Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spoke to me…
Such were the words which the Lord spoke to Moses, after the children of Israel had been compassing Mount Seir "many days." There are a great many "mountains" which a great many people "compass" in the present day. Some of them mountains indeed — mountains of doubt and difficulty and sin; some of them molehills, which the very pilgrims in their blindness verily believe to be mountains; some of them little hills of pride and obstinacy, the paths round which have become all beaten down because the pilgrim feet have so long trod them. "Turn you northward" is the command required. Anything is better than the old going round and round and coming to the same place again. "Northward" may mean hard fighting, but it will mean great victory.
I. MONOTONY THE ORDINARY CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE.
1. See it as regards the Christian life. How many Christians have much the same experience year after year. We talk about "growth in grace," and trust we are making some "progress," but if many of us were to examine ourselves should we not find that our experience differed "little from that of our early Christian life? Thousands of people are lapsing into a monotonous experience. "There is no standing still in the Christian life," we hear it said. That may be true, but it is also true that there is a great deal of moving round and round. Compassing the mountain is the experience of not a few.
2. See it as regards Christian work. The ideal of Christian work is the same in all ages. It is the conversion of the world. But the method of its accomplishment varies with times and peoples and circumstances. And the Church or worker is wise which adapts the method to the requirements of the hour. But how we like to keep to the old work and do it in the old way! And how apt we are also to keep to the very same kind of work. There is work, I grant, which can best be done by the man who has done it for many years, but there is other work which would be done all the better if the worker were changed sometimes. The question is, are we putting the same enthusiasm into our work which we put into it at the commencement? But there is danger lest "compassing the mountain" should become monotonous. Even the most holy occupation needs varying at times, as every preacher will testify. A change often benefits both worker and work. Then monotony is near akin to sluggishness. Somehow or other that "mountain of work takes longer and longer to "compass." I long that God's voice should speak to them as it did to Moses, "Ye have compassed this mountain long enough." See it as regards Christian thought. The great verities of our holy religion do not change. Truth is eternal as God Himself. But how apt we are to live and move round a little "mountain " of thought of our own. We made it ourselves years ago, and were very pleased with it then. We do not stop to think whether it suits us now. Surely we should always be having grander, newer thoughts, nobler impulses from the Most High. He has ever greater truths to teach, ever fresh secrets to tall. There are ever fresh treasures of learning to be ransacked. Ideas of Christian life and thought are ever maturing. "Turn you northward" is the needed cry.
II. PROGRESS THE PROPER RULE OF LIFE. Says Godet, "Man was made in the image of God. He is not therefore condemned, like the lower animals, to move incessantly in the same circle. His progressivity has no limit but that of the absolute good to which he aspires." The emblem of human life is a spiral, not a circle! Just so! Man must continually "move on." If he goes round he must at the same time go up. It will be easy to show that this is God's purpose concerning us.
1. Monotony is contrary to the constitution and course of nature. These point to progress. New forms of life, of thought, of government are being continually evolved. Nothing continues the same but God and His eternal truth.
2. Monotony is contrary to God's dealings with the human race. God has not dealt with us in a circle. He has ever led His people forward.
3. Monotony is contrary to the spirit of the age, The age is one of progress. New inventions are showered upon us week by week.
4. Monotony is contrary to the teaching of God's Word. There are three things among many others which I may point out are contrary to monotony, but analogous to progress.
(1) Growth. This is self-evident, and I have no need to do more than mention it. "Grow in grace" is the command of' Scripture, and all kinds of growth should be seen in the character of the true Christian. There should be inward growth, the life becoming firmer and stronger; there should be outward growth, the life developing in all the more visible graces of the Spirit; there should be upward growth — upward to God, to holiness, to heaven; there should be downward growth — the roots of the Christian life becoming even more firmly planted in the soil of God's love.
(2) Enthusiasm. I can imagine that when first the children of Israel commenced to "compass" the "mountain" they did so with a great deal of interest. But after this "compassing." the "mountain" had proceeded "many days," interest would decrease and enthusiasm would disappear. The summons "Turn you northward;" would, however, call out all the old interest and enthusiasm, and would come as a grateful relief from the monotony of the past. And in our weakness our enthusiasm requires something new. Further, the command "Turn you northward" not only generated enthusiasm, but required it. It was much easier to continue the task of "compassing the mountain" than to "turn northward." They had become accustomed to the old circular progress. There were difficulties "northward." And so it is with us in the present day. To "turn northward" requires enthusiasm. It would be much easier and pleasanter to go the old round, to live the old life.
(3) Enterprise. This is another thing contrary to monotony, but analogous to progress. It required no enterprise to compass the mountain after they had been engaged in that task "many days." But when they began to "turn northward" enterprise was implied and required at once. And surely enterprise is required today. In every sphere of our life in this world it is to be found. And yet in work for Christ by some it is hardly known except by name. Why should we be content to go along the old beaten tracks? Why should we not strike out new ones for ourselves, or follow without hesitation where the Guiding Hand indicates?A thing has not always to be because it has been.
(W. E. Sellers.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days.