Moses relayed this message to the Israelites, but on account of their broken spirit and cruel bondage, they did not listen to him.
I. A PAINFUL RESULT OF AFFLICTIVE PROVIDENCE. The children of Israel, hard-driven by their taskmasters, and sunk in misery, were so stupefied with sorrow, as to have no longer any heart for their cheering tidings brought to them by Moses. Their despair had its ground in unbelief. They judged Moses a deceiver. They had trusted him before, and they reflected that the only outcome of it had been this unprecedented aggravation of their wretchedness. His fine promises must now go for what they were worth; they were past deriving comfort from them! Yet observe how in all this -
1. They wronged God. God had not deserted them as they thought. He was on the very eve of fulfilling every promise he had made them. We see the error in their case; it would be well if we could always see it as clearly in our own.
2. Made their trials harder. For if trials are hard enough to bear even with faith in the goodness and help of God, how much harder are they to bear without it!
3. Shut themselves out from Divinely-sent consolation. Their despondency led them. to refuse the very message which would have given them relief. How often is the same thing witnessed under severe affliction! There is a kind of perversity in grief, which leads it to "refuse to be comforted." God is mistrusted. The heart abandons itself to its despair. It sinks in gloom and wretchedness. It turns the very truth of God into a lie, and refuses Scripture and Gospel consolations. Unhappy condition! And as foolish as unhappy - for God is never nearer to the suffering spirit, never more ready to hear its cry, probably never nearer bringing it deliverance, than just when it is thus shutting out his consolations, and refusing him its confidence.
II. TYPICAL DISCOURAGEMENTS IN SPIRITUAL SERVICE (vers. 9, 13, 30). Moses was sorely discouraged -
1. At the unbelieving despair of the people. He could make no impression on them. They seemed hardened in their misery. So swallowed up were they in their grief, so crushed with sorrow, that their minds seemed to have lost all elasticity, all power of responding to the gladdest of tidings. This is a difficulty one has often to contend with in spiritual work - the spiritless, despairing condition induced by long experience of misfortune. The city missionary, e.g., has frequently to encounter it in going among the dwellings of the very poor. His heart sickens as he realises how little chance his Gospel has of finding acceptance in homes where all the surroundings are wretched, and where from year's end to year's end, there is being carried on the same heartless, monotonous "struggle for existence." But this insensibility to religion induced by suffering is not peculiar to the poor. Far from it. You will find it wherever men are sore beset with trouble, and have no firm, rooted faith in God to support them under it. Absorbed in "the sorrow of the world," they have no ear for spiritual comfort, and almost spurn it as a mockery.
2. At the prospect of having to go again before Pharaoh. Having failed with the people, how should he hope to prevail with Pharaoh, emboldened as that monarch would be with the success of a previous refusal? The element of discouragement here is the depressing sense of failure. Moses had failed in the part of the work which seemed easiest, and in which on the former occasion he had succeeded; how, then, should he look for success in the more difficult part of it, where previously he had sustained defeat? Observe carefully that on this point Moses' plea was not admitted.
(1) We are bad judges of what is failure. What Moses counted-defeats were not defeats at all, but at most delays. The history of missions furnishes striking illustrations of the danger of too hastily concluding that a work has failed because no immediate fruits are visible. Nothing has been more common in missionary experience (South Seas, Madagascar, Tinnivelly, the Kohls, etc.) than times of extraordinary fruitfulness following upon long periods of seeming failure - ten, twenty, thirty years often passing without a single convert. These were seasons of trial of faith, and had the missions been abandoned, as timid counsellors advised, the whole blessing would have been lost.
(2) It is the doing of our duty we arc held responsible for, not the failure or success which may attend it. That remains with God. The lesson is that in spiritual work there must be no talk of abandonment; no putting of the hand to the plough and then looking back; no flinging away of our weapons because the outlook is discouraging. Our part is to labour on, believing that "in due season we shall reap if we faint not" (Galatians 6:9).
