The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The Second Book of Moses
A continuous perusal of the book of Exodus from end to end leaves upon my mind the impression that there is in it the protoplasm of the whole action of God in the complete sphere of human history; in other words, I have not met with any phase of Divine revelation or ministry which is not to be traced in at least a dawning outline in this second book of Moses. Emphasis is to be laid upon the continuousness of the reading, for it is quite conceivable that a casual glance would discover a ruggedness amounting almost to chaos in the distribution of the infinite materials; a ruggedness not to be subdued, and smoothed into the general music, but by a mood of soul at once ardent and devout. Take, first of all, the personal revelation of God, the abruptest of all the miracles, and yet the most suppressed; a flame in a wilderness, barred in and made intense by branches that the wind might have broken,—and a Name as mysteriously human as the bush is mysteriously equal to the solemn occasion; then another Name not human at all, in its first impression on the mind, a Verb whose conjugation cannot go beyond a line, an I AM that doubles back upon itself and waits with mysterious patience to "become flesh and dwell among us." Meanwhile it will leap like a spirit into the Shepherd-wanderer and find in him a rude and temporary incarnation. But the first name is the human one, and truly most unexpected and startling when we consider its import. "I am the God of—." Given such a beginning to find what the end will be? Where does the Speaker begin his historical Godhood? Surely Adam and Eve will be recovered from their unaccountable obscurity, and in the bloom of Edenic beauty will be to Moses an almost rival revelation,—or Abel who died at the altar,—or Enoch who never tasted death,—or Noah who began the new world: all these surmises, so obvious because so natural, are contradicted by the fact. Abraham is the head of the new race; the larger Adam; the living Faith. God did not date himself so far back in history as to bewilder the solitary and overpowered inquirer, but placed himself within domestic associations and in living relation to names that made the very earth and sky of the lone man's little world. Thus was God quite near to Moses, yet in a moment he withdrew into Eternity and spoke as the I AM, without angel, or child, or spirit, to break his awful solitude. For what purpose is he so revealed? That he may bring to pass the most terrific collision yet known in human history. A battle is being arranged within the sanctuary of the burning bush. Egypt is the pride of the world, and her power is to be broken. No doubt her arm is mighty, but the bones of that mean strength shall be melted like wax by the fire that spares the frail bush. Chariot against chariot shall dash in war; the lightning of heaven against the iron of Egypt, so now we shall see whether the Lord's thunder or Pharaoh's noise conceals the heavier bolt. And why this trial of arms? Will the Lord set himself in array of battle against a candle which a breath might extinguish? For one reason only,—viz., that he may deliver and redeem and sanctify a people,—that his strength may make a way for his love,—that the education of the world may be moved one battlefield nearer the temple of wisdom. If God fought for victory he need never fight; he fights that he may teach; he lengthens the day of battle that he may enlarge all human conceptions of his purpose and sway with infinite persuasion every human will in the direction of holiness and truth The details of the mortal contest must be separately studied. How it ended may be known from the song and the dance, the passionate refrain and the clanging timbrel, the harmonious shout and the ordered rapture, which in all their ecstasy but dimly typify the apocalyptic music whose storm shall welcome the completion of the purposes of God. To the Revelation, the Battle, the Song, many an addition must be made if Exodus is as complete as it has just been supposed to be. A little wandering and chiding, a miracle or two, and then comes the first magnificent addition, the LAW! The moral universe begins to take shape. Instincts, habitudes, wordless motions, aspirations which cannot fall immediately into fit speech, now undergo crystallisation and stand out in many a strange figure as might stand the world to the opened eyes of a man born blind. A greater battle than the fight with Pharaoh began with the giving of the Law,—a subtler contest,—a strife between darkness and light. The law vindicates its own Divine origin, so exceeding broad is the commandment, so infinitely exquisite the infusions of Mercy, a mere flush of warm colour on the neutral grey of the steel statute, a tint, rather than a stain, of blood-like hue, as if an Atonement were not far away, yet the time of its agony not fully come. The Law will not have any man smitten with impunity, the pregnant woman shall be sacred from all injury, the eye of the slave shall be paid for with liberty, no man shall wantonly feed his beast in another man's field, no stranger shall be vexed or oppressed, no widow or fatherless child shall be afflicted, the ass or the ox of the enemy shall not be permitted to go astray, the innocent and the righteous were not to be slain,—a pathos so profound brings tears of joy to the reader's eyes, and so tenderly is the heart moved that when Israel cries in battle music—"the Lord is a man of war," we answer in a thankful hymn,—"his tender mercies are over all his works." So Israel was not taken out of Egypt merely to humble the oppressor, or destroy the tyrant. The purpose vindicates the means. The river must be turned into blood, frogs and lice and flies must be sent, boils and blains, and hails in blackest tempests of ice must not be spared; in themselves they would be but a display of dramatic violence, but in the purpose they were intended to express they were servants of righteousness and liberty and education. By such means, initially, were the evil effects of four centuries of servitude to be overcome;—the violence is the love, in adapted action. The same process is repeated in every age, with change of accidents it may be, but the purpose is unchangeable.
