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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Exodus 3

 

 

Verses 1-6

Exodus 3:1-6

A flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.

Moses at the burning bush

I. The story of Moses is the story, at first, of failure. Two great streams of influences moulded his life--the one drawn from the Egyptian surroundings of his early days, and the other drunk in with his mother’s milk and his mother’s teaching. On the one side he had before him the revelation of the world in its majesty and power, brute energy and magnificence, massive purpose and force, and splendid genius, with a kind of weird and magical faith in the dim powers of the unseen--those speechless-eyed deities of Egypt looking for ever into his face; and, along with these, a rugged sense of the responsibility of human life. And then, from the Hebrew side, another strain of thought. There came belief in the governing providence of God; there was belief in something more than might and majesty of force, and brute power; something like a belief that the weak might yet become strong--for the early history of that people was the history of the individual, or of the tribe waiting, not for his power upon the tokens of brute force, but waiting, rather, for his power upon the evolution of their history under the providence of God. But where he expected amongst people of his kin to find aspirations after better things, and responsiveness to his own spirit, he met only with chillness, coldness, and refusal to follow. Then came his exile in Midian--an exile from all his early dreams and hopes, an exile from the splendid position he had in Egypt, an exile from the future which glowed before him, and an exile, too, from the confidence he had that there was the power capable of lifting the hearts of his people and making them fit to strike a blow for freedom.

II. Look, now, at the vision which restored him to faith and energy.

1. A revelation of permanence. The bush was not consumed; it held its own life amidst the devouring flame. Moses’ feeling was one of suffering from that which, after all, is so common an experience of life--from the temptation to cry, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” It was something at such a moment to find that the revelation was to him one of permanence, where everything had slipped from his grasp. A while ago young dreams were his; a while ago, in his manhood, a noble purpose was his; and now all is gone, the temptation is to sit down and take a cynical attitude, and say, with a world where all things change, and where nothing abides, the safest and the wisest course is to laugh at existence, and take up either the language of despair, which wails out vanity of vanities, or the easy cynicism which treats life as a joke. But to the man in that state came a revelation of permanence. In the midst of all this change of things there is something which abides. Do not believe the answer to the cry of your heart, that all things perish, that the powers of decay touch everything in your life. There is in the unconsumed bush, there is in the change and policy of the world, an element of permanence.

2. A revelation of purity. “The place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” In our first thought we think of permanence in material things. We see intellectual and moral things pass away and the materials remain; but the revelation of faith, the revelation of God, the revelation of all noble impulses of men, is everlastingly this: it is in the elements of purity that the powers of permanence are concerned. Mark you that the revelation given to Moses was not simply of the burning bush. Thrust thine hand into thy bosom; and he thrust it in, and drew it out leprous. Thrust thine hand into thy bosom again; and he did so, and drew it out clean. What significance is here to remind him that the cause of his failure lay not in the want of high purpose and high moral methods! The failure was not the failure of Moses’ purpose, it was not the failure of his high hopes; there was permanent power, possibly, but there was a leprous stain within the breast of the patriot, and he understood it so; for when at last his dream was nearly accomplished, and he had led the people out from beneath the tryannies of the Pharaohs, and had planted them in the wilderness, then he drew from the throne of God that real law, that holy code, and he gave it to them graven as the image of eternity upon permanent stone, and said this is the law of the longevity of the people; these ten commandments, engrafted into the people’s life, made part of their aspirations, part of their feelings, part of their intellectual powers, part of their whole social life, will guarantee their permanence. It shall be your life if ye will observe to do these things. The vision had taught him that permanence was to be found in purity.

3. A revelation of personal power and love. Behind the purity is a personal God. We might pause a moment and say, Why is this? If I have this moral law, and if the possession of this righteous strength gives permanence, why this personal God behind? The answer is simple. You and I may think there is energy in law; but, after all, law is merely a name given to certain causes and effects and sequences. There is no inspiration necessary in law. To tell Moses, indeed, that here this people could live, that there was no reason why Israel should die, that the element of permanence might be there if only the element of righteousness was there, would be to mock Moses, who might have said, “All my patriotic hopes are gone; here I get the answer of permanence, but I do not get the guarantee of it. I get no inspiration as to whether any one cares.” Lo! the answer is given: “God cares; these people that seemed God forsaken, have yet God as their God; righteousness is not a dead letter, righteousness is an expression of a living will, and an expression of a living will moulding human life to achieve some great and final thing.” Thus he began to see that he was not struggling merely against the nerveless hearts of men, but living and loving hearts were co-operating with his, and the aspirations which had dawned within his breast were not simply his own weak thought, but were the answers back to the purposes of God; for in the best sense it is true that the aspirations of man are the aspirations of God; and when you realize that, then you begin to see how needed is the guarantee which Moses asked, “Give me strength; what am I that I should go?” Because He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob--the God of this people who seemed to be no people; therefore their resurrection is possible.

III. The revelation was not for Moses alone. You remember the scene in “Alton Locke,” where the poet would go to the Southern Pacific, and there find inspiration for his song, and a shrewd Scotchman took him into the slums of a great city, where the squalor and dinginess of life existed, and said to him that the poet sees poetry everywhere--the poetry is there if you will turn your poet’s eye upon it. So also is religion. There is in every common bush the light of God, and only those who see it draw off their shoes. It is the old story again. God is near, God is in this place, and we knew it not. You may say that the vision, and that faith which the life which has surrounded you, has slowly dimmed and numbed, and you say, “There is no revelation for me; my heart, my mind, is a wilderness now; there were little fruits and flowers in the garden of my early life, and I hoped to dedicate my life, and consecrate my services, to God--perhaps as a minister of His Church, perhaps in a high calling in the State; but now I have grown confused with new and strange thoughts, that rise sirocco-like; new things have swept away the old, and have left me no verdure and flowers in their place; I am in a wilderness, and there is no revelation of fire for me.” Pardon me, there is. Alter your views. Do you never feel a sense of dissatisfaction? did ever cross your mind the law of self-condemnation, and have you not said, “I meant to make more of my life in this place of study, and meant to have worked for a purpose; and now I am dissatisfied? Where I meant to be a living agent, I have only become an idle dreamer. I look back upon a wasted and unprofitable life, and say, Woe is me! all the bright, hopeful views have gone, and my life is like a shipwrecked thing.” Is not that pain, which is the witness of your failure, the fire of God? He lets it burn, that it may burn away the base thing, and that you may see in the voice of noble discontent the possibility of stepping up once more to the dream of your early life, and by the strength of God achieving it. But we forget to turn aside to see the great sights about us. Give your hearts leisure sometimes to meet with God, and God will meet with you. Give your souls the opportunity of letting the light of God’s vision shine sometimes with a possibility of reflection upon your own, life, and the fire will glow, and the bush will burn, and the revelation will begin. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)

The vision and the voice

I. The vision.

1. The vision was miraculous.

2. Moses had this vision when he was in solitude.

3. It was symbolic--

II. The voice.

1. It revealed the majesty and grandeur of God.

2. It revealed the special providence of the great God--the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

3. It proclaimed the faithfulness of God.

4. It demanded reverence. (T. Jones.)

Moses as the bush

This narrative is a chain of glorious wonders. We see here--

I. An old man called to go out on the great errand of his life. The education of Moses for the great mission of his life lasted eighty years. God never sends forth fruit until the season is fitted for the fruit, and the fruit for the season; when the hour was ready for the man, and the man for the hour, then God sent forth Moses.

II. The burning bush from which that call was sounded.

1. This was a sign to indicate the peculiar presence of God.

2. It was also a symbol of His people, eminently adapted to encourage the prophet in undertaking their cause.

III. The angel who uttered this call. We see at the first glance that He is Divine; we next learn that He is an angel; we further find, from a chain of Scripture proofs, that He is Christ.

IV. The covenant under which the angel gave him his commission. It was the same covenant that had been given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

V. The angel’s name. That name asserts--

1. His real existence.

2. His underived existence.

3. His independent existence.

4. His eternity.

VI. The effect to be wrought by the remembrance of his name.

1. It was intended to inspire profoundest reverence for the Being to whom it belongs.

2. It reveals the infinite sufficiency of a Christian’s portion.

3. It gives encouragement to evangelical enterprise. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

Moses’ education and life-work

I. How was the earlier history of Moses an education for the great work of his life? In order to free his people from their bondage, Moses needed sympathy and faith; and the Bible gives us three phases of his life, wonderfully adapted to educate him in these qualities.

1. His education in the Egyptian court.

2. His attempt to convince the people of their brotherhood.

3. His flight into the wilderness.

II. How did this vision explain to Moses the work of his life?

1. The vision of God prepared him for the work of his life. It showed him the everlastingness of God, and his own unworthiness to do God’s work. But the voice upheld him amid the overwhelming sense of his nothingness, and made him feel his vocation.

2. The vision of God gave endurance in fulfilling that work. Even should his work seem to fail, he had a grasp on eternity which would keep him strong and true. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)

The Divine call and its sign

I. The call of the chosen leader. Moses was already a believing man, walking in favour and fellowship with God, and in sympathy with his down-trodden people. We must carefully distinguish between Moses’ decision for God, and God’s disclosure of duty to Moses. The one took place in his early manhood; the other was deferred till the threshold of old age, when God gave the charge of the story before us, and the servant’s self-denying choice was rewarded by the sovereign’s honourable commission. The two experiences differ, you see, as conversion from service, as personal consecration from official appointment, as entrance on a life of holiness from entrance on a life of work.

1. And here comes our first lesson--a lesson for all who, like Moses, await God’s call--the lesson, namely, of faith and of self-restraint. Are we struck with the fact that of the hundred and twenty years assigned to Moses, eighty were spent in preparation, and only forty in work? But it is God’s way. What seems a time of uselessness as regards the world may be a time of probation as regards yourself. And the time of probation, if quietly endured and conscientiously improved, may issue, ere God has done with you, in a work of deliverance on the earth, whose concentration, rapidity, and success may amply explain the preceding delay.

2. Take a second lesson at this point in passing--a lesson of diligence. I know not how God means to meet and to summon you, if, as in Moses’ case, He has special service in store for you; but I am sure of this, that revelations of special service are given only in the midst of conscientious application to ordinary duty.

3. Learn here yet a third truth--a lesson of constant watchfulness. For though Moses was at the time unexpectant, he was not upon that account heedless. His mind was in sympathy with the spiritual and eternal, and his eye was kept open to discern it: Be sure that, for all his industry in his worldly calling, the mood of Moses was such that no indication or hint could escape him from the world that is unseen and Divine. And let us take that spirit along with us, if, like Moses, we would find the lights and the beacons of God on our path--a spirit of devout and careful attention, of inquiry, and of vigilant thought.

4. The lesson of reverence is needed too. While the secret of the Lord is for those that seek Him, it is also for those that fear Him.

5. Holy diffidence. Much of the best work with which the Church has been served has been rendered by men who, like Moses, were at first overcome by the thought of it, and would fain have drawn back had Providence permitted. Take the example of the great pioneer of the Church in Scotland--the leader of its glorious exodus from the superstition and tyranny of popery to the heritage which God had prepared for it, in the light wherewith His Spirit illumines, and the liberty wherewith His truth makes free. When Knox was called to the pastorate of the church of St. Andrews, and the first step was disclosed to him of a road that led onwards to service and fame, we read that a strange thing happened. The audience were gathered, the service was proceeded with, the wish of the people was announced by the officiating minister, and echoed back as he spoke by the cries of the people themselves. But when Knox rose to speak in return, he broke clown into tears, left the meeting-place abruptly, and enclosed himself in the privacy of his house; “and from that day,” as the chronicler tells of him, “till the day he presented himself to preach, his countenance and behaviour did sufficiently declare the grief and the trouble of his heart, for no man saw any sign of mirth from him, neither had he pleasure to accompany any man for days together.” Such feelings of diffidence and misgiving will a true man feel whensoever he is honoured with special service; nor, if he is wise, will he seek to repress it.

II. The revelation of the changeless God. Nothing will establish the Church, nothing will support and encourage its leaders in times of trial such as those through which Israel was passing, like the thought of the changelessness of God, and in especial the changelessness and eternity of His love, of which trials, however grievous, and temptations, however scorching, form only a brief and a passing phase. The processes God employs may be many, but the principle He acts on is one. The manifestations He makes of Himself may be various, but the character that underlies them is the same. (W. A. Gray.)

Man in relation to mystery

I. That sometimes men meet with mystery in the pursuit of their daily calling.

1. This vision was unexpected.

2. This vision was educational.

II. That sometimes mystery is associated with things of a very ordinary character. “A bush.” The smallest, the most trivial, the apparently unmeaning things, events of life, are full of mystery, contain a heavenly presence, a Divine voice, will teach a reflective spirit, will become an impulse to a higher life--avocation. The bushes of life are full of mystery. The world is a great secret--is vocal with messages of freedom to listening souls.

III. That mystery should be investigated with the utmost devotion of soul. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet.”

1. There must be devotion in opposition to levity.

2. There must be devotion in opposition to curiosity. Why this devotion?

IV. That sometimes good men are favoured with a grand unfolding of Mystery. “I am the God,” etc.

1. God observes the conduct of men in relation to mystery. “And the Lord saw that he turned aside to see.” What a subduing, inspiring thought, that God knows all the efforts of our souls in their investigation of mystery.

2. God speaks to men who are anxious to investigate mystery. “God called to him out of the midst of the bush.” God speaks--allows us to investigate.

3. God reveals Himself as the great solution of all mystery. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Desert revelations

I. Let us contemplate the element of wonder in the history.

1. This was the crowning preparation and call of Moses for his life’s work.

2. This was to be the beginning of a new stage in the life and history of the chosen people, and of the history of the Divine unfolding.

II. Some of the elements of wonder here are old.

1. The Angel Jehovah was not a created Being. The designation is evidently used in a special sense, because, He speaks as God Himself and receives Divine homage. Here it means the Divine as self-revealing; the Infinite bringing Himself into relations of knowledge with a limited and finite creature, and into relations of covenanted grace and mercy. It is God to whom we can get near, understand, grasp, love, serve, obey.

2. The Angel Jehovah was God of the fathers. But He was revealed to them as El Shaddai, God Almighty.

3. But what He had been to the fathers He still was. The fathers’ God! The God of our dead! The sanctities of home life go into and along with our religion.

4. There was still another old element in the wonder; and that was the Fire. This was the same element which appeared amid and upon the cherubic symbols, darting hither and thither like flashing sword in the sunshine at the gate of Eden, and which we read of as “the Presence,” the faces of Jehovah; and as “the glory of the Lord.”

III. But to the wonder which was old there were elements added which are new. God reveals Himself here under a new name. An old word is vitalized with a new meaning, and is laid at the foundation of a dispensation. He will be known in all the Mosaic times and institutions, not as El Shaddai, but as Jehovah, “I am that I am.” He is the one self-existent, unchangeable, ever-living God of ages. From everlasting to everlasting God. But the name is adopted and comes into use, specially in relation to the deliverance from Egypt and the constitution of the nation. So it means, the Sovereign Ruler and Ordainer of the Ages, who has become a Righteous Deliverer and Redeemer. (W. H. Davison, D. D.)

The burning bush

1. Observe the substance of the figure. Not a fine tall tree, a cedar or a cypress, but a bush--a mere bush. Such is the image of the Church--poor and humble. It was at one time in the ark, and there was a wicked Ham, at another in the family of Abraham, and there was a mocking Ishmael. It was now in Egypt, consisting of slaves and brickmakers. Jesus had not where to lay His head, His followers were the common people, His apostles were fishermen.

2. Observe the condition of the bush. It burned with fire. Fire denotes suffering. Christians must have tribulation in the world. They are never to consider “fiery trials” as strange things. Of how many can God say, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction”?

3. Mark the bush’s preservation. The bush was not consumed. Sometimes the Church has burned in the fire of persecution, and sometimes of derision. But with what result? Whilst kingdoms and empires have passed away, and not a wreck of them is left but some vestiges in ruins, lingering in monumental mockery of the boasts of men, the Church still stands, as she is destined ever to do, in the light and strength of her omnipotent and faithful Lord. And this is as true of every individual believer as of the whole Church collectively. (A. Nevins, D. D.)

The bush as an emblem

Some also see in this bush an emblem of--

1. The awfulness of God’s offended justice (Deuteronomy 4:21; Malachi 3:2).

2. The incarnation and sufferings of Christ, the bush representing His human nature (Isaiah 53:2), the flame of fire shadowing forth His Divine nature (Deuteronomy 4:24), and the union of the flame with the bush denoting the union of the Divine with the human nature.

3. Those dreadful sufferings by which sin should be expiated--Christ enduring the fierce flames of the wrath of God, yet not consumed (Hebrews 9:28). (A. Nevins, D. D.)

Was this a great sight?

1.It was the great I Am who exhibited it.

2. It afforded a bright gleam of hope to Israel, that their bondage was nearly over (verses 7, 8).

In order to see this great sight, we must turn aside--

1. From the world (1 John 2:15; 2 Corinthians 6:17).

2. Carnal reasoning (1 Corinthians 2:14; John 3:9).

3. All known sin (Ephesians 4:17-18; 2 Peter 1:9). (A. Nevins, D. D.)

The God of Moses

Here we have an account of God s disclosure of Himself to Moses; we have that which is the root out of which Moses’ whole conception of God and His government grew. Laying aside all preconceptions and prejudices, let us see what sort of a portrait this chapter gives us:

1. It shows us a self-revealing God; a God who discloses Himself to the human race, and communicates with them.

2. This God is one who is not indifferent to the woes and sufferings of His people.

3. He is a God of deliverance.

4. In working out this deliverance, He chooses human and imperfect instruments.

5. The very name by which God at once reveals and conceals Himself suggests the similitude between the Old Testament and the New Testament revelations. “I am,” says Jehovah to Moses; “you must trust Me and walk by faith in My assurance, and not in an intellectual comprehension of My character and My purposes.” “I am,” says Christ to Philip; “you must trust in Me, and walk by your faith in Me: not by an understanding of what the Father is who hath sent Me, or a comprehension of what the Father purposes to accomplish in and by you.” In a sense the Egyptian inscription, the Athenian altar, and Herbert Spencer’s definition are true; God is the Unknown and Unknowable. The intellect tries in vain to draw aside the veil; but love and sympathy pass behind it. Philosophy in vain endeavours to analyse and interpret mother-love; but the child in simplicity and faith reposes on it. The God of Moses and the God of the twelve disciples are alike in this--that They are the incomprehensible “I am”; to be loved, trusted, obeyed, rested on, but never to be measured, fathomed and understood. Sometimes from my hill-side home among the Highlands of the Hudson I see, fifty miles away, obscured by haze and overhanging clouds, and partially veiled, perhaps, in mist or rain, the distant outline of the Catskill range; and then the veil is drawn aside, the turbaned mist is lifted off their foreheads, and that which before was dim and indistinct stands out against the dark background of sky in clear, intelligible outline, yet leaving all the dress of grey rock and green tree and foaming cataract, and dark gloom, and flitting sunshine breaking through the trees, to the imagination; for at best it is only an outline I can see. So in the Old Testament I look upon the outline of my God veiled in cloud; in the New Testament the cloud is lifted, the mist is cleared away, and through an atmosphere like that of the most perfect October day I look on the same outline, distinct and beautiful against a heavenly background: and still it is but an outline that I see of the mystery and majesty of the nature I shall never know, never be able even to explore, until I stand in His presence and am invited to know Him even as I am known. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)

Moses and the burning bush; or, a picture of a true student and the Bible

1. That God’s purposes are punctual in their accomplishment (see Genesis 15:1-21.). The clock of time had now struck the four hundred years, and God forthwith began to redeem His pledge.

2. That God’s purposes, in relation to our world, are generally accomplished by the agency of man.

3. That the men whom God employs for the carrying out of His purposes, He qualifies by a special revelation.

4. That this special revelation which He vouchsafes, is frequently symbolical in its character. All nature is a symbol. Truth in symbol is palpable, attractive, impressive. The burning bush was a symbol. But what did it symbolize? God’s presence.

I. Observe moses directing his earnest attention to the divine revelation.

1. Moses directs his attention to it, under an impression of its greatness.

2. Moses directs his attention to it, in order to ascertain its import. It is ever so with a true student of the Bible. He will seek to find out “the reason of things.”

II. Observe Moses holding intercourse with god through the divine revelation.

1. God’s communications depended upon his attention. Only he who looks and inquires, hears in the Bible the voice of God.

2. God’s communications were consciously personal to him.

3. God’s communications were directive and elevating.

III. Observe Moses realizing the profoundest impressions through the divine revelation. “Hid his face,” etc.

1. These impressions are peculiarly becoming in sinful intelligences. The Bible is designed to produce reverence for God.

2. These impressions are necessary to qualify men for God’s work.

3. These impressions are consonant with the highest dignity and enjoyment. He that is consciously least is always greatest. (Homilist.)

The burning bush

I. The locality. How many noted Scriptural events took place on mountains!

1. It seems as if they were above the common herd of man.

2. They are difficult of access. All religious duties must be connected with difficulty.

3. They were mostly places of solitude.

II. The spot. A bush.

1. Its insignificance.

2. Its incongruity. What apparent connection between God and a bush?

3. Its intrinsic worthlessness.

III. The phenomenon.

1. The bush burned with fire. God’s glory appeared in it, humble as it was.

2. The bush, though burning, was not consumed. (Homilist.)

Moses encouraged by the burning bush

Some would have us learn, that it is God’s glory makes the Church beautiful, and gives the poor bush its excellence and power; others, that the burning fire represents the afflictions to which we are subject as Christians, which exist, but do not consume the soul. We may, indeed, profitably extract any such lessons; they all help us on our way. But I think the appearance was only intended to encourage Moses. He was sent forth to go to Pharaoh, but complained of his own inability. God showed him that it was not the power of the instrument that was to prevail, but the influence of the Spirit which animated it; even as it was not the bush which was remarkable, but the fire which dwelt in it. (Homilist.)

The betraying bush; or, the Church in the world

Remember also, that you may attain the end of your being in any place; that you may adorn with moral beauty the very humblest sphere; that you may confer upon your position greater dignity than any position could possibly confer upon you. When we read the histories of the world’s brightest characters, we seem to forget altogether the social ranks to which they belonged; the dazzling brightness of their heroism, their valour, their truth, makes their outward surroundings of no account; the one prominent fact which forces itself upon our attention is, that they acquitted themselves like men, and won the admiration of all succeeding ages. Who ever stops to reflect that John Bunyan was a tinker; that Paul the apostle was a tent-maker; that Jesus of Nazareth was a carpenter’s son? Be it ours, therefore, not to murmur at our circumstances, but to make the most of whatever circumstances in which we may be placed. Let us learn from this scene how to conduct ourselves in God’s presence. Of course, God is present everywhere, our conduct should therefore be an habitual recognition of this solemn fact. Still there are times and places in which we come into God’s special presence. When we open God’s book, and meditate upon its contents, and endeavour to profit in the study of it, His presence breathes in every page, and speaks words of mercy, warning, and encouragement to our souls. Ah! my friends, it makes one sad to think, how men can treat their Bible as if it were mere trash; how men can repeat their prayers, as if they were useless forms; how men can hear the gospel, as if it were a worthless tale!

I. The Church in the midst of the world. The primary reference in the text is to the Jewish Church in Egypt. There is an uncompromising antagonism, an eternal conflict, between the Church and the world. And the Church being comparitively small in number, engages in this conflict at great odds. Hence it frequently seems as if she must be eventually overcome. The spirit of this world is in direct opposition to the principles which the Church is commissioned to hold forth. The morality which it propagates is a standing protest against the world’s most cherished notions. Is it likely that such teaching as this should provoke no opposition? It has provoked opposition of the strongest, keenest, deadliest kind. I shall not detain you with any account of the horrible persecutions which the Church has passed through during the last eighteen centuries of its history. But in spite of all, the Church has proved itself invincible; though persecuted, it has not been cast down; though burned with fire, it has not been consumed. Nay, we can say even more. The very trials to which the Church has been exposed, have only helped to develop its powers, to widen its influence, to make it what it is at the present day. The bush has been set on fire. True. But what then? The fire itself has been for its benefit; fanned into a mighty conflagration, it has shone all the more brilliantly in the midst of the world’s darkness.

II. God in the midst of the Church. The glory which appeared in the bush is a fit emblem of God’s presence in the Church--His life-giving presence--His protecting presence--His conquering presence. God is in the heart of every true member of the Church, God is the source of his spiritual life, God is the secret of his spiritual power. God’s presence is the Church’s chief defence. It is not strange that she has been so firm, so immovable, so enduring, when we consider the mighty Being, whose power has protected her. “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” But this great fact--this ever-abiding presence of God in the Church--suggests a still more precious thought; for it is a guarantee for the Church’s future; its future safety, its future triumphs, its future glory. (D. Rowlands, B. A.)

The burning bush

Moses was not engaged in any unworthy work, or any career of sin. He was tending the flock of his father-in-law, and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God. Here, perhaps, he had been often before, but as he led the flock along that familiar track, suddenly there came to him, in the calm and quiet of that lonely place, this wonderful revelation of the Lord, which became a point of departure in Moses’ own heart and history, and in the history of the people of God. So, I say, that which makes life worth living is this--we will come to the point at once--the great glory of our life is that God comes into it and reveals His presence; that God opens our eyes to see that there is more in the world than simply our daily calling, our flock of sheep, and our temporal interests; that life is more than a day’s work, no matter how diligently and conscientiously performed, and a night’s sleep. God, the personal God, is here to greet our own eyes with the kindling glory of the manifestation of His own presence. He will change our life, its whole current, its whole outcome. And I would like at the outset to waken up an expectation in those who are rather apt to think that the day is gone by for them either to expect or to receive such visions and revelations of the Lord. My friends, Moses was an old man when this took place. Therefore let not those growing old, either in years or in cares, give in or sink down. Many a long day and year Moses had trudged about this very region, when suddenly one year, one day, one hour, one particular moment, he lifted up his eyes, and, as we all know now, Lo! there was God. In the midst of all the ordinary humdrum and; routine of life I see something. There is a glimmer, a something extraordinary somewhere, sometime, and I open my eyes. I was often there before, and saw nothing; but now there is a gleam, a light, an Epiphany. My very soul is engaged, led on, and on, and on, until the end of it is God as man speaking to me, lifting up my life by the grappling-hooks of His own purposes, and using and glorifying it and me for ever and ever. I want to show, for example, that you might have had a man, another shepherd, and that man might have been going on for seventy or eighty years of age like Moses, and he never would have seen this revelation. He would have got so down to the level of a shepherd’s life and a shepherd’s experience that when he saw the bush burning he would have got some natural explanation for it, and passed on. It would have come too late in the day for him to say, “That is worth looking at. It is a little extra blush on that bush; but it cannot be a fire, it is only an extra glow of the sunlight on the furze. I do not think I ever sew it just so before, though.” Meantime the sheep give a bleat, and he turns his face away, and on he goes. Oh, it is hard to waken up some of us! We are so unlike Moses. No; old as he was, he was as curious as a bairn. He had still the faculty to open his eyes and see wonderful sights, and clap his hands, and wonder what they were. May God take away the oldness of some of us, and give us the freshness of youth! It will be the beginning of salvation. Open your eyes! The world is not done, and you are not done. Your days are only in the beginning, and if you only get your eyes open to see what is here, they will never close again. When once God shows Himself to us in Christ, we, at last, have our eyes open. Curiosity! a human thing;--and God pulled Moses by that little thread--curiosity. And this great chain cable came after it--faith, clear, strong faith in a personal God, speaking to him, and giving him a personal message and mission. “And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” Now, turn aside; get off the track, oh man; step out of your way; turn aside. Go, go, go along this new course; it is not far to go. Do not sit still and let things go past. It is a wonderful world; it is a wonderful church; all life is just bursting with wonder, if you will only turn aside. But not everybody sees the burning. Everybody sees the bush. It is only Moses that becomes aware of the “glory on the grass”; “the silence that is in the starry sky”; “the sleep that is among the lonely hills.” The world is more than mud or atoms brought together fortuitously, or in any other way. The world is a burning bush. It is so far earth--solid, material. I can handle it, and become a man of science, and say, “What is in it?” And, God help me, I can become so much a mere scientist as only to see the bush and leaves and berries, and the shape of the leaves and the shape of the stem, and tell you how it grew, and then say, “There is no flame.” Just so; there is a way of looking at that bush, man--a way of looking at the bush that puts out its light, or your light, which is the same thing. There could have been a kind of man come tramping along here with the sheep, and with one single look he would have quenched that flame; and the same damnable thing may be in you and me. We may look at nature, and look at our own bodies, and look at Christ in the Bible; and look at the Bible itself, with such a blank look and stare of unbelief that God withdraws Himself, and never comes back. Never! There is a way of looking, a trick in the eye, that is an abomination to God, and He simply withdraws. Everything is a burning bush. Nature is such a burning bush. Nature is full of the supernatural, everywhere ready to burst forth, but you must not push forward, but stand back if you wish to see it. The more we push in irreverently, the more it flies from us. Our own bodies--a burning bush! Have you ever thought of that? Here is the physical, the material, the natural, but in it and on it the immaterial, the spiritual, in a true sense, the metaphysical. Streaming out of it, and above it, and beyond it, is that which lifts itself up from the mass of blood and brain and bone, and says, “I, I am.” Then, again, here is a burning bush for you--the Bible. So much of it natural: the boards, and that means the binder; the print, and that means the printer; the thoughts, and that means the thinker--like any other book. Like any other book, but, God be praised, more than any other book. For the glory, the voice, the “Thus saith the Lord,” comes out from this, that comes from no other book. Such a burning bush is the Church of Christ, and I speak not now of her survival of fiery trials. Now, a congregation, a Church, either in the large sense or the sectional sense of the word, is just like any other corporation or society. It has its laws and purposes, and there is so much in it of man’s planning and guiding and ordering. Yet a Church is not a mere guild like any other; a corporation of people like any other gathering. No, no, no! It is like them as that bush is like any other bush; but, man, there is a glory in it, there is a wonder in it! The Lord is in this place. “In all places--all places--where I record My name, there will I come, and I will bless them.” “Oh, Thou that dwellest in Thy Church, shine forth.” For some of us it is becoming only a bush, an institution like any other. And I see coming to us Christ Himself as a burning bush. There He lies, a baby, like your own, my good woman; but, unlike your own, there is a glory, there is a flame. Wherever you come across Him, as babe, or as boy, or as man, or as crucified, there is the flame, there is the extra superadded something, and that something is the eternal and uncreated Godhead. Worship Him, wherever you meet Him, from Bethlehem right on to the cross, on to the glory. Worship Him--God in human flesh. Turn aside and see this great sight: why human nature can exhibit this mystery--why the bush is not burnt. But further, all this came to Moses, humanly speaking, this wonderful revelation, because of reverence. “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” He was near enough. I can quite well understand that very likely no man more than Moses would feel, “Oh, I would like to see this great sight, and get to the bottom of it.” But he could not, and we should not. God has set bounds to the inquiries of the human spirit, not cramping bounds, but wise and safe ones. So with many other difficulties. How am I at once body and spirit? But I am warned by this, that many men who have gone into that question in order to find out about it have put out their eyes. They come back from the examination of the human frame, from wonder upon wonder, they come back and say, “We have found no spirit, no breath of God; all that has no warrant from our researches.” Out you go with your researches! And they go to this Bible and say, “It is a very wonderful Book, and we have examined it in the spirit of frank, candid, and fearless inquiry. We have not scoffed at the Book, nor scorned it; we have examined it in the spirit of frank and fearless inquiry, and we find the glory is gone.” It is just so. There is only one method--the reverent; and one result--and that is to know God better and bow down flatter before Him. You cannot take away the hyphen that holds the “burning” and the “bush” together. When even Moses would have gone forward to see why, he was kept back, and his thoughts turned in more profitable directions. So you are forbidden to go nearer; you are near enough to see and to know and to bow down and to give an intelligent, wholehearted adoration and worship of obedience. And any spirit that enters into you and me, and makes me go beyond the point where Moses had to pull up, is a dangerous spirit, alike in method and result. (J. McNeill.)

The call of Moses

I. The occasion of the call.

1. Solitude.

2. God is watching a man.

3. God doesn’t call until the man turns aside to see.

II. The source of the call. A bramble that does not burn away.

III. Results of the call.

1. Reverent self-surrender.

2. Transformation of life. (E. Judson.)

The manifestation of God

I. The manifestation of God in the purity of its nature.

1. Purity is essential to the being of God.

2. Purity is essential to the government of God.

3. Purity is essential to the worship of God.

II. The manifestation of God in the severity of its operation--“the bush was burned with fire.” Every impurity must be consumed, and every obstacle to the kingdom of God must be destroyed. This severity is evident--

1. In the chastisements of the godly, and--

2. In the utter destruction of the impenitent.

III. The manifestation of God in its gracious intention--“and the bush was not consumed.”

1. God in Christ is a Saviour.

2. The operations of the Holy Spirit purify the soul, but do not destroy the man. (British Weekly.)

The burning bush

I. The circumstances in which Moses was, when the Lord appeared to him in the desert. Keeping sheep. What a contrast to his employments in youth! Yet probably this was the happiest part of his life. Time for reflection and for poetical musings.

II. The nature of the appearance.

1. The emblem in which the Church was held forth--“Bush.” If numbers and splendour are the mark of a true Church as its properties, where should we find for many ages the Church of God? Seldom in the Old Testament, never in the New. The Church of God was once enclosed in the ark; at this time it consisted of a number of slaves and brickmakers.

2. The condition in which it was found. “Burning with fire.” Grievously oppressed and persecuted.

3. Its preservation. “Not consumed.” The blood of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church.

4. The cause of this security. The angel of the Lord was in the midst of it.

III. The attention it awakened. Let us, like Moses, turn aside, and contemplate His revelations.

IV. God’s prohibition, or rather, regulation. A check on curiosity. Be satisfied with the facts of Christianity, without the philosophy of them. Be content with the use of things, rather than attempt to dive into their nature and their qualities. Take the religious controversies, which have occupied so much time, and which have injured so many fine tempers; and what have they commonly turned to, but things too deep for human reasoning to fathom, too lofty to be soared to without presumption, or too insignificant to merit regard?

V. God’s address. All along, from the beginning, God has shown favour to some for the sake of others. Under the law He was called--“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” because the covenant made with them was for Israel: in him they were blessed, and for his sake they received all things. But now the covenant made for the spiritual Israel, was made with a far more glorious character; it was set up from everlasting--from the beginning, ere the earth was. His name is Jesus: it is in Him that we are accepted; it is in Him that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places; it is for His sake that we receive all things. And therefore, while of old His style was, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” it is now, under the gospel, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There are two things derivable from this address of God, when He says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The first is, that unquestionably, therefore, Moses had some knowledge of a future state. He does not say, He was “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”; but, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”; their spirits are with Me now; their renewed bodies shall be, by and by, as certainly as they are now in the dust. You observe, also, that God sustains His relationship to those of your connections, who are gone before.

VI. Let us observe the impression made upon moses. “And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.”

1. Here you see, first, that Divine manifestation always produces self-diffidence and abasement.

2. You see, also, how little we can physically bear. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”; the splendour would be too much for the eye, the sounds too much for the ear; the poor frame would break down under that “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (W. Jay.)

God’s Bible not consumed

This book, do you see it? Not a leaf, not a word, not a letter of it, but has been burned ten thousand times--on parchment, papyrus, and paper; in many a language and many a land it has fed the furnace and lit the fire. It has been piled by thousands and thousands at a time in huge bonfires, and offered amid the yells of triumphant crowds, a holocaust to gods of wood and to the triple-crowned idol of the papal throne! “The bush has burned with fire.” “But the bush was not consumed.” This Book is ubiquitous; never a land under heaven that has it not, never a language among men that does not contain it. Paganism, I tell you, has had it trampled into dirt by beasts; popery has burnt it at the hands of the common hangman; sceptical science has branded and seared it as with hot iron; infidelity has torn it into shreds; and atheism, of the modern type, has besmeared its pages with mud and filth whose fumes are insupportable--but the bush is not consumed! Lo! the bush burned with fire. But the blessed Saviour declares that “the servant shall be as his Lord.” What has been done to Him in the world, He says, shall be done to you also, Christian believer. Then the burning bush is a lively image of the Christian too. Now I desire to leave one final thought with you. Why did not the fire burn the bush? Because the Lord was in it. He had made it His temporary dwelling-place. Why did not the fire burn the Christ? Through wrath and rage of man and devil, through cross, and death, and hell, He passed unscathed. Why? Because of the Divine in Him. Because the bush of that clay temple of humanity was the tabernacle in which dwelt the Deity. Why has not the fierce, horrible, and perpetual fires of persecution and testing succeeded in destroying the Christian Church? Because God is in it. In it the tabernacle of God is with men. Christ walks amid the golden candlesticks; the Father dwells where His name is recorded, and the very life-breath of the Church is the living Spirit of God. (J. J. Wray.)

The burning bush

I. An emblem.

1. This bush had God in the midst of it (verse 4), and the Church has God in the midst of her (Psalms 46:5).

2. This bush, burning in the night, gave a great light in the wilderness; and the Church of God gives a great light in this dark world.

3. The bush burns, but is unburnt. The Church suffers, but stiff survives.

II. A miracle. The first miracle we read of was wrought upon fire. Fire had been more worshipped than any of the elements of nature: from the Moloch of the Ammonites to the Juggernaut of the Hindoos, no idol has had such crowded temples or costly offerings. God struck His first blow at the favourite idol. “He will not give His honour to another, nor His glory to graven images.” “He will not have a rival--He cannot have an equal.” All the miracles of Egypt were wrought against idolatry. Each was a blow struck at some favourite idol. In Babylon another blow was struck at fire, in the case of the three Hebrew youths.

III. A magnet. “I will draw near and see,” etc. Since the fall, man has ever been more alive to the gratification of his curiosity than the welfare of his soul. Plain truths, though big with importance to him, he neglects; but mysteries in nature, providence, and revelation, he industriously pries into.

IV. A monitor. It is true, that now we are not ordered to keep at a distance, but draw near; instead of timidity, there is to be boldness; instead of a burning bush a throne of grace; and instead of a God upon whose face we cannot look, there is an incarnate God upon whose face we can look. Yet this monitor teaches us this most important truth--that we can come to God acceptably, only when we come in His own way; and God’s way is through Christ, “with reverence and godly fear.” (T. Macconnell.)

The burning bush.

I. The learned shepherd.

1. Humility. From a palace he stoops to this lowly life.

2. Patience. For forty years he thus laboured.

3. Fidelity. Led his father-in-law’s flock.

Involved seeking out the best pasturage: folding, and guarding, etc. A good servant in his own house, before God made him a master in Israel. “Faithful in little,” etc.

II. The great sight.

1. Where it appeared. In the wilderness. God there also.

2. When it appeared. In the time of Israel’s sorrow, and Moses’ toil.

3. Wherefore it appeared.

A Church in the furnace of affliction. The bush not consumed, though the fire was hot. Israel flourishing in trial. It was not only a “wonder,” but a “sign.” A great sight, but not merely a something to look at and investigate; but also to learn from.

III. The present God. He dwelt in the bush (Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37; Acts 7:35; Deuteronomy 33:16). God in the bush showed His relation to His people.

1. With them in trouble.

2. Sustains them in trouble.

3. With them a source of instruction.

Learn--

1. To cultivate high qualities in lowly callings.

2. Seek our comfort in affliction from an ever-present God. (J. C. Gray.)

The burning bush

1. As an emblem it instructs.

2. As a miracle it astonishes.

3. As a magnet it attracts.

4. As a monitor it warns. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

A great sight

1. Occasioned by a Divine agency.

2. Illumined by a Divine presence.

3. Given for a Divine purpose. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Great sights

1. Desired by the world.

2. Sought by the pleasure-seeker.

3. Found only by the Christian.

4. The inspiration of a good life. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The moral preparation and condition necessary for the beholding of heavenly visions

1. We must turn aside from the gaiety of the world.

2. From the futility of merely human reasonings.

3. From the commission of moral evil in daily life.

4. From following the instruction of incompetent teachers.

5. They are largely dependent upon our personal willingness of soul--God speaks to all men who reverently turn aside to hear Him. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

God calls truth-seekers by name

“Moses,”--Nathaniel.

1. To indicate His delight in them.

2. His favour toward them.

3. His hope of them.

4. To prepare them for further revelations. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The name of a good man vocal on the lips of God

1. An honour.

2. A destiny.

3. A prophecy.

4. A vocation. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The truth-seeker’s response

1. His personality.

2. His place.

3. His willingness.

We should always respond to the calls of heaven. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The soul’s tutoring aside to see often leads to visions of God

1. In His Book.

2. In His works.

3. In His providences,

4. In His Church and sanctuary. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Soul visions

1. Obtained by prayer.

2. Refreshing to the soul.

3. Strengthening to manhood.

4. Related to human suffering. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The neighbourhood of Horeb

The southern end of the peninsula of Sinai, to which the sacred narrative now takes us, consists of a confused mass of peaks (the highest above 9,000 feet), some of dark green porphyry, but mostly red granite of different hues, which is broken by strips of sand or gravel, intersected by wadies or glens, which are the beds of winter torrents, and dotted here and there with green spots, chiefly due to perennial fountains. The great central group among these mountains is that of Horeb, and one special height in it Sinai, the “mount of God.” Strangely enough, it is just here amidst this awful desolateness that the most fertile places it “the wilderness” are also found. Even in our days part of this plateau is quite green. Hither the Bedouin drive their flocks when summer has parched all the lower districts. Fruit-trees grow in rich luxuriance in its valleys, and “the neighbourhood is the best watered in the whole peninsula, running streams being found in no less than four of the adjacent valleys.” It was thither that Moses, probably in the early summer, drove Reuel’s flock for pasturage and water. Behind him, to the east, lay the desert; before him rose in awful grandeur the mountain of God. The stillness of this place is unbroken; its desolateness only relieved by the variety of colouring in the dark green or the red mountain peaks, some of which “shine in the sunlight like burnished copper.” The atmosphere is such that the most distant outlines stand out clearly defined, and the faintest sound falls distinctly on the ear. All at once truly a “strange sight” presented itself. On a solitary crag, or in some sequestered valley, one of those spiked, gnarled, thorny acacia trees, which form so conspicuous a feature in the wadies of “the desert,” of which indeed they are “the only timber tree of any size,” stood enwrapped in fire, and yet “the bush was not consumed.” (A. Edersheim, D. D.)

The bush and the fire

In the brier we have a symbol of the people of Israel. From this time till the cursing of the fig-tree, which had no fruit on it but only leaves, the chosen people of God are frequently and variously referred to under the figure of a bush or tree. Here they are represented as a low, contemptible brier, in contradistinction to the tall majestic trees, which proudly rear their heads to the clouds, and are gazed at and admired by the world. Hence the brier was symbolical of Israel, as a people despised by the world. The fire is always used in the Scriptures as a symbol of Divine holiness. And this is the case here; for the record expressly says that the presence of God was made known in the fire. The burning brier, therefore, was a symbol of the community of God, in which the holiness of God had its abode. The brier was burning in the fire, but it was not consumed, although from its nature it deserved to be consumed, and could easily be so. It was a miracle that it was not consumed. And thus was it also a miracle of mercy, that the holiness of God could dwell in a sinful community without consuming it. But in the midst of the thorns of the natural life of the community there was hidden a noble, imperishable germ, namely, the seed of the promise, which Jehovah Himself had prepared. It could not, indeed, be set free without the pain of burning, but by that burning it was made holy and pure. There was also another fact of great importance represented by this symbol, viz., that the fire of Divine holiness, which burned in Israel, without consuming it, served also as an outward defence. Hitherto, every one who passed by might ridicule, injure or trample on the insignificant bush, but henceforth whoever touched it would burn his own fingers. (J. H. Kurtz, D. D.)

A beautiful conjunction of the natural and supernatural

A bush burned into a sanctuary! Though the heavens cannot contain the Great One, yet He hides Himself under every flower, and makes the broken heart of man His chosen dwelling-place. So great, yet so condescending; infinite in glory, yet infinite in gentleness. Wherever we are, there are gates through nature into the Divine. Every bush will teach the reverent student something of God. The lilies are teachers, so are the stars, so are all things great and snell in this wondrous museum, the universe! In this case it was not the whole mountain that burned with fire; such a spectacle we should have considered worthy of the majesty of God; it was only the bush that burned: so condescendingly does God accommodate Himself to the weakness of man. The whole mountain burning would have dismayed the lonely shepherd; he who might have been overwhelmed by a blazing mountain was attracted by a burning bush. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Honest vocations

Forty years was Moses a courtier, and forty years after that a shepherd. That great men may not be ashamed of honest vocations, the greatest that ever were have been content to take up with mean trades. The contempt of honest calling in those which are well born argues pride without wit. There can be no fitter disposition for a leader of God’s people than constancy in his undertakings, without either weariness or change. He that hath true worth in himself and fatalliarity with God finds more pleasure in the deserts of Midian than others can do in the palace of kings. While he is tending his sheep God appears unto him. God never graces the idle with his visions. (Bishop Hall.)

Solitude a preparation for service

Writing of his father, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julian Hawthorne says: “The knights-errant of old watched their armour previous to embarking on their enterprise; the young Indian chiefs were made to undergo a period of solitude and fasting before being admitted to full standing. Bunyan wrote his book in Bedford jail; and Hawthorne, in Salem, withdrew himself from the face of man, and meditated for twelve lonely years upon humanity. He came forth a great original writer. He was destined to do a great work, and to theft end were needed, not only his native abilities, but an exceptional initiation, or forty days in the wilderness.” (H. O. Mackey.)

Usefully employed

Satan loves to meet men idle. God delights to honour diligence and fidelity. (William Jay.)

Exile profitings

James Douglas, son of the banished Earl of Angus, afterwards well known by the title of Earl of Morton, lurked during the exile of his family in the north of Scotland, under the assumed name of James Innes, otherwise James the Grieve (i.e., Reve or Bailiff)
. “And as he bore the name,” says Godscroft, “so did he also execute the office of a grieve or overseer of the lands and rents, the corn and cattle, of him with whom he lived.” From the habits of frugality and observation which he acquired in his humble situation, the historian traces that intimate acquaintance with popular character which enabled him to rise so high in the State, and that honourable economy by which he repaired and established the shattered estates of Angus and Morton
. (Sir Walter Scott.)

Put off thy shoes.--

Reverence

I. The essence of reverence lies in our forming a true estimate of our place among the powers around us, and so understanding aright and habitually feeling what is our relation to them. Now, to do this--

1. We must apprehend something of the mystery of life in ourselves and in others.

2. We must recognize the distinction of the different grades of being in those in whom life is, and seek to find and to keep our own due place in that mighty and marvellous scale of existences.

II. We must bow down before him who is the fountain of all life, the life of all who live. This adoration of the soul before Him is the central point of the grace of reverence, and its influence pervades and adjusts all our other relations, both towards Himself and towards the other creatures of His hand.

III. It is a question of the deepest moment to us all how, in an age one special temptation of which is clearly to lose its reverence, the gift can be kept quick and living in ourselves.

1. The first step must be the keeping guard against whatever tends to irreverence. All that professedly robs life of its mystery does this. So, even more directly, does all that robs revelation of its awfulness. Receiving God’s Word as God’s Word, striving to do it, striving to overcome temptations to doubt, not by crushing them out, but by turning them into occasions of prayer and of adoration, these efforts, and such as these, will keep us in an irreverent age from the great loss of irreverence.

2. Above all, we must pray for reverence as the gift of God; for such prayer not only draws down a certain answer, but even by its own action tends to put our spirits in the frame of reverence. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)

Access to God

1. Accesses by honest hearts to the place of God’s appearing may be rash.

2. Such hasty and unadvised accesses, God forbids unto His servants.

3. Due preparations must be made by creatures in their accesses to God.

4. Places have been and may be relatively holy, for God’s appearance in them.

5. So far to use them holily as in reference to God’s presence is the duty of all (verse 5). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

The reception of the Christian mysteries

Here is an intimation, that clearness of intellect is not that upon which mainly depends the right perception of God’s revelation of Himself. Moral fitness, rather than subtilty of intellect, is needed for receiving rightly this revelation of Himself. This, indeed, is but what we might reasonably expect; for as the Christian revelation, by its own profession, is not a mere intellectual abstraction, but in its nature and foundations is essentially moral, the evidence on which it rests cannot, as in abstract science, be addressed purely to the intellect. To receive it rightly, the will must assent to it no less than the understanding; a pure and teachable spirit is the main distinction of that temper in which we should approach the mysteries of the Christian revelation.

I. From this, then, it follows, first, that man is responsible for his belief;--responsible, that is, just as he is for any other branch of moral conduct: that it is, indeed, a part of his trial, and a great one, whether he will believe: that, as a right belief is the only source of moral purity, so a wrong belief, where a true revelation is offered to us, is the undoubted fruit of moral evil: and hence, that as in all other parts of his probation, it is out of the power of fallen man by his own might and strength to do that which is right, so especially is it out of his power to believe; but that, as in all other parts of his probation, so too in this, obedience is within the power of redeemed man, through that blessed help of God’s most Holy Spirit which will not be withheld from those who seek for it.

II. And this leads us on to the second part of our inquiry; for to be thoroughly convinced of the certainty of this connection, is one of the first means of maintaining a fit temper for receiving these great mysteries. So long as we in any degree deem of them as of subjects into which we are to obtain a peculiar insight by our own reasonings, we shall find it impossible to repress that pride of intellect, which, whilst it flatters us with apparent discoveries, does, in fact, most effectually shut out the light of truth. We must be content to be learners, not discoverers, in the school of faith; receiving a revelation, not reasoning out conclusions: and this temper we cannot maintain, unless we come into God’s presence remembering that, so far only as He gives us to know Him can we know aright; for that we need perfect purity to see Him as He is, and that we are compassed about with infirmity. Then only when the thought of His holiness and of our corruption bows us to the earth, shall we receive His teaching with the simplicity of children; fixing on the ground those eyes which were ready to gaze too rashly at the wonders of His presence, and be ready, indeed, to “put off our shoes from our feet,” feeling that “the place whereon we stand is holy ground.” To this conviction, moreover, we should bear a constant watchfulness, lest allowed sin in any form, lest boldness of spirit, or slothfulness in our use of holy things, impair the reverence of our souls. To these means must be added further as perhaps the greatest instrument of all for preserving the unsullied clearness of a reverend faith, that we be deep and constant students of God’s holy Word. We need not fear, with Bishop Andrewes, to speak of “the Word as one of those arteries which convey the Spirit to us.” In a two-fold way does the faithful study of the Scripture, by increasing in us the gift of the Holy Ghost, secure our receiving rightly the mysteries of God: first, since it is the especial province of the Spirit to reveal these mysteries, those will the most surely grow in light who grow in grace;they who the most humbly seek His teaching will be the most surely led on into all truth. There is a “teaching of the Spirit”; we may, as children, give up ourselves to Him, and humbly trust He will enlighten us. And then, secondly, besides the increase of this direct teaching, we are thus made the fitter recipients of His instruction; for since, as we saw before, the due reception of these mysteries depends more on moral than on intellectual fitness, they who by a growth in grace are growing in holiness, are indeed taking the surest way to purge the eyes of their understanding, so that they may see without speck or dimness what the Lord has revealed of Himself (Psalms 119:99-100). (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)

Reverence in God’s presence

The impression that God is here, ought ever to have a solemnizing effect upon our minds, and repress everything like carelessness, listlessness, or levity. Had we a proper sense of the Divine majesty resting upon our spirits, would it be possible that we could give way to that profane heedlessness of mind which often steals over us? Would one short hour’s attendance betray us into slumber? Would a crowd of worldly or sensual thoughts intrude into our minds? Could the eye find leisure to roam over the assembly, and upon the dress or deportment of others? Could a scornful or simpering countenance by significant smiles communicate its contemptuous or frivolous emotions to another? Assuredly not. (G. Bush.)

Holy ground

This admonition may be understood in various ways.

I. As a check to vain curiosity. Let us be satisfied, in religious matters, with what the Holy Spirit has made plain.

II. As an incentive to humility in the presence of God. We should offer outward tokens of respect and reverence when we come to worship in His holy house.

III. As a proof of the sanctity of God’s presence. All places set apart for the worship of God are “holy ground,” God will be sanctified in all that come near Him. (Preachers Analyst.)

Lessons

1. All ground is holy which has been consecrated by valour, virtue, piety, or love. The island of Erromanga, where Williams died; the banks of Avon and of Doon, where the two greatest bards of England and Scotland were born; the patriot-fields of Marathon, Morgarten, and Bannockburn; the moors of Drumclog and Airsmoss, where the Covenanters fought and fell; the peaks of Lochnagar and Ben Cruachan; the bald and sovereign head of Mont Blanc; these, and ten thousand such spots as these, are holy ground; and if men do not, like Moses at the bush, put off their shoes while standing there, yet may they uncover their heads, and feel that in doing reverence to the great of old and to the works of nature, they are doing homage to something which has in it a large portion of the Divine, which is Godlike, although not God.

2. Let us, in a figure, put off our shoes as we draw near, even here, unto God. Let us strip ourselves of the high buskins of pride, of the light sock of indifference and idle mirth, of the luxurious slippers of sensual sin, and of the hard shoes of rude presumption; and let us, with naked and trembling feet, and with covered face, but, at the same time, with all holy boldness and filial love, in the sanctuary and at the Lord’s table, the presence of that God who is “a consuming fire.”

3. What an overpowering reflection is that, of us all having one day to draw in a very close degree near to the presence of God. Conceive a mortal, although winged being, after long wandering through the universe, caught in a current too mighty for his pinions, and which he feels is hurrying him into the very heart of the burning sun! Conceive his horror as he sees the orb becoming larger and larger,and feels it becoming hotter and hotter; and how in vain he struggles to turn upon his way, and shun that ocean of fire which is to consume him. But on, on, on, he is precipitated, and the imagination shrinks back as she sees the contact and hears the shriek of the extinguished wretch. Thus may a guilty soul after death feel itself approaching its Maker; resisting the attraction, but resisting in vain, drawn ruthlessly within the circle of that eye of fire, and exclaiming as it sinks in terror, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” But even the saint shudders sometimes at the thought of meeting a Being so tremendous, and would on his death-bed shudder more, did not at one time a merciful stupor deaden his sensibilities, and were it not that at another the thought of God is swallowed up in the image of Christ. (G. Gilfillan.)

Holy ground

All places are holy, but some are especially so:--

1. Because they are hallowed by the supreme residence of God.

2. By happy memories.

3. By holy friendships.

4. By moral conquest. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The humility and reverence of an accepted worshipper

It has been said that God is everywhere present, and therefore should everywhere be honoured alike; it has been said, that the mind and the heart are everything, and that the posture of the body is nothing. In opposition to these refined speculations of modern days, it were sufficient to hold up the authority and command of the Word of God. But we may properly remark, in addition to this, that though the Almighty is everywhere present, He may be present at some times and in some places, in a peculiar manner. Our blessed Lord Himself has declared, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” It is again contended, that the mind and the affections may be equally lifted up to God in any posture; sitting or lying down, as well as kneeling: and to a certain extent this remark may be perfectly true. If the mind and affections be equally interested in the two cases; if the devotion be equally pure and the obedience equally sincere, then the acceptance of the service may be equal. But how can the obedience in these two cases be equally complete and sincere, when we know that God has enjoined, in His holy Word, a reverent posture of devotion--a posture, which we find all good men, in all ages, scrupulously observing? A carelessness of posture is an act of positive disobedience. Nor is it easy to believe, that the feelings of devotion are equally pious and sincere. Does not nature herself, when the soul is overwhelmed, teach us to humble and prostrate the body? There may be, in many instances, sufficient reasons for declining this bodily service; there may be infirmity, there may be other reasons; but where there are not, such service would seem to be indispensable to the devout and accepted worshipper. Let me not appear to be countenancing the practices of those, whose religion chiefly consists in outward form: let it not be supposed, that any corporeal homage is of the smallest avail, unless it proceed from an earnest and a pious heart: so far otherwise, that to bow down unmeaningly in the presence of the Lord, is an act of insufferable hypocrisy. Yet we must not, from such abuses as these, draw arguments against a positive duty; we must not conclude, as some are perverse enough to do, that every outward appearance and form are hypocritical. Such a conclusion is not only weak, but wicked. “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God”: be jealous of thy ways; be narrowly attentive to thy demeanour; be watchful of the affections and imaginations of thy heart: thou goest for a holy and mighty purpose, see that it be answered; see that thou be accepted in thy deed; see that thou return with a blessing on thy head. (J. Slade, M. A.)

Value of reverence

All that delicate perception of what is due from man to man upon which the high-bred courtesy of life depends, is closely linked to a reverential spirit. Society, when robbed by irreverence of the shrinking consideration for others which a sense of the mystery of redeemed life within them can alone make real, has already lapsed half-way to barbarism. Man becomes ready to sacrifice man in the chase for wealth, or honour, or pleasure, or power; and class grows to be parted fatally from class, by the selfish enjoyment of those who possess, and the selfish discontent of those who lack what they see others have. Family life, too, suffers the same wrong; its tender kindliness cannot long survive the death of reverence. And all this, observe, reaches far beyond the surface of mere manners. For it affects all those exertions and sacrifices for others which require a high ideal standard to call them out; it leads men to be contented with poor and immediate results measurable by the direct gain or loss of money, pleasure, or power. It dwarfs, too, almost all the actings of the intellect. In such a state of society the highest art can scarcely more exist than verdure without dew, or life without an atmosphere. Science, too, will soon feel the loss, for no one ever penetrated deeply into nature’s secrets unless a deep reverence for that which he explored taught him to be of a humble spirit--made him a true learner, and not a self-conceited theorist--kept him ready to follow out hints, and to lift the veil which God has cast over even His natural works with a hand which almost trembled under a sense of the mightiness of the mysteries it was revealing. But pre-eminently is this true as to the reception of God’s revelation of Himself. For here above all is the receptive faculty injured by the lack of reverence. As to this the ancient voice which broke the silence of the mount of Horeb sounds yet in the ear of every man who would turn aside to see the awful sight, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” The humility, the patience, the docility, without which there can be no clear intuition into the mystery of God’s nature and ways, cannot survive in the irreverent heart. The scorner is, in God’s Word, but another word for the atheist. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)

The earth holy ground

1. The whole earth is holy ground, because here God’s perfections are everywhere so conspicuously displayed. Wherever I go or stay, I will think that Jesus has lived upon the earth, and that nowhere, in thought or in deed, can I sin where it is not holy ground. Besides, in the lives of every single one of us have there been holy experiences, and we have single spots on the earth’s surface, which make for us the whole earth holy. Either that place is most holy to us where we first saw the light, or where our ancestors dwell or have dwelt, or where the years of our childhood glided joyously by; can we see it again, visit it, without tears in our eyes and thanks in our hearts; without looking up to heaven? Is not that place holy to us, where the most important earthly relations were formed; where we found a partner for life in marriage? Is not that place holy to us, where we experienced some good fortune we had longed for, sent to us by the Giver of all good; deliverance from danger, the safe return of relatives and friends? Alone wandered Jacob through a wild pathless waste. In weariness and grief he closed his eyes. But how completely was he comforted by the vision of that ladder let down from heaven, and of his Lord speaking to him in accents of blessing! Holy to him was that place! And should not that place be holy to us where the Lord, faithful, earnest, ay, severe, appeared to us in the purifying flame of affliction? These places we think of, as though the events connected with them happened of themselves. Shall we not remember that God is over all, and that He is near in joy and sorrow; in danger, which He allows, but out of which He delivers us? If we do this, earth will more and more become to us holy ground, the very gate of heaven; and more and more holy will be our lives from the constant feeling of God’s nearness and presence.

2. The earth is holy ground, because God is worshipped upon it. As God revealed Himself to man from the beginning, there never has been a period when some of His creatures, however small the number, have not known and worshipped Him aright. The patriarchs builded altars to Him and called on His holy name. Few and small, at first, were these streams of the knowledge and the worship of God. Behold, how mightily He has extended them I And the time will come, He confidently awaits it, when the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth, as the waters fill the sea. Perfect in heaven stands the Kingdom of God, to which our race after a long pilgrimage will attain. But because of our high destination holy is the earth on which we have journeyed thither. And is not our fatherland holy ground? Yes, so we proclaim it: and that without comparing it with any other land, Yes, ye children, holy is your home, because of the edifying life of your parents. Yes, ye residents of this city, there is within the enclosure of your own walls, outside of the churches where God is worshipped, many a spot, upon which He approvingly smiles. Look, then, at this: this earth on which you dwell and walk, is a holy place. It is so because of the worship of God; because of the faith and piety which have been displayed upon it. Recognize this fact, and let it inspire you with fervent enthusiasm, or with wholesome reverence; this earth can be made holy or profane by yourselves.

3. The earth is holy ground, because of what daily transpires upon it, and because of what will yet transpire upon it, intimately linking it to the world of spirits. What is more frequent than birth and death? Not less holy than birth is death itself. (J. E. Rankin.)

From curiosity to reverence

Many a man has been led through the gate of curiosity into the sanctuary of reverence. Moses purposed but to see a wonderful sight in nature, little dreaming that he was standing as it were face to face with God. Blessed are they who have an eye for the startling, the sublime, and the beautiful in nature, for they shall see many sights which will fill them with glad amazement. Every sight of God is a “great sight”; the sights become little to us because we view them without feeling or holy expectation. It was when the Lord saw that Moses turned aside to see that He called unto him and mentioned him by name. This is indeed a great law. If men would turn aside to see, God would surely speak to them. But we do not do this. We pass by all the great sights of nature with comparative indifference, certainly, as a general rule, without reverence. The sea wants to speak to us, but we listen not to its sounding voice; the stars are calling to us, but we shut them out; the seasons come round to tell their tale, but we are pre-occupied with trifling engagements. We must bring so much with us if we would put ourselves into healthful communion with nature: we must bring the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and the understanding heart: we must, at all events, be disposed to see and hear, and God will honour the disposition with more than expected blessing. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Religious awe

Curiosity must not become familiarity. The difference between the creature and the Creator must always be infinite. Is not all ground holy? Is not God everywhere? Certainly so; yet it hath pleased God to mark special lines and special places as peculiarly holy. We are not to treat all places alike. Every successful appeal to man’s reverence redeems him from vulgarity. When a man loses his sense of religious awe, he has exhausted the supreme fountain of spiritual joy. He then measures everything by himself: he is to himself as God, and from the point of self-idolatry he will speedily sink to the point of self-despair. It is only the good man who can be satisfied from himself, and this is only because goodness has its very root in God. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Cultivate reverence

Cultivate the spirit of reverence. For ours is an age of iconoclasm, overthrowing ancestral traditions, dethroning venerable beliefs, making the sacred common, dissolving the sacramental in the physical equation of correspondence with environment; in brief, shattering the very instinct of homage. And this is peril indeed! For, as Emerson says, “No greater calamity can befall a nation than its loss of worship.” Bad as heathenism is, irreligion is worse. Better superstition than atheism. Young man, believe me; no man is ever so great as when he kneels. Be it yours to have the same lowly reverence which so beautifully marked such illustrious scientists as a Galen, who regarded his professional life as “a religious hymn in honour of the Creator”; a Copernicus, on whose tombstone, in St. John’s of Frauenburg, is the following epitaph: “Not the grace bestowed on Paul do I ask, not the favour shown to Peter do I crave; but that which Thou didst grant the robber on the cross do I implore”; a Kepler, who concludes his treatise entitled “Harmony of the Worlds” thus: “I thank Thee, my Creator and Lord, that Thou hast given me this joy in Thy creation, this delight in the works of Thy hands; I have shown the excellency of Thy works unto men, so far as my finite mind was able to comprehend Thy infinity; if I have said aught unworthy of Thee, or aught in which I have sought my own glory, graciously forgive it”; a Newton, who never mentioned the name of Deity without uncovering his head. (G. D. Boardman.)

Reverence

When a boy in Princeton College, it was my inestimable privilege to be the pupil-assistant of Professor Joseph Henry, the illustrious Christian scientist, in his original experiments. When for the first time electric signals were sent from point to point, the earth itself being used for the return current, Professor Henry put me at one end of the circuit, while he stood directing the experiments at the other. I can well remember the wonderful care with which he arranged all his principal experiments; when he approached the solution the experiment was repeated and repeated over and over again, and all its variable conditions altered and recombined in every form. Then often, when the testing moment came, that eminent scientist would raise his hand in adoring reverence, and call upon me to uncover my head and worship in silence, “Because,” he said, “God is here. I am about to ask God a question.” (A. Hodge.)

Lowering the standard of reverence

It is very easy to lower our standard of reverence for anything. We have only to speak of it habitually in a light way. There is nothing like it to take the life out of the most precious texts of Scripture. We may repent of such a sin with bitter weeping, but those words can never be to us again what they were before. We may have cut down a bridge we shall some day vainly long to cross. A gentleman of keen wit used often to point his remarks with some apt quotation from the Bible. A friend who greatly admired him was present in his last hours, and asked with deep sympathy what was the future outlook. “Very gloomy, indeed,” was his response. Surprised and deeply pained, he hastened to quote some precious promises suited to the solemn hour. “I have spoiled them all for myself,” was his answer. “There is not one but is associated with some jest.” His light went out in darkness, though his name was on the church roll. What a lesson is here for all who are willing to be taught by it! Lay it to heart. (Christian Age.)

Unclogged feet

Put off thy shoes of sensuality, and other sins. Affections are the feet of the soul; keep them unclogged. (J. Trapp.)


Verses 1-22

5

CHAPTER III.

THE BURNING BUSH.

Exodus 2:23 - Exodus 3:1-22

"In process of time the king of Egypt died," probably the great Raamses, no other of whose dynasty had a reign which extended over the indicated period of time. If so, he had while living every reason to expect an immortal fame, as the greatest among Egyptian kings, a hero, a conqueror on three continents, a builder of magnificent works. But he has only won an immortal notoriety. "Every stone in his buildings was cemented in human blood." The cause he persecuted has made deathless the banished refugee, and has gibbeted the great monarch as a tyrant, whose misplanned severities wrought the ruin of his successor and his army. Such are the reversals of popular judgment: and such the vanity of fame. For all the contemporary fame was his.

"The children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried." Another monarch had come at last, a change after sixty-seven years, and yet no change for them! It filled up the measure of their patience, and also of the iniquity of Egypt. We are not told that their cry was addressed to the Lord; what we read is that it reached Him, Who still overhears and pities many a sob, many a lament, which ought to have been addressed to Him, and is not. Indeed, if His compassion were not to reach men until they had remembered and prayed to Him, who among us would ever have learned to pray to Him at all? Moreover He remembered His covenant with their forefathers, for the fulfilment of which the time had now arrived. "And God saw the children of Israel, and God took knowledge of them."

These were not the cries of religious individuals, but of oppressed masses. It is therefore a solemn question to ask How many such appeals ascend from Christian England? Behold, the hire of labourers ... held back by fraud crieth out. The half-paid slaves of our haste to be rich, and the victims of our drinking institutions, and of hideous vices which entangle and destroy the innocent and unconscious, what cries to heaven are theirs! As surely as those which St. James records, these have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Of these sufferers every one is His own by purchase, most of them by a covenant and sacrament more solemn than bound Him to His ancient Israel. Surely He hears their groaning. And all whose hearts are touched with compassion, yet who hesitate whether to bestir themselves or to remain inert while evil is masterful and cruel, should remember the anger of God when Moses said, "Send, I pray Thee, by whom Thou wilt send." The Lord is not indifferent. Much less than other sufferers should those who know God be terrified by their afflictions. Cyprian encouraged the Church of his time to endure even unto martyrdom, by the words recorded of ancient Israel, that the more they afflicted them, so much the more they became greater and waxed stronger. And he was right. For all these things happened to them for ensamples, and were written for our admonition.

It is further to be observed that the people were quite unconscious, until Moses announced it afterwards, that they were heard by God. Yet their deliverer had now been prepared by a long process for his work. We are not to despair because relief does not immediately appear: though He tarry, we are to wait for Him.

While this anguish was being endured in Egypt, Moses was maturing for his destiny. Self-reliance, pride of place, hot and impulsive aggressiveness, were dying in his bosom. To the education of the courtier and scholar was now added that of the shepherd in the wilds, amid the most solemn and awful scenes of nature, in solitude, humiliation, disappointment, and, as we learn from the Epistle to the Hebrews, in enduring faith. Wordsworth has a remarkable description of the effect of a similar discipline upon the good Lord Clifford. He tells--

"How he, long forced in humble paths to go,

Was softened into feeling, soothed and tamed.

"Love had he found in huts where poor men lie,

His daily teachers had been woods and rills,

The silence that is in the starry sky,

The sleep that is among the lonely hills.

"In him the savage virtues of the race,

Revenge, and all ferocious thoughts, were dead;

Nor did he change, but kept in lofty place

The wisdom which adversity had bred."

There was also the education of advancing age, which teaches many lessons, and among them two which are essential to leadership,--the folly of a hasty blow, and of impulsive reliance upon the support of mobs. Moses the man-slayer became exceeding meek; and he ceased to rely upon the perception of his people that God by him would deliver them. His distrust, indeed, became as excessive as his temerity had been, but it was an error upon the safer side. "Behold, they will not believe me," he says, "nor hearken unto my voice."

It is an important truth that in very few lives the decisive moment comes just when it is expected. Men allow themselves to be self-indulgent, extravagant and even wicked, often upon the calculation that their present attitude matters little, and they will do very differently when the crisis arrives, the turning-point in their career to nerve them. And they waken up with a start to find their career already decided, their character moulded. As a snare shall the day of the Lord come upon all flesh; and as a snare come all His great visitations meanwhile. When Herod was drinking among bad companions, admiring a shameless dancer, and boasting loudly of his generosity, he was sobered and saddened to discover that he had laughed away the life of his only honest adviser. Moses, like David, was "following the ewes great with young," when summoned by God to rule His people Israel. Neither did the call arrive when he was plunged in moody reverie and abstraction, sighing over his lost fortunes and his defeated aspirations, rebelling against his lowly duties. The humblest labour is a preparation for the brightest revelations, whereas discontent, however lofty, is a preparation for nothing. Thus, too, the birth of Jesus was first announced to shepherds keeping watch over their flock. Yet hundreds of third-rate young persons in every city in this land today neglect their work, and unfit themselves for any insight, or any leadership whatever, by chafing against the obscurity of their vocation.

Who does not perceive that the career of Moses hitherto was divinely directed? The fact that we feel this, although, until now, God has not once been mentioned in his personal story, is surely a fine lesson for those who have only one notion of what edifies--the dragging of the most sacred names and phrases into even the most unsuitable connections. In truth, such a phraseology is much less attractive than a certain tone, a recognition of the unseen, which may at times be more consistent with reverential silence than with obtrusive utterance. It is enough to be ready and fearless when the fitting time comes, which is sure to arrive, for the religious heart as for this narrative--the time for the natural utterance of the great word, God.

We read that the angel of the Lord appeared to him--a remarkable phrase, which was already used in connection with the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:11). How much it implies will better be discussed in the twenty-third chapter, where a fuller statement is made. For the present it is enough to note, that this is one pre-eminent angel, indicated by the definite article; that he is clearly the medium of a true divine appearance, because neither the voice nor form of any lesser being is supposed to be employed, the appearance being that of fire, and the words being said to be the direct utterance of the Lord, not of any one who says, Thus saith the Lord. We shall see hereafter that the story of the Exodus is unique in this respect, that in training a people tainted with Egyptian superstitions, no 'similitude' is seen, as when there wrestled a man with Jacob, or when Ezekiel saw a human form upon the sapphire pavement.

Man is the true image of God, and His perfect revelation was in flesh. But now that expression of Himself was perilous, and perhaps unsuitable besides; for He was to be known as the Avenger, and presently as the Giver of Law, with its inflexible conditions and its menaces. Therefore He appeared as fire, which is intense and terrible, even when "the flame of the grace of God does not consume, but illuminates."

There is a notion that religion is languid, repressive, and unmanly. But such is not the scriptural idea. In His presence is the fulness of joy. Christ has come that we might have life, and might have it more abundantly. They who are shut out from His blessedness are said to be asleep and dead. And so Origen quotes this passage among others, with the comment that "As God is a fire, and His angels a flame of fire, and all the saints fervent in spirit, so they who have fallen away from God are said to have cooled, or to have become cold" (De Princip., ii. 8). A revelation by fire involves intensity.

There is indeed another explanation of the burning bush, which makes the flame express only the afflictions that did not consume the people. But this would be a strange adjunct to a divine appearance for their deliverance, speaking rather of the continuance of suffering than of its termination, for which the extinction of such fire would be a more appropriate symbol.

Yet there is an element of truth even in this view, since fire is connected with affliction. In His holiness God is light (with which, in the Hebrew, the very word for holiness seems to be connected); in His judgments He is fire. "The Light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame, and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day" (Isaiah 10:17). But God reveals Himself in this thorn bush as a fire which does not consume; and such a revelation tells at once Who has brought the people into affliction, and also that they are not abandoned to it.

To Moses at first there was visible only an extraordinary phenomenon; He turned to see a great sight. It is therefore out of the question to find here the truth, so easy to discover elsewhere, that God rewards the religious inquirer--that they who seek after Him shall find Him. Rather we learn the folly of deeming that the intellect and its inquiries are at war with religion and its mysteries, that revelation is at strife with mental insight, that he who most stupidly refuses to "see the great sights" of nature is best entitled to interpret the voice of God. When the man of science gives ear to voices not of earth, and the man of God has eyes and interest for the divine wonders which surround us, many a discord will be harmonised. With the revival of classical learning came the Reformation.

But it often happens that the curiosity of the intellect is in danger of becoming irreverent, and obtrusive into mysteries not of the brain, and thus the voice of God must speak in solemn warning: "Moses, Moses, ... Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

After as prolonged a silence as from the time of Malachi to the Baptist, it is God Who reveals Himself once more--not Moses who by searching finds Him out. And this is the established rule. Tidings of the Incarnation came from heaven, or man would not have discovered the Divine Babe. Jesus asked His two first disciples "What seek ye?" and told Simon "Thou shalt be called Cephas," and pronounced the listening Nathaniel "an Israelite indeed," and bade Zaccheus "make haste and come down," in each case before He was addressed by them.

The first words of Jehovah teach something more than ceremonial reverence. If the dust of common earth on the shoe of Moses may not mingle with that sacred soil, how dare we carry into the presence of our God mean passions and selfish cravings? Observe, too, that while Jacob, when he awoke from his vision, said, "How dreadful is this place!" (Genesis 28:17), God Himself taught Moses to think rather of the holiness than the dread of His abode. Nevertheless Moses also was afraid to look upon God, and hid the face which was thereafter to be veiled, for a nobler reason, when it was itself illumined with the divine glory. Humility before God is thus the path to the highest honour, and reverence, to the closest intercourse.

Meantime the Divine Person has announced Himself: "I am the God of thy father" (father is apparently singular with a collective force), "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." It is a blessing which every Christian parent should bequeath to his child, to be strengthened and invigorated by thinking of God as his father's God.

It was with this memorable announcement that Jesus refuted the Sadducees and established His doctrine of the resurrection. So, then, the bygone ages are not forgotten: Moses may be sure that a kindly relation exists between God and himself, because the kindly relation still exists in all its vital force which once bound Him to those who long since appeared to die. It was impossible, therefore, our Lord inferred, that they had really died at all. The argument is a forerunner of that by which St. Paul concludes, from the resurrection of Christ, that none who are "in Christ" have perished. Nay, since our Lord was not disputing about immortality only, but the resurrection of the body, His argument implied that a vital relationship with God involved the imperishability of the whole man, since all was His, and in truth the very seal of the covenant was imprinted upon the flesh. How much stronger is the assurance for us, who know that our very bodies are His temple! Now, if any suspicion should arise that the argument, which is really subtle, is over-refined and untrustworthy, let it be observed that no sooner was this announcement made, than God added the proclamation of His own immutability, so that it cannot be said He was, but from age to age His title is I AM. The inference from the divine permanence to the living and permanent vitality of all His relationships is not a verbal quibble, it is drawn from the very central truth of this great scripture.

And now for the first time God calls Israel My people, adopting a phrase already twice employed by earthly rulers (Genesis 23:11, Genesis 41:40), and thus making Himself their king and the champion of their cause. Often afterwards it was used in pathetic appeal:--"Thou hast showed Thy people hard things,"--"Thou sellest Thy people for nought,"--"Behold, look, we beseech Thee; we are all Thy people" (Psalms 60:3, Psalms 44:12; Isaiah 64:9). And often it expressed the returning favour of their king: "Hear, O My people, and I will speak"; "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people" (Psalms 50:7; Isaiah 40:1).

It is used of the nation at large, all of whom were brought into the covenant, although with many of them God was not well pleased. And since it does not belong only to saints, but speaks of a grace which might be received in vain, it is a strong appeal to all Christian people, all who are within the New Covenant. Them also the Lord claims and pities, and would gladly emancipate: their sorrows also He knows. "I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey." Thus the ways of God exceed the desires of men. Their subsequent complaints are evidence that Egypt had become their country: gladly would they have shaken off the iron yoke, but a successful rebellion is a revolution, not an Exodus. Their destined home was very different: with the widest variety of climate, scenery, and soil, a land which demanded much more regular husbandry, but rewarded labour with exuberant fertility. Secluded from heathenism by deserts on the south and east, by a sublime range of mountains on the north, and by a sea with few havens on the west, yet planted in the very bosom of all the ancient civilisation which at the last it was to leaven, it was a land where a faithful people could have dwelt alone and not been reckoned among the nations, yet where the scourge for disobedience was never far away.

Next after the promise of this good land, the commission of Moses is announced. He is to act, because God is already active: "I am come down to deliver them ... come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people." And let this truth encourage all who are truly sent of God, to the end of time, that He does not send us to deliver man, until He is Himself prepared to do so, that when our fears ask, like Moses, Who am I, that I should go? He does not answer, Thou art capable, but Certainly I will go with thee. So, wherever the ministry of the word is sent, there is a true purpose of grace. There is also the presence of One who claims the right to bestow upon us the same encouragement which was given to Moses by Jehovah, saying, "Lo, I am with you alway." In so saying, Jesus made Himself equal with God.

And as this ancient revelation of God was to give rest to a weary and heavy-laden people, so Christ bound together the assertion of a more perfect revelation, made in Him, with the promise of a grander emancipation. No man knoweth the Father save by revelation of the Son is the doctrine which introduces the great offer "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:27-28). The claims of Christ in the New Testament will never be fully recognised until a careful study is made of His treatment of the functions which in the Old Testament are regarded as Divine. A curious expression follows: "This shall be a token unto thee that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain." It seems but vague encouragement, to offer Moses, hesitating at the moment, a token which could take effect only when his task was wrought. And yet we know how much easier it is to believe what is thrown into distinct shape and particularised. Our trust in good intentions is helped when their expression is detailed and circumstantial, as a candidate for office will reckon all general assurances of support much cheaper than a pledge to canvass certain electors within a certain time. Such is the constitution of human nature; and its Maker has often deigned to sustain its weakness by going thus into particulars. He does the same for us, condescending to embody the most profound of all mysteries in sacramental emblems, clothing his promises of our future blessedness in much detail, and in concrete figures which at least symbolise, if they do not literally describe, the glories of the Jerusalem which is above.


Verse 6

Exodus 3:6

I am the God of thy father.

The ancestral God our God

This declaration was made in order to assure Moses that even in the present oppressed state of his nation in Egypt, the Most High had not forgotten them, or His relation to them as a God in covenant. This would be an unspeakable consolation to Moses, to find himself addressed by that God of whose appearances and promises to his fathers he had often heard, and to know that His heart was as kindly affected to him as it ever had been to his venerated ancestors. How comforting beyond measure to the Christian, in his more favoured moments, to be assured that the God of all the good who have ever lived is his God, and equally pledged by His covenant faithfulness, to show to him the same loving-kindness that He showed to them! (G. Bush.)

The Divine revelation

The Divine Being here reveals Himself as--

1. The God of individual men.

2. The God of families.

3. The God of the immortal good. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

He is thus the God of generations, the God of individuals, and the God of the whole human family. There is something inexpressibly beautiful in the idea that God is the God of the father, and of the son, and of all their descendants; thus the one God makes humanity into one family. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 7

Exodus 3:7

I have surely seen the affliction of My people.

God’s people-the Jews: their history, and their affliction

Quite apart from its religious significance, there is no other historical phenomenon that is to be compared for a moment in interest with this ever-growing wonder of the Jewish race. The light falls clearly and steadily on its history from first to last. The whole connected story lies before us like a mighty river, which from some high mountain summit you can trace from its fountain to the ocean.

I. The history of this people is thus the history of mankind in its central seats of power, It brings with it living reminiscences of the remotest past. In order to understand how strange a phenomenon is this indomitable vitality of the race--a race without a home or a country--compare their history with that of the numberless tribes of other races who have been either migratory or settled. Excepting the Arabs, also Abraham’s descendants, all the other settled contemporary races around Palestine have either died out completely, as the ancient people of Tyre, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt; or, if migratory, they have been lost and absorbed after a few centuries. The bond that has held the Jews apart from other nations, and yet together, has been their common religion, their common historical glory. When all Eastern Asia held evil to be incurable, and eternal, and Divine, the race of Abraham held that evil was “but for a moment,” and that God’s goodness and justice alone were eternal; and it is they who have taught this lesson to the nations of the modern world.

II. Notice, next, the tragic side of this wonderful national history. The honour of being the intellectual and spiritual leaders of the world for four thousand years has been paid for by four thousand years of national martyrdom and humiliation. The terrific penalties announced at the beginning for failure in their national vocation amidst the great nations of the ancient world, have been exacted to the letter. The so-called Christian nations have made their lives for nearly fifteen hundred years one prolonged Egyptian bondage, New Testament Christianity has at last taught us English, at least, to love the nation to whom we owe such priceless blessings. We believe that the time is hastening on when Christ will return to avenge the quarrel of Israel, and to end “the times of the Gentiles” by the restoration of the scattered nation to its old central position in a renovated world. (E. White.)

Of Israel’s salvation

I. God is beforehand with his salvation. It is not so much that God has prepared salvation for us, as that He has prepared us for salvation. Salvation was laid up in Christ before sin entered into the world. So that when sin did enter in--and there was need--God brought it forth. There is great comfort and assurance in this truth.

II. God does not always answer our prayers immediately, or from the spot where our prayers are made. Let us pour out our prayers, and leave them with God. If they fall within His gracious covenant of salvation, they will receive the answer in due time, and as quickly as it is possible for us to receive and bear it.

III. God’s message to Moses.

1. There is compassion and mercy with the Lord. Salvation proceeds from His love and grace.

2. Notice that He says--“I am come down to deliver them.”

We frequently hear people talking about getting up to God. Not long ago, a lady told me that she was “trying to get through nature up to nature’s God.” This may do for sentiment; but it is not a possible way to reach God. It is true that the “invisible things of Him . . . even His eternal power and Godhead,” are seen by the things that are; but this is not to get to God. To know that there is a God in the universe who is eternally powerful--is not to know Him as a Saviour. It does not help me out of the bondage of sin, or into peace and joy, to know that God is almighty. I must know that He is gracious, and that He receiveth sinners, before I can be at peace. Nay, in fact, I cannot get to Him; He must come to me.

3. God told Moses that He was going to do three things for Israel.

A picture of human sorrow

I. God knows the sorrows to which his people are exposed.

1. Because of the relationship He sustains to them. “My people.”

The choicest of God’s saints in circumstances of great trial. A problem the next world will better solve.

2. Because tits omniscient eye is upon them. He sees their trials.

3. Because they are in the habit of making known their sorrows to Him by prayer.

II. That at the proper time god will deliver his people from sorrow (Exodus 3:8).

1. Sometimes after it has been long continued.

2. Sometimes when least expected.

3. Sometimes by agencies once despised.

III. God uses human instrumentalities in the deliverance of his people from sorrows.

1. Prepared by life’s discipline.

2. Encouraged by heaven’s vision.

3. Called by God’s voice. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

“My people”

1. Therefore we must love Him.

2. Therefore we must serve Him.

3. Therefore we must aid His Church. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

God’s cognizance of His people’s afflictions

How interesting is this fact, that God takes cognizance of the afflictions of His people; of one as of many; of great and small! One sometimes is puzzled to determine whether God appears greatest when He rides on the whirlwind and directs the storm, speaks in the thunder, and manifests His glory in the lightning, or when he descends to minister every pulse to the minutest microscopic insect, or to notice the pains, the sorrows, and the sufferings of the humblest and the lowliest of the human family. I have no doubt that God’s greatness is more magnificently revealed by the microscope, than it is by the telescope; in creation and in providence in little things, than in great things; and that He appears arrayed in a richer glory when His fatherly hand lays its healing touch upon a broken heart, than when that hand launches the thunderbolt, or gives their commissions to the angels of the sky. God’s people could not suffer in the brick-yards of Egypt, without drawing down the sympathies, as they shared in the cognizance, of the Lord God of Abraham. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

Three things to be remembered

1. God had seen the affliction of the Israelites. Alas! it seemed to them as though they were not seen by any one. God sees all. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place.”

2. He had heard their cry. The Israelites had begun to entreat for mercy; and, notwithstanding their ignorance, wickedness, and idolatry, the Lord was pleased to hear them.

3. He knew their sorrows; not only He saw and heard, but He knew all, much better than men did, and He pitied their misery. Yes, God sees the affliction and hears the cry of His creatures who are suffering. Do not forget this when you are in sorrow. (Prof. Gaussen.)

“I know their sorrows”

It is wonderful what a provision is made by Deity for human “sorrow.” The First Blessed Person in the Trinity is as a Father. A loving Father; a Father, too, most when He chastens most. And the Second is co-equal. A Brother. “A Man of sorrows,” who is “acquainted with our griefs.” And the Third, co-equal still, is a Comforter. “Father”--“Brother”--“Comforter.” What eloquence does it give to the Voice of the wilderness, “I know their sorrows.” We should lay great stress on the “I.” It is a conclusive

I. No one can say that “I” as He says it,--not father, or mother, or dearest friend. It is “I”--alone in the universe--“know your sorrows.” I who made the “sorrows”; I who made you; I who can balance the burden and the strength; I to whom all ears are open and all secrets disclosed. But there are sorrows and sorrows. There are selfish “sorrows,” which cannot bear to be seen in happiness, and rather like to make others sad. There are “sorrows” of sheer formality, which come and go with the seasons. There are “sorrows” of mere vexations and mortified pride, which come for any little thing. There are morbid “sorrows,” which mope about in solitude. There are defiant “sorrows,” which put away all sympathy, and refuse to be comforted. There are idle “sorrows,” which lead to no action; barren because there is no root. And there are sorrows which have an actual sin, and sin lives in that “sorrow.” And there are “sorrows” which call themselves contrite, but have no penitence; they are merely nature’s fears. And there are hardened “sorrows,” putting away God, grieving the Holy Ghost, and working death! And God “knows” these sorrows, and His eye detects them in a moment--all their hollowness and all their hypocrisy. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

God’s knowledge of His people’s sorrows

Our nature yearns for sympathy.

I. How cheering is the announcement of the text.

1. It is not a mere man who says this, but God--the Creator, the Lord of life and death, the Redeemer, the Comforter.

2. When we remember that the Speaker is the Omnipresent and Omniscient God, we remember also that His knowledge is something more than man’s mere knowledge of the fact. He sees the beginning and the end of an event at once; He knows all about our sorrows--whence they came, how, when, why.

3. It greatly raises our thoughts of God’s condescension if we consider who these people were, and what their sorrows.

4. As God knew His people’s sorrows then, so He knows ours now, however infinitely various they may be--however great, however small-whether of body, mind, or soul. The Lord Jesus knows by experience, toil, fatigue, pain, weeping, anxiety, desolation.

II. Lessons of comfort.

1. If our Lord knows our sorrows thus intimately, we may go and lay the whole before Him, assured of sympathy (Matthew 14:12).

2. If our Lord knows our sorrows, we may be sure that these sorrows are well ordered.

3. If our Lord knows our sorrows, we may be sure that He will help us in due time, and that although He seem to tarry long, He only tarries for our good.

III. Lessons of instruction.

1. If God, who is love and power, knows our sorrows and permits them, though He does not willingly afflict, He must mean something by them; there is a voice in them which we should listen to. Let us ask, what does my heavenly Father mean by this affliction? What sins most beset me? What graces are most lacking in me?

2. By afflicting us, our Father means not only to correct our shortcomings, but to purify our faith.

3. God tries our patience by sorrow, for the example of others. How does the sight of a Christian sufferer cheer and strengthen his fellow-travellers on the Christian course I Let us take care that, in our time of suffering, we glorify God by our--

4. Not only may our suffering affliction be a blessing to others as an example, but as calling forth their sympathy and love. (S. P. C. K. Sermons.)

The Divine care and presence

I. Infinite sympathy. Often adversity leads us into a spirit of carelessness and unbelief. In our impatience we cannot wait for the Lord. The history of Israel says--“Leave all to God; He will order and provide.”

II. Seasonable intervention. Often God waits to teach us our own helplessness before interposing; but “the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord.” “When the fulness of time was come,” etc.

III. Abundant benefaction. Christ is a greater Moses, through whom we are not only delivered from the punishment of sin, but sanctified also aa “a peculiar people,” and made “meet for the inheritance,” etc. Our conversion is merely the turning-point. Heaven is the goal, and God is with us all the way. (J. C. McLachlan, M. A.)

“I know their sorrows”

I. The person.

1. He can help. Fulness of resource.

2. He will help. Whole scheme of salvation based on this.

3. He delights to help. Sympathy, the natural outcome of God’s heart.

II. The knowledge.

1. It is certain. He cannot be deceived, or mistaken. What a consolation for afflicted!

2. It is unlimited. God knows all sorrows.

3. It is compassionate. Touched with feeling of our infirmity.

III. The sorrow.

1. It may be long continued. Delay disciplines.

2. It may be deeply oppressive.

3. It may be widely experienced. “I know their sorrows.”

God can always hear

A poor old deaf man resided in Fife. He was visited by his minister shortly after coming to his pulpit. The minister said he would often call and see him; but time went on, and he did not visit him again until two years after, when, happening to go through the street where the deaf man was living, he saw his wife at the door, and could therefore do no other than inquire for her husband. “Weel, Margaret, how is Tammas?” “None the better o’ you,” was the rather curt reply. “How! how! Margaret?” inquired the minister. “Oh, ye promised twa year syne to ca’ and pray once a fortnight wi’ him, an’ ye hae ne’er darkened the door sin’ syne.” “Weel, weel, Margaret, don’t be so short; I thought it was not so necessary to call and pray with Tammas, for he is sae deaf ye ken he canna hear me.” “But, sir,” said the woman, with a rising dignity of manner, “the Lord’s no deaf!” And it is to be supposed the minister felt the power of her reproof.


Verse 8

Exodus 3:8

I am come down to deliver them.

The world’s sorrow and Christ’s redemption

1. Christ came down from heaven.

2. Christ came at the call of the world’s sorrow.

3. Christ came to achieve the world’s moral freedom.

4. Christ came to destroy the kingship of sin..

5. Christ came to lead men into happiness.

6. Christ came to awaken holy agencies for the spiritual welfare of the race. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Jehovah resents the oppression of the Church

1. Surely.

2. Speedily.

3. Continually.

4. Retributively. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

“I am come down”

God is said to descend.

1. In accommodation to a human form of speech.

2. To show judgment on the wicked (Genesis 18:1-33.).

3. Perhaps to indicate the situation of Egypt, which was a low country.

4. To indicate some notable event about to follow. Babel. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

“To bring them up out of that land”

1. Of bad rulership.

2. Of wicked companionship.

3. Of hostile religious influences.

4. Of servile bondage.

5. There are many countries in the world where it is dangerous for God’s people to reside. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

“Unto a good land, and a large”

1. Canaan was large compared with Goshen.

2. God exchanges the situations of His people for their good.

3. God does not intend His people to remain long the slaves of any earthly power.

4. The spiritual Israel will in eternity enter into the fulness of these words. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

“The Canaanites and the Hittites”

A disinherited people:--

1. Disinherited by God, as the Supreme Disposer of all territory.

2. As under a special (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The Divine resolution

Here the absolute, free, unconditional grace of the God of Abraham, and the God of Abraham’s seed, shines forth in all its native brightness, unhindered by the “ifs “ and “buts,” the vows, resolutions, and conditions of man’s legal spirit. God had come down to display Himself, in sovereign grace, to do the whole work of salvation, to accomplish His promise made to Abraham, and repeated to Isaac and Jacob. He had not come down to see if, indeed, the subjects of His promise were in such a condition as to merit His salvation. It was sufficient for Him that they needed it. He was not attracted by their excellencies or their virtues. It was not on the ground of aught that was good in them, either seen or foreseen, that He was about to visit them, for He knew what was in them. In one word, we have the true ground of His gracious acting set before us in the words, “I am the God of Abraham,” and “I have seen the affliction of My people.” These words reveal a great fundamental principle in the ways of God. It is on the ground of what He is, that He ever acts. “i am,” secures all for “my people.” Assuredly He was not going to leave His people amid the brick-kilns of Egypt, and under the lash of Pharaoh’s taskmasters. They were His people, and He would act toward them in a manner worthy of Himself. Nothing should hinder the public display of His relationship with those for whom His eternal purpose had secured the land of Canaan. He had come down to deliver them; and the combined power of earth and hell could not hold them in captivity one hour beyond His appointed time. He might and did use Egypt as a school, and Pharaoh as a schoolmaster; but when the needed work was accomplished, both the school and the schoolmaster were set aside, and His people were brought forth with a high hand and an outstretched arm. (C. H. Mackintosh.)


Verse 10

Exodus 3:10

I will send thee unto Pharaoh.

The calling of a great deliverer

I. His call was rendered necessary by intense national suffering (Exodus 3:7).

1. The sufferings to which the Israelites were exposed.

2. The Divine attention to the sufferings of the Israelites. God has deep sympathy with the sorrowful.

II. He was called to his mission by the immediate agency of god (Exodus 3:10).

1. His free agency was consulted. Such a call is--

2. His adaptability was considered. Social considerations are subordinate. A shepherd may be called to accomplish the freedom of Israel. Hence the Divine call to human souls is--

III. He was definitely made acquainted with the mission he had to undertake (Exodus 3:10).

1. He was to pay a visit to royalty.

2. He was to achieve the freedom of Israel. God forewarns him of the difficulties, that they may not surprise or overwhelm. This arrangement is--

IV. In the performance of his mission he was animated by the highest hopes (Exodus 3:8).

1. He anticipated the freedom of Israel.

2. He anticipated conquest in the event of war.

3. He anticipated residence in a land of beauty and fertility. God always animates those engaged in great service by great hopes.

Lessons:

1. That God knows how to prepare men to become the deliverers of the good.

2. That a Divine call is requisite for the mission of life.

3. That human sorrow is pathetic and powerful in its appeal to God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The mission of Moses; or, the qualification for a Divine work

I. God elevates the race by the instrumentality of individual men.

1. It serves to promote in man the principle of self-helpfulness.

2. It serves to promote social unity.

II. God specially qualifies the man He employs to elevate the race.

1. By a special manifestation of Himself.

2. By impressing him with the divinity of his mission.

3. By assuring him of His co-operation.

4. By making him sensible of his own insufficiency.

5. By providing him with a coadjutor to supplement his deficiencies. (Homilist.)

The call of Moses

I. The manner of the call.

1. Remarkable for its suddenness.

2. Remarkable for its mysteriousness.

3. Remarkable for its manifestation of God.

II. The reason of the call.

1. The severity of the affliction of God’s people.

2. The cry of God’s people, which had come up into the ears of God.

III. The purpose of the call.

1. The deliverance of His people from the task-master.

2. The fulfilment of the Divine covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

IV. The encouragement to obey the call. The personal presence of God.

V. The name of Him who issued the call.

1. The revelation of this name was called out by a significant question of Moses.

2. The significance of the name.

Lessons:

1. We learn God’s deep and practical interest in His people.

2. We learn that God is a hearer and an answerer of prayer.

3. We learn God’s wisdom in calling His servants.

4. We learn the all-sufficiency of the Divine encouragement, to every worker. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

God’s choice of instruments

God chooses the humblest instruments. He passes by the tempest, and waters the fields and gardens with His imperceptible dew. He passes by the great elephant, and bestows the hues of sapphire and amethyst upon the tiny humming-bird. He passes by the lofty pines and huge elm tree, and lavishes blossom and perfume on the violet. All history teaches the same truth. Moses was the son of a poor Levite; Gideon was a thresher; David was a shepherd boy; Amos was a herdsman; the apostles were obscure and unlearned; Zwingle was a shepherd; Melancthon, the great theologian of the Reformation, was an armourer; Luther was the child of a poor miner; Fuller was a farm servant; Carey, the originator of the plan of translating the Bible into the language of the millions of Hindustan, was a shoemaker; Morrison, who translated the Bible into the Chinese language, was a last-maker; Dr. Milne was a herd-boy; Adam Clarke was the son of Irish cotters; John Foster was a weaver; Jay, of Bath, was a herdsman. (Christian Age.)

The call of Moses

I. The preparations for the call. His miraculous escape in infancy; his careful training in the court of Pharaoh; his knowledge of governments, men, armies, religious rites; his silent years of obscurity, watching the leisure of the seasons as they came and went, the slow movements of the star.s; the care of God for the helpless creatures over which he was a shepherd; the home-life--all these were part of the call. His soul ripened.

II. The call itself. A greater one was never issued to mortal man. The only greater one was assigned to that Prophet like unto Moses who, in the fulness of time, came to lead the world out of a worse than Egyptian bondage through the death of the cross.

III. The hesitation of Moses at the great summons. He was perfectly honest before God. And it is because he was so honest that we can understand him and get our lessons from him at this turning-point in his career. We would not lose the picture of this great man--this chosen vessel of God--hesitating, confessing his cowardly feelings, and trying to hide away from duty. The response from Jehovah was as sudden as the command, and it was a complete satisfaction for all the real and imaginary troubles in the situation: “Certainly I will be with thee.”

IV. Lastly, if we seek further practical lessons from this part of sacred history, we shall be led to ask why the Bible makes so much of the calls its chief characters received to their office. Was it merely to prove the genuineness of their commission? They proved that by their works done in the name of God. Was it to show the power of Him who can call out children to Abraham from the stones and cause things that are not to be as those that are? Not this alone, but rather to make us feel that we may be receiving calls to His service, though we disregard them, and that, if we live near Him, life may at any time take on a new form and character. (E. N. Packard.)

The deliverer and his commission

The personal history of the deliverer and his commission, viewed in reference to the higher dispensation of the Gospel, exhibits the following principles, on which it will be unnecessary to offer any lengthened illustration.

1. The time for the deliverer appearing and entering on the mighty work given him to do, as it should be the one fittest for the purpose, so it must be the one chosen and fixed by God. It might seem long in coming to many, whose hearts groaned beneath the yoke of the adversary; and they might sometimes have been disposed, if they had been able, to hasten forward its arrival. But the Lord knew best when it should take place, and with unerring precision determined it beforehand. Hence we read of Christ’s appearance having occurred “in due time,” or “in the fulness of time.”

2. The Deliverer, when He comes, must arise within the Church itself. With her is the covenant of God; and she alone is the mother of the victorious seed, that destroys the destroyer.

3. Yet the deliverance, even in its earlier stages, when existing only in the personal history of the deliverer, is not altogether independent of the world. The blessing of Israel was interwoven with acts of kindness derived from the heathen; and the child Moses, with whom their very existence as a nation and all its coming glory was bound up, owed his preservation to a member of Pharaoh’s house, and in that house found a fit asylum and nursing-place. Thus the earth “helped the woman,” as it has often done since. In the history even of the Author and Finisher of our faith, the history of redemption links itself closely to the history of the world.

4. Still the deliverer, as to his person, his preparation, his gifts and calling, is peculiarly of God. That such a person as Moses was provided for the Church in the hour of her extremity, was entirely the result of God’s covenant with Abraham; and the whole circumstances connected with his preparation for the work, as well as the commission given him to undertake it, and the supernatural endowments fitting him for its execution, manifestly bespoke the special and gracious interposition of heaven. But the same holds true in each particular, and is still more illustriously displayed in Christ. (P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

Preparation for the ministry

I. A human ministry for a Divine salvation. The mother in the nursery, or at the bedside of her children; the father, by his godly life, as well as by direct instruction; the merchant among his clerks and salesmen; the employer among his employee; the mistress among her servants: all these have opportunities for the exercise of the ministry of grace. Other means besides the public ministry, or the direct dealing of the Christian worker, are used of God to bring His people up out of the land of bondage into His kingdom of life and light. A thousand silent and cumulative influences may be amongst the agencies that end in the conversion of every soul

II. This ministry is not self-appointed. “I will send thee.” In all our service we should bear in mind that we are to go in God’s name, by His appointment to do His work and not our own: otherwise the work will be a miserable failure, and the name of God will be blasphemed.

III. The nature of the commission. “I will send.” The Lord calls all His people to go forth into this world with a testimony and witness from Him. What the Lord needs now, as at the beginning, is that His disciples should go everywhere preaching Jesus and the Resurrection. When the Spirit works freely in believers, then are many more disciples made.

IV. Moses was to go down to where the people were. Now, mark that when God bade Moses to go down He did not tell him to build a pulpit on the border of Egypt, and cry, “Come!” I heard of a minister who was asked to go and see a man who was anxious about his soul. He replied, “He knows where I live. If he wants my help or counsel, let him come to me. If he is in earnest, he will.” I should have said to him, “If you are in earnest about your Master’s work, and know the meaning of the commission under which you hold your office, you will go to him.” Do net forget that our commission is to “go.” (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

The Divine call to service

1. It is persuasive--“come.”

2. It is immediate--“now.”

3. It is logical--“therefore.” (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

“I will send thee unto Pharaoh”

1. A vocation.

2. A preparation.

3. A commission. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

A God-given task

1. Arduous in its requirement.

2. Responsible in its exercise.

3. Glorious in its issue.

4. Unique in its character. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Notes

1. God’s call--is instant, and suffers no delay.

2. Though God needs no man, He calls some for the help of His people.

3. Such as God calls, He sends to bring about deliverance.

4. The mission of God may be of the poorest man to the greatest potentate.

5. God’s command is enough to empower the weakest man for the strongest work. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The principle of mediation in God’s dealings with men

In the eighth verse God says, I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians; and in the tenth verse He says, “I will send thee unto Pharaoh.” Is there not a discrepancy here? If God Himself came down to do a work, why did He not go and do it personally? One word from Himself would surely have done more for the cause which He had espoused than all the words which the most gifted of His creatures could have used. Looking at this incident as standing alone, it does undoubtedly appear most remarkable that God did not personally execute what He had personally conceived. The thinking was His, so was the love; all the spiritual side of the case belonged exclusively to God; yet He calls a shepherd, a lonely and unfriended man, to work out--with painful elaboration, and through a long series of bewildering disappointments--the purpose which it seems He Himself might have accomplished with a word. We find, however, that the instance is by no means an isolated one. Throughout the whole scheme of the Divine government of the human family, we find the principle of mediation. God speaks to man through man. Undoubtedly, this is mysterious. To our imperfect understanding, it would seem that the direct personal revelation of His presence and glory would instantly secure the results which are so desirable, and yet so doubtful. It is here that faith must lead us. Moreover, this principle of individual selection in the matter of all great ministries, is in keeping with the principle which embodies in a single germ the greatest forests. It is enough that God gives the one acorn, man must plant it and develop its productiveness. God works from the one to the many. (J. Parker, D. D.)

That thou mayest bring forth My people.

The typical character of Moses considered, as the deliverer, mediator, lawgiver, and guide of Israel

I. Moses typical of Christ as a deliverer.

1. When we were dead in sin, God prepared a Deliverer.

2. Only one Deliverer for the whole race.

3. A Man, like unto His brethren.

4. Moses, like Christ, made no common sacrifice to fulfil the duty with which God had charged him.

II. In no point of view is the character of Moses more venerable, or himself more illustrious as a type of our blessed Lord, than when we regard in him the appointed mediator between God and Israel, Moses was qualified for this office--by cordial love--meekness--long suffering--dis-interestedness--ever-watchful zeal; so God could have no interest with men except through Christ, who is far more qualified for the office of mediator than Moses.

III. In attempting to estimate the character of Moses as a type of Christ, we must by no means neglect to regard him in his office of lawgiver to Israel. It was necessary that some mode of government should be given to them. This was given by the Most High--through Moses. So, in the mournful captivity of the soul, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, oppose the will of God; and the fallen creature becomes a fatal law unto himself. Even when the condemnation of impiety is removed, and the fetters with which it bound all the passions, and faculties, and principles of the mind are broken, the liberated bond-servant needs a revelation of the Word of God by which his conduct may be governed. Christ a law-giver--assisted at the formation of the law--can best explain it--best enforce it.

IV. Consider his typical character, as the leader and guide of Israel. Ye may have fled from Egypt; but are ye beyond the reach of temptation? Have ye passed through all the wilderness of sin and seduction? Have ye triumphed over all your enemies, and received your allotted portion in the habitations of eternal rest and glory? Ye have not. A difficult pilgrimage is before you: but infinite mercy has not left you to wander alone. Your Conductor fully knows the way to that blessedness whither ye are endeavouring to follow Him. Ignorant as ye are, He can give you knowledge--feeble, He can support you--faint, He can refresh you. Lessons:

1. Be persuaded that the gospel is worthy of all acceptation.

2. But if worldly and unholy affections still oppose the influence of that gospel over your hearts, yield not tamely to the slavery they would impose, until ye are provided with an answer to the awful question, How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?

3. It will naturally be asked, Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? While therefore the ministers of religion are endeavouring to make others wise unto salvation, they may read in this history a rebuke to their own unbelief and timidity. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)

Leaders

1. Leaders we must have. To be a leader one must have courage. Not without reason did Sir Walter Scott say: “It appears to me that what is least forgiven in a man of any mark and likelihood is want of that quality called pluck. All the fine qualities of genius cannot make amends for it.” Boldness is demanded by the very nature of the ease. He who never moves till every one else is moving may be an excellent companion or follower; but a leader he is not. He who would lead must go before, must be in advance.

2. But courage must have some basis; and this basis is found largely in convictions. He who would lead must have not opinions alone but convictions. He must have before him some definite result to be reached, and a fixed conception of the manner in which the end is to be gained. And all this must not be a surmise, but an assurance. We cannot lead people with a perhaps. Usually, in proportion to the positiveness of one’s convictions will be his courage in obeying them. If one’s aims, methods, convictions are elevated and noble, so much the better; but convictions he must have, if he would be a leader, and he must hold them with a tenacity that death alone can unloose.

3. One of the convictions that go to make up leadership is a belief that things ought to be done, that they can be done, that they must be done; or, in other words, faith. There must be faith in a cause, faith in one’s self, in one’s destiny, in man; or, rather, there must be a faith in what God is able and desirous to do for man and through man. To say “nothing can be done” is to say “God can do nothing.” This despair is not only totally unchristian, it is fatal to leadership. “I can’t” is powerless, or potent only for evil. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” conducts to victory.

4. Out of faith comes progressiveness. To have no aspiration beyond holding things just where they are--or, perhaps, pushing them back an inch or two--this is fatal. But there is inspiration in the thought of achieving something that has not been done before, of treading heights unattained hitherto. The brakeman is very well in his way. But he is not the conductor. He cannot start the train.

5. For leadership there mast be sympathy--a knowledge of men, of their feelings, of their desires, hopes, and fears, prejudices, etc. And for leadership there must be unselfishness. Many other qualities are needed that a man may lead wisely, successfully. These seem to me indispensable that he may lead at all.


Verse 10

Exodus 3:10

I will send thee unto Pharaoh.

The calling of a great deliverer

I. His call was rendered necessary by intense national suffering (Exodus 3:7).

1. The sufferings to which the Israelites were exposed.

2. The Divine attention to the sufferings of the Israelites. God has deep sympathy with the sorrowful.

II. He was called to his mission by the immediate agency of god (Exodus 3:10).

1. His free agency was consulted. Such a call is--

2. His adaptability was considered. Social considerations are subordinate. A shepherd may be called to accomplish the freedom of Israel. Hence the Divine call to human souls is--

III. He was definitely made acquainted with the mission he had to undertake (Exodus 3:10).

1. He was to pay a visit to royalty.

2. He was to achieve the freedom of Israel. God forewarns him of the difficulties, that they may not surprise or overwhelm. This arrangement is--

IV. In the performance of his mission he was animated by the highest hopes (Exodus 3:8).

1. He anticipated the freedom of Israel.

2. He anticipated conquest in the event of war.

3. He anticipated residence in a land of beauty and fertility. God always animates those engaged in great service by great hopes.

Lessons:

1. That God knows how to prepare men to become the deliverers of the good.

2. That a Divine call is requisite for the mission of life.

3. That human sorrow is pathetic and powerful in its appeal to God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The mission of Moses; or, the qualification for a Divine work

I. God elevates the race by the instrumentality of individual men.

1. It serves to promote in man the principle of self-helpfulness.

2. It serves to promote social unity.

II. God specially qualifies the man He employs to elevate the race.

1. By a special manifestation of Himself.

2. By impressing him with the divinity of his mission.

3. By assuring him of His co-operation.

4. By making him sensible of his own insufficiency.

5. By providing him with a coadjutor to supplement his deficiencies. (Homilist.)

The call of Moses

I. The manner of the call.

1. Remarkable for its suddenness.

2. Remarkable for its mysteriousness.

3. Remarkable for its manifestation of God.

II. The reason of the call.

1. The severity of the affliction of God’s people.

2. The cry of God’s people, which had come up into the ears of God.

III. The purpose of the call.

1. The deliverance of His people from the task-master.

2. The fulfilment of the Divine covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

IV. The encouragement to obey the call. The personal presence of God.

V. The name of Him who issued the call.

1. The revelation of this name was called out by a significant question of Moses.

2. The significance of the name.

Lessons:

1. We learn God’s deep and practical interest in His people.

2. We learn that God is a hearer and an answerer of prayer.

3. We learn God’s wisdom in calling His servants.

4. We learn the all-sufficiency of the Divine encouragement, to every worker. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

God’s choice of instruments

God chooses the humblest instruments. He passes by the tempest, and waters the fields and gardens with His imperceptible dew. He passes by the great elephant, and bestows the hues of sapphire and amethyst upon the tiny humming-bird. He passes by the lofty pines and huge elm tree, and lavishes blossom and perfume on the violet. All history teaches the same truth. Moses was the son of a poor Levite; Gideon was a thresher; David was a shepherd boy; Amos was a herdsman; the apostles were obscure and unlearned; Zwingle was a shepherd; Melancthon, the great theologian of the Reformation, was an armourer; Luther was the child of a poor miner; Fuller was a farm servant; Carey, the originator of the plan of translating the Bible into the language of the millions of Hindustan, was a shoemaker; Morrison, who translated the Bible into the Chinese language, was a last-maker; Dr. Milne was a herd-boy; Adam Clarke was the son of Irish cotters; John Foster was a weaver; Jay, of Bath, was a herdsman. (Christian Age.)

The call of Moses

I. The preparations for the call. His miraculous escape in infancy; his careful training in the court of Pharaoh; his knowledge of governments, men, armies, religious rites; his silent years of obscurity, watching the leisure of the seasons as they came and went, the slow movements of the star.s; the care of God for the helpless creatures over which he was a shepherd; the home-life--all these were part of the call. His soul ripened.

II. The call itself. A greater one was never issued to mortal man. The only greater one was assigned to that Prophet like unto Moses who, in the fulness of time, came to lead the world out of a worse than Egyptian bondage through the death of the cross.

III. The hesitation of Moses at the great summons. He was perfectly honest before God. And it is because he was so honest that we can understand him and get our lessons from him at this turning-point in his career. We would not lose the picture of this great man--this chosen vessel of God--hesitating, confessing his cowardly feelings, and trying to hide away from duty. The response from Jehovah was as sudden as the command, and it was a complete satisfaction for all the real and imaginary troubles in the situation: “Certainly I will be with thee.”

IV. Lastly, if we seek further practical lessons from this part of sacred history, we shall be led to ask why the Bible makes so much of the calls its chief characters received to their office. Was it merely to prove the genuineness of their commission? They proved that by their works done in the name of God. Was it to show the power of Him who can call out children to Abraham from the stones and cause things that are not to be as those that are? Not this alone, but rather to make us feel that we may be receiving calls to His service, though we disregard them, and that, if we live near Him, life may at any time take on a new form and character. (E. N. Packard.)

The deliverer and his commission

The personal history of the deliverer and his commission, viewed in reference to the higher dispensation of the Gospel, exhibits the following principles, on which it will be unnecessary to offer any lengthened illustration.

1. The time for the deliverer appearing and entering on the mighty work given him to do, as it should be the one fittest for the purpose, so it must be the one chosen and fixed by God. It might seem long in coming to many, whose hearts groaned beneath the yoke of the adversary; and they might sometimes have been disposed, if they had been able, to hasten forward its arrival. But the Lord knew best when it should take place, and with unerring precision determined it beforehand. Hence we read of Christ’s appearance having occurred “in due time,” or “in the fulness of time.”

2. The Deliverer, when He comes, must arise within the Church itself. With her is the covenant of God; and she alone is the mother of the victorious seed, that destroys the destroyer.

3. Yet the deliverance, even in its earlier stages, when existing only in the personal history of the deliverer, is not altogether independent of the world. The blessing of Israel was interwoven with acts of kindness derived from the heathen; and the child Moses, with whom their very existence as a nation and all its coming glory was bound up, owed his preservation to a member of Pharaoh’s house, and in that house found a fit asylum and nursing-place. Thus the earth “helped the woman,” as it has often done since. In the history even of the Author and Finisher of our faith, the history of redemption links itself closely to the history of the world.

4. Still the deliverer, as to his person, his preparation, his gifts and calling, is peculiarly of God. That such a person as Moses was provided for the Church in the hour of her extremity, was entirely the result of God’s covenant with Abraham; and the whole circumstances connected with his preparation for the work, as well as the commission given him to undertake it, and the supernatural endowments fitting him for its execution, manifestly bespoke the special and gracious interposition of heaven. But the same holds true in each particular, and is still more illustriously displayed in Christ. (P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

Preparation for the ministry

I. A human ministry for a Divine salvation. The mother in the nursery, or at the bedside of her children; the father, by his godly life, as well as by direct instruction; the merchant among his clerks and salesmen; the employer among his employee; the mistress among her servants: all these have opportunities for the exercise of the ministry of grace. Other means besides the public ministry, or the direct dealing of the Christian worker, are used of God to bring His people up out of the land of bondage into His kingdom of life and light. A thousand silent and cumulative influences may be amongst the agencies that end in the conversion of every soul

II. This ministry is not self-appointed. “I will send thee.” In all our service we should bear in mind that we are to go in God’s name, by His appointment to do His work and not our own: otherwise the work will be a miserable failure, and the name of God will be blasphemed.

III. The nature of the commission. “I will send.” The Lord calls all His people to go forth into this world with a testimony and witness from Him. What the Lord needs now, as at the beginning, is that His disciples should go everywhere preaching Jesus and the Resurrection. When the Spirit works freely in believers, then are many more disciples made.

IV. Moses was to go down to where the people were. Now, mark that when God bade Moses to go down He did not tell him to build a pulpit on the border of Egypt, and cry, “Come!” I heard of a minister who was asked to go and see a man who was anxious about his soul. He replied, “He knows where I live. If he wants my help or counsel, let him come to me. If he is in earnest, he will.” I should have said to him, “If you are in earnest about your Master’s work, and know the meaning of the commission under which you hold your office, you will go to him.” Do net forget that our commission is to “go.” (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

The Divine call to service

1. It is persuasive--“come.”

2. It is immediate--“now.”

3. It is logical--“therefore.” (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

“I will send thee unto Pharaoh”

1. A vocation.

2. A preparation.

3. A commission. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

A God-given task

1. Arduous in its requirement.

2. Responsible in its exercise.

3. Glorious in its issue.

4. Unique in its character. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Notes

1. God’s call--is instant, and suffers no delay.

2. Though God needs no man, He calls some for the help of His people.

3. Such as God calls, He sends to bring about deliverance.

4. The mission of God may be of the poorest man to the greatest potentate.

5. God’s command is enough to empower the weakest man for the strongest work. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The principle of mediation in God’s dealings with men

In the eighth verse God says, I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians; and in the tenth verse He says, “I will send thee unto Pharaoh.” Is there not a discrepancy here? If God Himself came down to do a work, why did He not go and do it personally? One word from Himself would surely have done more for the cause which He had espoused than all the words which the most gifted of His creatures could have used. Looking at this incident as standing alone, it does undoubtedly appear most remarkable that God did not personally execute what He had personally conceived. The thinking was His, so was the love; all the spiritual side of the case belonged exclusively to God; yet He calls a shepherd, a lonely and unfriended man, to work out--with painful elaboration, and through a long series of bewildering disappointments--the purpose which it seems He Himself might have accomplished with a word. We find, however, that the instance is by no means an isolated one. Throughout the whole scheme of the Divine government of the human family, we find the principle of mediation. God speaks to man through man. Undoubtedly, this is mysterious. To our imperfect understanding, it would seem that the direct personal revelation of His presence and glory would instantly secure the results which are so desirable, and yet so doubtful. It is here that faith must lead us. Moreover, this principle of individual selection in the matter of all great ministries, is in keeping with the principle which embodies in a single germ the greatest forests. It is enough that God gives the one acorn, man must plant it and develop its productiveness. God works from the one to the many. (J. Parker, D. D.)

That thou mayest bring forth My people.

The typical character of Moses considered, as the deliverer, mediator, lawgiver, and guide of Israel

I. Moses typical of Christ as a deliverer.

1. When we were dead in sin, God prepared a Deliverer.

2. Only one Deliverer for the whole race.

3. A Man, like unto His brethren.

4. Moses, like Christ, made no common sacrifice to fulfil the duty with which God had charged him.

II. In no point of view is the character of Moses more venerable, or himself more illustrious as a type of our blessed Lord, than when we regard in him the appointed mediator between God and Israel, Moses was qualified for this office--by cordial love--meekness--long suffering--dis-interestedness--ever-watchful zeal; so God could have no interest with men except through Christ, who is far more qualified for the office of mediator than Moses.

III. In attempting to estimate the character of Moses as a type of Christ, we must by no means neglect to regard him in his office of lawgiver to Israel. It was necessary that some mode of government should be given to them. This was given by the Most High--through Moses. So, in the mournful captivity of the soul, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, oppose the will of God; and the fallen creature becomes a fatal law unto himself. Even when the condemnation of impiety is removed, and the fetters with which it bound all the passions, and faculties, and principles of the mind are broken, the liberated bond-servant needs a revelation of the Word of God by which his conduct may be governed. Christ a law-giver--assisted at the formation of the law--can best explain it--best enforce it.

IV. Consider his typical character, as the leader and guide of Israel. Ye may have fled from Egypt; but are ye beyond the reach of temptation? Have ye passed through all the wilderness of sin and seduction? Have ye triumphed over all your enemies, and received your allotted portion in the habitations of eternal rest and glory? Ye have not. A difficult pilgrimage is before you: but infinite mercy has not left you to wander alone. Your Conductor fully knows the way to that blessedness whither ye are endeavouring to follow Him. Ignorant as ye are, He can give you knowledge--feeble, He can support you--faint, He can refresh you. Lessons:

1. Be persuaded that the gospel is worthy of all acceptation.

2. But if worldly and unholy affections still oppose the influence of that gospel over your hearts, yield not tamely to the slavery they would impose, until ye are provided with an answer to the awful question, How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?

3. It will naturally be asked, Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? While therefore the ministers of religion are endeavouring to make others wise unto salvation, they may read in this history a rebuke to their own unbelief and timidity. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)

Leaders

1. Leaders we must have. To be a leader one must have courage. Not without reason did Sir Walter Scott say: “It appears to me that what is least forgiven in a man of any mark and likelihood is want of that quality called pluck. All the fine qualities of genius cannot make amends for it.” Boldness is demanded by the very nature of the ease. He who never moves till every one else is moving may be an excellent companion or follower; but a leader he is not. He who would lead must go before, must be in advance.

2. But courage must have some basis; and this basis is found largely in convictions. He who would lead must have not opinions alone but convictions. He must have before him some definite result to be reached, and a fixed conception of the manner in which the end is to be gained. And all this must not be a surmise, but an assurance. We cannot lead people with a perhaps. Usually, in proportion to the positiveness of one’s convictions will be his courage in obeying them. If one’s aims, methods, convictions are elevated and noble, so much the better; but convictions he must have, if he would be a leader, and he must hold them with a tenacity that death alone can unloose.

3. One of the convictions that go to make up leadership is a belief that things ought to be done, that they can be done, that they must be done; or, in other words, faith. There must be faith in a cause, faith in one’s self, in one’s destiny, in man; or, rather, there must be a faith in what God is able and desirous to do for man and through man. To say “nothing can be done” is to say “God can do nothing.” This despair is not only totally unchristian, it is fatal to leadership. “I can’t” is powerless, or potent only for evil. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” conducts to victory.

4. Out of faith comes progressiveness. To have no aspiration beyond holding things just where they are--or, perhaps, pushing them back an inch or two--this is fatal. But there is inspiration in the thought of achieving something that has not been done before, of treading heights unattained hitherto. The brakeman is very well in his way. But he is not the conductor. He cannot start the train.

5. For leadership there mast be sympathy--a knowledge of men, of their feelings, of their desires, hopes, and fears, prejudices, etc. And for leadership there must be unselfishness. Many other qualities are needed that a man may lead wisely, successfully. These seem to me indispensable that he may lead at all.


Verse 11

Exodus 3:11

Who am I?

Ministerial timidity

I. It is sometimes occasioned by undue and depreciating thoughts of self.

1. By undue thought of our social position.

2. By undue thought of our intellectual weakness.

3. By undue thought of our moral inability.

II. It is sometimes occasioned by an undue estimation of the difficulties of the work.

1. This may arise from the depressing experiences of youth.

2. This may arise from the removal of friendly aids.

III. It is sometimes occasioned by our not appreciating, as we ought, the divine presence and help.

1. The Divine presence is our guide.

2. The Divine presence is our sustaining influence.

3. The Divine presence is our victory.

IV. It should be removed by the hopes with which it is animated.

1. By the hope of achieving the freedom of a vast nation.

2. By the hope of leading a vast nation into the land of promise. Moses was to lead the Israelites into Canaan:

So, the minister of Christ has to lead men to heaven--this is the hope by which he is animated--and ought to subdue all timidity--and inspire him with holy joy. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Notes

1. God may sometimes be denied by the best of men in their infirmity.

2. The best souls are apt to have the lowest thoughts of themselves for God’s work.

3. Visible difficulties in the Church may dishearten men to work.

4. The power of Egyptian oppressors may startle weak instruments of deliverance.

5. The redemption of men from the house of bondage is a startling fact. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The power of increasing age

1. To change the views.

2. To calm the temper.

3. To humble the soul. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Work greater than self

No wonder that he so inquired. The message seemed to be much greater than the messenger. He works best who magnifies his office. Preachers, and all ministers of good, should see their work to be greater than themselves if they would work at the highest point of energy. Let a man suppose his work to be easy, to be unworthy of his talents, and he will not achieve much success. (J. Parker, D. D.)

A Divine commission

I. Good men often want greater confidence in the service of God.

1. Distrust may arise from an honest conviction of personal unfitness. The most suitable workers are often the most diffident. Great talkers are little workers.

2. Distrust may arise from a false impression of opposing difficulties. Our estimate of what we can accomplish should be measured by our determination and love.

3. Distrust may arise from a positive relapse of religious fervour. Love inspires zeal.

II. Good men often want special encouragement in the service of God.

1. God encourages His servants by the assurance of His presence. He will give--

2. God encourages His servants by the assurance of ultimate success.

III. Good men often require minute instruction in the service of God. When Moses determined to go to the Israelites, he anticipated the difficulties that would arise. They would want proof of his Divine commission, and he asks, “What shall I say unto them?”

1. We should inquire of God respecting our secular engagements. Why am I engaged in this work, and not in some other? What is the object for which I work? What is the influence of my work upon my life? What is the spirit in which I work?

2. We should inquire of God respecting our intellectual tendencies. This is an age of intellectual unrest. Old theories are discarded, and old doctrines thrown aside. Am I wandering from the old paths? Am I resting on the true foundation?

3. We should inquire of God respecting our religious progress. Spiritual life necessitates spiritual growth. Our progress may be slow and imperceptible, but it must advance or perish. Are we going forward in the Divine life? Is faith stronger? is love deeper? is zeal more intense?

IV. Good men often received Divine authority for the service of God.

1. What evidence had Moses of his Divine commission? It was attested by a miraculous call.

2. What evidence had the Israelites of his Divine commission? It was attested by a miraculous power. (J. T. Woodhouse.)

Moses’ self-distrust

These words indicate humility, not fear. Among the grounds which he alleges for his hesitation, in no instance is there any allusion to personal danger; what he feared was failure owing to incompetency, especially in the power of expression. This shrinking from self-assertion is the quality which seems to be specially intimated by the word rendered “meek” in Numbers 12:3. (Canon Cook.)

False humility

Some people in studying this passage in the life of Moses will praise his humility. His pleas were all on the ground of personal unworthiness or unfitness for the great work. But let us not be deceived. That “humility” is not to be commended that shrinks from any duty which God commands. At Baalbec, in a quarry, lies a magnificent block, almost detached and ready for transportation. It was undoubtedly intended to be placed with its fellows in the wall which supported the Temple of the Sun. So large, so grand, it is a failure, because it never filled the place for which it was hewn. Like failures are many human lives. Who can tell how many men lie among the wastes and ruins of life, that God designed to fill grand places, but that, when called, refused to go? They folded their talents away in the napkins of supposed humility, of self-distrust, or of indolence or disobedience, and buried them in the earth. For ever they will lie in the quarries, pale ghosts of glorious “might have beens,” while the places in God’s temple which they were meant to fill remain for ever vacant. We can only make our lives successful by promptly, joyfully, and unhesitatingly accepting every call of our Master to His service, by putting ourselves utterly into His hands to be used anywhere, in any way, in any work, for any end, as He may direct. (The Westminster Teacher.)


Verse 12

Exodus 3:12

Certainly I will be with thee.

The guarantee of success

Take this assurance as applying to the whole service of sanctified life, and it entitles us to draw four practical inferences.

I. “Certainly I will be with thee.”--then man is servant not master He should know his place, or he can never keep it. As servant, he should--

1. Constantly consult his Master.

2. Constantly speak in the name of his Master.

3. Constantly be jealous of the honour of his Master.

II. “Certainly I will be with thee.”--then the work must succeed. What is the guarantee of success?

1. Not human cleverness; ministers may be clever, so may churches, etc.; we may have learned sermons, able sermons, ingenious sermons, etc.

2. Not skilful organisation. Cards, bazaars, registers, circulars, etc., all useless as ends.

3. The word of the Lord is the guarantee of success. “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” “My word shall not return unto Me void.”

III. “Certainly I will be with thee.”--then the servant is to be received for the master’s sake. “He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me.” The true minister carries a blessing with him. The Romans were to receive Phoebe in the Lord. What a lesson to ministers--they are representatives of God!

IV. “Certainly I will be with thee.”--then there need be no lack of grace or power. “If any man lack wisdom,” etc. “Lo, I am with you alway,” etc. “Ye have not because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss.” The servants may take counsel of one another, but not to the interruption of continuous and trustful prayer to the Master.

1. God is with His servants for their comfort.

2. For their guidance.

3. For their safety.

Application: Notice--

1. The individuality of the promise, “I will be with thee”--with the one man.

2. The emphasis of the premise--“Certainly.” Who is with us in our life-ministry? (J. Parker, D. D.)

The Divine companionship realised by the good in the service of the Christian life

I. It was considerate. Promise made when most needed-at time of weakness.

II. It was emphatic. Leaving no room for doubt.

III. It was sympathetic. “With thee.” Not I will follow thee--not I will go before thee-not I will be near thee--but with thee--as a companion to cheer thy soul; as a friend-to give thee counsel; as a God--to make thee victorious. How can a mission fail when God is with the worker? (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

God’s presence with His ministers

The mission of Moses resembles that of every Christian minister, in that--

I. He was sent to his brethren.

II. When he went to them, he found them in a state of bondage and oppression; their spirits crushed, their minds degraded.

III. He found that he only provoked them by his endeavours to deliver them.

IV. Promises were given to support him under his disappointments. View the promise in the way of--

1. Encouragement. God will be with every minister--

2. Caution. While each pastor rests on the consolation of this privilege, he must not forget the call to watchfulness and holiness which is inseparably connected with it. (H. Raikes, M. A.)

God is with His ministers

When I first entered the ministry, twenty years ago, I was filled with an enthusiasm that was as fresh as it was inexperienced in the work of winning souls. I felt sure, when I began to preach, that all the world would hear and be converted. The gospel was so simple; the news so good; the grace of Christ so precious--that I could think of nothing else but that my hearers would at once give themselves to Christ. I was under the impression that the reason people were not converted in greater numbers was that the preachers did not make the gospel simple and plain. This I supposed that I could do. Alas, I was as ignorant as Moses when he made his first attempt to save his brethren. I did not know what the bondage was, though I myself had been delivered. I did not realize the darkness of the unrenewed mind, the enmity of the unrenewed heart. I did not know the strength of the chain with which Satan has bound souls. But, like Melancthon, who had a similar thought, I found that “old Adam was stronger than young Pentecost”; and I confess that to this hour, though I have been in the work for twenty years, I never sit down by the side of an unconverted man, woman, or child, to attempt to lead them to Christ, without a certain sense of fear. My insufficiency always comes before me when I think of what is involved in this work. To persuade a man to reform his life, to give up certain sins and hurtful lusts, is comparatively easy: but to convert a sinner to God is difficult work indeed; and without the aid of the Divine Spirit it is impossible for man to effect it. What answer have we to give to this honest shrinking from a difficult work? Let us hear how God answered Moses: “Certainly I will be with thee.” As though He had said, “Why, Moses, you did not expect that I was going to send you down to Egypt alone, to deliver My people? Have you forgotten that I said I had come down to deliver? You indeed are to be My instrument; but I will be with you to make you mighty, and to bring the apparently impossible work to pass.” This puts the work in a new light. If God goes with us to the work, then can we undertake anything. When Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and make disciples of all nations,” He did not forget to say, “Lo, I am with you alway.” (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

The invisible but ever-present God

God thus puts Himself apparently into a secondary position. Moses is to stand at the front, and, so far as publicity is concerned, to incur the whole responsibility of the proposed movement. It was easy for Moses to say that he was prompted of God to make certain representations to Israel and Pharaoh, but how were they to be convinced that Moses was servant and not master? This is the difficulty of all the highest service of life, namely, that the spiritual is invisible, and yet omnipotent; public attention is fixed upon the human agent, and professions of spiritual inspiration and impulse are treated with distrust, if not with contempt, by the most of mankind. It is the invisible Christ who is with the Church. Were He present manifestly, it is supposed that greater results would accrue from Christian service; but the supposition must be mistaken, inasmuch as He to whom such service is infinitely dearer than it ever can be to ourselves has determined the manner of Christian evangelisation. What, then, is the great duty and privilege of the Church? It is to realize the presence and influence of the Invisible. The Church is actually to see the Unseen. There is another vision beside the vision of the body; faith itself is sight; and where faith is complete, there is a consciousness of God’s presence throughout our life and service which amounts to a distinct vision of God’s personal presence and government. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The spirit of destiny

Moses has been, as it were, audibly and visibly called to service and invested with authority. A keen pleasure would seem to attach to experiences of that kind. Surely it was a blessed thing to speak face to face with God, and to go straight away from the communing to do the work which had been prescribed. The directness of the interview, the absence of all second causes and instrumentalities, has about it a solemnity which profoundly affects the heart. But is my destiny less Divine because it has been revealed to me under conditions which seem to separate widely between the Creator and the creature? Has God only one method of working in revealing to a man what that man’s work in life is intended to be? We do not always see the fountain; sometimes we have to be content to drink at the stream. The danger is lest we imagine the stream created itself, forgetting in our irreligion and folly that the stream is impossible apart from the fountain. A man is sometimes awakened to his destiny by his fellow-men. In other cases a man’s destiny seems to be determined by what he calls his circumstances or his environment. But why this wide and circuitous way of putting the case to the mind? We do not depose God by mistaking the origin of our action; we do but show the poorness of our own judgment, or the want of justice which impoverishes our lives of their best qualities. Every man should put to himself the question--What is my destiny? What does God mean me to be and do in the world? (J. Parker, D. D.)

The presence of God

In the early days of the Theological Seminary at Alleghany, it was often in great need of money. Once, in a time of extremity, the Rev. Dr. Francis Herren, President of the Board of Directors, the Rev. Dr. Elisha P. Swift, also a director, and Rev. Jos. Patterson, met to devise some way of relief. With all their faith, the first-mentioned brethren were greatly dejected, “We have no one to help us,” said one of them. “No one!” replied Mr. Patterson, warmly: “Why! I know of a thousand here.” The two looked astonished. He continued, “Is not Dr. Herren a cipher? is not Dr. Swift a cipher? am not I a cipher? But Jesus Christ is surely One. And if we put one before three ciphers, does it not make a thousand?” They took new courage, went to that One who is able to help, and did not pray in vain.

Christ’s presence promised

Chrysostom beautifully says, for our comfort: “I have a pledge from Christ--have His note of hand--which is my support, my refuge and haven; and though the world should rage, to this security I cling. How reads it? ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’ If Christ be with me, what shall I fear? If He is mine, all the powers of earth to me are nothing more than a spider’s web.”


Verse 13

Exodus 3:13

What shall I say unto them?

Ministerial difficulties to be anticipated, and how to overcome them

I. Ministers must anticipate difficulties in the performance of their life-mission.

1. Arising from prejudice in reference to the man.

2. Arising from scepticism in reference to the truth.

3. Arising from lethargy in reference to the mission.

II. To overcome these difficulties ministers must seek direction from God.

1. Divine recognition of ministerial difficulty. He will not reject any who seek His aid.

2. Divine sympathy with ministerial difficulty.

Such a manifestation of Divine sympathy ought to inspire every minister with spirit and fortitude for his work. They that are for him, are more than all that can be against him. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Why did Moses ask the name of God?

1.Not to instruct his ignorance. He had not forgotten God in Egypt.

2. Not to gratify his curiosity.

3. But to satisfy Israel.

Error has many gods, he therefore wanted to know how he might prove to the enslaved nation that he came in the name of the True One. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Lessons

1. It is good for a minister to know on whose business he is going.

2. God’s answer to one objection oftentimes begets another in His servants.

3. Dissatisfaction of men about God’s instruments is very probable.

4. God’s servants very reasonably expect that He will clear up all doubt as to His name, and their duty. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

“What shalt I say unto them.”-a question for the pulpit

I. Shall I say unto them truths that are in harmony with their depraved condition? No; ministers are not to preach doctrines in harmony with the depraved tastes of men--but to awaken them from their sin, by the proclamation of the Divine name and freedom.

II. Shall I give them an argumentative discourse? It would be necessary for Moses to convince the Israelites that he was divinely commissioned--and the chief use that a minister can make of logic is to prove the divinity of his call to the ministry.

III. Shall I give them a sensational discourse? Had Moses done this he might have aroused a wave of feeling, but it would soon have subsided into calm. The freedom of the nation would not have been achieved in this way. The sensational preachers of the world are not doing the most towards the moral freedom of the race.

IV. Shall I say unto them how clever i am? Moses had humbled himself before God. And men humble before God are generally so before their fellows. Ministers should not make a display of their learning-such conduct will never accomplish the freedom of souls.

V. Shall I tell them about the cross of jesus? “Yes,” replies the penitent sinner; “that is what I want.” “Yes,” replies the aged believer; “that is the charm of my soul.” Preach the Cross as the emancipation of the world. Not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

What to preach

I remember being asked by the late Dr. McLeod, who was head physician in one of the Government asylums, if I would preach to some of the inmates. “What kind of men are they?” I inquired. “Oh, mostly sailors; and if you accept the invitation to preach to them, you must make up your mind to stand a good knock or two, perhaps even a blow in the face; but if you wish to make friends with them, you must take no notice of it.” “I am not a bit afraid of them,” I replied; “if they be sailors I shall speak to them as sailors, and I am sure they will not teach me.”. I went and spoke to them. There was no attempt to molest me, but many of the poor fellows came up to me afterwards and thanked me for what I said. Some declared that what they liked about me was that I spoke to them as sailors. No one who had ever spoken to them before had done so. Their former visitors had seemed to believe all that they were told, that they were kings, dukes, and earls, but I had spoken to them as sailors, to their true selves, and though insane, they felt that I was speaking the truth. Similarly we must speak to sinners as being just what they are. (Christian Herald.)

God-directed speaking

A man in America died, who had long been renowned for wickedness. His intellectual abilities were of no mean order; his property was considerable, and he had belonged to a family of good position. By the practice of every kind of dissipation he had achieved an evil notoriety, and gloried in being considered the most fascinating and dangerous roue in the country. This being so, his associates resolved upon giving him a funeral worthy of his reputation. As one means of ensuring this, they invited one of the most eminent Presbyterian ministers in the region to deliver the funeral discourse. To the surprise of many, after some little hesitation, he consented. On the day and at the hour appointed the country church was crowded to overflowing by an assembly composed of the relatives, friends, and companions of the deceased, together with a mixed multitude drawn from far and near by curiosity to hear what such a minister could find to say of such a man. Punctual to the moment, the tall form of the clergyman ascended the pulpit, and the service began. There was first the reading of the Scriptures. Then followed a prayer, subdued and tender, for the family and relatives of the deceased. But the announcement of the text fell upon the assembly like a clap of thunder. It was from Luke 16:23 : “And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.” The sermon was a most pungent and powerful exhibition of the character, course, and end of a wicked man. It held the assembly spellbound to the very last word; but there was in it not a single direct allusion to the person whose obsequies they had come there to celebrate. In silence and in deep solemnity the congregation dispersed after the service was finished. Some were indignant, but any attempt to excite odium against the preacher was a failure. It was generally thought that in what he had done he was governed by a sense of duty. He was said to have stated afterwards that when he was invited to preach on that occasion he had determined to decline, but, in answer to prayer, received a message which he believed to be from God--“Go--and preach the preaching that I bid thee.” (Christian Herald.)

God’s servants report God’s words

Words spoken on your own account, without reference to your Lord, will fall to the ground. When the footman goes to the door to answer a caller, he asks his master what he has to say, and he repeats what his master tells him. You and I are waiting-servants in the house of God, and we are to report what our God would have us speak. The Lord gives the soul-saving message, and clothes it with power: He gives it to a certain order of people, and under certain conditions. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Moses’ difficulty

If Moses had been rejected forty years before, what resistance and what objections might he not expect then? And when he should speak to them of the God of their fathers, and should say to them, “I have seen Him; He has spoken to me, He has made promises to me, He has sent me to you,” would they believe him, would they listen to him, would they understand him? It was thus that the apostles of Jesus Christ, when they went to gather together the people of God amid idolaters, had to encounter two classes of enemies; on the one hand, the emperors of Rome, the rich and powerful priests of the old religions, who had their gods, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and many more; on the other hand, the nations whom they were sent to convert: there was the greatest difficulty. Read the Acts of the Apostles, and you will readily perceive that the apostles’ impediments and persecutions came from the people more than from the emperors and the great men of the world. But do you fully understand the objection that Moses expected from the unbelief of the people? The Israelites had probably become idolaters by living among the Egyptians, who worshipped a great number of gods, each of which had its name, as Ammon, Isis, Osiris, Apis. They shall say to me, What is His name? Is He truly the God of our fathers? Has He said so to thee? We do not see Him; He has forsaken us. (Prof. Gaussen.)

A necessary inquiry

Before going on any of life’s great errands, we should know who has sent us, and what is the business on which we proceed. Inquiries of this kind will lead to a true apprehension of our position, and in not a few cases to a reversion of our daily course. What are you living for? You are hurrying and whirling forward at a tremendous rate, your brain teems upon conceptions, your hand hardly knows a moment’s rest, you pursue the bubble, you jostle and compete and envy, you flatter and are flattered, you hoard and you dispense. What does it all mean? Who sketched the map by which yon regulate your pilgrimage? What account can you give of yourself to those who ask the name of your guiding spirit? Take the subject in the light of every-day affairs, and the singular absurdity of not knowing on whose business you are engaged will instantly appear. You meet a traveller who is professedly engaged in business; you ask him what is his business, and he cannot answer; you ask him whose interests he represents, and no reply is forthcoming; you ask him whither he is bound, and he returns the inquiry with a look of vacancy;--to what conclusion can you come respecting such a person? You instantly feel that the man is a child, and that the child has gone astray. The same thing holds true in the deeper and vaster concerns of life; and he who is wisely and profoundly anxious to know on what basis he is proceeding in commercial transactions, should look beyond the mere detail, and face the great question--upon what principle is my intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual life proceeding? Oh man, be persuaded for a moment to tarry in thy impetuous course, and cross-examine thine own heart! Don’t be deluded by the whirl and thunder and tempest of an outer life; mistake not commotion for progress, enthusiasm for regeneration, self-applause for the benediction of heaven! (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 14

Exodus 3:14

I AM hath sent me unto you.

Immutable authority

I. Moses on entering upon a great mission naturally inquires the conditions upon which he proceeds.

II. In the revelation made to Moses, “I AM hath sent me unto you,” we have being distinguished from manifestation. “I AM” is the summary of Being.

III. The answer which Moses received from Almighty God was an immutable authority for the greatest of missions. Only let us be sure that we are doing God’s errand, and Pharaoh and Caesar, and all names of material power, will fall before us, never again to rise. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The great “I AM”

I. God is the incomprehensible One, and yet is revealed in His intercourse with men. The conviction of His unsearchableness lies at the root of all reverence and awe. Before the “I AM that I AM” our spirits lie in deepest adoration, and rise into loftiest aspiration. But we need equally the other side. We need a God revealed in the essential features of His character; and it is in His dealings with men who feared and loved Him that He has made Himself known.

II. God is the independent and absolute. One, and yet He enters into covenant and most definite relationships with men. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

III. God is the eternal One, and yet the God of dying men. Every moment that we have of fellowship with the Eternal God assures us that for us there is no death.

IV. God is the unchangeable One, yet the God of men of all different types and temperaments. The same Lord over all. Take these three patriarchs, so closely related in blood--Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. How different they were! Yet God was the God of all three, for they all agreed in being seekers of God. (J. Leckie, D. D.)

The great “I AM”

The first thought, perhaps, of all which lies wrapped in these two grand comprehensive words, “I AM,” is mystery. Our best worship is in silence, and our truest wisdom when we confess without confession. “It is too high for me, I cannot attain unto it.” The utmost conception of the most exalted intellect of the most heaven-taught man is only a faint approximation thereto. “I AM.” It still lies in the future of a far-off beatitude--“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” But where do these glimpses lie of the great I AM and how can we now know Him at all? I believe, first, in nature. The wonderful organization and marvellous system of nature, in the world I live in. Next I look for it in the Holy Word which He has given to me with the impress of His mind and being. But more in that Spirit which dwells in me and which is the reflection of the nature and a very part of the life and the essence of God. Thirdly, and better still in Him, His own dear Son, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person,” and who claims to Himself that very name (John 8:58). No created thing could ever say with truth, “I am.” God alone has no other origin but Himself. He depends upon nothing; His life is essential life; all life, from all eternity past to all eternity yet to come. He is “I AM.” Therefore because He is the I AM, all is present time with God. It is the present tense ever. The consequences are tremendous. All our past sins, all our past mercies, all our past promises and vows, all our past life, and all the life that is yet to come, it is all the present moment with God, in all its freshness and clearness and distinctness at this moment--“I AM.” Hence the absolute and perfect unchangeableness! Or take another instance in that great name “I AM.” All life, which is life indeed, must emanate from Him. He is the life. And there is another view which we may take of these two grand words, “I AM.” God does not say what He is. He leaves that to us. We must fill in the blank. “I am whatever you make Me. If you disbelieve Me, if you think little of Me, I am a just God, a holy God, a jealous God, an avenging God, a strict God, a punishing God; I shall by no means spare the guilty, I am a consuming fire. If you are a penitent sinner, if you have left Me and are coming back to Me, if you are sorry for what you have done, if you have grieved Me, and now wish to please Me, I am a forgiving God, full of mercy and compassion, of great pity, passing by transgression and sin more than any one asketh. I am love. If you are really My child, poor, weak, unworthy, sinful though you are, yet still My child, striving to please Me, earnest to serve Me, desiring more and more to see Me and be with Me, telling Me everything in your little heart, trusting Me, loving Me, I am your own dear loving faithful Father; I am yours and you are Mine to the very end. I have loved you and chosen you from all eternity, and I never change. Though I do sometimes hide Myself, yet behind the cloud I AM, I AM, I AM. I am thine, and thou art Mine, for ever and ever!”(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The Divine name

I. As only revealed by the Divine being Himself.

II. As only partially understood by the grandest intellects.

III. As sufficiently comprehended for the practical service of the Christian life. We know enough of God to give strength, responsibility, hope, to our Christian work and life. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The name of the Lord

The answer is twofold. It repeats the idea that He is the God of their father; but it connects that with the idea that He is Jehovah.

I. The eternal name. “God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM. Say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” The word is that from which Jehovah comes. It expresses the idea of existence. In announcing Himself by this name the Divine Being excludes all notion of any commencement or termination of His existence, or that He is indebted for it to any other. It is self-existence, necessary existence; His non-existence is an impossibility and cannot be entertained. Jesus Christ “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” “The Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.” “He who was, and is, and is to come.” Perhaps the most helpful conception we have of permanence is given by the spectacle of the lofty mountains which stand unmoved and unchanged for centuries and millenniums. We call them the everlasting hills. But He was before the mountains, and will continue His undying existence when they have disappeared in the final dissolution.

II. The abiding relationship. “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” The two names are closely connected, because He could not be the one God of successive generations if He were not Jehovah--the Everlasting.

1. You will mark that He is not only Jehovah, God in Himself, as He cannot but be; He is the God of the persons here mentioned. Think what a great thing it is that He should be the God of any one! Think what a blessedness and a glory it is to have His almightiness on your side; His love your resting-place; His throne your refuge in distress; His unchanging faithfulness your abiding confidence.

2. Next, observe that He was the God of each of the persons named. God knows how to be the God of all His people however they differ from each other in those subtle shades of character which, like the features of the face, distinguish one man from another.

3. Then observe, further, He was the God of their successive generations. This thought is valuable in connection with the idea that God still has a people. The spiritual seed of Abraham. Also that the children of godly parents should value the blessing of having their father’s God. Fear to forfeit it.

4. Nor must we overlook the important use the Great Teacher made of the statement in our text. Argument for resurrection and immortality in Matthew 22:24-32.

III. The permanent name. God’s eternity contrasts with our brief life; warrants our confidence in Him; suggests the blessedness of those who are interested in Him. (John Rawlinson.)

God’s name of Himself

I. Personality--“I.”

1. We attach three ideas to personality.

2. God’s personality--

II. Self-existence--“I AM.”

1. The independent amidst dependent beings.

2. The Unchangeable amidst a changing universe.

III. Un-searchableness--“I AM that I AM.”

1. Mystery is essential to Deity.

2. Mystery is a want of human nature. Stirs intellect, wakes wonder, inspires reverent awe of souls. (Homilist.)

“I AM”

I. The highest inquiry of man as a moral agent.

1. This inquiry is most reasonable.

2. This inquiry is most urgent.

II. The highest revelation to man as a moral student. “I AM--“what? The Fountain of all life, the Foundation of all virtue, the Source of all blessedness, the Cause, the Means, and the End of all things in the universe but sin.

1. This is the revelation that man as a thinker craves for.

2. This is the revelation which the gospel gives.

III. The highest authority of man as a moral worker. Lessons:

1. God is. The grandest fact in the universe.

2. God is an absolute personality.

3. God deals with individual men. “Hath sent me.

4. God makes man His messenger to men. (Homilist.)

The minister sent by God

I. The divine existence. “I AM.” He who is, and who will be what He is.

II. Thy ministry a Divine institution. “I AM hath sent me unto you.” This creates the relation of pastor and people.

III. Mutual duties of pastor and people.

1. The duty of the pastor.

2. The duty of the people.

The immutability of God

I. That Jehovah is unchangeable is proved from what we know of His other attributes. We are assured, for example, that He is infinite in goodness, infinite in knowledge, infinite in power. The simple inquiry before us is, Are these attributes subject to change? Now, change in any being implies increase, or diminution, or entire removal of certain properties. To suppose any attribute of God to cease entirely, is to suppose that He ceases to be God. Change, then, if it occurs at all, must imply either increase or diminution of His perfections. On this principle, it is easy to see that the least change in the degree of His power, for example, must make Him more than almighty, or less than almighty; the least change in His knowledge must make Him more than omniscient, or less than omniscient; in other words, the least change in a perfect and infinite being is inconceivable.

II. That Jehovah is unchangeable is proved from explicit and repeated declarations of the bible. (See Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; James 1:17; Psalms 102:27). The inferences resulting from the truth thus established are so important as to demand the remaining time that can be allotted to this discourse.

1. All conceptions of God which apply time and succession to His existence, are erroneous, “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” He is no older than He was from eternity. Age is a relative term: it implies beginning; but God is eternal. It implies change; but God is unchangeable. Time is the measure of created existence; but God is uncreated. Hence, the diversity of views which we have of the same thing at different times, results from the imperfection of our knowledge. Change of opinion implies liability to mistake. Increase of knowledge implies past ignorance; decrease of knowledge implies present ignorance. But neither of these can apply to Him whose “understanding is infinite.”

2. God has no new purposes. This follows, by unquestionable inference, from His immutability. Whatever was His purpose from eternity is His purpose now: and whatever is His purpose now, was His purpose from eternity. Two things then are certain.

3. The certainty of final salvation to true believers is a reasonable doctrine, grounded on the immutable truth of God, as implied in the promises of the new covenant. These promises of the unchanging God must be fulfilled.

4. When God is said to repent, it implies no change in His character or purpose.

5. The immutability of God is no discouragement to prayer, but the best ground of encouragement. If Jehovah were fickle, like earthly monarchs, then, indeed, it would be vain to pray. The answer of prayer implies no change in the mind of God.

6. The unchangeable perfection of God is a doctrine full of comfort to His people. This world, with all its concerns, bears the stamp of mutability. Amid these scenes of fluctuation, is there no object then in heaven or earth that is unchanging? Yes, one; God is unchanging. Here is stability.

7. The immutability of God is a doctrine full of terror to His enemies. (E. Potter, D. D.)

God, the great “I AM”

If I say “I am,” I say what is not true of me. I must say “I am something--I am a man, I am bad, or I am good, or I am an Englishman, I am a soldier, I am a sailor, I am a clergyman.”--and then I shall say what is true of me. But God alone can say “I AM” without saying anything more. And why? Because God alone is. Everybody and everything else in the world becomes: but God is. We are all becoming something from our birth to our death--changing continually and becoming something different from what we were a minute before; first of all we were created and made, and so became men; and since that we have been every moment changing, becoming older, becoming wiser, or alas! foolisher; becoming stronger or weaker; becoming better or worse. Even our bodies arc changing and becoming different day by day. But God never changes or becomes anything different from what He is now. What He is, that He was, and ever will be. Many heathen men have known that there was one eternal God, and that God is. But they did not know that God Himself had said so; and that made them anxious, puzzled, almost desperate, so that the wiser they were, the unhappier they were. For what use is it merely knowing that God is? The question for poor human creatures is, “But what sort of a being is God?’ Is He far off? Does He care nothing about us? Does He let the world go its own way, right or wrong? Is He proud and careless? A Self-glorifying Deity whose mercy is not over all His works, or even over any of them? And the glory of the Bible, the power of God revealed in the Bible, is, that it answers the question, and says, “God does care for men, God does see men, God is not far off from any one of us. Ay, God speaks to men--God spoke to Moses and said, not “God is,” but “I AM.” God in sundry times and divers manners spoke to our fathers by the prophets and said, “I AM.” But more Moses said, “I AM hath sent me.” God does not merely love us, and yet leave us to ourselves. He sends after us. He sends to us. But again: “I AM hath sent me unto you.” Unto whom? Who was Moses sent to? To the Children of Israel in Egypt. And what sort of people were they? Were they wise and learned? On the contrary, they were stupid, ignorant, and brutish. Were they pious and godly? On the contrary, they were worshipping the foolish idols of the Egyptians--so fond of idolatry that they must needs make a golden calf and worship it. Then why did God take such trouble for them? Why did God care for them, and help them, and work wonders for them? Why? Exactly because they were so bad. Just because they were so bad, His goodness yearned over them all the more, and longed to make them good. Just because they were so unclean and brutish, His holiness longed all the more to cleanse them. Because they were so stupid and ignorant, His wisdom longed to make them wise. Because they were so miserable, His pity yearned over them, as a father over a child fallen into danger. Because they were sick, they had all the more need of a physician. Because they were lost, there was all the more reason for seeking and saving them. Because they were utterly weak, God desired all the more to put His strength into them, that His strength might be made perfect in weakness. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)

God’s memorial name

I. In this memorial name of God we are taught His lofty existence. “I AM that I AM “ is a name synonymous in meaning with Jehovah. This name includes within its vast extent of signification all past, present and future existence and duration.

1. Self-existence is a Divine attribute.

2. Eternity necessarily follows from His self-existence.

3. His proprietorship springs from the fact of His existence.

II. The revelation of this memorial name to Moses had purpose, It was a crisis in the history of Moses, and also of that of Israel in Egypt.

1. One purpose it served was to strengthen Moses in executing his work.

2. Another purpose was to check idolatrous practices.

3. It taught Moses the safety of the people.

4. The revelation of this name in connection with the people’s ancestry shows that they were the heirs of immortality.

5. The revelation of this name indicated victory. (J. H. Hill.)

The greatness and glory of God

The creature is nothing in comparison with God; all the glory, perfection, and excellency of the whole world do not amount to the value of a unit in regard of God’s attributes; join ever so many of them together, they cannot make one in number; they are nothing in His regard, and less than nothing. All created beings must utterly vanish out of sight when we think of God. As the sun does not annihilate the stars, and make them nothing, yet it annihilates their appearances to our sight; some are of the first magnitude, some of the second, some of the third, but in the daytime all are alike, all are darkened by the sun’s glory: so it is here, there are degrees of perfection and excellency, if we compare one creature with another, but let once the glorious brightness of God shine upon the soul, and in that light all their differences are unobserved. Angels, men, worms, they are all nothing, less than nothing, to be set up against God. This magnificent title “I AM,” darkens all, as if nothing elsewhere. (T. Manton, D. D.)


Verse 14

Exodus 3:14

I AM hath sent me unto you.

Immutable authority

I. Moses on entering upon a great mission naturally inquires the conditions upon which he proceeds.

II. In the revelation made to Moses, “I AM hath sent me unto you,” we have being distinguished from manifestation. “I AM” is the summary of Being.

III. The answer which Moses received from Almighty God was an immutable authority for the greatest of missions. Only let us be sure that we are doing God’s errand, and Pharaoh and Caesar, and all names of material power, will fall before us, never again to rise. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The great “I AM”

I. God is the incomprehensible One, and yet is revealed in His intercourse with men. The conviction of His unsearchableness lies at the root of all reverence and awe. Before the “I AM that I AM” our spirits lie in deepest adoration, and rise into loftiest aspiration. But we need equally the other side. We need a God revealed in the essential features of His character; and it is in His dealings with men who feared and loved Him that He has made Himself known.

II. God is the independent and absolute. One, and yet He enters into covenant and most definite relationships with men. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

III. God is the eternal One, and yet the God of dying men. Every moment that we have of fellowship with the Eternal God assures us that for us there is no death.

IV. God is the unchangeable One, yet the God of men of all different types and temperaments. The same Lord over all. Take these three patriarchs, so closely related in blood--Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. How different they were! Yet God was the God of all three, for they all agreed in being seekers of God. (J. Leckie, D. D.)

The great “I AM”

The first thought, perhaps, of all which lies wrapped in these two grand comprehensive words, “I AM,” is mystery. Our best worship is in silence, and our truest wisdom when we confess without confession. “It is too high for me, I cannot attain unto it.” The utmost conception of the most exalted intellect of the most heaven-taught man is only a faint approximation thereto. “I AM.” It still lies in the future of a far-off beatitude--“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” But where do these glimpses lie of the great I AM and how can we now know Him at all? I believe, first, in nature. The wonderful organization and marvellous system of nature, in the world I live in. Next I look for it in the Holy Word which He has given to me with the impress of His mind and being. But more in that Spirit which dwells in me and which is the reflection of the nature and a very part of the life and the essence of God. Thirdly, and better still in Him, His own dear Son, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person,” and who claims to Himself that very name (John 8:58). No created thing could ever say with truth, “I am.” God alone has no other origin but Himself. He depends upon nothing; His life is essential life; all life, from all eternity past to all eternity yet to come. He is “I AM.” Therefore because He is the I AM, all is present time with God. It is the present tense ever. The consequences are tremendous. All our past sins, all our past mercies, all our past promises and vows, all our past life, and all the life that is yet to come, it is all the present moment with God, in all its freshness and clearness and distinctness at this moment--“I AM.” Hence the absolute and perfect unchangeableness! Or take another instance in that great name “I AM.” All life, which is life indeed, must emanate from Him. He is the life. And there is another view which we may take of these two grand words, “I AM.” God does not say what He is. He leaves that to us. We must fill in the blank. “I am whatever you make Me. If you disbelieve Me, if you think little of Me, I am a just God, a holy God, a jealous God, an avenging God, a strict God, a punishing God; I shall by no means spare the guilty, I am a consuming fire. If you are a penitent sinner, if you have left Me and are coming back to Me, if you are sorry for what you have done, if you have grieved Me, and now wish to please Me, I am a forgiving God, full of mercy and compassion, of great pity, passing by transgression and sin more than any one asketh. I am love. If you are really My child, poor, weak, unworthy, sinful though you are, yet still My child, striving to please Me, earnest to serve Me, desiring more and more to see Me and be with Me, telling Me everything in your little heart, trusting Me, loving Me, I am your own dear loving faithful Father; I am yours and you are Mine to the very end. I have loved you and chosen you from all eternity, and I never change. Though I do sometimes hide Myself, yet behind the cloud I AM, I AM, I AM. I am thine, and thou art Mine, for ever and ever!”(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The Divine name

I. As only revealed by the Divine being Himself.

II. As only partially understood by the grandest intellects.

III. As sufficiently comprehended for the practical service of the Christian life. We know enough of God to give strength, responsibility, hope, to our Christian work and life. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The name of the Lord

The answer is twofold. It repeats the idea that He is the God of their father; but it connects that with the idea that He is Jehovah.

I. The eternal name. “God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM. Say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” The word is that from which Jehovah comes. It expresses the idea of existence. In announcing Himself by this name the Divine Being excludes all notion of any commencement or termination of His existence, or that He is indebted for it to any other. It is self-existence, necessary existence; His non-existence is an impossibility and cannot be entertained. Jesus Christ “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” “The Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.” “He who was, and is, and is to come.” Perhaps the most helpful conception we have of permanence is given by the spectacle of the lofty mountains which stand unmoved and unchanged for centuries and millenniums. We call them the everlasting hills. But He was before the mountains, and will continue His undying existence when they have disappeared in the final dissolution.

II. The abiding relationship. “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” The two names are closely connected, because He could not be the one God of successive generations if He were not Jehovah--the Everlasting.

1. You will mark that He is not only Jehovah, God in Himself, as He cannot but be; He is the God of the persons here mentioned. Think what a great thing it is that He should be the God of any one! Think what a blessedness and a glory it is to have His almightiness on your side; His love your resting-place; His throne your refuge in distress; His unchanging faithfulness your abiding confidence.

2. Next, observe that He was the God of each of the persons named. God knows how to be the God of all His people however they differ from each other in those subtle shades of character which, like the features of the face, distinguish one man from another.

3. Then observe, further, He was the God of their successive generations. This thought is valuable in connection with the idea that God still has a people. The spiritual seed of Abraham. Also that the children of godly parents should value the blessing of having their father’s God. Fear to forfeit it.

4. Nor must we overlook the important use the Great Teacher made of the statement in our text. Argument for resurrection and immortality in Matthew 22:24-32.

III. The permanent name. God’s eternity contrasts with our brief life; warrants our confidence in Him; suggests the blessedness of those who are interested in Him. (John Rawlinson.)

God’s name of Himself

I. Personality--“I.”

1. We attach three ideas to personality.

2. God’s personality--

II. Self-existence--“I AM.”

1. The independent amidst dependent beings.

2. The Unchangeable amidst a changing universe.

III. Un-searchableness--“I AM that I AM.”

1. Mystery is essential to Deity.

2. Mystery is a want of human nature. Stirs intellect, wakes wonder, inspires reverent awe of souls. (Homilist.)

“I AM”

I. The highest inquiry of man as a moral agent.

1. This inquiry is most reasonable.

2. This inquiry is most urgent.

II. The highest revelation to man as a moral student. “I AM--“what? The Fountain of all life, the Foundation of all virtue, the Source of all blessedness, the Cause, the Means, and the End of all things in the universe but sin.

1. This is the revelation that man as a thinker craves for.

2. This is the revelation which the gospel gives.

III. The highest authority of man as a moral worker. Lessons:

1. God is. The grandest fact in the universe.

2. God is an absolute personality.

3. God deals with individual men. “Hath sent me.

4. God makes man His messenger to men. (Homilist.)

The minister sent by God

I. The divine existence. “I AM.” He who is, and who will be what He is.

II. Thy ministry a Divine institution. “I AM hath sent me unto you.” This creates the relation of pastor and people.

III. Mutual duties of pastor and people.

1. The duty of the pastor.

2. The duty of the people.

The immutability of God

I. That Jehovah is unchangeable is proved from what we know of His other attributes. We are assured, for example, that He is infinite in goodness, infinite in knowledge, infinite in power. The simple inquiry before us is, Are these attributes subject to change? Now, change in any being implies increase, or diminution, or entire removal of certain properties. To suppose any attribute of God to cease entirely, is to suppose that He ceases to be God. Change, then, if it occurs at all, must imply either increase or diminution of His perfections. On this principle, it is easy to see that the least change in the degree of His power, for example, must make Him more than almighty, or less than almighty; the least change in His knowledge must make Him more than omniscient, or less than omniscient; in other words, the least change in a perfect and infinite being is inconceivable.

II. That Jehovah is unchangeable is proved from explicit and repeated declarations of the bible. (See Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; James 1:17; Psalms 102:27). The inferences resulting from the truth thus established are so important as to demand the remaining time that can be allotted to this discourse.

1. All conceptions of God which apply time and succession to His existence, are erroneous, “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” He is no older than He was from eternity. Age is a relative term: it implies beginning; but God is eternal. It implies change; but God is unchangeable. Time is the measure of created existence; but God is uncreated. Hence, the diversity of views which we have of the same thing at different times, results from the imperfection of our knowledge. Change of opinion implies liability to mistake. Increase of knowledge implies past ignorance; decrease of knowledge implies present ignorance. But neither of these can apply to Him whose “understanding is infinite.”

2. God has no new purposes. This follows, by unquestionable inference, from His immutability. Whatever was His purpose from eternity is His purpose now: and whatever is His purpose now, was His purpose from eternity. Two things then are certain.

3. The certainty of final salvation to true believers is a reasonable doctrine, grounded on the immutable truth of God, as implied in the promises of the new covenant. These promises of the unchanging God must be fulfilled.

4. When God is said to repent, it implies no change in His character or purpose.

5. The immutability of God is no discouragement to prayer, but the best ground of encouragement. If Jehovah were fickle, like earthly monarchs, then, indeed, it would be vain to pray. The answer of prayer implies no change in the mind of God.

6. The unchangeable perfection of God is a doctrine full of comfort to His people. This world, with all its concerns, bears the stamp of mutability. Amid these scenes of fluctuation, is there no object then in heaven or earth that is unchanging? Yes, one; God is unchanging. Here is stability.

7. The immutability of God is a doctrine full of terror to His enemies. (E. Potter, D. D.)

God, the great “I AM”

If I say “I am,” I say what is not true of me. I must say “I am something--I am a man, I am bad, or I am good, or I am an Englishman, I am a soldier, I am a sailor, I am a clergyman.”--and then I shall say what is true of me. But God alone can say “I AM” without saying anything more. And why? Because God alone is. Everybody and everything else in the world becomes: but God is. We are all becoming something from our birth to our death--changing continually and becoming something different from what we were a minute before; first of all we were created and made, and so became men; and since that we have been every moment changing, becoming older, becoming wiser, or alas! foolisher; becoming stronger or weaker; becoming better or worse. Even our bodies arc changing and becoming different day by day. But God never changes or becomes anything different from what He is now. What He is, that He was, and ever will be. Many heathen men have known that there was one eternal God, and that God is. But they did not know that God Himself had said so; and that made them anxious, puzzled, almost desperate, so that the wiser they were, the unhappier they were. For what use is it merely knowing that God is? The question for poor human creatures is, “But what sort of a being is God?’ Is He far off? Does He care nothing about us? Does He let the world go its own way, right or wrong? Is He proud and careless? A Self-glorifying Deity whose mercy is not over all His works, or even over any of them? And the glory of the Bible, the power of God revealed in the Bible, is, that it answers the question, and says, “God does care for men, God does see men, God is not far off from any one of us. Ay, God speaks to men--God spoke to Moses and said, not “God is,” but “I AM.” God in sundry times and divers manners spoke to our fathers by the prophets and said, “I AM.” But more Moses said, “I AM hath sent me.” God does not merely love us, and yet leave us to ourselves. He sends after us. He sends to us. But again: “I AM hath sent me unto you.” Unto whom? Who was Moses sent to? To the Children of Israel in Egypt. And what sort of people were they? Were they wise and learned? On the contrary, they were stupid, ignorant, and brutish. Were they pious and godly? On the contrary, they were worshipping the foolish idols of the Egyptians--so fond of idolatry that they must needs make a golden calf and worship it. Then why did God take such trouble for them? Why did God care for them, and help them, and work wonders for them? Why? Exactly because they were so bad. Just because they were so bad, His goodness yearned over them all the more, and longed to make them good. Just because they were so unclean and brutish, His holiness longed all the more to cleanse them. Because they were so stupid and ignorant, His wisdom longed to make them wise. Because they were so miserable, His pity yearned over them, as a father over a child fallen into danger. Because they were sick, they had all the more need of a physician. Because they were lost, there was all the more reason for seeking and saving them. Because they were utterly weak, God desired all the more to put His strength into them, that His strength might be made perfect in weakness. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)

God’s memorial name

I. In this memorial name of God we are taught His lofty existence. “I AM that I AM “ is a name synonymous in meaning with Jehovah. This name includes within its vast extent of signification all past, present and future existence and duration.

1. Self-existence is a Divine attribute.

2. Eternity necessarily follows from His self-existence.

3. His proprietorship springs from the fact of His existence.

II. The revelation of this memorial name to Moses had purpose, It was a crisis in the history of Moses, and also of that of Israel in Egypt.

1. One purpose it served was to strengthen Moses in executing his work.

2. Another purpose was to check idolatrous practices.

3. It taught Moses the safety of the people.

4. The revelation of this name in connection with the people’s ancestry shows that they were the heirs of immortality.

5. The revelation of this name indicated victory. (J. H. Hill.)

The greatness and glory of God

The creature is nothing in comparison with God; all the glory, perfection, and excellency of the whole world do not amount to the value of a unit in regard of God’s attributes; join ever so many of them together, they cannot make one in number; they are nothing in His regard, and less than nothing. All created beings must utterly vanish out of sight when we think of God. As the sun does not annihilate the stars, and make them nothing, yet it annihilates their appearances to our sight; some are of the first magnitude, some of the second, some of the third, but in the daytime all are alike, all are darkened by the sun’s glory: so it is here, there are degrees of perfection and excellency, if we compare one creature with another, but let once the glorious brightness of God shine upon the soul, and in that light all their differences are unobserved. Angels, men, worms, they are all nothing, less than nothing, to be set up against God. This magnificent title “I AM,” darkens all, as if nothing elsewhere. (T. Manton, D. D.)


Verse 15

Exodus 3:15

The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac.

The God of the generations

Men are always influenced more or less by the power of great names. This appears in every sphere of life, social, scientific, political, literary, religious. The name of a wise, heroic, or philanthropic, or notably godly man, is a perpetual fountain of inspiration--a well-spring of living water from which we gather stimulus, courage, power to be and to do. The sound of it stirs the pulses of our better life. But no names in any country, or among any people, have wielded a mightier power than these three mentioned in the text exerted over the minds and history of the Jews. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stood forth in every succeeding age in increasing lustre, unshadowed even by the memories of other noble names, such as Moses, Daniel, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah. Appeal to them was always effective when all other means of rousing the national heart failed.

I. It announces God’s relation to individual life. “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Here there is a sublime fact upon which our minds can lay hold. The statement is not vague or unsubstantial, but tells us that the great God has to do with men, and holds a distinct personal relation towards each of them. Perhaps we have been too apt to attempt to satisfy ourselves with impalpable generalities, and to talk of God as the God of Creation, from whose fulness of life and omnipotence of energy the universe has derived its existence. In like manner we employ what may be termed His official titles to represent Him to our thought. He is the King of kings, the Ruler, the Governor of the nations. But the hearts of men crave a more intimate knowledge of God than these ideas can possibly convey. We cannot satisfy ourselves with abstractions. Official titles never command our affection. What we want is not a revelation that only declares God’s universal dealings with humanity, but His personal interest in individual men. And we see that thus early in the history of the race this revelation is clearly made. Nay, from the first and earliest declaration of God’s relation to the world, this is unhesitatingly announced. All the beautiful stories of Divine intercourse with men contained in the Book of Genesis are recorded to teach us that God has not been satisfied with a merely general and official relationship to men, but that He has ever had regard to the personal wants, the personal struggles, the personal sins, the personal joys and sorrows, the personal lives and deaths of each man, woman, and child born into this world. “I am the Lord thy God”; and our response is, “This God is our God. He will be our guide even unto death.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” More clearly still is this revelation made in the New Testament--that carries the truth further, and by Jesus Christ we are shown that God has the most intimate relation with human souls. Indeed, the very use of the word “Father” implies this personal relationship. It is impossible for a true father to regard and treat the members of his family in a general indiscriminate manner--looking upon them in the mass, and not as individuals--that were to destroy the very meaning and beauty of family life. But the father knows that he has a distinct love for each member. Thus our Lord teaches us the particular and special and personal nature of the relationship of God to us. We are not lost in the mass, as one in a crowd for whom no one cares, and whom no one would miss. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Connected with this is another thought worthy of notice. It is that God here expresses His relation to persons of distinct and differing characters. Perhaps no three men were more unlike than this father, son, and grandson. Look at Abraham, the bold, brave, generous, trusting chief, a dweller in tents, at home in the desert. Compare him with the quiet, meditative, ease-loving, simple-minded Isaac, somewhat fond of savoury living, who succeeded him. There is as much unlikeness as could possibly exist between father and son. Take, again, Jacob, the cunning, adroit, ingenious, selfish, money-loving, physically timid--a man who probably had more brains than either of his predecessors, but who was made to be a politician, a statesman, to whose active, contriving spirit, sitting at home, or roving in the desert, would be alike uncongenial. There we have three men totally distinct in character, yet the declaration is made--“I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Surely there is meaning in this, and it is that God cares equally for, and is as truly related to, one kind of disposition and character as another. Ah! there is exquisite beauty and comfort in the tenderly-expressed words of John concerning Christ--“Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” Three varieties of character, but all beloved. If all this be true, what need of our nature is left unsatisfied? If this be true, who is there will not feel that his life, so specially the subject of God’s thought, is therefore a grander, nobler, and, withal, a more responsible thing? Who will depreciate his.own proud worth? Who will bemoan his lot, thinking with envy of others better circumstanced?

II. It announces God’s relation to successive generations. These three men represented an unbroken succession of three generations, running into one another, yet in a measure distinct. May we not learn from these facts that God is not a God of seasons and partialities, but that He belongs to all the successive generations as they move across the world to the silence of the grave? There is no break in His thoughtful care or in the manifestations of His love. He does not appear at one age and disappear at another, at one time show Himself peculiarly concerned with human welfare, at another time altogether indifferent about the joys and sorrows, the sins and the cravings of men. In such a Being as that we could neither trust nor believe. There is no intermission. God’s intercourse with men is never broken off. This intercourse may assume different forms. What is suited to one age may be altogether unsuited to the next. At one time His revelations may be such as the senses can testify to; He may instruct men in His mind and will through the medium of miracles, flashing symbols of omnipotence before their eyes; at other times He may reveal Himself in a person, in a human life, as we believe He did in Christ Jesus our Lord. At others, all visions may disappear; no miracle shall startle the world into wondering awe. God is not tied to methods. He may and does employ all at one time or another in order to convince men of His nearness to them and interest in their life. “The God of the Hebrews is not our God.” That is the sum of much of the unbelief of the day. The cry is for palpable evidence. Palpable evidence! Why, we have abundance of it on all sides. Miracles! There is no need of them. Why, the very researches of our scientific men are doing away with the necessity for miracles, for they are demonstrating by their discoveries that the world is full of order, of beauty, of marvellous contrivances that must be the work of mind. Here are the proofs of Divine existence, Divine working, Divine wisdom and bounty and power. To believe He is not as much the God of this generation as of any in all the long past, is to cut to the very root of all true faith and trust in Him, is to regard Him as partial, as doing more for one people than for another equally in need of His revelation of power and love; it is to throw us back for our faith in God upon dead history, which can never create or nourish into a living hope the trust of human souls. We may say that the age of supernatural displays of mere power is passed, but we are called upon to rise from the merely materialistic and tangible, and to realise God in the hallowed and invisible communion of the Spirit. The God of the father is to be the God of the son and the grandson by legitimate, unhindered succession, and those who come after can speak of “the God of our fathers.” That there is no reason against it in the will and purposes of the Divine Being Himself we have seen. He is willing to bless and enrich each and all, without choice or favouritism. But in how few cases in the family life is He recognized from one generation to another. Here I bring the matter direct home to your hearts. I know I must be speaking to some who are thinking of pious parents. You have a godly father or mother, or perhaps both. What of yourself? Are you continuing the succession? The name you bear has been associated with godliness in one or two generations past. Is it to be separated in your time? What will your children say of you? Will they be able to pray to the God of their parents? (W. Braden.)


Verse 16

Exodus 3:16

Gather the elders.

The wisdom of gathering the few; or the considerateness of the Divine Being in reference to the mission of His servants

I. This would be the most effective method of enlightening the mind of the nation in reference to the Divine intention.

1. This afforded Moses a good opportunity for personal explanations.

2. It was a good precaution against the ignorance and fanaticism of the common people. The more agencies a man can bring into his life-work the better.

II. It would be the most effective method of gaining the sympathy of the nation. All great workers should be judicious in their movement.

III. It would thus be the most effective method of working out the Divine project in reference to the nation.

1. How considerate of the Divine Being to give Moses this idea of working! Many men will not listen to the Divine instructions. This is the occasion of the great failure of so much religious energy.

2. How numerous are the agencies put in motion for the performance of Divine projects. God is the source of all commissions for the moral good of man.

3. All great workers may find a pattern here. Not to trust their new and Divine enterprises to the tide of popular opinion--storms may gather--may be wrecked. Launch them first on the more tranquil waters of the few--afterwards they will be more likely to weather the national gale. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)


Verses 16-22

lete_me Exodus 3:16-22.

THE COMMISSION.

Exodus 3:10, Exodus 3:16-22.

We have already learned from the seventh verse that God commissioned Moses, only when He had Himself descended to deliver Israel. He sends none, except with the implied or explicit promise that certainly He will be with them. But the converse is also true. If God sends no man but when He comes Himself, He never comes without demanding the agency of man. The overruled reluctance of Moses, and the inflexible urgency of his commission, may teach us the honour set by God upon humanity. He has knit men together in the mutual dependence of nations and of families, that each may be His minister to all; and in every great crisis of history He has respected His own principle, and has visited the race by means of the providential man. The gospel was not preached by angels. Its first agents found themselves like sheep among wolves: they were an exhibition to the world and to angels and men, yet necessity was laid upon them, and a woe if they preached it not.

All the best gifts of heaven come to us by the agency of inventor and sage, hero and explorer, organiser and philanthropist, patriot, reformer and saint. And the hope which inspires their grandest effort is never that of selfish gain, nor even of fame, though fame is a keen spur, which perhaps God set before Moses in the noble hope that "thou shalt bring forth the people" (Exodus 3:12). But the truly impelling force is always the great deed itself, the haunting thought, the importunate inspiration, the inward fire; and so God promises Moses neither a sceptre, nor share in the good land: He simply proposes to him the work, the rescue of the people; and Moses, for his part, simply objects that he is unable, not that he is solicitous about his reward. Whatever is done for payment can be valued by its cost: all the priceless services done for us by our greatest were, in very deed, unpriced.

Moses, with the new name of God to reveal, and with the assurance that He is about to rescue Israel, is bidden to go to work advisedly and wisely. He is not to appeal to the mob, nor yet to confront Pharaoh without authority from his people to speak for them, nor is he to make the great demand for emancipation abruptly and at once. The mistake of forty years ago must not be repeated now. He is to appeal to the elders of Israel; and with them, and therefore clearly representing the nation, he is respectfully to crave permission for a three days' journey, to sacrifice to Jehovah in the wilderness. The blustering assurance with which certain fanatics of our own time first assume that they possess a direct commission from the skies, and thereupon that they are freed from all order, from all recognition of any human authority, and then that no considerations of prudence or of decency should restrain the violence and bad taste which they mistake for zeal, is curiously unlike anything in the Old Testament or the New. Was ever a commission more direct than those of Moses and of St. Paul? Yet Moses was to obtain the recognition of the elders of his people; and St. Paul received formal ordination by the explicit command of God (Acts 13:3).

Strangely enough, it is often assumed that this demand for a furlough of three days was insincere. But it would only have been so, if consent were expected, and if the intention were thereupon to abuse the respite and refuse to return. There is not the slightest hint of any duplicity of the kind. The real motives for the demand are very plain. The excursion which they proposed would have taught the people to move and act together, reviving their national spirit, and filling them with a desire for the liberty which they tasted. In the very words which they should speak, "The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, hath met with us," there is a distinct proclamation of nationality, and of its surest and strongest bulwark, a national religion. From such an excursion, therefore, the people would have returned, already well-nigh emancipated, and with recognised leaders. Certainly Pharaoh could not listen to any such proposal, unless he were prepared to reverse the whole policy of his dynasty toward Israel.

But the refusal answered two good ends. In the first place it joined issue on the best conceivable ground, for Israel was exhibited making the least possible demand with the greatest possible courtesy--"Let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the wilderness." Not even so much would be granted. The tyrant was palpably in the wrong, and thenceforth it was perfectly reasonable to increase the severity of the terms after each of his defeats, which proceeding in its turn made concession more and more galling to his pride. In the second place, the quarrel was from the first avowedly and undeniably religious: the gods of Egypt were matched against Jehovah; and in the successive plagues which desolated his land Pharaoh gradually learnt Who Jehovah was.

In the message which Moses should convey to the elders there are two significant phrases. He was to announce in the name of God, "I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done unto you in Egypt." The silent observation of God before He interposes is very solemn and instructive. So in the Revelation, He walks among the golden candlesticks, and knows the work, the patience, or the unfaithfulness of each. So He is not far from any one of us. When a heavy blow falls we speak of it as "a Visitation of Providence," but in reality the visitation has been long before. Neither Israel nor Egypt was conscious of the solemn presence. Who knows what soul of man, or what nation, is thus visited today, for future deliverance or rebuke?

Again it is said, "I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt into ... a land flowing with milk and honey." Their affliction was the divine method of uprooting them. And so is our affliction the method by which our hearts are released from love of earth and life, that in due time He may "surely bring us in" to a better and an enduring country. Now, we wonder that the Israelites clung so fondly to the place of their captivity. But what of our own hearts? Have they a desire to depart? or do they groan in bondage, and yet recoil from their emancipation?

The hesitating nation is not plainly told that their affliction will be intensified and their lives made burdensome with labour. That is perhaps implied in the certainty that Pharaoh "will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand." But it is with Israel as with us: a general knowledge that in the world we shall have tribulation is enough; the catalogue of our trials is not spread out before us in advance. They were assured for their encouragement that all their long captivity should at last receive its wages, for they should not borrow(6) but ask of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and gold, and raiment, and they should spoil the Egyptians. So are we taught to have "respect unto the recompense of the reward."

FOOTNOTES:


Verse 17

Exodus 3:17

A land flowing with milk and honey.

An inferior motive for a religious life

I. Some people are religious because they hope thereby to be saved from affliction. “I will bring you out of the affliction of Egypt.”

1. They hope to escape the affliction of a bad name.

2. They hope to escape the affliction of a retributive providence.

3. They hope to escape the affliction of moral punishment from God.

II. Other people are religious because they hope thereby to better their condition, and gain greater enjoyment. “Unto a land flowing with milk and honey.”--

1. Because they imagine religion will free them from slavery.

2. Because they imagine religion will give them an advantage over their enemies.

3. Because they imagine religion will give them rich possession.

III. That while the land flowing with milk and honey may be one motive for a religious life, the superior is love to God and moral freedom (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The resolution of Divine mercy

1. Awakens instruments to convey its message.

2. Prepares Churches to welcome its tidings.

3. The giving of a new impulse to history. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The encouragement God gives to Christian workers

1. Divine aid in the work.

2. Bright hope in their future.

3. Glad success in their toil. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

A happy residence

1. A land of plenty,

2. A land of beauty.

3. A land of promise.

4. A land of freedom.

5. A land of rest.

6. A land typical of heaven. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)


Verse 18

Exodus 3:18

Let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey.

A moderate request

This request seems at first to be put in a politic form, as if to secure a favourable answer. This, however, was quite unnecessary, since the Almighty was about to bring His people out of Egypt by a strong hand. It is merely expressed in a style of reserve and moderation. It was not requisite to reveal to Pharaoh, who was in a hostile mood, all the intentions of God concerning His people. Hence Pharaoh is merely informed that the God of the Hebrews has met with them; and their request is limited to the first step to be taken in obedience to His will. A three days’ journey is mentioned, simply because this would take them clear out of Egypt, one day being employed in setting out, one in marching, and the third in coming to a resting-place. And a sacrifice is added, because this is the first act of obedience. The former involves their departure out of Egypt, the latter commences the perfect service of God. This is exactly the mode in which God trains His people. The immediate duty and the immediate blessing are set before them, and these are pregnant with all farther and higher duties and blessings. So He deals with Pharaoh. But there is not only reserve, but moderation in the request. It makes the smallest demand consistent with actually leaving, and assigns the highest reason for taking this step, namely, the command of God. By sedulously avoiding every thing harsh and extravagant in its terms, it affords the least possible occasion for Pharaoh to harden his heart, and dismiss the petitioners with an obstinate refusal. At the same time it is a bold and open assertion of liberty. If the people had formed a secret plot to escape from the land of their bondage, we should have been slow to condemn, if not prompt to applaud. But this is not the Lord’s way. If Pharaoh had condescended to ask at once, “Who shall go? Will your wives and children go? Will your cattle and your other moveables be taken with you”? he would have received, as he eventually did, a ready and candid reply. But such questions were in reality superfluous. Pharaoh was well aware that bondsmen who had marched three days out of the land of the oppressor, with their families and goods, would not return without compulsion. (J. G. Murphy, LL. D.)


Verses 19-22

Exodus 3:19-22

I am sure the king of Egypt will not let you go.

The Divine knowledge of the success or otherwise of ministerial work

I. That God is thoroughly acquainted with the moral obstinacy of men.

1. There are many people who act like Pharaoh in relation to the commands of God. God knows such people. Their names are vocal on His lips. He tells His servants about them. He indicates judgments in reference to them. Such people are almost beyond the reach of ministerial influence. The minister is not altogether responsible for the success of his mission. He cannot force men to be good.

2. In all the commissions of human life God recognises the free agency of the wicked. Is it not a mystery that man has the ability to oppose the will of God?

3. We may inquire into the utility of employing Christian agency where the result will be ineffectual. To leave impenitent sinners without excuse.

II. That God is thoroughly acquainted with the method He will pursue in reference to the morally obstinate.

1. God deals with the morally obstinate after the method of a consecutive plan. First, He prepares the messenger to visit and teach them; then gives him the message; then tells him how to make it known; then smites in judgments, successive, severe. Thus God does not deal with the morally obstinate according to the impulse of the moment--fitfully, incidentally, but according to a harmonious, merciful, self-consistent plan--a plan that will admit of the repentance and faith of the sinner.

2. God sometimes meets the morally obstinate with demonstrations of His power. “I will stretch out,” etc.

III. That God can thwart the intention of the morally obstinate by their own wickedness, and by the conduct of their comrades (Exodus 3:22). (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 3:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/exodus-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 27th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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