3. By the revived sense of personal deficiencies. "How then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips!" Moses had Aaron, it was true, to speak for him, but there was a certain clumsiness in this method of two men going in, the one to speak for the other, and Moses felt his deficiency only the more keenly on account of it. He seems to have despaired of having any influence with Pharaoh, who would look on him with contempt. Moses forgot that in work of this kind no man "goeth a warfare any time at his own charges" (1 Corinthians 9:7), and that, if God sent him, God would qualify and support him, would give him strength for every duty he had to perform (cf. Exodus 7:1-7).
III. GOD'S UNSHAKEN PURPOSE ASSERTING ITSELF IN THE MIDST OF HUMAN UNBELIEF AND INFIRMITY (vers. 11, 13, 29). This is a most remarkable feature in the narrative - how, high and clear above all notes of doubt and hesitancy on the side of man, and at the very time when things are wearing their most untoward aspect, God expresses himself with perfect decision as to the deliverance of the people. Hope in the hearts of the people seemed extinct; even the faith of a Moses was staggering at the obstacles to be encountered. These fears and tremblings, however, are all on the human side; he who names himself Jehovah is raised infinitely above them, and has clearly in his view not only the certainty of his purpose being fulfilled, but all the steps by which the fulfilment is to be brought about. How should this give us confidence when we are trembling for the cause of Truth! We cannot see the end from the beginning, but Jehovah can, and we can stay ourselves on his knowledge of what is dark to us. It is enough for us to know that no contingency can arise which he is not aware of and has not prepared himself to cope with; that no opposition can erect itself against his counsel, which it is not within his power to overthrow. The counsel of the Lord stands for ever - the one stable fact in the midst of earthly vicissitude and change, of all ebb and flow of human hopes and fears. That surely is enough to lean upon, in the dark and troubled hours of our own and of the world's existence.
IV. FRESH EVIDENCE OF THE SUPERNATURAL CHARACTER OF THE DELIVERANCE, Allusion has already been made to the theory that the Exodus had its origin, not in a supernatural interposition of God, but in some gigantic spiritual movement springing up among the people themselves. The facts in this chapter, if anything of the character of history belongs to them, conclusively dispose of that theory. So far from the people of Israel being in a state of hopeful enthusiasm, ready to make great efforts for their own deliverance, they appear as utterly crushed and broken-spirited - totally "without strength." There was doubtless a profound purpose in God's permitting them to be brought into this condition.
1. It made more manifest the fact that their deliverance did not originate with themselves. And
2. It furnishes a striking image of Gospel truth. We too were "without strength" when, "in due time, Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). There was the want of will as well as of power to do anything of ourselves. God has interposed, and done all for us. - J.O.
so unto the Children of Israel." That is, he said what God told him to say. He did not invent his message. He was simply a repeater of the Divine message. As he received it, so he spake it. Now, the message Moses brought was rejected, and he knew why it was rejected. He could see the reason. The people were in such bondage, they were so unhappy and hopeless, that what he spake seemed to them to be as idle words. There are hundreds of reasons why men reject the gospel. Amongst all the reasons, however, that I ever heard, that with which I have the most sympathy, is this one — that some cannot receive Christ because they are so full of anguish, that they cannot find strength enough of mind to entertain a hope that by any possibility salvation can come to them.
They hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit.— A permanent principle of our nature, and a distinctive feature of the Divine government are here embodied in an example. We shall endeavour to explain the historic incident, and to apply the spiritual lesson.
I. THE FACT WHICH EMBODIES THE PRINCIPLE. It consists of three parts —
1. The message addressed to Israel: "Moses so spake unto the children of Israel." In that message, whether you regard its Author, its bearer, or its nature, everything tended to entice; nothing to repel them. Its Author was the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; its bearer was Moses, a man who for their sakes had sacrificed his position among the princes of Pharaoh, and taken refuge in a desert; its nature was hope to the desponding and freedom to the enslaved. The time, too, seemed fit: when the bondage had become unbearable, word is sent that the bondage is almost done.
2. Their neglect of the message: "They hearkened not unto Moses." It was a spark of tire that fell, but it fell on wetted wood, and kindled therefore no flame. They saw nothing against it, but they let it alone.
3. Examine near the specific reason of their apathy. The cause of their indifference to liberty was the extreme severity of their bondage. They hearkened not "for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage." Here is a paradox: the slavery is excessively severe, and therefore the slave does not care for freedom. Broken hearts have lost their spring, and cannot bound from the bottom of the pit at the call of a deliverer. Great need does not, alone, produce great exertion. The hopeless, helpless captive steadily refuses to stir, lest the chain by the movement Should saw deeper into his flesh.
II. THE PRINCIPLE EMBODIED IN THE FACT. These things happened to them in order that their history might be a type for us.
1. The message. To us, as to them, it is a message of mercy. Specifically, it proclaims deliverance to the captive. God recognizes all mankind as slaves, and sends an offer of freedom. Christ is the Messenger of the covenant. A greater than Moses is here, publishing a greater salvation. Through the lamb slain is the deliverance wrought. The death of Christ is the death of death.
2. Such is the proposal; but it is not heeded. Comparatively few disbelieve the message or revile the messenger. They simply pay no heed.
3. The reason of this neglect. A carnal mind, which is enmity against God. At one time prosperity, at another adversity, becomes the immediate occasion to an evil heart of departing from the living God. At present we are called to investigate only one class of these occasions or causes of neglect. Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage still make many captives hug their chains, and refuse to hear the voice which invites them to glorious liberty. The lesson here parts into two branches, one pointing to our neighbour's neglect, and another to our own.(1) The first lesson teaches the duty of Christ's disciples to a careless neighbourhood. Abject poverty in these favoured lands exacts a heavier task than Pharaoh from a more numerous host than the Hebrews in Egypt. Self-sacrificing, laborious effort to improve the temporal condition of the poor is a species of revival much needed in the Church of Christ. Of course I do not counsel donations of money or food to the vicious, instead of reproof and instruction — I claim the union of the two.(2) The second lesson applies more directly to ourselves. Anguish of spirit, whether it comes from God's hand in the form of personal affliction, or from man's hand in the form of unjust oppression, may become the occasion of neglecting the salvation of Christ. Beware of neglecting your spiritual state and interests while you are well, in the expectation that distress when it comes will make you religious. There is no truth in nature more certain than this, that the time of health and happiness is the best time for cleaving to Christ and making our calling and election sure. Then it could be best done, if men would then do it. Beware lest you be letting the best time slip past, and the worst time draw on, while you are not saved! It is true that God in sovereign marcy often uses affliction to bring us to Christ; but He does so because we would not come to Christ at all earlier and better time. The mind may be heavenly without "sore bondage," and earthly with it. If you beckon the Spirit off till affliction come, affliction may come without the Spirit. There is no "anguish of spirit" in "the just made perfect," and yet they are like flames of fire in the keenness of their love to the Lord that bought them. They are happiest who give their bright days to Christ; for when the dark days come, the Light of Life continues to shine within their hearts.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)
I. And first, will you notice that what Moses brought to these people was glad tidings. IT WAS A FREE AND FULL GOSPEL MESSAGE. To them it was the gospel of salvation from a cruel bondage, the gospel of hope, the gospel of glorious promise. It was a very admirable type and metaphorical description of what the gospel is to us. Moses' word to them was singularly clear, cheering, and comforting; but they could not receive it.
II. We come now to note that IT WAS RECEIVED WITH UNBELIEF CAUSED BY ANGUISH OF HEART. We can quite understand what that meant. Let us look into the case.
1. They could not now receive this gospel because they had at first caught at it, and had been disappointed. They limited the great and infinite God to minutes and days; and so, as they found themselves at first getting into a worse case than before, they said to Moses, deliberately, "Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians." They did as good as say — You have done us no good; indeed, you have increased our miseries; and we cannot believe in you or accept your message as really from God, seeing it has caused us a terrible increase of our sufferings. Grace may truly and effectually come to a heart, and for awhile cause no joy, no peace; but the reverse. Yet press on; be of good courage. Wait hopefully. The God who begins in darkness will end in light.
2. The inability of Israel to believe the message of Moses arose also from the fact that they were earthbound by heavy oppression: the mere struggle to exist exhausted all their energy, and destroyed all their hope. If you have such a struggle for existence here, you should seek that higher, nobler, better life, which would give you, even in penury and want, a joy and a comfort to which you are a stranger now.
3. But, worst of all, there are some who seem as if they could not lay hold on Christ because their sense of sin has become so intolerable, and the wretchedness which follows upon conviction has become so fearful, that they have grown almost to be contentedly despairing. A man who has begun to be numbed with cold, cries to his comrades, "Leave me to sleep myself to death"; and thus do despairing ones ask to be left in their misery. Dear soul, we cannot, we dare not, thus desert you.
III. The message was at first not received by Israel by reason of their anguish of soul, but IT WAS TRUE FOR ALL THAT, AND THE LORD MADE IT SO.
1. The first thing the Lord did to prove His persevering grace was to commission Moses again (ver. 1; Exodus 7:2). So the Lord God, in everlasting mercy, says to His minister, "You have to preach the gospel again to them. Again proclaim My grace."
2. But the Lord did more than that for Israel. As these people had not listened to Moses, He called Moses and Aaron to Him, and He renewed their charge. It is a grand point when the Lord lays the conversion of men on the hearts of His ministers, and makes them feel that they must win souls. Moses was bound to bring out Israel. "But there is Pharaoh." Pharaoh is included in the Divine charge. They have to beat Pharaoh into submission. "But these Children of Israel will not obey." The Lord put them in the charge: did you not observe the words, "He gave them a charge unto the Children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh"? Moses and Aaron, you have to bring Israel out, Pharaoh is to let them go, and Israel is to go willingly. God has issued His royal decree, and be you sure it will stand.
3. I cannot help admiring the next thing that God did when He told His servant what to do. The Lord began to count the heads of those whom He would redeem out of bondage. You see the rest of the chapter is occupied with the children of Reuben, and the children of Simeon, and the children of Levi. God seemed to say, "Pharaoh, let My people go!... I will not," said the despot. Straightway the Lord goes right down into the brick-town where the poor slaves are at work, and He makes out a list of all of them, to show that He means to set free. So many there of Simeon. So many here of Reuben. So many here of Levi. The Lord is counting them. Moreover He numbers their cattle, for He declares, "There shall not an hoof be left behind." Men say, "It is of no use counting your chickens before they are hatched"; but when it comes to God's counting those whom He means to deliver, it is another matter; for He knows what will be done, because He determines to do it, and He is almighty. He knows what is to come of the gospel, and He knows whom He means to bless.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Co see that kingly bird subjected to such bondage, just to be gazed at by the curious crowd. And I have seen the proud denizen of the air rejoicing in the freedom of his mountain home, basking in the noon's broad light, balancing with motionless wings in the high vault of heaven, or rushing forth like the thunderbolt to meet the clouds on the pathway of the blast; and I thought that that wild and cloud-cleaving bird would choose death, could the choice be his, rather than give up his free and joyous life to drag out a weary bondage in a narrow and stifling cage. And yet I have seen a greater and sadder contrast than that. I have seen men, made in the image of the living God, endowed with the glorious and fearful gift of immortality, capable of becoming co-equal companions with archangels, consenting to be caged and fenced around and fettered down by customs and cares and pleasures and pursuits, that only bind them to earth, make them slaves of things they despise, and answer their noblest aspirations with disappointment.
(D. Marsh, D. D.)
(D. Marsh, D. D.)
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