro, although forty years have passed since their first acquaintance. Though a fugitive, he had not become a mere wanderer.
1. He continues, however, in a comparatively humble position. His marriage to Jethro's daughter and his long stay in the country do not seem to have brought him much external prosperity. He has not reached even the modest point of success in the eyes of a Midianite shepherd, viz. to have a flock of his own. But this very humility of position doubtless had its advantages and its place in the providence of God with respect to him. With all the lowliness of his state, it was better to be a living man in Midian than to have been Main as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. God had brought him out of a king's house, so that he might be freed from all the temptations of soft raiment, and also to make manifest that, although among courtiers, he was, not of them. But if during his stay in Midian he had increased in pastoral wealth, and become a second Job (Job 1:3), then, like Job, he might have had to go into humiliation because of his wealth. It was well for him that while he had the care of property, he had not the cares of it (James 1:10, James 1:11).
2. God finds him engaged in faithful service, leading his flock far into the desert that they might find suitable pasture. God comes to those who are diligently occupied in some useful work, even if it be as humble and obscure as that of Moses. He does not come with his revelations to day-dreamers; they are left to build their castles in the air. They who despise common and daily work, on the pretext that they are fitted for something much better, will at last be thrown into the corner among the refuse. "Let those that think themselves buried alive be content to shine like lamps in sepulchres, and wait till God's time comes for setting them in a candlestick" (Matthew 4:18-22, Matthew 9:9; Luke 2:8).
II. GOD APPROACHES MOSES WITH A SUDDEN TEST. "The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire, out of the midst of a bush" i.e. the flame of fire became a messenger of God to Moses. We are told in Psalms 104:1-35. that God is he who makes the clouds his chariot, walks upon the wings of the wind, makes the winds his messengers, and flaming fire into his ministers (Hebrews 1:7). And so here God sends this flame of fire, encompassing and attacking the bush, in order to discover what sort of man Moses is. Certain features of his character, viz. his patriotism, his hatred of oppression, his prompt action to serve the weak, have hitherto been exhibited rather than tested. He had shown what sort of man he was in the ordinary experiences of life, such experiences as might come to any of us. But now he is face to face with an extraordinary experience, a sudden and unexpected test. The burning bush was to Moses what both miracles and parables were to those who came into contact with Jesus. To some the miracles were mere wonders; to others they revealed an open door of communication with God. To some the parables were only aimless narratives, mere story-telling. To others the Divine Teacher was able to say, "It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 13:11). And, in a similar way, when Moses came suddenly upon the burning bush, there was also a sudden revelation of the state of his heart. He did not treat the phenomenon as a delusion; did not begin to suspect his own sanity; did not seek his kindred, that they might come and gape at this new wonder. It was impressed upon his mind exactly as it was meant to be impressed. He asked the very question that above all others needed to be asked—why this bush was not consumed. For observe that it was something which in ordinary circumstances would be easily and quickly consumed (Exodus 22:6; Ecclesiastes 7:6; Matthew 6:30). It was not some metal well used to the fire, but a bush actually burning yet not burning away. And as this burning bush was thus a test to Moses, so the record of it is also a test to us. Let us suppose the question put all round, "What would you have done if you had been there?" We know well the answer that would come from one class of minds: "There was no such thing; it was all Moses' own imagination." Thus the test comes in. As God tested Moses in exhibiting the burning bush as his messenger, so he tests us by the record of this and all other unusual occurrences with which the Scriptures are crowded. If we say at once concerning the burning bush and all that is supernatural that it is but delusion, then God's way to our hearts and our salvation is blocked at once. We must be loyal to fact wherever we find it. The very evidence of our own senses, and the accumulated testimony of honest and competent witnesses, are not to be sacrificed to so-called first principles of rational inquiry. The right spirit is that shown by Peter and his companion in the house of Cornelius. They saw with their own eyes that the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household; and Peter made his inferences and his action to depend on this indisputable fact (Acts 10:44; Acts 11:18). When Moses turned aside to see the great sight his eye was single; he did not quibble and despise; and therefore his whole body was filled with light.
III. GOD MEETS A PROPER INQUIRY WITH PROPER TREATMENT. Moses is approaching the burning bush to investigate the difficulty by his natural faculties, when God at once arrests him, making known his own presence, and enjoining such outward marks of reverence as became the place and the occasion. And Moses, as we might expect, is immediately obedient. Those who have in them the spirit that seeks for truth, the spirit of faith and right inquiry, will also show a spirit ready at once to respond to the presence of God. Moses must have had those principles in his life which pointed on to perfect purity of heart. That purity he had in its beginnings, or he would not have gained such a sense of God's presence as was here bestowed on him. Note next, that God does not proceed to answer the inquiry of Moses. There was really no occasion to answer it. When Moses knew that the presence of God had to do with the miracle, he knew enough. To know exactly how God had done it was beyond him. Even God cannot explain the inexplicable. The secrets of creation cannot be penetrated by those who lack creative power. Man can make machines; therefore the man who makes a machine can explain the purpose and the parts of it to another man. Human beings are the parents of human beings; but as they have no power to make intelligently any living thing, so they cannot understand either how living things are brought into existence or sustained in it. God calls Moses now, not to explain why. the bush is burning, but to subdue his mind into appropriate reverence and expectation. The search for truth must not degenerate into curiosity, nor be pursued into presumption.
IV. THOUGH GOD LEAVES THE INQUIRY FORMALLY UNANSWERED, YET THE BURNING BUSH DOES SERVE SOME FURTHER PURPOSE AS AN INSTRUMENT OF INSTRUCTION. There was much teaching in this burning bush. If the aim had been merely to arrest the attention of Moses, then any wonder would have served the purpose. But the wonders of God not only test; they also teach. They must be something unusual, or they would not test sufficiently; they must be something more than merely unusual, else they would not teach. The bush was Israel in the flame of Egypt. That bush had been burning now a century, more or less, yet it was riot consumed. All that was essential to its nature, its growth, and its fruitfulness still remained. What was permanent in Israel was no more affected than the tree is by the fading and falling of its leaves in autumn. The leaves die, but the tree remains. Its roots are still in the soil and the sap still in the trunk. Thus, by this exhibition of the burning bush, God brought before Moses the great truth that, however natural forces may be gathered against his people, and however they may be intensified in their attack, there is nevertheless a power from on high which can resist them all—a secret, countervailing power in which we may ever put our trust. And this power is not only for preservation in the midst of affliction, but for ultimate deliverance from it. The power by which God can keep the bush from being consumed, is a power by which he can take it out of the fire altogether. Believe in this power, and trust it more and more, and God will lead you into sublime conclusions, and endow you with most precious privileges.—Y.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Having wakened the mind of Moses into full activity, given him a revelation of supernatural power, and brought him altogether into a state of the greatest reverence and awe, God proceeds to a revelation of himself in a particular aspect—an aspect which required and repaid the most earnest attention. Notice that, unlike the revelation of the name I AM (Exodus 3:13), it was unsolicited.
I. CONSIDER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS NAME TO MOSES AND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.
1. It was a confident reference to the past. Moses might look back on his own career, or that of he people to whom he belonged, with a measure of shame, doubt, humiliation, and disappointment; but God could point back to all his dealings with men as consistent, glorious, and worthy of all remembrance.
2. It provided a certain kind of mediatorship in the knowledge of God. It gave the best way for Moses and Israel to think of God, at that particular time. It was as if God had said to Moses, "You are to gain your chief sense of my nearness to Israel and abiding interest in them by thinking of my actual, repeated, and recorded dealings with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." No devout Israelite could become acquainted with that section of Genesis, from the time when God first appeared to Abram down to the death of Jacob, without feeling that the God of these three men was even a more prominent figure in the history than they are themselves. We could as easily leave out the name of Abraham from the narrative, as leave out the name of God. What we are told of Abraham is nothing, save as the effect and expression of the will of God. Abram is as a mere name, till God comes in contact with him. It is not so much a life of Abraham we are reading, as a history of how God's purposes and power became manifest in his experience.
3. It kept before Moses the connexion of God with the lives of individuals. God made separate appearances to each of these three men, dealing with them according to their Circumstances and their character. He showed his continual and unfailing observation of their lives, by revealing his presence at every critical point.
4. There was a connexion of peculiar importance which God had with some individuals rather than with others. He was the God of Adam, of Enoch, and of Noah; why not have associated himself with these illustrious names? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stood towards Israel in the relation of one who had made large promises, allowed himself to become the source of large expectations, and imposed strict requirements. He was not only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, taken separately, but Of these three men, bound together in a very peculiar way. Not only did they stand in a lineal succession, Abraham being father to Isaac, and IsaActs father to Jacob, but that succession was contrary to natural expectations and customary arrangements. IsaActs was the son of Abraham, but also a son born when the resources of nature were exhausted. Jacob was the son of Isaac, but also the younger son, on whom, contrary to custom, the privileges of the firstborn alighted. Thus it became impossible to describe God as the God of Abraham and Ishmael, though in a certain sense he was the God of Ishmael (Genesis 17:20). Nor could he be called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau, though assuredly he was the God of Esau also. The only name which would indicate to Moses all he had to bear in mind, was the name which God here employs.
5. He was the God of these men in spite of great defects of character and great blots on conduct. They were men in whom he found much that was evil, much that indicated a low moral state, but he found in them all, and particularly in the first of them, a spirit of faith which enabled him to begin, as from a certain definite point in history, that work which is to end in all nations of the earth being blessed. Already he had made a great nation out of Abram—a persecuted and oppressed nation indeed, but none the less a great one. And had he not spoken to Abram concerning this very bondage in Egypt? (Genesis 15:13, Genesis 15:14). Some such revelation as this at Horeb, to some deliverer or other, might now be expected. It must surely have been often a perplexity to Moses, what had become of this God who had done so much for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
II. CONSIDER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS NAME TO US, We are not mere spectators of the way in which the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob approved himself as also the God of Moses and the Israelites in Egypt and in the wilderness. To speak of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is only another way of speaking of the God of those who really believe in him. Whenever a real believer ponders this name, then it becomes one of precious associations; it leads by the very mention of it, further and further onwards in subjection to the invisible. But after all, this name, so deeply impressed on Moses, is chiefly valuable to us as suggesting a name far richer in meaning and in power. We have a look into the past which Moses had not. He looked backward and saw God's dealings with Abraham, and found in them everything to inspire faith in God and expectation from him. We look backward and see, not only Abraham, but Christ; not only Isaac, but Christ; not only Jacob, but Christ. When we look back to these men of Genesis, we see faith standing out like an isolated mountain in the midst of a plain; but we see much also that we would rather not see. Whereas, when we look back to Christ we see not only a full believer, but a flawless life. In him there stands the chief of those that walk by faith, the facile princeps of them—he who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame. His faith was such a full, exalted element of his character, that it needs much effort on our part to grasp the fact that, while here below, Jesus, as much as all the rest of us, needed to walk by faith, and was constantly compelled to struggle with unbelief. The great Jehovah is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; also the God of Paul and every true apostle. Suppose Moses could have had the spirits of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob appear to him in Horeb, and assure him that the God of the burning bush was the God who had dealt with them in the days of their flesh; would not this have Been reckoned a most confirming and exhilarating testimony? And we, practically, have a testimony of this sort. We read of Jesus regarding God as his Father, habitually and in the most appropriating way. We have his actual experience for our comfort, our inspiration, and our guide. If an Israelite was asked what God he believed, tried to serve, and had his. highest expectations from, his best answer was, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." So we, if asked a similar question, can give no better answer than "The God of Christ and the God of Paul: the God who has ever been the same through all vicissitudes of his Church; ever loving, faithful, and sustaining,"—Y.
A large promise for a great need.