Revelation, Battle, Song, and Law. What more is needed? God himself will answer, so our invention need not disquiet itself. Perhaps the answer may be so expressed as to be its own proof of origin. This is the answer:—"Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." This comes after the compassionate parts of the law with tender grace. All the way God seems to have been coming nearer as the law softened in its tone almost into gospel. At the beginning of the law no man was permitted to come near; if so much as a beast touched the mountain it was to be stoned or thrust through with a dart; and so terrible was the sight that Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake"; and now God says, as if his heart ached with some agony of desire, "Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." The movement is thus evermore from law to grace, from distance to nearness, from the throne to the Cross. In no rhetorical sense, or sense needed to make up halting rhythm, but in a solid and historical way exact enough in its throb for science itself, yet sublime enough in its symbolism to throw prophecy into despair. Beginning with fire, with smoke as the smoke of a furnace, with a trumpet sounding long and waxing louder and louder, who could have foretold that the Majesty thus accompanied would desire to dwell with the sons of men? But this is the effect of all true law. At the one end it cleaves asunder, at the other it enlarges itself into new relations and looks wistfully over happier possibilities. The course of literal law is always self-vexatious. "Why is the letter impotent? Because man himself is not a letter. Man is a spirit and can be ruled by spirit only. Not the Law, but the Lawgiver can satisfy the soul that burns in the bush of the body. The rod smites and hurts, but not until it blossoms does it fulfil even the purpose of law. So now the meaning of the burning bush begins to dawn: it meant that God wished to "dwell" with men, to set his tabernacle side by side with human habitations, and to be accounted Father by all generations. Sinai was too high, the cloud too thick, the lightning too awful, so a house must be built, and the very building of it should be to the builders a spiritual education,—a most gracious condescension, and on the one side of it a mystery profoundly adapted to human nature by permitting man to build the house whilst forbidding him to fashion the God. In view of these spiritual and transcendent revelations, all other questions drop into secondary interest. We care but little at this lustrous point whether Philitrion built the pyramids, or Rameses the oppressor of Israel was the best or worst of Theban kings; in view of Sinai the avenue of sphinxes sinks into contempt, and "the petrifactions of the sunbeam" look small beside the unhewn towers of the rock: not only Egyptian history but the history of Israel also assumes new valuations: it is now quite matter of secondary interest to trace the march from Succoth to Etham, from Etham to the encampment between Migdol and the pastures of Pihahiroth over against Baal-zephon, and on to the point made memorable by the passage of the Red Sea, whether in the north by Magdôlon or in the south under the shadow of Jebel Attâka. The mind is in no temper for such holiday investigations, for the Lord God has himself proposed to "dwell" with men. It is of small import at this critical moment to know that the Song of Moses is marked by the usual "parallelism of clauses," and that from a critical point of view the triplet stanzas interrupt the regular cadence with unusual frequency, for we are about to witness the setting up of the very presence-chamber of Jehovah.
The character of the book of Exodus seems to change immediately upon the announcement of the Divine purpose. Although still in the wilderness we are imaginatively amongst the treasures of Memphis, and Zoan, and Heliopolis, and Rameses, with abundance of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, and with such wealth of metal as to be able to make the very hooks of gold and the sockets of silver. The Temple of the Sun is to be extinguished by a new glory, and the consecrated calf of Ra is to give place to sacrifice charged with sublimest meanings. Is there not a subtle and suggestive harmony between what Israel had seen in Egypt and what it was about to see in the wilderness? The gods of Egypt had been well housed, could Israel suppose that the God of heaven would dwell in a mean habitation? For spiritual realisations men have to be long and almost severely prepared,—a wilderness requires a contrast. So this tabernacle is no fancy work. The sequence in which it follows is as severely logical as the point towards which it tends is ineffably spiritual. A strange thing is thus wrought in the earth. Invention is not invited, or any form of natural cleverness; the inspired house like the inspired Book employs but willing hands to carry out the labour, the Builder and Maker is God. He builds all houses—all lives—all books—that rest on the true Foundation: at first the sacred house was outlined in cloud far up the hill; but was not the universe itself thus outlined "from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, before the heavens were prepared, or a compass had been set on the face of the deep,"—was it not all wrought in mystic but palpable cloud? Did not the cloud revolve at his touch, and wheel in gyrations infinite, and cast out sparks that held in their heat the astronomic pomp that glows like a tabernacle in the wilderness of space? What is all that upper glory, but blue and purple and scarlet, with an atmosphere for a vail, and a lamp fed eternally with consecrated oil? He that built all things is God. If he built them out of a cloud, the greater is the miracle; if he elaborated them from a molecule, he is even vaster in power than our imagination had dreamed. The nebulous tabernacle may be a hint of the nebulous universe. The most wonderful of God's visible creations are still wrought out in cloud; what landscapes, cities, temples, forests, minarets of snow, and palaces fit for heavenly kings, are to be found in the clouds, let them say who have watched the sky with the patience of love.
The meaning of all this had a mysterious relation to the shedding of blood! We come upon this revelation with a shock. The sequence is shattered by a tremendous blow. Up to this point we have been conscious of more than human refinement, and in a moment we burn with shame as if we had done some deed forbidden. So long as we were working with acacia wood, and pure gold, and blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen, and stones precious as sardius and topaz, ligure and jasper, we were content, for a certain elevation moved us to nobler consciousness: but suddenly, even whilst we gaze with religious delight upon the ephod, the breastplate, and the mitre of Aaron, the blood of a young bullock flows by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and whilst the flesh of the bullock is being burned as a sin-offering without the camp, two rams without blemish are slain, and the blood of the second is put upon the tip of the right ear of Aaron, and upon the tip of the right ear of his sons, and upon the thumb of their right hand, and upon the great toe of their right foot, and their garments are sprinkled, and the altar is bathed with the red stream; thus in a moment we who had touched with reverence the Urim and the Thummim, and the robe of the ephod blue as heaven's fairest summer, must watch "the fat that covereth the inwards, and the caul that is above the liver, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them," burn upon an altar whose horns dripped with the bullock's blood. The revulsion is infinite For the explanation we must wait. Nevermore shall we get rid of blood. There was a mystery about its being sprinkled on the door-posts in Egypt—a mystery about the paschal lamb—that mystery will now follow us to the end, and re-appear in a heavenly anthem. It may be that the blood will become the true refinement, and that what we once accounted precious shall be less than nothing when compared with its infinite value.
General Notes on the Book of Exodus
In order to understand almost any book it is necessary to read it right through at once, without entering minutely into its detailed portions, or asking any special questions regarding its local structure. Dean Stanley was accustomed to say that he read a great work of fiction first for the story, secondly for the thought, and thirdly for the style—that is to say, he perused the work three distinct times, these being the distinct objects which he had in view in the respective perusals. It will be well, therefore, for the reader to begin Exodus and go steadily through it, with a view of getting a general conception of the outline of the history. After that he may sit down to a critical perusal of the exact purposes of the writer in each section of the work; but he will find this second perusal very much aided by the general conception derived from the first complete reading.
The best books upon the structure of Exodus that I have seen, are essays by Canon Cook, in the "Speaker's Commentary," and by Canon Rawlinson, in the "Old Testament Commentary for English Readers." If to these two essays we add Dean Stanley's "History of the Jewish Church," with special reference to the period of the exodus, we shall have a good notion of what the ripest scholars have to say regarding this section of Holy Scripture. It has been pointed out by one of those writers that the Book of Exodus consists of two distinct portions. Canon Cook shows that the first portion extends from chapter 1 to chapter 19 inclusive, and that it gives a detailed account of the circumstances under which the deliverance of the Israelites was accomplished. The second part includes chapters 20-40, and describes the giving of the law and the institutions which completed the organisation of the people as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." The Canon points out a very distinct difference in the styles of the two portions, but contends that their mutual bearings and interdependences are evident, so much so as to leave no doubt as to the substantial unity of the book.
The word "Exodus" means "departure," "outgoing," or "setting forth." It is perhaps needless to say that Exodus the Latin word which represents the Hebrew title, and that "Exodus" was adopted by Jerome in his translation of the Bible.
Canon Rawlinson has pointed out that although the outgoing of the Israelites from Egypt is one of the principal matters treated of in the Book of Exodus, yet it was not the sole, nor even the main purpose of the writer to give an account of that remarkable passage of history. According to the Canon, the purpose of the author was a wider and grander one, being theocratic rather than historic. It was, in the words of Keil, "to give an account of the first stage in the fulfilment of the promises made by God to the patriarchs, with reference to the growth of the children of Israel," by tracing their development from a family into a tribe, and from a tribe into a nation. It has been strikingly shown that Genesis left Israel in Egypt a family or "house" (Genesis 1:22); Exodus leaves them a nation of about two millions of souls organised under chiefs (Exodus 18:21-24), with a settled form of worship, a priesthood, a code of laws and a judicature. It finds them still a family (ch. Exodus 1:1-6); it leaves them the people of God (ch. Exodus 30:3-13). By the entrance of the "glory of the Lord" into the tabernacle (ch. Exodus 40:34) the theocracy is completed—God locally dwells with his people as their Ruler, Director, and Guide. The nation receives its head and becomes a "kingdom" (ch. Exodus 19:6). It is still nomadic—it has no settled country—but it is an organised whole.
Canon Cook says that the first seven verses are introductory to the whole book. In accordance with the almost invariable custom of the writer, there is first a brief recapitulation of preceding events, and then a statement of the actual condition of affairs. The narrative begins with the eighth verse of the first chapter. The second division, from chapter 3-6, opens after an interval of some forty years, but from this point the narrative is almost critically minute in its statement of facts. Chapter Exodus 6:2-27 forms a distinct portion, in which Moses is Instructed to explain the bearings of the Divine name upon the relations of God to the people: his mission to the Israelites and Pharaoh is renewed, Aaron being formally appointed as his coadjutor. It is essential to understand this portion thoroughly, as it is structurally in its right place, and has a distinct bearing on preceding and succeeding sections. "In chapter Exodus 6:28 to the end of Exodus 11. the narrative," says Canon Cook, "makes a fresh start." The next section (ch. Exodus 12:1-42) gives an account of the institution of the Passover and the departure of the Israelites from Rameses. This section, though closely connected with the preceding one, is evidently intended to be read as a separate lesson, and, according to the Canon's theory, may possibly have been re-written or revised for that purpose towards the close of the life of Moses. The narrative begins again at chapter Exodus 13:17, giving the history of the march of the Israelites towards the Red Sea, the passage across it, and the destruction of Pharaoh's hosts. Then comes the song of Moses, which does not interrupt the history. In the third month after the exodus, Israel came to the Wilderness of Sinai and camped before the Mount; and in Exodus 19-20 we read of the promulgation of the law. The remainder of the book gives the directions received by Moses touching the tabernacle and its appurtenances, and the institution of the Aaronic priesthood.
Referring to the fact that the credibility of Exodus is assailed on two principal grounds—viz., first, the miraculous character of a large portion of the narrative, and secondly, the exaggeration which is thought to be apparent in the numbers, Canon Rawlinson says: "It is observable (1) that the miracles were needed; (2) that they were peculiarly suitable and appropriate to the circumstances; and (3) that they were of such a nature that it was impossible for eye-witnesses to be deceived with regard to them." The Canon is very distinct and emphatic in his view of the reality of the circumstances recorded in Exodus. There is no mistake about such language as the following:—"Either the plagues of Egypt happened, or they did not. Either the Red Sea was divided, or it was not. Either the pillar of fire and of the cloud guided the movements of the hosts for forty years, or there was no such thing. Either there was manna each morning round about the camp, or there was none. The facts were too plain, too simple, too obvious to sense for there to be any doubt about them. The record is either a true account, or a tissue of lies. We cannot imagine the writer an eyewitness, and reject the main features of his story, without looking on him as an impudent impostor. No 'enthusiasm,' no 'poetic temperament,' could account for such a record if the exodus was accomplished without miracles. The writer either relates the truth, or was guilty of conscious dishonesty." This is the only sound view, as it appears to me, to take of such circumstances. We must have no evasion, or verbal refining, or skilful doubling, but a distinct acceptance or rejection of the substantial body of the text. The Canon's remarks upon the numerical difficulties are such as he is entitled to make:—"It is to be borne in mind in the first place that numbers are peculiarly liable to corruption in ancient works, from the fact that they were not fully expressed, but written in a sort of cipher. It is quite possible that the numbers in our present copies of Exodus are in excess, and express the ideas of a reviser, such as Ezra, rather than those of the original author. The million of full age who quitted Egypt may have been one hundred thousand, or sixty thousand, instead of six hundred thousand, and the migration one of four hundred thousand or two hundred thousand souls, instead of two million. But, on the whole, judicious criticism inclines to uphold the numbers of the existing text. Alarm would not have been felt by the Egyptian kings until the people had greatly multiplied, and become formidable from a military point of view, which they could not have been until the fully grown men numbered some hundreds of thousands. For the population of Egypt was probably from seven to eight millions, and the military class, at a far less flourishing time than that at the exodus, was reckoned at about four hundred thousand. Nor could Canaan well have been conquered by an emigrant body which did not amount to some millions, since the country was well peopled at the time, and its occupants were brave and warlike. The difficulty of subsistence for two millions of persons in the desert is entirely met by the continuous miracle of the manna, and that of sufficient pasture for their numerous flocks and herds by the far greater fertility of the Sinaitic peninsula in ancient than in modern times, of which abundant indications have been observed by recent travellers. Ewald, Kalisch, Kurtz, and Keil, accept the numbers of the present text of Exodus, and believe the migration to have been successfully accomplished by a body of about two millions of persons."
Canon Cook makes some suggestive remarks regarding the particular times at which some of the plagues appeared. He calculates that two full months elapsed between the first and second interview of Moses with the king, and that during that time the people were dispersed throughout Egypt, subjected to severe suffering, and impelled to exertions of a kind differing altogether from their ordinary habits, whether as herdsmen or bondsmen, and he rightly suggests that this was the first and a most important step in their training for a migratory life in the desert. Canon Cook fixes the end of June at the beginning of the rise of the annual inundation of the Nile, as the time when the first series of plagues began. Three months, he adds, appear to have intervened between this and the next plague. The plague of frogs is fixed as coinciding in time with the greatest extension of the inundation in September. The plague of frogs assailed native worship in one of its oldest and strangest forms. An ancient vignette represents the father of Rameses II. offering two vases of wine to a frog enshrined in a small chapel, with the legend, "The sovereign lady of both worlds." It is then pointed out that the third plague differed from the preceding in the important point that no previous warning was given. It is thought to have followed soon after the plague of frogs, namely, early in October. The second series of plagues—viz., swarms of poisonous insects—began probably soon after the subsidence of the inundation, which was a season of great importance to Egypt, because from that season to the following June the land is uncovered, cultivation begins, and a great festival marks the period for ploughing. The cattle plague is thought to have broken out in December, or at the latest in January, and is pointed out as thoroughly Egyptian both in season and in character. Next came the plague of boils, which appears to have lasted about three months. Speaking of the next plague, Canon Cook says the hailstorms followed, just when they now occur in Egypt, from the middle of February to the early weeks of March. This plague drew from Pharaoh the first confession of guilt. The plague of locusts occurred towards the end of March. The Egyptians had now given way, and only the stubbornness of the king's will remained to be overcome.
One or two remarks respecting the account of the tabernacle may be profitably quoted from Canon Cook:—"In form, structure, and materials, the tabernacle belongs altogether to the wilderness. The wood used in the structure is found there in abundance. It appears not to have been used by the Israelites in Palestine; when the temple was built it was replaced by cedar. The whole was a tent, not a fixed structure, such as would naturally have been set up, and in point of fact was very soon set up, in Palestine; where wooden doors and probably a surrounding wall existed under the judges of Israel. The skins and other native materials belong equally to the locality. One material which entered largely into the construction, the skin of the tachasch, was in all probability derived from the Red Sea. The metals, bronze, silver, and gold, were those which the Israelites knew and doubtless brought with them from Egypt. The names of many of the materials and implements which they used, and the furniture and accessories of the tabernacle, the dress and ornaments of the priests, are shown to have been Egyptian. It is also certain that the arts required for the construction of the tabernacle, and for all its accessories, were precisely those for which the Egyptians had been remarkable for ages, and such as artisans who had lived under the influence of Egyptian civilisation would naturally have learned. The rich embroidery of the hangings, the carving of the cherubic forms, the ornamentation of the capitals, the naturalistic character of the embellishments, were all things with which the Israelites had been familiar in Egypt, but which, for ages after their settlement in Palestine—in which the traces of Canaanitish culture had been destroyed, as savouring of idolatry, and where the people were carefully separated from the contagious influences of other nations on a par with Egypt—must have died out, if not from their remembrance, yet from all practical application." Further on the Canon continues:—"The peculiar way in which the history of the erection of the tabernacle is recorded suggests another argument, which has not hitherto received due attention. Two separate accounts are given. In the first, Moses relates the instructions which he received, in the second, he describes the accomplishment of the work. Nothing would be less in accordance with the natural order of a history written at a later period than this double account. It has been represented as an argument for a double authorship, as though two sets of documents had been carelessly or surreptitiously adopted by a compiler. It is, however, fully accounted for by the obvious hypothesis that each part of the narrative was written at the time and on the occasion to which it immediately refers. When Moses received these instructions, he wrote a full account of them for the information of the people.... When, again, Moses had executed his task, it was equally appropriate, and doubtless also in accordance with the habits of a people keen and jealous in the management of their affairs, and at no time free from tendencies to suspicion, that he should give a formal account of every detail in its execution; a proof to such as might call for proof that all their precious offerings had been devoted to the purpose, and what was of far more importance, that the Divine instructions had been completely and literally obeyed. It is a curious fact that in the two accounts the order of the narrative is systematically reversed. In the instructions given to Moses, and recorded for the information of the people, the most important objects stand first. The ark, the mercy-seat, the cherubs, the table of shewbread, the golden candlestick, the whole series of symbolic forms by which the national mind was framed to comprehend the character of the Divine revelation, are presented at once to the worshippers. Then come instructions for the tabernacle, its equipment and accessories; and when all else is completed, the dress and ornaments of the officiating priests. But when the work of Bezaleel and his assistants is described, the structure of the tabernacle comes first, as it naturally would do when the ark was commenced; the place was first prepared, and then the ark and all the sacred vessels, according to all that the Lord commanded Moses."
I have only to recommend the critical reader to peruse the essays to which I have referred, and the commentaries which they introduce, as presenting all that the ripest learning can furnish as to the purely archaeological and critical matter of this wonderful book. My object has been to discover the modern uses to which the whole teaching of the history can be put. From time to time it will appear in the following discourses that where difficulties have arisen to my mind as to matters of merely Oriental or local significance, I have inquired into the moral purpose of the writer, and having satisfied myself as to his exact spiritual design, I have fixed attention upon that in order that I might throw into proper perspective and proportion things which, from their very nature, could only be local and transient.
Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.Moses on the Nile
A very easy plan, was it not? Whom you fear, destroy; that is a brief and easy creed, surely? This was turning the river to good account. It was a ready-made grave. Pharaoh did not charge the people to cut the sod, and lay the murdered children in the ground; the sight would have been unpleasant, the reminders would have been too numerous; he said, Throw the intruders into the river: there will be but a splash, a few bubbles on the surface, and the whole thing will be over! The river will carry no marks; will tell no stories; will sustain no tomb-stones; it will roll on as if its waters had never been divided by the hand of the murderer. All bad kings have feared the rise of manhood. If Pharaoh has been afraid of children, there must be something in children worthy of the attention of those who seek to turn life into good directions. The boy who is the terror of a king may become valiant for the truth. Never neglect young life: it is the seed of the future; it is the hope of the world. Nothing better than murder occurred to the mind of this short-sighted king. He never thought of culture, of kindness, of social and political development; his one idea of power was the shallow and vulgar idea of oppression.
"And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives" (Exodus 1:15).
So the king could not carry out his own command. A king can give an order, but he requires the help of other people to carry it into effect Think of the proud Pharaoh having to take two humble midwives into his confidence! The plan of murder is not so easy a plan after all. There are persons to be consulted who may turn round upon us, and on some ground deny our authority. From the king we had a right to expect protection, security, and encouragement; yet the water of the fountain was poisoned, and the worm of destruction was gnawing the very roots of power. What if the midwives set themselves against Pharaoh? Two humble women may be more than a match for the great king of Egypt. No influence, how obscure soever, is to be treated with contempt. A child may baffle a king. A kitten has been known to alarm a bear. A fly once choked a pope. What if a midwife should turn to confusion the sanguinary counsels of a cowardly king?
"But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive" (Exodus 1:17).
They who fear God are superior to all other fear. When our notion of authority terminates upon the visible and temporary, we become the victims of fickle circumstances; when that notion rises to the unseen and eternal, we enjoy rest amid the tumult of all that is merely outward and therefore perishing. Take history through and through, and it will be found that the men and women who have most devoutly and honestly feared God, have done most to defend and save the countries in which they lived. They have made little noise; they have got up no open-air demonstrations; they have done little or nothing in the way of banners and trumpets, and have had no skill in getting up torchlight meetings; but their influence has silently penetrated the national life, and secured for the land the loving and mighty care of God. Where the spiritual life is profound and real, the social and political influence is correspondingly vital and beneficent. All the great workers in society are not at the front. A hidden work is continually going on; the people in the shade are strengthening the social foundation. There is another history beside that which is written in the columns of the daily newspaper. Every country has heroes and heroines uncanonised. Let this be spoken for the encouragement of many whose names are not known far beyond the threshold of their own homes.
"Therefore God dealt well with the midwives.... And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses" (Exodus 1:20-21).
They who serve God serve a good Master. Was God indifferent to the character and claims of the midwives who bore practical testimony for him in the time of a nation's trial? His eye was upon them for good, and his hand was stretched out day and night for their defence. They learned still more deeply that there was another King beside Pharaoh; and in the realisation of his presence Pharaoh dwindled into a secondary power, whose breath was in his nostrils, and whose commands were the ebullitions of moral insanity. No honest man or woman can do a work for God without receiving a great reward. God made houses for the midwives! He will make houses for all who live in his fear. There are but few who have courage to set themselves against a king's commandment; but verily those who assert the authority of God as supreme shall be delivered from the cruelty of those who have no pity. There are times when nations are called upon to say, No, even to their sovereigns. Such times are not to be sought for with a pertinacious self-assertion, whose object is to make itself very conspicuous and important; but when they do occur, conscience is to assert itself with a dignity too calm to be impatient, and too righteous to be deceived.
How will these commands and purposes be received in practical life? This inquiry will be answered as we proceed to the second chapter.
"And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi" (Exodus 2:1).
There is nothing extraordinary in this statement. From the beginning men and women have married and have been given in marriage. It is therefore but an ordinary event which is described in this verse. Yet we know that the man of Levi and the daughter of Levi were the father and mother of one whose name was to become associated with that of the Lamb! May not Renown have Obscurity for a pedestal? Do not the pyramids themselves rest on sand? What are the great rocks but consolidated mud? We talk of our ancestry, and are proud of those who have gone before us. There is a sense in which this is perfectly justifiable, and not only so, but most laudable; let us remember, however, that if we go back far enough, we land, ii not in a common obscurity, yet in a common moral dishonour. Parents may be nameless, yet their children may rise to imperishable renown. The world is a great deal indebted to its obscure families. Many a giant has been reared in a humble habitation. Many who have served God, and been a terror to the Wicked One, have come forth from unknown hiding-places. I would dart this beam of light into the hearts of some who imagine that they are making little or no contribution to the progress of society. Be honest in your sphere,—be faithful to your children, and even out of your life there may go forth an indirect influence without which the most sounding reputation is empty and worthless.
"And when she could not longer hide him, [that is, the child that was born to her,] she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink" (Exodus 2:3).
The first going from home of any child always marks a period of special interest in the family. What a going was this! When some of you went from home, how you were cared for! How your family gathered round you to speak a kind farewell! What a box-filling, and portmanteau-strapping, what a fluttering of careful, anxious love there was! What has become of you? Were you suffocated with kindness? were you slain by the hand of a too anxious love? Truly, some men who have had the roughest and coldest beginning have, under the blessing of God, turned out to be the bravest, the strongest, the noblest of men! I believe in rough beginnings: we have less to fear from hardship than from luxury. Some children are confectioned to death. What with coddling, bandaging, nursing, and petting, the very sap of their life is drained away. There is indeed another side to this question of beginnings. I have known some children who have hardly ever been allowed to go out lest they should wet their feet, who have been spared all drudgery, who have had every wish and whim gratified, whose parents have suddenly come to social ruin, and yet these very children have, under their altered circumstances, developed a force of character, an enduring patience, and a lofty self-control never to have been expected from their dainty training. But a man is not necessarily a great man because he has had a rough beginning. Many may have been laid on the river Nile, whose names would have done no honour to history. Accept your rough beginning in a proper spirit; be not overcome by the force of merely external circumstances; wait, hope, work, pray, and you will yet see the path which leads into light, and honour, and peace. The mother of Moses laid the ark in the flags by the river's brink. Ay, but before doing so she laid it on the heart of God! She could not have laid it so courageously upon the Nile, if she had not first devoutly laid it upon the care and love of God. We are often surprised at the outward calmness of men who are called upon to do unpleasant and most trying deeds; but could we have seen them in secret we should have known the moral preparation which they underwent before coming out to be seen of men. Be right in the sanctuary, if you would be right in the marketplace. Be steadfast in prayer, if you would be calm in affliction. Start your race from the throne of God itself, if you would run well, and win the prize.
"And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him" (Exodus 2:4).
Society needs watchers as well as workers. Had we been passing the spot at which the sister of Moses took up her position of observation, we might have condemned her as an idler standing there and doing nothing! We should be careful of our condemnation, seeing how little we know of the reality of any case. In doing nothing, the girl was in reality doing everything. If she had done more, she would have done less. There is a silent ministry as well as a ministry of thunder. Mark the cunning of love! The watcher stood afar off. Had she stood quite close at hand, she would have defeated the very object of her watching. She was to do her work without the slightest appearance of doing it. Truly there is a great art in love, and in all good ministry. There are wise master-builders, and also builders who are very foolish. Sometimes we must look without staring; we must speak without making a noise; we must be artful without dissimulation, and hide under the calmest exterior the most urgent and tumultuous emotion.
"And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews' children" (Exodus 2:5-6).
"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." When the child cried, the heart of the daughter of Pharaoh was moved, as simple and beautiful a piece of human nature as is to be found anywhere. How poor would the world be without its helpless ones! Little children by their very weakness make strong men stronger. By the wickedness of the wicked, the righteousness of the righteous is called forth in some of its most impressive and winsome forms. Looking at the daughter of Pharaoh from a distance, she appears to be haughty, self-involved, and self-satisfied; but, stooping near that little ark, she becomes a woman, having in her the instinct of motherliness itself! We should all be fathers and mothers to the orphan, the lost, and the desolate. The government of humanity is so ordered that even the most distressing circumstances are made to contribute to the happy development of our best impulses and energies. No man can be permanently unhappy who looks into the cradles of the poor and lonely, as Pharaoh's daughter looked into this ark of bulrushes. Go by the river's side, where the poor lost child is, and be a father and a mother to him if you would have happiness in the very core of your heart! Even a king's daughter is the richer and gladder for this stoop of love. Some have been trying to reach too high for their enjoyments; the blooming fruit has been beyond their stature; they have therefore turned away with pining and discontent, not knowing that if they had bent themselves to the ground they would have found the happiness in the dust, which they attempted in vain to pluck from inaccessible heights.
"Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?" (Exodus 2:7).
The watcher came without making a noise. Who ever heard the light come over the hills? Who ever heard the violet growing? The watcher, too, spoke to the king's daughter without introduction or ceremony! Are there not times in life when we are superior to all formalities? Are there not sorrows which enable us to overcome the petty difficulties of etiquette? Earnestness will always find ways for its own expression. The child might well have pleaded timidity; fear of the greatness of Pharaoh's daughter, or shamefacedness in the presence of the great and noble; under ordinary circumstances she would undoubtedly have done so; but the life of her brother was at risk, the command of her mother was in her heart, and her own pity yearned over the lonely one: under the compulsion of such considerations as these, the watcher urged her way to the side of Pharaoh's daughter, and made this proposition of love. False excuses are only possible where there is lack of earnestness. If we really cared for lost children, we should find ways of speaking for them in high quarters. There is a boldness which is consistent with the purest modesty, and there is a timidity which thinly disguises the most abject cowardice.
"And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it lor me, and I will give thee thy wages" (Exodus 2:8-9).
All done in a moment, as it were! Such are the rapid changes in lives which are intended to express some great meaning and purpose of God. They are cast down, but not destroyed; persecuted, but not forsaken! From the action of Pharaoh's daughter we learn that first thoughts are, where generous impulses are concerned, the only thoughts worth trusting. Sometimes we reason that second thoughts are best; in a certain class of cases this reasoning may be substantially correct, but, where the heart is moved to do some noble and heroic thing, the first thought should be accepted as an inspiration from God, and carried out without self-consultation or social fear. Those who are accustomed to seek contribution or service for the cause of God, of course know well what it is to encounter the imprudent prudence which says, "I must think about it." Where the work is good, don't think about it; do it, and then think. When a person goes to a place of business, and turns an article over and over, and looks at it with hesitation, and finally says, "I will call again," the master of the establishment says in his heart, "Never!" If Pharaoh's daughter had considered the subject, the probability is that Moses would have been left on the Nile or under it; but she accepted her motherly love as a Divine guide, and saved the life of the child.
"And the woman took the child, and nursed it" (Exodus 2:9).
What her self-control in that hour of maddening excitement cost, no tongue can tell. She took the child as a stranger might have taken it, and yet her heart was bursting with the very passion of delight. Had she given way for one instant, her agitation might have revealed the plot. Everything depended upon her calmness. But love can do anything! The great question underlying all service is a question not so much of the intellect as of the heart. We should spoil fewer things if our love was deeper. We should finish our tasks more completely if we entered upon them under the inspiration of perfect love. The mother consented to become a hireling,—to take wages for nursing her own child! Love can thus deny itself, and take up its sweet cross. How little did Pharaoh's daughter know what she was doing! Does any one really know what work he is doing in all its scope and meaning? The simplest occasion of our lives may be turned to an account which it never entered into our hearts to imagine. Who can tell where the influence of a gentle smile may end? We know not the good that may be done by the echo as well as by the voice. There is a joyful bridegroom throwing his dole into the little crowd of laughing eager boys. One of those boys is specially anxious to secure his full share of all that is thrown: he has snatched a penny, but in a moment it has been dashed out of his hand by a competitor: see how anger flushes his face, and with what determination he strikes the successful boy: he is a savage, he is unfit to have his liberty in the public streets, his temper is uncontrollable, his covetousness is shocking: he wins the poor prize, and hastens away; watch him: with his hard-earned penny he buys a solitary orange, and with quick feet he finds his way up a rickety staircase into a barely-furnished garret; he gives his orange to his poor dying sister, and the juice assuages her burning thirst. When we saw the fight, we called the boy a beast; but we knew not what we said!
We call the early life of Moses a miracle. There is a sense of course in which that is literally true. But is there not a sense in which every human life has in it the miraculous element? We are too fond of bringing down everything to the level of commonplace, and are becoming almost blind to the presence of elements and forces in life which ought to impress us with a distinct consciousness of a power higher than our own. Why this worship of commonplace? Why this singular delight in ah things that are supposed to be level and square, and wanting in startling emphasis? I would rather speak thus with myself:—My life too is a miracle; it was put away upon a river and might have been lost in the troubled water; kind eyes watched the little vessel in which the life was hidden; other persons gathered around it and felt interested in its fortunes; it was drawn away from the stream of danger and for a time hidden within the security of love and comfort and guidance. It has also had to contend with opposition and difficulty, seen and unseen; it has been threatened on every side. Temptations and allurements have been held out to it, and it has been with infinite difficulty that it has been reared through all the atmosphere intended to oppress and to poison it. I could shut out all these considerations if I pleased, and regard my life within its merely animal boundaries, and find in it nothing whatever to excite religious wonder or religious thankfulness; but this is not the right view. To do so would be to inflict injustice upon the Providence which has made my life a daily wonder to myself. I will think of God's tender care, of the continual mercy which has been round about me, and of the blessed influences which have strengthened and ennobled every good purpose of my heart; and I, too, will stand side by side with Moses when he sings the wonders of the hand Divine. The miracle is not always in the external incident; it may be hidden in the core of things and may slowly disclose itself to the eyes of religious reverence and inquiry. O that men were wise: that they would consider their beginning as well as their latter end, and learn to trace the hand of Heaven even in those comparative trifles which are supposed to lie within the scope and determination of time.