Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. REDEMPTION IS BY SUBSTITUTION. This is well illustrated by the law for the redemption of unclean animals (ver. 13; cf. Numbers 18:15). The firstling of an ass, being unclean, could not be offered on the altar. It was, therefore, to be redeemed by the substitution of a lamb. If not thus redeemed, its neck was to be broken. This teaches the further lesson - unredeemed life must die. It was on the same principle that the lamb was substituted for the first-born on the night of the exodus. This law does not specify the mariner of the redemption of the first-born of male children, but it was probably originally by a lamb also. The redemption was subsequently effected by a money-payment of five shekels (Numbers 18:16). This gave prominence to the idea of a ransom, already implied in the use of the word "redeem." The principle of the redemption was still the substitution of life for life, the money-payment pointing back to the lamb or other victim of which it was the price. Jesus has fulfilled the type under both its aspects. He has redeemed us by the substitution of his holy life for our sinful ones (Hebrews 9:26-28). His life has been given as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6).
II. REDEEMED LIFE BELONGS TO GOD (vers. 1, 12, 15). As all later generations of Israel were represented in that first one, so all later first-borns were represented in those of the night of the exodus. By redeeming them from death, God purchased the firstborn of Israel in a peculiar manner to himself. What held true of the first-born, held true, in-a wider sense, of the nation as a whole, and holds true now of all believers. They are God's, because God has redeemed them. We must not seem to lessen the natural claim which God has upon our service. All souls are God's; and no moral being has a right to use his powers otherwise than for the glory of him who gave them. But in a special manner Jehovah claims redeemed life for himself. "I have redeemed thee, thou art mine" (Isaiah 43:1). "Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:20).
III. THE ANIMAL CREATION SHARES IN MAN'S RUIN AND REDEMPTION. First-born of man and beast. - J.O.
I. THE MEANING OF THE TYPE.
1. Man's first-born the type of the first-born of God, in his authority and priestly function among his brethren, and as the object of the father's love and trust.
2. In Egypt's and Israel's first:born we find the two-fold type of Christ and his people. Egypt's die, Israel's are saved. The death of Egypt's first-born bursts the bends of Israel, the death of God's first-born, the bonds of his people.
II. GOD'S DEMAND.
1. His claim upon the saved life: "It is mine."
(1) His right to our service. He has bought us with a great price.
(2) His delight in us. We are a treasure and a joy to him. Because he loved us he gave Christ to die for us.
2. The life which Christ has redeemed is to be set apart for God (Romans 12:1).
(1) With full purpose of heart.
(2) Under the power of Christ's love: "the love of Christ con-straineth us."
(3) With unceasing prayer for the Spirit's indwelling.
fact add the might of their redemption. They are to commemorate it by observance of appointed ordinances. They are to beware of forgetting it in days of prosperity. They are to show their remembrance of it by a holy walk, and by due instruction of their children.
I. REMEMBER THE FACT AND THE MIGHT OF YOUR REDEMPTION.
1. The fact of it (vers. 3-8). How Jesus has brought you up "out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay" (Psalm 40:1); has redeemed you from the law's curse, from Satan's tyranny, from a condition of wrath, and from spiritual death; has introduced you into the liberty of God's children, and started you on your journey to an everlasting and glorious inheritance. Redemption from the thraldom of Pharaoh sinks into insignificance as compared with this "so great salvation." If Israel was summoned to remember the day on which they came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, much more is it the duty of Christians to remember what great things God has done for them.
2. The might of it. "By strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place" (vers. 3, 9, 14). They were to remember this as enhancing their sense of the greatness of their redemption, and as affording a pledge that God was able to accomplish all else that he had promised (ver. 5). The might expended in the Christian redemption is not less, but greater, than in the exodus from Egypt. It does not detract from its greatness that it is chiefly moral strength - power exerted in overcoming evil, in producing moral effects in the minds and consciences of men, and in making them new creatures in Christ Jesus. Redemption has both its objective and its subjective sides, and in both is displayed the power of God. God's might is seen in the upholding of Christ; in the victories which, while on earth, he was enabled to gain over the powers of evil; in the gigantic triumph of the Cross; and in the spiritual effects produced since, through eighteen centuries, by the preaching of his Gospel; in the regeneration of souls, in the strength given to his servants to do spiritual work, in the victory whereby they overcome the world.
II. BEWARE OF FORGETTING YOUR REDEMPTION IN THE DAYS OF YOUR PROSPERITY, ver. 15. Prosperity has a subtle influence in leading away the heart from God. When men have eaten, and are full (Deuteronomy 8:12-18), they are very apt to grow haughty and self-sufficient. This danger is one to be jealously watched against.
III. SHOW THAT YOU REMEMBER YOUR REDEMPTION BY DOING THE THINGS THAT GOD COMMANDS.
1. By observing his ordinances. The special ordinance here alluded to is the feast of unleavened bread - a sequel to the passover (vers. 3-10). Christians are to observe the Lord's Supper.
2. By a holy life. The observance of the outward ordinance would be valueless if that which it spiritually represented was lost sight of, viz., the need of a walk in "newness of life." We are to "keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7). To this end has Christ redeemed us, that we may walk in holiness (Romans 6:4-7; Ephesians 5:25-28; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18).
3. By instruction of children. God lays stress on this (vers. 8-14; cf. Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Deuteronomy 11:18-22). It is his chief way of perpetuating a holy seed. The responsibility of instruction rests primarily on the parent. No task should be more delightful to him, or should be discharged more faithfully. If the parent is willing, many opportunities will present themselves. A child's curiosity is ever active. The ordinances of the Church will furnish starting-points for conversation. We have in these verses, and elsewhere in the book, specimens of the instruction that is to be given. - J.O.
I. BY THE REMEMBRANCE OF HIS MERCIES.
1. "Remember this day in which ye came out from Egypt."
(1) The Lord's Supper is an ordinance of remembrance: "Do this in remembrance of me."
(2) The remembrance of deliverance extends over the Christian's whole life: "unleavened bread is eaten."
2. The celebration of the Passover awoke inquiry among those who had not witnessed God's deeds (ver. 8). - True gratitude, heartfelt thanksgiving, will make the reality of God's love to be felt by those who have not known him.
(1) The place and use of the Lord's Supper in the Christian Church.
(2) The power of love in the Christian life.
(3) Of true praise and worship in the congregation. To make God something to others, he must first be something to ourselves.
II. BY THE DOING OF HIS WILL. The Israelites, in sacrificing or redeeming the first-born, woke again the question, "What is this?" (vers. 14, 15). Our obedience to tile good and holy will of God, our consecration to his service will show the reality of his salvation and awaken in many hearts the question whence this consecration flows and the desire to share it. "Let your light so shine" (Matthew 5:16). - U.
Exodus 13:10. Cf. chapter Exodus 12:42
(1) The month in which it occurred became the beginning of months.
(2) A special ordinance as to the first-born pointed back continually to the event celebrated (vers. 11-13).
(3) The annual feast was specially devised to keep it in memory (vers. 14, etc.). Why all this?
I. REASON OF OBSERVANCE. It commemorated:
1. A great judgment. Nine plagues had passed; the members of each successive trial following one another at shorter intervals and with increasing severity. [Illustration, siege of town. Besiegers draw parallels closer and closer, each time sounding summons to surrender. Every summons disregarded; at length word given for the assault.] God laying siege to Egypt, now preparing for the assault (cf. generally Amos 4.). "Therefore, prepare to meet thy God" (Exodus 11:4). "I will go out;" the representatives stand aside that the arm of Jehovah may be recognised. Fourteenth of month; midnight. God accompanied by the angel of vengeance. Picture result - palace, dungeon, stables, fields, temples, streets. The judgment was upon Egypt and her gods.
2. A great deliverance.
(1) From death. God the judge is impartial. If Egypt has sinned, so also Israel. Three plagues shared by both, both now threatened by self-same danger. Israel, however, trusting God, may escape by obedience. Lamb chosen four days earlier. Slain that afternoon at sundown. Light of full moon shows blood streaks on lintels and doorposts of houses in Goshen; inside, people prepared for departure, feeding on lamb. Midnight: Is it imagination that rush and quiver of unseen wings? The shadow of the wings of God shelter each blood-stained door, whilst the angel of vengeance passes over, sparing those whom God protects.
(2) From slavery. Wailing throughout Egypt. Midnight message, "Go, get ye gone." At once families gather to standards of their tribes. Soon one great army, harnessed and equipped, laden with spoils of Egypt, the Israelites march forth from the land of their captivity. The time fulfilled to the day (Exodus 12:41), when their hour is come their God is ready.
3. A great exhibition of Divine power. Not a mere judgment or a mere deliverance, but judgment by a personal judge, deliverance by a personal deliverer.
(1) The Egyptians needed to learn who Jehovah was. The Israelites had not done much to make him respected; rather had brought his name into disrepute as the patron of a slavish multitude. Must cause his own name to be hallowed (cf. Ezekiel 36:20-23).
(2) Israel needed to learn that Jehovah was the deliverer - a God faithful to his promises, yet who could not endure sin. Moses and Aaron his instruments, but the victory due only to his right hand and his holy arm.
II. USE OF THE OBSERVANCE. By communicating the judgment and the deliverance, it was calculated to keep men mindful of the judge and the deliverer, and to prompt respect for his law (Exodus 13:9). Commemorations are an aid to memory, reminding of past events, and recalling associations connected with them. Mere observance as an end in itself, bondage (cf. Galatians 4:9, 10); as a means to an end, helpful and necessary. The Pharisee makes a virtue of observance; the right thing is to draw virtue from it. See what this observance taught: -
1. God is long-suffering, but the day of vengeance comes at length. The help to memory, as to what he had done, was a help to conviction as to what he might do.
2. God will not clear the guilty, yet his mercy doth endure for ever. Even with the help, how often were these truths forgotten (cf. Isaiah 106:7-13, etc.); would any have remembered them without it? Apply. Life, which forms the memory of the future, grows out of memory of the past. A good memory is a help to good living. What helps do you use to prompt memory? The marked bill, the birthday text-book, the diary - all these helpful; above all, the day, the anniversary, if we use it rightly. Commemorations are but sign-posts pointing to that which is commemorated; use them as such, follow out their indications. So, remembering past mercies, faith will be strengthened and hope sustained. - G.
I. REDEEMED FROM EGYPT, THE PEOPLE ARE NOT PERMITTED TO LINGER ON ITS BORDERS. What snatches of repose are granted, are only meant as a preparation for resumption of the journey on the morrow. Their destination was Canaan. To this they must press forward. A rest of eleven months (at Sinai) will be granted afterwards, meanwhile, on the borders of Egypt, they must pause no longer than is absolutely necessary. At the beginning of the Christian life, delays, pauses, lookings back, are peculiarly dangerous. Egypt is too near. Return to it is too convenient. The pursuer will gain too easy an advantage. There must be no pausing till we are fairly out of the enemy's territory. Succoth to Etham, Etham to Pi-hahiroth (Exodus 14:2).
II. IT RESTS WITH GOD TO DETERMINE THE WAY BY WHICH HIS PEOPLE SHALL BE LED. "When Pharaoh had let the people go, God led them not," etc. (vers. 17).
1. It was the privilege of the Israelites that they had God as their guide. His pillar of cloud and fire went before them (vers. 21, 22). What wiser or safer guide could any one desire?
2. God's guidance was authoritative. Not only were the Israelites not left to pick out the way for themselves, but whither God directed, thither they were bound to go. They were not permitted to take any route they pleased. They were God's people, and must walk by his law.
3. God's guidance was frequently mysterious. They would often be perplexed to understand the reasons of it. A reason seems to have been given here, but otherwise the route chosen must have seemed a very strange one. The believer is often thus led by a way he knows not (Isaiah 42:16).
III. GOD CONSULTS FOR HIS PEOPLE'S GOOD IN THE WAYS BY WHICH HE LEADS THEM. "For God said, peradventure," etc. (ver. 17). Consider here,
1. God's procedure.
(1) He turned the Israelites aside from the road which naturally they would have followed. The way of the land of the Philistines was no doubt the road by which they expected to be led. It was the customary road. It lay straight before them. It was the shortest and most direct. How often does God thus turn us aside in Providence from what might seem to be the natural, as, without a thought to the contrary, it may have been the anticipated course of our lives? The road that lies straight before us is not the one in which we are permitted to walk. Even in Christian work, by what zigzag ways are we sometimes conducted to our ends!
(2) He led the Israelites by a long detour into the wilderness. If the end was to escape the Philistines, God did not allow the Israelites to suppose that he intended to pamper and indulge them. The wilderness was a worse place to travel in than "the way of the land of the Philistines." They would have to encounter many trials. A heavy strain would be put upon their faith. Though exempted from war at the beginning, they had to fight enemies on the way, and ultimately were marched up to the borders of Canaan, to undertake, at another point, the work of invasion. In like manner, the Christian curriculum is not an easy one. Whoever enters upon the Christian journey, expecting to find it all sunshine and roses, is doomed to sorrowful disappointment. The road, under God's guidance, soon takes a turn, which leads into the wilderness of trial.
2. The reasons of God's procedure.
(1) The direct way was at that time an impassable one. The Israelites, just escaped from Egypt, were not in a condition to force their way through the strongly defended territory of the Philistines. The difficulty, it is true, lay in them - in their want of faith, courage, and power of obedience, not in God, whose help was all-sufficient. But practically, the direct road was closed against them. So, in God's merciful guidance of his people, the path is sometimes bent aside, because no other is for the time practicable. Obstacles to their progress, insurmountable by them at that stage of their knowledge and experience, block up the road which seems more direct, and to be allowed to advance in it would be no kindness.
(2) The direct road was fraught with danger for themselves. Their strength and faith were not equal to the opposition they would encounter. It would have proved too much for them. They must be allowed time to gather experience, to throw off the habits of their servitude, to be brought under discipline for war, to acquire steadiness and courage in facing an enemy. Led up against the Philistines in their present undisciplined condition, they would have fled at the first onset, and would have clamoured, even more vehemently than they did in the desert (Exodus 14:12), to be conducted back to Egypt. And does not this in large measure explain the mysterious turnings and windings in our own lives? God, who knows our frame, understands perfectly what degree of severity in temptation we are able to endure, and he mercifully orders our course, so that we may not be tempted above that we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). We pray, "Lead us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13), and this is one way in which the prayer is answered. Another way is by preventing or restraining the temptation. But where, as in the present case, it is a temptation which, so to speak, belongs essentially to the situation - which we must encounter, if that path is to be travelled at all, then is there no way of avoiding it but by being led in a different road. Especially in the beginning of a Christian course may we expect these sudden turnings of our path. We are not then in a condition to encounter very powerful enemies, to endure very fierce temptations, and by taking us a little way about God shields us from them.
(3) There was a discipline to be gained in the circuitous route by which they were led. God's design, in sparing his people the battle with the Philistines, was not, as we have seen, to indulge and spoil them. The place whither he conducted them was the wilderness, and there he purposed to subject them to a severe moral training. The end of this training was simply to bring them up to the standard which as yet they had not reached, to develop in them the qualities in which they were as yet deficient, to impart to them, in short, that hardihood and strength of character and will which would enable them to cope with Philistines, or any other foes. The end God has in view in our own trials is precisely the same.
IV. OUR WISDOM, UNDER ALL THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR LIVES, IS TO RESIGN OURSELVES TO GOD'S LEADING, BELIEVING IT TO BE ALWAYS THE BEST FOR US. We cannot err in resigning ourselves to the guidance of one omniscient, wise, loving, and supremely good. - J.O.
I. GOD'S TENDER CARE FOR HIS PEOPLE.
1. Trials and temptations are proportioned to their ability to-bear them. "He led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines." The conflict with these was not too much for his strength, but it was too much for Israel's faith. They would have made shipwreck at the very outset. He will not suffer us to be tempted beyond that we are able to bear.
2. It "was near;" but the shortest way to our possession may not be the surest. God's love is more fully displayed in leading us seemingly away from what we desire than it would be in at once leading us to it.
3. His purpose in delay. God leads us by the way of the wilderness where, by the knowledge of ourselves and of him we may be prepared for the earthly and the heavenly portion he designs to give us.
II. THEY BORE WITH THEM A PROOF OF GOD'S FAITHFULNESS (ver. 19).
1. The time might have been when the hope expressed by those unburied bones seemed vanity and folly, but not now. These relics touched a million hearts, and reminded them how gloriously God had redeemed his word.
2. We carry with us mementoes which fill us with strong assurance for the future. The very light we now possess tells how God fulfils his promises. Human hearts believed God of old when he said that the Sun of Righteousness would arise, and human lips declared the hope. The past fulfilments of prophecy lay broad foundations for our trust that every word will in like manner be redeemed.
III. THEY HAD GOD HIMSELF FOR GUIDE.
1. We have the indwelling of the Spirit and of Christ. We cannot mistake the way if we follow him who goes before us.
2. The light of his presence is brighter in the night of trial. When all else is veiled from sight, the light of that gracious presence beams out in fullest splendour.
3. There must be the following by day to have the consolation of the glory by night. Are we following in the footsteps of Jesus? Is he Saviour as well as sacrifice to us? - U.
Exodus 13:21). Israel might have been in Canaan within ten days. Reason why not is given Exodus 13:17. This however, not a reason for the forty years wandering: but only for the circuitous route by the desert of Sinai. The line of Israel's march for the first two days is soon given. They start from Rameses, capital of Goshen, a store city, recently built by the Hebrews, the king there possibly. The first stage was Succoth ("tents") perhaps a caravan station or military camp - a journey of about fifteen miles. Another fifteen miles to Etham on the edge of the desert. There roads, canals, now all to be left behind; just there and then appeared the FIRE AND CLOUD.
I. ITS NATURE. Point out the three leading theories, especially as the two earlier mentioned lead up to the third and the true. The phenomenon was:
1. Common natural fire. Seen as fire by night, as smoke by day. Perhaps the sacrificial fire of Israel preserved from primitive times. An ordinary caravan fire. Or such as was borne at the head of the Persian armies.
2. The same, but glorified by association with a religious idea; viz., that God was in reality the Guide of his people, and that that was well represented by the fire at the head of the hosts.
3. Altogether supernatural. God saw the need of Israel at that moment, and met it in his own superb manner. [For full discussion of Ritualistic explanations, see Kurtz, vol. 2:344-348, Eng. ed.] The phenomenon was a trinity in unity. It was one, not two, not one kind of pillar by night and another by day. It consisted of cloud, of fire (electric?) in the cloud, and of Jehovah in both (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:24) The last doubtless a manifestation of the "Angel-God" of the Old Testament.
II. FORMS AND MOVEMENTS.
(1) Usually a pillar (Exodus 13:21).
(2) A wall, see Exodus 14:19, 20. Must have been a wall in this case, of perhaps more than a mile in length. A wall of cloud to Egypt, hiding the moon, the sea, and the advanced movements of the armies of Israel When the cloud lifted, Israel was gone. On the other side, a mile or more of, as it were, electric fire, adding to the moon-illumination by which Israel passed through the sea.
(3) A roof or an awning. See Numbers 10:34; Psalm 105:39; 1 Corinthians 10:1, 2; and the very beautiful passage, Isaiah 4:5, 6.
(1) Usually stationary - on the tabernacle - on the mercy-seat - sometimes filling the tabernacle, so that none could enter to minister.
(2) Lifting, when Israel advanced.
(3) Descending, when Israel was to rest.
III. SIGNIFICANCE. Israel could not have seen the fire-cloud for forty years without catching much of the meaning; but we more. The fire-cloud teaches that the Lord Jesus is:
1. Ever in and with the Church. The glory of Jehovah appeared in the cloud.
2. In two-fold glory; in the fire of holiness; in the cloud of mercy that tempers the blaze. He so appears to the individual soul - to the family - to the Church - to the nation - to the wider world. Note the special outbreakings from the cloud at certain sinful crises in Israel's history.
3. The leader of our pilgrimage. See C. Wesley's hymn, in Wesley's Collection, 326. Yet some scope, then as now, seems to have been left for the play of intelligence (Numbers 10:31).
4. Captain in our holy war. On Egyptian monuments generals are represented as flames, streaming in darkness, at the head of armies. See the hymn beginning: "Forward be our watchword."
"Burns the fiery pillar 5. Our wall of defence. 6. Our canopy for comfort. 7. Whose interpositions are ever marked by wondrous timeliness. It was on the "edge of the wilderness" that the fire-cloud first appeared; and after the desert journey, seems to have disappeared, save as it may have been represented by the Shechinah above the mercy seat, which assured unwonted splendour at the dedication of the first temple. - R.
5. Our wall of defence.
6. Our canopy for comfort.
7. Whose interpositions are ever marked by wondrous timeliness. It was on the "edge of the wilderness" that the fire-cloud first appeared; and after the desert journey, seems to have disappeared, save as it may have been represented by the Shechinah above the mercy seat, which assured unwonted splendour at the dedication of the first temple. - R.
Acts 7:16). In this touching incident, see -
I. FAITH'S ANTICIPATIONS VERIFIED. Joseph had said, "God will surely visit you" (Genesis 50:25). He had died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off (Hebrews 11:13-22). At the time of Joseph's death the tokens were scant that Israel would grow to be so great a people, and would be led forth, many thousands strong, to go to Canaan. Joseph's faith rested on God's naked word. God had said that this time would come, and it did. We are never wrong in depending on the Divine promise. Those who trust it, however the world may ridicule them as devout enthusiasts, will prove to be right in the long run. Events will verify their confidence. Apply, e.g., to the ultimate triumph of Christianity.
II. FAITH'S CHOICE GIVEN EFFECT TO. He had strictly sworn the children of Israel, saying, "Ye shall surely carry up my bones away hence with you." Notwithstanding the splendour of his position in Egypt, Joseph's heart was still with his own people. To his clear moral vision, the godless character of the Egyptian civilisation was sufficiently apparent. The Hebrews were as yet but a handful of shepherds; but he discerned in them a spiritual greatness which was wanting to Egypt, and he had faith in the magnificent future which God's Word pledged to them. So he was not ashamed to call the humble settlers in Goshen his brethren, and to declare that he preferred a grave with them to the proudest mausoleum that Egypt could erect for him. He left a charge that when they departed, they were to take his bones with them, and lay them in Canaan, as subsequently they did (Joshua 24:22). He thus anticipated Moses in choosing the better part, and in preferring union with God's people to all the treasures and renown of the land of his adoption. We act in the same spirit when we set the things which are "unseen and eternal' before those which are "seen and temporal," and count it our highest honour to be enrolled among "God's children."
III. A HINT OF THE RESURRECTION. Whence this care of Joseph for the bestowal of his bones? What matters it - it may be asked - where the dust is laid, if only the spirit is secure? In one way it matters very little, though affection naturally inspires the wish to sleep beside one's kindred. There may have been more than this. The care of the body in Egypt was, as we now know, connected with a hope of its revival. And there are good grounds for believing that the same hope had to do with this command of Joseph, and with the loving care shown by the patriarchs generally in the bestowal of their dead. (See the point discussed in Fairbairn's Typology, vol. 1. p. 355, et seq.). The believer's body is a sacred deposit. Destined to share with the soul in the glory yet to be revealed, there is a fitness in treating it with reverence, and in laying it in a place consecrated to the Christian dead. - J.O.
I. HOLY. -
1. God is holy. Holiness is the principle which guards the distinction between the Creator and the creature. It eternally excludes everything evil and impure from the Divine nature (Martensen). It is the "zeal of the Lord of Hosts" for his own honour, and for the maintenance of the interests of truth, purity, and righteousness. The fire in the cloud was a symbol of it.
2. It is as the Holy One that God dwells in his Church. "The Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee" (Isaiah 12:6). Holiness, accordingly, becomes those who would serve him (Psalm 93:5).
3. The privilege is great, but perilous.
(1) Sin leads to the withdrawal of God's presence. When Israel sinned in the matter of the golden calf, God withdrew beyond the precincts of the camp. The cloudy pillar removed to a distance (Exodus 33:7-10).
(2) Rebellion provokes God to anger. On more than one occasion fire came out from the midst of the pillar and destroyed the rebels (Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 16:22; Numbers 17:10). "Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Holiness turned against sin is wrath. God tempers the vision of his holiness, which otherwise would be unendurable to man, by shrouding it in the cloud.
II. ENLIGHTENING. "A pillar of fire to give them light." God's presence in his Church is illuminating.
1. Whence the light shines. The light shines in the Word, in Divine providence, and in the teaching of the Spirit which illuminates both.
2. What the light does. It shows us spiritual truth. It reveals duty. It guides (see below). It cheers in the night of affliction.
3. Light with attendant mystery. The light is in the cloud. At best, we know but "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Even revealed truth has its side of mystery, HI. SHELTERING. The allusion in Isaiah 4:6 would suggest that the cloud spread itself over the camp in the daytime, and so formed a canopy or shadow from the heat. God's presence is a grateful shelter to his people. They feel the need of it when temptations fiercely assail, or when tribulation and persecution ariseth because of the Word. "In the time of trouble shall he hide me in his pavilion; in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me" (Psalm 27:5).
IV. GUIDING. The pillar went before the camp of Israel "to lead them the way" (cf. Deuteronomy 1:33). The cloud pointed the way in the daytime, the fire by night. The Church and the individual believer are similarly guided. He who seeks to know the will of God will not fail of direction. Providence opens the road. The light that streams from the Word shows the path of duty. "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way: walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand and to the left" (Isaiah 30:21).
V. ADAPTIVE. The pillar adapted itself to the circumstances of the people. In the daytime, when the sky was light, it took the form of cloud; in the night season, it shone as bright fire. Now it moved in front as a guiding beacon; again, it was spread as a grateful awning over the camp; at another time, it went behind, intercepting the enemy (Exodus 14:19). Thus does God vary the aspects of his presence and the modes of his help with unfailing adaptation to the special needs of his people. He is the All-sufficient.
VI. HOSTILE TO THE ENEMY. - He intercepts their pursuit; he hides his people from their fury; he makes their way dark to them; he frowns upon them, and discomfits them (Exodus 14:19-26). - J.O.
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