I. THE GREAT NEED. It is a need carefully observed by God and well known to him. This has been recorded already, although hardly so emphatically, in Exodus 2:23-25. It is one thing to have intelligence of God's interest communicated by some third person; quite another to hear the words of pity warm and tender from God himself. Moses and many of the Israelites may have thought that they knew the need only too well, bitter as their experiences had been; but, with all their experiences, they knew not that need as God knew it, looking down from heaven, seeing all things with his searching eye, and having a correct and complete knowledge of them. It is with great force that God represents himself seeing as well as hearing. Hearing indicated that he noted the representation of their troubles and needs which the people themselves made; seeing indicated the investigation he made for himself. God was not dependent upon the complaints of the people for his knowledge of their troubles. The cries of men are not always worthy of pity, any more than the cry of a spoilt child. Such cries can only be left unheeded, with the hope that they may end in wisdom and submission. But the cry of Israel was the cry of the oppressed, the cry of God's people; and, as God saw their state, there was ample evidence of the oppression and the cruelty. When he came down to meet Moses at Horeb, he needed not to listen to a long account of Israel's troubles; he came not in order that he might inquire, but because of what he already fully knew.
II. THE LARGE PROMISE. God may be long unmanifested, but, when he appears, it is with indubitable proofs of his presence; he may be long silent, but when he speaks, it is with statements and promises worthy of himself. He does not merely utter an expression of sympathy with suffering Israel; that expression is only the starting word of a large undertaking for the future. He repeats, emphatically, the essence of all he had ever said to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning their posterity. He has distinctly in view, not only the removal of a burden, but a future of liberty, independence, and blessedness. Thus it became manifest that the deliverance had not come earlier in time because the matter of deliverance was not the only thing in question. It had to be considered how liberty should be used when acquired. Israel needed a leader, and the leaders whom God approves are not made in a day. Israel had to wait while Moses went through his eighty years of varied discipline, Then, moreover, the people were going into a good land and a large, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of rich pastures and great fertility, a land inhabited by six strong and warlike nations; and therefore they must not go as a handful of people. Thus, while the people were going through these great afflictions, groaning as if in despair, God was doing two things of the greatest moment. He was training Moses and increasing Israel in numbers. What a lesson to us in the midst of our afflictions, with all their consequent murmuring and unbelief! If God seemed to have little to do with Israel during these years of oppression, it was that he might have all the more to do with them, manifestly, in the years to come. Little did either Moses or Israel dream how closely God would keep to them in the future. By the word of God to him here, the thoughts of Moses were brought as at one bound from the darkness of midnight to the blaze of noonday. God does not confine himself to telling Moses that he will deliver Israel. Deliverance for its own sake was as nothing; it was for the sake of what lay beyond it. He does not say that he will deliver, and wait till the time of deliverance comes, to speak of the glories and blessings of Canaan. All these things had been spoken of generations before. God was but taking, as it were, out of some muniment-room, his old plan, first shown to Abraham; unfolding it, and showing also to Moses that it still remained in all its integrity.—Y.
The first difficulty: Who am I?
Divine promises are not long kept separated from human duty. Scarcely has God presented to Moses this welcome, almost dazzling prospect for Israel, when there breaks upon his ear an announcement of his own connection with it, and that in the most trying and responsible position. That he was to have some sort of connection with the liberation of Israel Was just what he might expect. God assuredly had not chosen to visit him so far from Egypt, and in that solitary place, simply to give him the good news and leave him there. And now a duty indeed is laid upon him, the duty of duties; he who has not been near Israel for forty years is to be the chief agent in their deliverance.
I. CONSIDER THE RECEPTION WHICH MOSES GIVES TO GOD'S ANNOUNCEMENT. Observe—
1. The point on which Moses expresses no doubt. He says no word of doubt as to the possibility of Israel being delivered from Egypt. The achievement is from the human point of view a great one, and how it is to be managed he has not yet the slightest clue, but he does not doubt that it will be managed. He might have asked, "How can a thing so great as this be done, and the thraldom of generations utterly cast off?" but he had profited already by the lesson of the burning bush, and no such question crossed his lips. For whether is easier, to preserve a bush amid the fierce flames, or to deliver a nation from bondage? The power that can do the one can do the other.
2. The point on which he is full of doubt. "Who am I?" etc. His mind is turned at once to his own qualifications. And what wonder? It was a great leap from being a shepherd in the wilderness to being an ambassador to. a king, and a leader of men. The fact that Moses questioned his personal ability and personal worthiness is, though it may not at first appear so, a great indication of his very fitness for the post. He did not jump at the chance of distinction. He had a remembrance of his bad odour in Egypt. He had lived, too, at court, and knew how hard it is to get at kings. We can hardly call this doubt of Moses blameworthy, for he was spoken to as a sinful man, and God did not expect from him at this first opening of the interview a response such as could only come fittingly from an angel, ready at once to fly on any errand of the Almighty. A Gabriel would not have said, "who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?" for angels cannot be spoken of as either humble or proud. But Moses was deeply conscious of his own faults. Indeed, if he had not been, God would not have chosen him. Men of a different sort, self-complacent and self-confident, were the last God would have looked to in such circumstances. The men he wants are such as feel keenly all natural defects—sensitive, may be, to criticism and harsh words of every kind; men, too, who for their own inclination, love the quiet and shady nooks of existence, and do not care to leave them, save under the pressure of some manifest public claim or some persistent voice of God to the tender conscience within. Such men are generally called, upon their first emergence into public, presumptuous, meddlesome, and fanatical; and they have to lay their account with these hard names. They are apt to meet with a great deal of gratuitous counsel, given on the grounds of what is called common sense. Moses well knew the difficulties that would come in his way. The one thing he had yet to learn was that God knew him far better than he did himself.
II. CONSIDER THE ENCOURAGEMENTS GOD GIVES TO MOSES. There is no word of rebuke in any way, but immediate and abundant encouragement.
1. The emphatic assurance of God's presence and companionship. The "I" of Moses is met by the "I" of God. Moses was to go to Pharaoh strong in the consciousness that the God who sent him was also with him. There would not be about him anything that ambassadors usually had—rich personal adornments, pomp of attendance, great profusion of presents, distinguished earthly rank. But the absence of these things only makes more manifest the presence and dignity of the invisible God. The less of earth was seen, the more of heaven; the less of man, the more of God. If God be for us, who can be against us? If God be with us, what need we care who forsake us? Because Moses felt his own deficiencies, compared with the greatness of the work before him, God gave him this promise, and the fulfilment of it gave both needed and sufficient strength during all his conflict with Pharaoh. What about our relation to Christ's promise, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world?" The mournful truth with respect to us may be that we do not feel, either the greatness of the work before us, or our utter lack of strength to do it. We must know the burdens and the bonds, the smitings and the contumely, the sighing and the crying, of spiritual Egypt, before we can appreciate the necessity and graciousness of Christ's parting promise to his people.
2. God adds something even more noticeable than the promise of his presence. We do not say it is more important, but it is certainly more noticeable. He makes an intimation of a very helpful token to be exhibited in the future. Moses needed no more tokens of God's power at present; he had a sufficient token in the burning bush. If this had failed to impress him, neither could he have been persuaded by any additional wonder. But God gave to Moses a word which would keep in his mind the prospect and hope of a great sign in the time to come. What a thought to take with him through all the dismal succession of the plagues, through all the steady progress towards deliverance—that somehow or other God would bring the large host of Israel in this very mountain; to this lonely place where few people lived, because few could live! Moses would need a token by-and-bye even more than he bad needed one now. His greatest difficulties were to be, not with Pharaoh, but with Israel; not in getting them out of Egypt, but in leading them onward to Canaan. Some difficulties doubtless he would expect, but all the stubbornness, waywardness and carnality of Israel he did not yet foresee. So the Apostle found his greatest difficulties and sorrows, not from those who stoned him at Lystra, imprisoned him at Philippi, and conspired against him at Jerusalem; but from the fornicators, the litigious, the schismatical, the deniers of the resurrection at Corinth; from the pliable yielders to Jewish bigotry, in Galatia; in short, from.all who, having professed to receive the truth, acted in a way incompatible with their professions; and thus we see God keeping Moses, as it were, ahead of the people. He was forty years ahead of them already. The creature comforts of Egypt, for which Israel lusted so in the wilderness, were no temptation to him, seeing he had become used to the wilderness. And so, when he came again to Horeb, with all this vast host in his charge, it was to rejoice in the strength that came from a fulfilled promise of God.
III. CONSIDER THE EXPECTATION FROM ISRAEL WITH WHICH GOD LOOKS FORWARD TO THE GIVING OF THIS TOKEN. Not only will God bring Israel to this mountain, but when they reach it, it will be to serve him. He says very little; only, "Ye shall serve God," but that little would be enough to set Moses thinking. And yet, with, all his anticipations, they must have fallen far short of the reality. One small word from the lips of God has behind it a fulness of meaning far beyond present thoughts. We learn, by the time we come to the end of this book, that serving God meant gathering in solemn and timid awe around the smoking mount; meant for Moses himself forty days and nights of retirement with Jehovah; meant the construction of the Tabernacle with all its holy contents according to the pattern shown in the mount. What a difference in the knowledge, the obligations, and the outlook of the Israelites when they left Sinai! And if the word "service," looked at in the light of past experience, was a word of meaning so large with respect to them, is it not incumbent on us to do all we can for ourselves to fill the great terms of the Christian dispensation with the fulness of their meaning? Faith—atonement—the blood of Christ—regeneration—love—holiness—heaven: let these words represent to our minds an ever-growing, a devout and correct experience of the great body of the truth as it is in Jesus.—Y.
The second difficulty: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-what is his name?
Moses feels that when he goes among his brethren, one of their first questions will be as to the name of this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Consider—
I. HOW IT WAS THAT THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH A QUESTION WAS SUGGESTED TO HIS MIND. All the deities of the other nations had names, and doubtless the gods of Egypt were well known by name to the Israelites. Part of the glory of each nation came from the fact that it was under the protection and favour of so renowned a being as its God. The feeling of Moses in asking this question may be illustrated from the clamour of the Ephesian mob against Paul. The Ephesians felt that it was a great deal to be able to say that Diana had a special interest in them. And so it seemed to Moses a reversal of the proper order of things to go to his brethren with no more indication of the Being who had sent him, than that he had been historically connected with Abraham, IsaActs and Jacob. Moses could not believe that his own people would rest contented with such a representation as this; indeed, we may very reasonably go further, and assume that he himself was anxious to know the name of this unnamed God. He was not yet filled with the light and power of the pure monotheistic conception. Certainly he had just felt what real might there was with the God of his fathers, and probably there was no shadow of doubt in his mind that this God was powerful far beyond any of the rest; but he had yet to learn that he was God alone, and that all other deities, however imposing, were nothing more than the fictions of degraded and wayward imagination. When we bear in mind that Moses was only at the beginning of his personal acquaintance with God, then we shall see that there was nothing wonderful or unreasonable, from the point of his attainments at the time, in asking such a question. Observe also that the very question is a revelation of how ignorant the Israelites were of God. How clear the proof is that the thought of God, as Jehovah, came down from above, and did not rise out of the corrupted hearts of men. When we have much to do with persons, it is a matter of necessity to have names for them, and if they give us none, we must make them for ourselves. But the Israelites had no transactions with God, save as he came down and pressed his presence upon them; and even then all that they could see was such power as became manifest to the senses. It is very certain that if God had not revealed this name, there was no faculty among the Israelites to invent it.
II. THE GIVING OF THE NAME. We must bear in mind the purpose for which the name was given. The question at once suggests itself—Would God have given this name, if he had not been asked? To this perhaps the best answer is that the difficulty out of which the question rose was sure to be felt, even if the question itself was not asked. Some name of the kind assuredly became needed for distinguishing purposes. It was a name as helpful to the people of idolatrous nations as to Israel itself. An Egyptian or a Philistine could say, "The Hebrews call their God Jehovah." What the Israelite understood by the name in itself, is, we may fairly say, a point impossible to settle. The wisdom of God is certainly evident in giving a name which, while it so well served a temporary purpose, remains still to suggest matters which no lapse of time can ever render indifferent. It is vain to discuss the form of the expression, with the aim of tying it down to mean some particular aspect of the Divine nature, to the exclusion of others. Far better is it for Christians to take it—and thus, surely, devout Israelites would take it—as suggesting all that it is fitted to suggest. There is the name; some will put into it more, and some less, but no one can pretend that he has filled it with the fulness of its import. It would be very helpful for the Israelites always to bear in mind the occurrence of the first person in this great distinguishing name. The God of Abraham, IsaActs and Jacob, is one who can say "I." He is not represented by some dumb idol, voiceless save through the traditions of those who worship it. He who says "I am" thus registers in Holy Writ an expression which will have meaning and suggestiveness in every language under heaven. What an intimation is given to us of the permanent value of the expression when we come upon it so suddenly in the discussion between Jesus and the Jews! They had spoken haughtily concerning great names in the past—the dead Abraham and the dead prophets; when straightway, as by the breath of his mouth, Jesus shrivels up the glories of all mere mundane history by his declaration, "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58.) Abraham and all the rest of us have come into existence. But Jesus is one who, even here below, with the knowledge of what happened at Bethlehem, has that in him whereby he can say, "I am."
III. THE GIVING OF THIS NAME MADE IT NEEDFUL TO REITERATE AND EMPHASISE THE NAME ALREADY GIVEN. There is nothing to indicate that the name for which Moses asked was to be mentioned to the Israelites unless they applied for it. The real necessity and value of it belonged to the future rather than the present. The name already given was the name of urgent importance for the present need. It could not for a moment sink into the background even before the name "I am." The one thing needful for Israel, at this time, was to get them into the past, and to bring before their minds with all possible freshness and impressiveness, the actions, the purposes and the claims of the God who had dealt with Abraham, IsaActs and Jacob. Of what avail is it to know that there is an eternal immutable God, unless we, in our mutability, in our melancholy experiences of time, are brought into helpful connection with him? We may ponder over the name Jehovah without coming to any knowledge of the God of Abraham, IsaActs and Jacob; but if we only begin by a devout consideration of the narrative concerning these men, then assuredly we shall come at last to a profitable and comforting knowledge of God. There are many good purposes to be served by studying the differences between created and uncreated existence, and by making ourselves acquainted with those subtle speculations concerning the Divine nature which have fascinated and too often tantalised the greatest intellects among men; and yet all these are as nothing unless from our acquaintance with them we advance, still searching and seeking, to a personal knowledge of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is well to have our minds lifted up to lofty conceptions; it is better still, coming to the Father through Christ, to have our hearts nourished, gladdened and consoled.—Y.
The coming liberation: God indicates the method of it.
In this conversation between God and Moses, recorded in chaps, 3. and 4; we observe that God is occupied with something more than simply answering the questions of Moses. Answering these questions, he then goes on to give his own instructions besides. God's instructions to us, for right service, do not depend on our questions. These must be answered, that stumblingblocks may be taken out of the way; but when they are removed, then we must wait and listen, to find out the exact path according to the Divine will. Thus in the passage before us, God indicates to Moses the really critical part of the great enterprise. The questions of Moses show that it is in Israel, in himself and in his brethren, that Moses looks for the great difficulties. But now God would point out to him that the real struggle is to be in breaking down the proud, despotic resolution of Pharaoh. There was no occasion for Moses to doubt the concurrence of his own people. Nothing very taxing or trying is yet asked from them. "They shall hearken to thy voice." But, when they had hearkened, Moses had to go from them to a man who would not hearken, either to him or to God who had sent him. Observe—
I. THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR APPROACHING PHARAOH. Moses was not left to approach Pharaoh in any way that might seem best to himself. God ordered who the suppliants were to be, and what the exact petition they were to present.
1. The suppliants. They are Moses and the elders of Israel. There is a due, general and dignified representation of the whole people. Moses is to go, not only as the messenger of God, but undeniably as the spokesman of his enslaved brethren. God assures him that he will win the companionship and support of the older and experienced men among them. It is not to be some hot, rebellious crowd of youths that will seek to break in upon Pharaoh. A representative body, most if not all of them well up in years, and headed by a man of fourscore, are to approach him in a dignified way, respectful to him and respectful to themselves. Those who are the advocates of a righteous cause must not spoil or dishonour it by a rash, provocative and boisterous line of conduct. Pharaoh is to be made conscious that he is dealing with those who have every right and competency to speak. If he meets them in an angry, unyielding spirit, he will be left with no chance of finding excuse for himself in the spirit in which he has been approached.
2. The petition. The petitioners are to ask for only a small part of what is really required. The request has been called by some a deceptive one. It is wonderful how quick the worldly mind is, being so full of trickery and deceit itself, to find out deceit in God. If this had been purely the request of Israel, then it would have been deceitful, but it was emphatically God's request, and it served more purposes than one. In the first place, the character of the boon desired indicated to Israel, and especially to these responsible men the elders, what God was expecting from them. He who had told Moses, in direct terms, concerning the service in "this mountain" (Exodus 3:12), was now intimating to them, indirectly, but not less forcibly, something of the same kind. God has more ways than one of setting our duties before us. Secondly, the request was a very searching test of Pharaoh himself. It was a test with regard to the spirit and reality of his own religion. If to him religion was a real necessity, a real source of strength, then there was an appeal to whatever might be noble and generous in his heart not to shut out the Hebrews from such blessings as were to be procured in worshipping Jehovah their God, and the request searched Pharaoh's heart in many ways besides. God well knew beforehand what the result would be, and he chose such an introductory message as would most completely serve his own purposes. These threatened wonders were to start from plain reasons of necessity. We must constantly bear in mind the comprehensiveness of the Divine plans, the certainty with which God discerns beforehand the conduct of men. If we keep this truth before us we shall not be deceived by the shallow talk of would-be ethical purists concerning the deceptions found in Scripture. We must not argue from ourselves, wandering in a labyrinth of contingencies, to a God who is above them all.
II. GOD NOW SEEKS TO MAKE CLEAR TO MOSES THAT WHAT PHARAOH EMPHATICALLY REFUSES TO GRANT AT FIRST, HE WILL BE COMPELLED TO GRANT AT LAST. Thus God makes luminous another important point in the future. That future now stretches before Moses, like a road in the dark, with lamps fixed at certain intervals. Between the lamps there may be much darkness, but they are sufficient to indicate the direction of the path. God had lighted one lamp to assure Moses of a favourable reception by his own people; another to show the kind of treatment which would have to be adopted towards Pharaoh; a third to show the complete success of this treatment; and a fourth shining all the way from Sinai, to make plain that in due course Moses and his liberated brethren would arrive there. God was quickly adding one thing after another, to increase and assure the faith of his servant, and make him calm, courageous, and self-possessed in the prosecution of a momentous enterprise. Only let Moses be faithful in certain matters that are comparatively little, such as making a prompt return to Egypt, and then delivering his messages, first of all to Israel and afterwards to Pharaoh; and God will take care of all the rest. At the beginning Pharaoh will thunder forth a decided and apparently decisive "No!"—but in spite of all his present resolution, the end will see Israel hurried out of the land by a nation smitten with universal bereavement and terror. And, to make this point clearer still, God gives to Israel the marvellous assurance that Egypt will rush from the one extreme of pitiless extortion to the other of lavish generosity. God would secure to Israel much of its own again, even in the secondary matter of external possessions. The Egyptian wealth that had been gained by oppressing the people would be largely disgorged. They were not to go out as impoverished fugitives, but as bearing the rich spoils of God's own great battle. Thus does God invite his servant to bear in mind this mighty compelling force. Pharaoh is great and rich and strong, but God is about to do things in the midst of his land which will force him to confess that there is One far greater and far stronger than himself.—Y.
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
Forty years since, Moses (Exodus 2:11) had "turned aside" from court life in Egypt to see how his brethren the children of Israel fared amid the furnace of trial. The old life seems like a dream, so long ago; the old lance (Exodus 4:10) grown unfamiliar. The annual routine; flocks to be driven to distant-pasturage at the approach of summer. God's hour at hand just when least expected.
I. THE PROPHETIC VISION. When God calls to the prophetic office, there is usually some vision or appearance, through which the call is emphasised and its significance suggested. Cf. Isaiah 6:1-7; Jeremiah 1:11-13; Ezekiel 1:4; Matthew 3:16 to Matthew 4:11; Acts 9:3-6. So here:
1. The vision. A dry acacia bush on fire, not very singular. What is singular is that the bush seems to flourish amidst the flame! The mystery explained, Acts 9:2,Acts 9:4. The bush is in the midst of the flame, but the angel of Jehovah is in the midst of the hush.
2. Its significance. Israel "a root out of a dry ground." In the furnace of affliction, yet flourishing amid the furnace (cf. Exodus 1:12). When Moses had "turned aside to see" forty years before, he had supposed that his brethren would have recognised in him their deliverer; had not sufficiently recognised himself that it was God's angel in their midst who was really preserving them. Trouble, sorrow, persecution may consume and practically annihilate; whole peoples have been killed off and left hardly a trace in history. Though "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," yet there is no specially conservative power in suffering; it is only when God is with men that they can "walk through the fire and yet not be burned" (cf. Isaiah 43:2).
II. THE DIVINE REVELATION.
1. Preliminary condition: Acts 9:4. "Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see."
(1) Revelations are not for the unobservant. God will give us eye-guidance if we will have it (Psalms 32:8), but we must be alert to catch his glance.
(2) Revelations are not for the cowardly; where one turned aside to see, nine might have turned aside in sheer terror to escape seeing. He that would hear God's voice must fight with and overcome his fears, otherwise he is likely to be classed with the unbelieving and the abominable (Revelation 21:7, Revelation 21:8).
2. The call heard and answered. To the man ready to receive it the call comes. God is going to reread his own name to Moses, but calls Moses first by his name. The conviction that God knows us is the best preparation for learning more about him. Moses is on the alert; eager to listen, ready to obey.
3. Reverence secured: Acts 9:5. Interviews with God need preparation. Even when God calls, man cannot hear his voice aright save in the hush of utter reverence. To attain this for those who are in the body, material aids must not be despised; so long as men possess senses there must be a sensuous form for even the most spiritual worship.
4. God declares himself: Acts 9:6. Cf. Matthew 22:32. God in the midst of the nation, as in the midst of the bush, was preserving it in its entirety. Not like a bundle of green twigs, the relics of a perished stem. Stem and twigs, the ancestral stock no less than the offspring, all alike preserved—kept by him who can say, "I am their God." Application:—Has God ever declared himself to us? If not, whose the fault? Have we been on the outlook to catch his signs? Have we used due reverence in listening for his voice?—Have we been ready to obey even the lightest indication of his will? Attention, reverence, obedience—all needed if we would hear God speak. We must be as Moses was—self stifled, the world silenced, a-hush to hear the Divine voice.—G.
HOMILIES BY H. T. ROBJOHNS
The Burning Bush.
"Behold the bush," etc. Exodus 3:2. A very astonishing event; yet amply evidenced to us by those voluminous arguments which now more than ever establish the authenticity of Exodus; but in addition to this, we have here the special endorsement of the Truth Incarnate. See Mark 12:26. [Examine this passage critically, and consider how full and valid the endorsement is! No mere acceptance of received legend.]
I. THE TIME. A solemn undertone in Mark 12:1. A great soul wandering under the starlight of a partial revelation.
1. In the life of the Church. A time of trial; Israel like leaves in autumn, like the foam of the sea, and that for long. Of deepening trial, see Exodus 1:1-22. Deliverance apparently impossible. The government of the new Pharaoh now firm and strong. For evidence of depression see Exodus 6:9.
2. In the life of Moses. Eighty years of age. Acts 7:23, Acts 7:30. Yet hardly any history of the man. In fact we have no continuous history. Died at 120. First forty years? Blank. So with second and third. A history of four crises! Birth; decision; entrance on service; death.
(1) Crises in all lives. Divergent roads] Crises fix what we are to be and do. Illustrate from life. Watch for them. Pass them on your knees. "Hold up my goings," etc.
(2) God determines them. This came on Moses unexpectedly. Where? On the line of common duty. "He led the flock," etc. "So, rest in the Lord," etc.
(3) Leave life to God.
II. THE SCENE. The following should be carefully observed, with the view of vivifying and realising this story of Divine manifestation. The scene was laid—
1. In the desert. See Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 12-14, for the general characteristics of the desert.
2. In the Midian section of the desert. For exact definition of this, see "Midian," in Smith's 'Bibl. Dict.' 356a.
3. In the Horeb range. Horeb designates the range of mountains about Sinai; Sinai the solitary grandeur of Jebel Mdsa. 'Desert of the Exodus,' p. 118.
4. At Sinai. Probably in Er Rahah, the wide wady north of Sinai, with the mighty pile of Ras Sufsafeh towering on the south.
5. Generally—amid mountains: where oft, as on the sea at night, God seems so near. His face towards the sun, Sinai in grand altitude of shade before him, Moses saw the brightness and heard the word of the Loges, the manifested God.
III. THE VISION. Observe here two elements:—
1. The subjective. Moses' state of mind. This would be determined by the known circumstances of Israel, and by his own: he was away from his people, seemingly out of the covenant, the Divine promise forgotten.
2. The objective. A lowly plant; not a tree. Fire. No consuming; no smoke, no ashes, no waste. In the Fire (Acts 7:4) the Angel-God of the Old Testament. Symbol of the Church of all time. Isaiah 43:2, Isaiah 43:3.
IV. THE FIRST EFFECT. Intellectual curiosity. "I will now … why the bush," etc. This attention was better than indifference, but was probably nothing more than an intelligent curiosity. Still, this was not enough.
V. THE CHECK: Isaiah 43:4, Isaiah 43:5. The attitude of the mind should be that of reverent attention, face to face with Divine manifestations. "The word of the Lord always went along with the glory of the Lord, for every Divine vision was designed for Divine revelation." This the more necessary because over every revelation there is a veil. Habakkuk 3:4. Distance becomes us. "Draw not nigh hither]" So in Science, Psychology, History, the revelation of the Christ. The aim not to satisfy the curiosity, but to enlighten and empower the conscience, and direct the life.
VI. THE DRAWING into covenantal relations, notwithstanding the momentary check. This by making known—
1. The Divine Name: Habakkuk 3:6. The God of thy father; of the immortal dead too; therefore thy God. The effect of this tender revelation: "Moses hid his face," etc.
2. The Divine sympathy. "I know." Sense of the Divine Omniscience alone is an awful pressure from above on the soul; but there is a restoration to equilibrium, by a pressure from beneath supporting, i.e. by a sense of Divine sympathy—"their sorrows." See Maurice, 'Patriarchs and Lawgivers,' p. 162.
3. A Divine salvation. "I am come down to deliver."
4. Possibility of Divine service. "Come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh:" Habakkuk 3:10.—R.
The proper Name of God.
"This is my name for ever," etc.—(Exodus 3:15.) This incident of the burning bush teems with subjects susceptible of homiletic treatment. We name a few of the more important, which we ourselves do not linger to treat.
1. THE INDESTRUCTIBILITY OF THE CHURCH Exodus 3:2.
2. THE DOCTRINE OF THE ANGEL-GOD. Note in Exodus 3:2-4 that "The Angel of Jehovah," "Jehovah," and "God," are one and the same.
3. THE RESTRICTION OF JUDAISM CONTRASTED WITH THE FREEDOM OF THE GOSPEL: Exodus 3:5. For valuable hints on this, see 'Moses the Lawgiver,' by Dr. Taylor of New York, pp. 46, 47.
4. THE DOCTRINE OF IMMORTALITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT: Exodus 3:6, comp. with Matthew 22:31, Matthew 22:32.
5. SHRINKING AT THE DIVINE CALL. The reluctance of Moses; his four reasons—incompetence, Matthew 22:11; ignorance of the proper name of God, Matthew 22:13; incredulity of the people, Exodus 4:1; want of speaking power, Exodus 4:10—and how they were severally overcome.
6. OUR LIFE WORK—Preparation for it and possible late discovery of it: Exodus 4:10. It is in connection with the second disability of Moses that the Deity gives his proper name. Note, that whilst Elohim and other names are generic, this name "Jahveh," or more commonly "Jehovah." is the distinctive proper name of God. See Isaiah 42:8, in Hebrews As a foundation it will be needful to exhibit, in a popular way, the connection between the Hebrew form for "I am" and "Jehovah." See exegesis of verses 14, 15 above, and also the valuable Dissertation on the Divine Name, by Russell Martineau, M.A; in Ewald's 'History of Israel,' Eng. ed. vol. 2.433. The writer of the hymn, "The God of Abraham praise!" speaking of "Jehovah, great I Am," showed that he had perceived the etymological relation. The fundamental idea in the name is that of "Being," but around that idea plays many a prismatic light, something of which will now be exhibited. There are associated with "I am," "I am what I am," "Jahveh," the following ideas:—
I. EXISTENCE. How calm and solemn is this Divine affirmation in the silence of the desert, as in it God protests against being confounded with—
1. Idols. Material or intellectual. Over against the teaching of the atheist positivist, pantheist agnostic, polytheist, God places his "I am."
2. Mere phenomena. Who can separate always surely in nature between reality and appearance; or within the realm of mind, between certainty and illusion or delusion? But behind all phenomena is the Existence—God.
II. ETERNITY. The Existence is absolute, without any limit of time; so much so, that many are anxious to translate "Jahveh," or "Jehovah," everywhere by "The Eternal" See same idea of God in Revelation 1:4-8. In opening out the eternity and consequent immutability of God, we expound it, not metaphysically, but experimentally, that is, in relation to the actual experience of men, who need beyond everything the assurance of an unchanging Saviour and Father to trust, and love, and serve—"the same yesterday, to-day," etc.
III. CAUSATIVE ENERGY. "Jahveh," or "Jehovah," is from Hiphil, the causative form of the verb. Carries, then, in itself, not only the meaning "To be," but "To cause to be." The idea is not however merely, having once for all caused existence, but that of constantly creating. Note this mighty causative force operating—
1. In nature, which is the momentary work of the ever-present God.
2. In creating a people for his praise, as now about to do in the desert of Sinai.
IV. PERSONALITY. The transcendently sublime egoism, "I am!" It is not necessary that we should be able to answer the question, What is a person? to know what personality is, or to be sure that there is personality in God. On this point see Wace's Boyle Lectures on "Christianity and Morality," p. 62, and, indeed, the whole of lecture
4. on "The Personality of God." "The question of immediate practical importance is, not what God's nature is, but how we may feel towards him, and how we may suppose him to feel towards us. The simple and perfectly intelligible answer given to these questions by the Jews was, that they could feel towards God in a manner similar to that in which they felt towards other beings whom they considered persons, and that he felt similarly towards them." Our true knowledge of personality is quite independent of our ability to define it in words. This meeting of the personality in Moses with the personality in God constituted for Moses a crisis in his history. So is it ever—the confronting of my spirit by the Spirit of God is the supreme moment of existence.
V. FIDELITY. The words in Revelation 1:14 may be read: "I shall be what I shall be." From future to future the same; not like the gods of the heathen, fitful, capricious. What God was to the fathers, that he will be to children's children; not a promise broken or a purpose unfulfilled.
VI. COVENANTAL GRACE. Evidence that "Jahveh," or "Jehovah," is the covenantal name of God is accumulated in abundance in Smith's 'Bib. Dict.' under word "Jehovah," (sect. 5.) p. 957. To the many striking illustrations there, add, that Jesus is equivalent to Joshua—Jehovah that saves.
VII. MYSTERY. God we may apprehend, never comprehend; touch, as with the finger, never grasp or embrace. "I am what I am." Job 11:7-9; Psalms 77:19; Habakkuk 3:4.—R.
Observe generally on the name:
1. It was then new: Exodus 6:3. Not absolutely new, but practically so.
2. It became sacred. The Jew never pronounced it. This savoured of superstition, and its ill effect is to be seen in the suppression of the name Jehovah, even in our English Bibles, and in the substitution for it of LORD in small capitals. We will enter into their reverence without showing their superstition. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty."
3. The name is a root-designation in the revelation of God. Assumed universally in Judaism and Christianity, see Maurice's 'Patriarchs and Lawgivers,' pp. 165, 166.
4. The name sets forth objective truth. "This is my name for ever." It is the sign-manual of the Almighty across nature, in providence, on the cross. The name gives us a true idea of the Deity.
5. The name should be subjectively cherished. "This is my memorial to all generations," God's forget-me-not in the believer's heart. The name by which he would be remembered.—R.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
I. How MOSES MET WITH GOD.
1. The marvel was marked and considered. He might simply have glanced at it and passed on; but he observed it till the wonder of it possessed his soul. There are marvels that proclaim God's presence in the earth today. Creation, the Bible, Christ's saving work. The first step towards conviction is to consider them.
2. "He turned aside to see." It was a matter to be inquired into and probed to the bottom.
3. God meets the earnest, sincere spirit: "When the Lord saw," etc; "God called unto him." The eunuch reading in his chariot, and Philip, etc. We cannot turn aside to consider these things with a sincere desire for light, and not meet at last with him who is Light. To all true seekers God will reveal himself.
II. WHAT FITS FOR GOD'S SERVICE.
1. We must rise from a mere seeking after God to the knowledge that we are known of God: his heart was thrilled by the cry, "Moses! Moses!" The cry proclaimed not only that God knew him, but that he was his God. The 'Lord claimed him in that cry as his servant, his son. Have we heard it? If not, we do not know God as the living God, as our God, and how can we serve him?
2. The sense of God's holiness and majesty, hallowing all things for us (Exodus 3:5). The depth of our trust and our love may be measured by the depth of our adoration.
3. The vivid realisation of what God has done in the past (Exodus 3:6). That is God's revelation of himself. The story of the past must yield strength to the present.
4. The assurance that God's purpose of redemption is behind our efforts: that we speak and labour because he has surely risen to redeem (Exodus 3:7-10).—U.
Hindrances to service and how God removes them.
1. THE HINDRANCE FOUND IN THE SENSE OF OUR OWN WEAKNESS (Exodus 3:11, Exodus 3:12).
1. Moses knew the pomp and pride of the Egyptian court. He remembered how Israel had rejected him when he was more than he was now. Once he had believed himself able for the task, but he was wiser now: "Who am I?" etc. He might serve God in the lowly place he held, but not there. Moses in this the type of multitudes. God's call for service is met on every hand by the cry, "Who am I that I should go?"
2. How God meets this sense of weakness.
(1) By the assurance of his presence. It was not Moses only that should go, but God also. The conviction that he is with us, and that we speak for him, makes the meekest bold, the weakest strong.
(2) By the assurance of success: "Ye shall serve God upon this mountain." He is armed with faith and hope. From self let us look to God and his pledged word.
II. THE HINDRANCE FOUND IN THE SENSE OF OUR IGNORANCE (Exodus 3:13-17).
1. His own thought of God was dim. How then could he carry conviction to the hearts of the people? The same lack of clear, living thought of God keeps tongues tied to-day.
2. How it may be removed.
(1) God is THE UNCHANGING ONE. He had revealed himself to their fathers: he was all this still. It was his memorial for ever. Grasping this thought, all the past is God's revelation.
(2) He takes with him a gospel for present need (Exodus 3:16, Exodus 3:17), and these two things will be God's full revelation. We must make men apprehend the revelation which God has given of himself in the past, and proclaim him as the God of to-day. "I have surely visited you, and I will bring you up out of the affliction."—U.
I. THE REMOVAL OF MOSES' FEAR. His mission will be successful.
1. He will win the people's trust for God. They will not refuse to hear.
2. Their elders will accompany him into Pharaoh's presence: his request will become the people's.
3. The Lord will lead them out laden with the spoils of Egypt. Going on God's errand there is no possibility of failure. The fears which rise as we measure the greatness of the task and our own strength vanish when we look up into the face of God.
II. OPPOSITION WILL BE MET WITH, BUT IT WILL ONLY HEIGHTEN GOD'S TRIUMPH. "I am sure that the King of Egypt will not let you go … and I will stretch out my hand and smite Egypt with all my wonders."
1. We are not to expect that we shall sail over an unruffled sea, and that labour for Christ will be a continuously triumphal progress. "In the world ye shall have tribulation."
2. It is the occasion of the revealing of God's mighty power. Trial is God's school for deepening and purifying trust in himself. The triumph of Christianity in the first ages a consecration of the Church and a proof to the world of the Divine origin of our faith.
III. THE PLAN GOD FOLLOWS IN EFFECTING HIS PEOPLE'S DELIVERANCE.
1. A small demand is made: permission to go three days' journey into the wilderness. Great promises are given to the Church, but it does not now demand that the silver and the gold should be yielded for the service of God, and that the mighty should come down from their thrones and give them to his saints. It asks only for liberty to serve God and to declare his will.
2. The world's refusal brings down God's judgments; and then comes the glory and the enrichment of the sons of God.—U
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent