By Andrew Lee
Exodus xxxii. 31, 32.
"And Moses returned unto the Lord and said. Oh! this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou--wilt, forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray they, out of thy book which than hast written."
In the preceding discourse we endeavored to show that the idea of being willing to be damned for the glory of God is not found in the text--that the sentiment is erroneous and absurd--then adduced the constructions which have been put on the text by sundry expositors, and offered reasons which oblige us to reject them as misconstructions.
It remains, 'to give our sense of the passage--the grounds on which it rests--and some reflections by way of improvement'.
As 'to our sense of the passage'--We conceive these puzzling words of Moses to be no other than a prayer for himself--that his sins which might stand charged against him in the book of God, might 'be blotted out', however God might deal with Israel. "SINS are compared to debts, which are written in the creditor's book, and crossed, or blotted out, when paid.* Man's sins are written in the book of God's remembrance, or accounts; out of which all men shall be judged hereafter.+ And when sin is pardoned it is laid to be blotted out.++ And not to be found any more, though sought for." +++
* Matthew vi. 32. + Revelations xix. 12. ++ Isaiah xliv. 22. +++ Jeremiah l. 20.--Vid. Cruden's Concord. under BLOT.
When a debtor hath paid a debt, we are at no loss for his meaning, if he requests to be crossed, or blotted out of the creditor's book; nor would doubt arise should one to whom a debt was forgiven prefer like petition. "You will please to blot me out of your book."
Though Moses had taken no part in this sin of Israel. he knew himself a sinner; and when praying for others: it is not likely he would forget himself. The occasion would naturally suggest the value, yea the necessity of forgiveness, and dispose him to ask it of God. When others are punished, or but just escape punishment, we commonly look at home, and consider our own state; and if we see ourselves in danger, take measures to avoid it. To a sinner the only way of safety is, repairing to divine mercy, and obtaining a pardon. That Moses would be excited to this by a view of Israel, at this time, is a reasonable expectation.
That such was the purpose of Moses' prayer for himself is clearly indicated by the answer which was given to it--For the 'blotting out of God's book', is doubtless to be understood in the same sense in the prayer, and in the answer; and the latter explains the former.
'Oh! this people have sinned a great sin--Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sin; and if not'--if thou wilt not forgive their sin --'blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book, which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses', WHOSOEVER 'hath sinned against me, HIM will I blot out of my book': THEREFORE 'now go lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee'.
The passage thus presented to our view, seems scarcely to need a comment; but such sad work hath been made of this text, and such strange conclusions been drawn from it that it may be proper to subjoin a few remarks.
That God had threatened to "destroy that people and blot out their name from under heaven"--that Moses had prayed for them--and that "the Lord had repented of the evil which he thought to do unto them" we have seen above. And here Moses is ordered to resume his march, and carry up the tribes to the promised land, and the reason is assigned-- "'whosoever' hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book, 'therefore', now go lead the people to the place of which I have spoken unto thee."
When we thus view the subject can a doubt remain respecting the sense of this text? (But keeping in view the reason here assigned for the renewed order given to Moses to conduct the tribes to Canaan, namely, God's determination 'to blot of his book--whosoever had sinned against him', in this affair) let us try it in the different senses which have been put upon it.
I. We will suppose 'blotting out of God's book', to mean destroying soul and body in hell. The divine determination to shew no mercy to Israel, is then the reason assigned for the order here given to Moses. The prayer and answer stand thus--'Now if thou wilt, forgive this people'--Answer--'I will not hear thy prayer for them--no mercy shall be shewn them, but utter, eternal destruction be their portion'-- THEREFORE 'now go lead them to the promised land'!
II. Suppose 'blotting out of God's book' to mean annihilation, and his answer to the prayer stands thus--'I will destroy this people, and blot them from among my works'--THEREFORE 'go lead them to the place of which I have spoken unto thee'!
III. Suppose with Mr. Henry, and Doct. Hunter, that it is to be understood of destruction in the wilderness, and the answer stands thus--'My wrath shall wax hot against Israel and consume them--they shall all die in the wilderness', THEREFORE, 'now go lead them to Canaan'!
The whole people, save Moses and Joshua, seem to have participated in the revolt. We have no account of another exception; 'and whosoever had sinned, God would blot out of his book'. Surely had either of these been the meaning of 'blotting out of God's book', it would not have been given as the reason for Moses' resuming his march and carrying up the tribes to the land of promise. Common sense revolts at the idea.
But if we understand 'blotting out of God's book' in the sense we have put upon it, we see at once the propriety of the order given to Moses, founded on this act of grace. God's having "repented of the evil which he thought to do unto them." If this is the meaning of the words, the answer to Moses' prayer amounts to this--"I have heard and hearkened to your prayer, and pardoned the sin of this people, proceed 'therefore' in your march, and lead them to the place of which I have spoken unto thee." The 'therefore go now', doth not surprize us. We see the order rise out of the divine purpose; but on any of the other constructions of the text, thwarts and contradicts it; or cannot surely be assigned as the reason of it. SEVERAL other considerations illustrate the subject, and confirm our construction of it.
When Moses returned to intercede for Israel, he certainly asked of God to pardon their sin. 'Oh! this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold--Yet now, if than wilt forgive their sin' --That he was heard and obtained his request appears not only from the history contained in our context, but from Moses' rehearsal of it just before his death. He recounted the dealings of God with Israel, when taking his leave of them on the plains of Moab--In that valedictory discourse he reminded them of their sin on this occasion--of God's anger against them--his threatening to destroy them, and how he pleaded with God in their behalf, and the success which attended his intercessions for them--"I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure wherewith the Lord was wroth with you, to destroy you, but 'the Lord hearkened unto me at that time also'." *
* Deuteronomy ix. 19.
Sentence of death in the wilderness was afterwards denounced against those sinners, and executed upon them, but not to punish this sin; but the rebellion which was occasioned by the report made by the spies who were sent to search out the land. On that occasion Moses prayed fervently for his people, and not wholly without effect--God had threatened to "smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them," but receded from his threatening through the prevalence of that intercessor in their behalf--"the Lord said I have pardoned according to thy word;" but at the same time, denounced an irrevokable sentence of death in the wilderness against those rebels. Then Moses was not ordered to "lead the people to the place of which God had spoken," but commanded to go back into the wilderness which they had parted--"turn you, and get ye into the wilderness by the way of the red sea." +
+ Numbers xiv.
At that time, the exception from the general sentence, was not in favor of Moses and Joshua, who had been on the mount, and taken no part in Israel's sin in making the golden calf, but in favor of Caleb and Joshua, who dissented from the report made by the other spies; though no intimation is given that Caleb was not with the people, and did not sin with them in the matter of the golden calf. There is therefore no doubt respecting the sin which shut that generation out of Canaan. Nor do we apprehend more occasion for doubt relative to the prayer of Moses, 'to be blotted out of God's book'.
But though the sin of Israel on this occasion was pardoned, and Moses ordered to lead them to Canaan, some temporal chastisements were inflicted to teach the evil of sin, and serve as a warning to others to keep themselves in the fear of God; of which Moses was notified when ordered to advance with the pardoned tribes? "Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them. And the Lord plagued the people because they had made the calf which Aaron made." The manner in which this is mentioned, shows that their sin in that affair was forgiven, and only some lighter corrections ordered in consequence of it; which is common after sin is pardoned.
I. When we consider Moses pouring out his soul before God in behalf of an offending people, it should excite us, as there may be occasion, to go and do likewise.
Some pretend that prayer offered up for others, must be unavailing. God, it is alleged, is immutable, not therefore to be moved to change his measures by a creature's cries. And prayer for others can have no tendency, it is said, to operate a change in them, so as to bring them into the way of mercy, and render them fit objects of it.
We would only observe in reply, that God hath made it our duty to "pray one for another," * And scripture abounds with records of the prevalence of such intercessions. We have a striking influence in our subject--Moses prayed for Israel and was heard--"The Lord hearkened unto me at that time also." It doth not appear that Israel joined with Moses in his pleadings at the throne of grace on this occasion. Moses went up into the mount, leaving Israel on the plain below--"I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. And Moses returned unto the Lord," and pleaded in their behalf. By his individual power, he seems to have prevailed. This is only one instance out of many which might be adduced from the history of the saints--of this saint in particular. Yea, there seems to have been such power in the pleadings of this man of God, 'while praying for others', that when God would enter into judgment with them, Moses must be prevailed with to hold his peace, and not pray for them! "The Lord spake unto me saying, I have seen this people, and behold it is a stiff necked people. 'Let me alone' that I may destroy them--'and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they'." Let me alone! As though God could not destroy them without Moses' consent!-- And I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they! As though Moses must be bribed to silence, ere judgment could proceed against them!
* James v. 16.
This representation is not to be received without restriction; but we may safely infer that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much"--that it often draws down blessings from above on those who deserve no good.
This should encourage us to wrestle with God in prayer, for the effusions of his grace on those who deserve judgment without mercy, and who might receive it from the righteous sovereign, did the righteous hold their peace, and "let him alone."
II. When we witness this holy many [sic] praying 'to be blotted out of God's book which he had written', it should remind us of our state as sinners whose only hope is mercy. "Moses' was faithful in all God's house." His attainments in the divine life were scarcely equaled; yet must have perished forever had forgiving grace been denied him. He knew his state; and a view of Israel's danger called home his thoughts and led him to implore divine mercy for himself, though he should fail to obtain it for an ungrateful people. "Oh! forgive the sin of this people, but if not, forgive my sin--pardoning grace is all my dependence--hope would fail should it be denied me."
If Moses was thus conscious of guilt, who can say "I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?--O Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified-- there is not a just man upon earth, who doeth good and sinneth not." While praying for others, it ill becomes us to forget ourselves.
Are we by office appointed to ask mercy for others and bear them on our hearts before God? We must not therefore conclude that mercy is not necessary for us. Like the high priests of old, "We must offer, first for own sins, and then for the people's." There is only one intercessor to whom this is needless.
Witnessing the sin and danger of others, should stir us up to the duty, as it did this leader of Israel. While crying to God for others, we must beware wrapping up ourselves in fancied purity. To this we are tempted by a view of greater sins in others, which serve as a foil to act off our fancied goodness; and especially by the knowledge of certain great sins in others, of which we know ourselves to be clear.
Some in Moses' situation, would doubtless have adopted that language --"God I thank thee that I am not as other men are--not as this people." Very different was the effect it had on him--it reminded him of his sins, and led him to cry for mercy.
It is of vast importance that we know ourselves--if we attain this knowledge, from sense of demerit, we shall add to our prayers for others, 'but if not, blot me, I pray thee out of thy book which thou hast written'.
III. If we do not mistake the sense of the text, the strange doctrine exploded in the beginning of this discourse, finds no support in it. And surely the doctrine which reason rejects cannot be supported by revelation. Reason directs us to pursue that line of conduct which will be most for our advantage taking the whole term of our existence into the account. And revelation doth the same--"in keeping God's commandments there is great reward." If we look through the holy scriptures we shall find abundant rewards annexed to every requirement. The idea that despising the promises, and being willing to renounce the desire and hope of them, should be made a condition of receiving them, is pitiable weakness and absurdity.
Quite a different spirit is displayed in the history of the saints, whom we are directed to follow. All the worthies of old "died in faith not having received the promises, but seen them afar off."--The renowned leader of Israel "had respect to the recompense of reward" --yea, "the captain of our salvation," the divine son of Mary, "for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame." *
* Hebrews xi. 26, xii. 2.
Here the way of duty requires self denials. The good man is often called to take up his cross; but the rewards which follow are constantly held up to view, in revelation, as infinitely surpassing the losses and sufferings of the present life. "Blessed are ye when men shall revile and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake: Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven." Every one who forsaketh worldly advantages, out of regard to God, will "receive an hundred fold reward, and inherit eternal life."
This was made known to the primitive Christians. Therefore their fortitude and zeal to do and suffer in the cause of God--"Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.--I reckon the sufferings of the present time, not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Totally groundless and unjust, was that charge--"I knew thee that thou art an hard man." We serve a just, a kind, a good master. Even a cup of cold water, given, out of love to him, will in no wise go unrewarded--he asks no sacrifice of us for nought. Much less that we would sacrifice ourselves, and be castaways. "Those who honor him, he will honor."
The slaves of Satan are repaid with misery; but not so the servants of God. "He is not unrighteous to forget our labor of love." These things are revealed for our encouragement and support. Yea, God hath "given us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature--let us therefore be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as we know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord."