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Discipline in the School of God: Chapter 10 - Moses

By J.B. Stoney

      Moses being in a special sense the type of Him who is the Great Servant of all, we should be prepared to find his history marked by a discipline peculiarly fitted to set aside his nature, and to make room for the expression of that grace and service which was exemplified in perfection in the Lord Jesus Christ.

      Born (Exodus 2) at the period when Pharaoh's interdict against the male children of Israel is in force, no exception is made in favour of him ; he enters on the earth to find that a place on the earth is denied him. There was no room for the Lord of glory even in an inn; and Egypt's king enacts that His type, Moses, should die the moment he is born! By faith only his parents rescued him. " They saw he was a goodly child, and were not afraid of the king's commandment." They knew, by that deep and peculiar conviction which faith imparts, that God was to be trusted for this child. Faith in God thus bears him into life. How must he in riper years have derived strength from this godly acting of his parents, and have been indebted to them for this their first training of him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord! The commencement of our course gives a colour to the whole ; and the earliest tuition we receive in the divine school gives a mould and a tone to our characters which after years can never obliterate. Moses' existence on the earth was secured to him only through the faith of his parents. He was hid three months. Sorely must their faith have been exercised during those ninety days, but they endured ; and then in the ark of bulrushes they consign him to the waters.

      All place on earth being denied him, the older he grew the more difficult it became to screen him from the ruthless edict. When we act in faith, and have endured sufficiently, so as to establish our souls in the assurance that it is faith, then the Spirit which gives us the faith gives us also wisdom how to act. In this wisdom the parents of Moses now act. Faith does not ignore the affections ; but it loves to sustain that which, acting alone, would be too anxious and distracted ; it supports the heart in quiet, unfailing persistence in the conviction and purpose which it inculcates.

      From his perilous position in the ark of bulrushes, Moses, the weeping babe, is taken ; and that by no less a person than the daughter of him who would have been his destroyer ; but not before the impression of the coldness of this world had been made upon his tender spirit. We read, " the babe wept." Thus, in earliest age, before the mind could be intelligently impressed, is he made to taste of that sorrow and desolation to which he must be no stranger throughout his course. The mind of the babe could not recall it, but the soul, nevertheless, consciously entered on that line in which it was afterwards to be so exercised, and his tears were, no doubt, the first-fruits of a sorrow with which in after life he was so deeply conversant. But the answer to this is the Lord's tender care and consideration for him; and this we see exemplified in the most touching and interesting way. Not only is the daughter of his enemy made the instrument of his deliverance, but he is consigned to the care of his own mother, and then installed in Pharaoh's house in ease and honour. The desolation of the world and the unfailing compassions of God are the first lessons of discipline traced on his unconscious mind-lessons which are never to be erased, for God teaches early, deeply and enduringly.

      The interval which intervenes between this first notice and the next, when Moses is " full forty years," is briefly, but significantly, summed up as the time during which he was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in word and deed. He was brought up in all the attractions of Egypt in order that in relinquishing them be might have sympathy with any extent of surrender which the people of God might be called to. Others might have much to surrender, but none so much as he. If the people felt it hard to relinquish the leeks and the onions, how much more was it for Moses to turn from all the luxuries and honours of Pharaoh's court in which he had moved! Thus, in God's discipline and education, he was being prepared for the leadership with which he was to be invested by-and-by. The magnitude of his own surrender qualified him to call others to follow him in it; his own personal renunciation of all Egypt's attractions entitled him to be the leader out of Egypt ; for if he " chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin," he did so after having participated in their greatest magnificence. And, more than this, by this education he was made conversant with everything that was delectable in nature, and had experiences of what nature could yield in a way which none of the previous characters which we have been considering could have known. Not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or even Joseph, had such a training as this ; neither was it necessary for them, for none of them were intended for such a mission as Moses, and God's education and discipline with His people is always adapted to its peculiar end. Solomon tasted the vanity of everything on earth ; the Lord Jesus felt it in His own moral perfection; Moses is surrounded by it to mature age, and then refuses it.

      It is worthy of note that no leader of God's people suffers less than the people whom he is called to lead. Human leaders may rise to command and position in many ways ; but the leaders of God's people can only rise in one way, that is, through suffering. The power to endure and encounter every liability and obstruction resting on the people is first proved and maintained by the leader; and then he can lead them in assured confidence in God, by whose power he has overcome.

      And now it comes into Moses' heart to visit his brethren. A right purpose moves him in a right direction; but we are not always morally prepared for the expression of our purposes, even though they be right ones. There must be strength and maturity before there can be fruit-bearing. And hence, though the desire be a true one, there will be delay and discipline until one is morally equal to the task, according to God, which the purpose indicates.

      When Peter first proposed to follow (John 13) the Lord, He warned him that he could not do so then ; but, on the contrary, that he would deny him. But when Peter was fully restored, and had his soul strengthened in the love of Christ, the Lord lets him know (John 21 : 18, 19) that he is to follow Him, and that the desire which he once so fearlessly and ignorantly avowed he should yet distinctly substantiate. Thus it is with Moses here. He had got the right idea and desire, but he had not learned from God the right way of sustaining and establishing it. He knows not the trials which beset his path, and consequently he has no provision to meet them when they occur. His attempt only proves how insufficient are his resources for the work he had entered on, and he has at last to abandon it, and to relinquish that on which his heart was set, the inevitable consequence of attempting to carry out a right purpose with our own resources.

      Moses fails, as it might be expected, and, not only so, but his own life is in jeopardy, and for very personal safety he must fly. We read, " Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and sat down by a well." What an accumulation of distressing feelings must this zealous servant of God have endured! What anguish to a faithful heart to be thus baffled in its sincere attempts to serve his brethren! Must not all his sacrifices, and his surrender of the glories of Egypt, have appeared to him now as useless to others, and unprofitable to himself, as he sat there, a wanderer and an exile, like a blighted, fruitless tree in the desert. But if such were Moses' thoughts, they were not God's. The mission was not forfeited, but only postponed. He was not yet " meet for the Master's use." Nature was not sufficiently set aside. On the other hand, God's time to deliver His people had not come, neither were the people themselves prepared for the deliverance. But our subject is Moses himself, and he, as God's instrument and servant for the work, needs forty years more preparation ere he can be thus used. And already, sitting by the well in the land of Midian, is he under that discipline which will form him for the great service designed for him in the counsel of God.

      Forty years of exiledom are appointed for him; but whether those forty years should be one uninterrupted season of sorrow and gloom, or whether they should be mitigated by sources of solace and cheer, depends on the manner in which the disciplined one receives the discipline. Will he bow himself and accept the will of the Lord? Will he prove himself here in principle and heart a deliverer of the distressed, as well as of his own people? If he will, he accepts God's discipline, and therefore his lot may be less trying and oppressive. The moment there is subjection to discipline it becomes effective and may be relaxed. It may not, perhaps, be removed, but the scene may be brightened. And thus was it with Moses. He acts the part of a deliverer to the women at the well, who were driven away by the shepherds. Although it has been denied him to declare himself such as in a large circle, he does not refuse it in a very insignificant one ; he does not brood in listless sorrow over his own reverses, like the fool, eating his own flesh ; but he submits to his circumstances and rises above his own feelings in his interest to serve others. Until I am superior to trial, I must be under the power of it, and, while under it, I cannot be free to serve with that whole-heartedness and cheerfulness of spirit which is always the mainspring of service. Nothing more proves our having a divine mission than the ease and readiness to render it in the most retired as much as in the most attractive and congenial sphere. And when we fully surrender ourselves to the position the Lord has ordered for us, serving Him therein, He makes the desert land (the place of discipline) to brighten up, and provides rest and solace in that on which we entered in sorrow and desolation of heart.

      At first Moses' service to these Midianitish women meets no requital, even as Joseph's to the chief butler; but it must not remain so. Reuel, their father, sends for him, in virtue of his service to his daughters, provides a home for him, and gives him his daughter Zipporah to wife; and we read, " She bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom : for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land." This name reveals to us the secret sorrow of Moses. Though provided with a home, he still felt himself a stranger in a strange land ; therefore his son, who linked him to the scene, must bear a name which will remind him of his exiled condition, a remembrance which no present mercies could exclude. They could not obliterate his deep and earnest purpose to deliver his people. Nor SHOULD they; for, as we have said before, the purpose was right, yea, divine; but he was denied its expression until more for it. Paul adequately express what he receives and exults in for more than fourteen years afterwards, and not till he is in prison at Rome is he fully prepared and fitted for doing so.

      For forty years, then, does Moses fulfil his daily toil, perfecting subjection to the will of God. Useful and exemplary in the common duties of life, the qualifications which he demonstrated as a servant were a sure indication of his possessing those of a leader, for none can rule well who have not learned to serve.

      His occupation-seeking a pasturage for the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, was evidently a toilsome one. In the natural routine of it (chap. 3) he leads the flock to the back-side of the desert, and comes to the mountain of God, even to Horeb, little thinking, no doubt, that the days of his exile were about to close. The moment had come when God could use him, and that according to the desire which had induced him, so many years previously, to attempt the deliverance of his brethren from the yoke of Egypt. And now we have to consider the closing scene of that long period of preparation which the Lord in His wisdom saw fit to order for His servant, and one which He is about to insure by the revelation of Himself. " The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush : and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." Moses' attention is arrested. Though occupied with his natural duties, they did not incapacitate him from recognising the manifestations of the Lord. Nor need they ever. On the contrary, if rightly entered on, they guarantee assiduity in higher duties. The shepherds watching their flocks by night are the witnesses chosen of God for recording the greatest manifestation ever made to earth. It is one of the greatest proofs of subjection to God to fulfil our daily toil patiently and perfectly, and yet to have the eye ever ready to observe the ways of God, which I apprehend is the force of that exhortation connected with prayer-" Watching thereunto with all perseverance," etc. And this is the effect of a single eye , one that has the Lord's glory simply and wholly as its object.

      " And Moses said, I will turn aside to see this great sight, and when the Lord saw that he turned " (when it was evident that he desired to know the meaning of the divine ways), " God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I." The revelation of the Lord here is in grace ; in a flame of fire, but not consuming; the glory of God coming near to man, and man finding nothing but mercy and lovingkindness flowing from it. And yet it was holy ground, and only unshod -worshippers could draw near to it. It was, moreover, an expression of God drawing near to man, and not of man drawing near to God.

      Thus the Lord presents Himself in a flame of fire in a bush and reveals His tender feelings and interest for Israel. How grateful must such communications have been to Moses! After the long and dreary interval in which it seemed God had forgotten His people, he is told of the infinite love and interest with which He had regarded them all through and of His gracious purpose of delivering them. And now Moses is conscious of his inability for such a service. He sees that it is not his own feelings that he is to act on or to gratify, but Jehovah's, the One who, though before him in a flame of fire, will not consume him ; and the vastness of whose eternal love and mercy must have contrasted strongly with the impulsive and erring impetuosity with which he had demonstrated his own forty years before. He is now deeply sensible of his own incompetency, and says, " Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? " God will reassure, instruct and prepare him: and we read in chapter 4 how this is done. He first communicates His intention and purpose to His servant. This must reassure him; not only in the proof of confidence which it evinces, but the servant entering into the mind of God is more ready and prepared to undertake the service when the whole process and issue of it are detailed to him. But more than this (for the teaching of God is perfect), Moses is made to feel in himself the power of God. The link must be established between his own soul and God before he can fully enter into that between the people and God ; and this soul-assuring lesson he is taught in three different ways. First, he is made to feel his possession of power, superior to that before which his nature would succumb. His rod being turned into a serpent (the symbolical form of Satan), Moses fled from it, but the Lord causes him to grasp it, and it becomes the rod of power in his hand. Secondly, he learns that if his hand is leprous God can present it sound again ; and thirdly, he is taught that the water of the river (the great source of blessing) if poured on the dry land by him should become blood, showing that God would judge the land. In all these three points he is instructed, in order that he might be qualified for the mission entrusted to him, and also feel himself equal for it.

      Moses still demurs. Though strengthened in soul he is deficient in utterance; but God is gracious and considerate in preparing His servant for the work in small things as well as in great; the sense of infirmity continues, as with Paul, but He counteracts it. Aaron is provided as a mouthpiece, and all being arranged, " he took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and returned to the land of Egypt with the rod of God in his hand.- How different from the manner in which he had left it, and how indicative is the contrast of what those forty years of discipline must have wrought in and for him! Instead of an ignominious flight, fearing for his own life, the result of previous self-confidence and acting for his brethren, but independently of God, he now comes small and weak in his own eyes, but invested with the power of God, in the calm easy dignity of one who feels that his only strength is in dependence on Jehovah, whose service he is about to enter.

      But ere this can be done fully there is one more question (chap. 4: 24) which must be settled between the Lord and Moses. And this gives us a remarkable instance of the exaction of God's holiness in His discipline. Either from compromising to the Midianites, or despairing of ever again associating with his own nation, Moses had neglected to circumcise his son; and now, without repairing his error, which was a great one, he proceeds to enter on the Lord's service as if it were a matter of indifference. But no ; he must learn that nothing can be overlooked in one called to serve. His responsibility must be equal to his calling. The Lord seeks to kill him; so inflexible is His holiness and so strict is He in demanding obedience to His laws, and especially from one who fills the post of servant. His wife repairs the inconsistency, but she does so reproachfully, and returns into her own country, while Moses pursues his way in company with Aaron.

      What a finishing lesson was this on the very eve of his long-wished-for service! What an impression it must have made on his soul as the long-desired morning, with all its interests, was breaking in upon him! No eminence in service, no amount of knowledge in the deepest things of God, will excuse his overlooking any of God's commandments. Nay, he must feel that as to him much was given much would be required. Implicit obedience to the word must mark the life and ways of the most eminent and best instructed of servants. And with this, Moses' last lesson in this stage of his history--one, moreover, which he had been severely taught-he passes on to the field of his labours. Emerging from the solitudes of Midian he is to stand as God's witness before Pharaoh. Being prepared and made ready in a private school, as it were, he is now to demonstrate in a large and useful sphere the result of his tuition.

      We have now to look at the varied exercises which Moses passes through in fulfilling his service. We have glanced at those which qualified him for service ; but the servant of God needs a continuance of discipline to keep him ever and anon in dependence on God. With Moses this new order of discipline commences very early, indeed we may say immediately, on his entrance into the path of service.

      Accompanied by Aaron (chap. 5), he presents himself to Pharaoh, and announces God's summons to let His people go ; but not only does Pharaoh refuse to comply, but he increases the burdens of the people in consequence of the demand. Here, then, was a disheartening commencement to a servant in his noviciate, after making a just appeal, and conscious that his message was from God. All it seems to effect is an open disavowal of God's rights, and an augmentation of the people's sorrows. Nor was this all. The people themselves do not hesitate to reproach him as the cause of their increased troubles ; the more sad and severe to him, doubtless, were these upbraidings because they came from the very people whom he desired to serve. What can he do in such a strait? He returns to the Lord and in bitterness of spirit refers the difficulty and discouragement to Him, the consequence of which is, that another page of instruction is opened to him. This was a moment for that peculiar discipline in a servant's life, which, when effective, enables him to pursue his service independent of results. The general tendency is to judge service to be efficient if the results are satisfactory, and vice versa: but the real servant must keep his eye only on his Master's word, and leave the result to Him. Even as the Lord, who, when He felt that His word and works were in vain, so that He reproached the cities where most of His mighty works were done, turns to the Father and says, " Father, I thank thee, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes."

      Moses must learn this selfsame spirit or his service will not be supported by faith, but by successful results. A man without faith is double-minded, and a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

      The Lord's instructions to him on this point are detailed in Exodus 6. He is there brought into an enlarged knowledge of God as a preliminary to all further instructions. The more we know of God, the easier it is to depend on Him. " Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace," and the deeper our acquaintance with Him, the greater is our calm and steady dependence on Him.

      God, as Jehovah, the covenant-God, here reveals Himself to Moses, a revelation not made to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, for none of them were called into the same line of service, or conflict with adverse powers. With them God had established His covenant to give Israel the land of Canaan, etc., and this covenant He now brings forward in addition to a fresh revelation of Himself, in order to confirm the soul of Moses, and enable him to bear up against casual reverses, assured that the result would be satisfactory, because it rested on God's word and covenant.

      In a measure reassured, Moses presents himself to the children of Israel, but they hearken not to him for anguish of spirit and cruel bondage ; and, still unequal to the service, he replies, when the Lord tells him to go again unto Pharaoh, " Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me, and how shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips? " He had suffered so much from his attempts to deliver in the energy of nature forty years before, that he is now more prone to despond, and the further he enters upon service, the more does he find out its difficulties and his own lack of qualifications for it. But the Lord will make His servant perfect and happy in His work; and accordingly He now gives Moses and Aaron a " CHARGE unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt." The CHARGE is the preliminary to service. No certainty of character and purpose will do without it. " That which is committed unto thee " (as Paul wrote to Timothy), is that which gives distinctiveness and point to our service. A man who knows not what his line of service is can never expect to fulfil it or adequately to pursue it ; but when he knows that he has received from the Lord a charge or line of work there is the sense of trust and the responsibility of trust. This charge is now given to Moses * 13), but still he feels his own insufficiency; and, mark! according as he is made to feel it, is he supplied from God with that which will counteract it.

      First, he is made to rely on Jehovah, the covenant-God, who had bound Himself to bring this people unto the land of Canaan.

      Secondly, a distinct charge is given to him, and if he believes that he is acting for Jehovah, he has now the prescribed result and effect of his mission, his appointed work marked out for him; and,

      Thirdly (chap. 7), to silence every hesitation and sense of unfitness, he is invested with power. The Lord says to him, " See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh," and still more, he is commanded to repeat unto Pharaoh the miracle which had before reassured his own soul at the burning bush-that of transforming his rod into a serpent. There, however (that is, at the burning bush), he was made to take the serpent in his hand in order that his own individual faith might be established ; here the object is more to exhibit Moses before Pharaoh as invested with the power of God, so that this part of the miracle is not repeated.

      This gracious instruction of the Lord perfects the discipline necessary for Moses' soul, in order to enter on his service so fully and fixedly that nothing can divert him from it, or make him doubt as to the result according to God : and after this he fulfils it with faithful and unflinching labour, strong in the power of God before Pharaoh, and without reproach from his brethren, until he reaches the grand result of this first stage of his service, namely, the deliverance of the people out of Egypt. From the time that his soul was thus really established in service until the night of the passover, when he with the people marched out of the land of captivity, was an interval highly honourable to Moses. But we do not dwell on it, as he was then acting interruptedly as God's instrument, the effect of the previous discipline which we have noticed, but no fresh phases of individual exercise are brought out.

      Behold, then, the Israelites having left Egypt with a high hand encamped between Migdol and the sea! And what a testing there awaited them. What a crisis to Moses at the moment of the successful issue of his toil and anxiety! Success was all but attained when apparently insurmountable obstacles present themselves ; Pharaoh with his host on one side, the sea with its raging waters on the other, and once more he is challenged by the unbelieving multitude for having brought them there to die, because there were no graves in Egypt. But how calm and strong in faith is Moses at this critical moment! How different from the timorous notices we have had of him before! " Fear not," says he, " stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord." That is what he himself had learnt during his forty years of discipline. Nature was to stand still and faith to wait for God's salvation. He first calms the people, and then cries unto God himself. The scene describes one of the most important exercises in which a faithful guide to God's people is schooled-namely, to maintain unswerving confidence in God's succour in moments of embarrassment, and at the same time to receive from God the power and mode by which this succour can be successfully directed. He does both : he calms the people and honours the Lord by expressing the fullest confidence in Him, and then, looking to Him to realise his faith, he is directed by Him as to how the succour is to be afforded. How fully and blessedly is this direction given! " Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward : but lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thy hand over the sea," etc. What a strength and elevation this event must have afforded Moses; and how must such an extremity have taught him afresh the wisdom and magnitude of God's resources ; and what a result! We read, " the people believed the Lord and his servant Moses."

      In chapter- 15:23-26 we see him passing through another exercise, and of a different order. Scarcely had the last note of triumph died away when the people murmur against Moses, saying, " What shall we drink? " The servant of God must be prepared for every shade of trial and disappointment. No matter what the amount of his services, he must expect no appreciation of them from the congregation, or at best be prepared to do without it and look to the Lord alone. Moses must have felt this deeply after the song of praise that had just passed their lips ; but by such means and discipline the faithful servant is led into fellowship in spirit, and in power, too, with God's best and greatest Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. He cries unto the Lord , and again is he instructed in the amplitude and perfection of God's resources for every variety of man's need. What a distinguished place to be the medium through which all these mercies flow! The exercise and pressure may be very great for a moment. It may be Marah ; sowing indeed with tears, but it is only to " reap in joy." If the servant finds that there is not a moment in which he may rest from service on account of the people of God, he is, on the other hand, made acquainted in the deepest and truest way with the resources of God, and is also made the channel of those resources himself. Thus it was with Moses here ; he is told to cast the tree into the waters, and they are made sweet.

      In chapter 16 we are presented with another order of work which this well-tried servant learns and records. The trials of the people become a school to him for learning and attaining that service which was to meet their need, and while so doing his own soul was necessarily enlarged in the grace of which he was the minister. It is interesting and important for us to see that for each need and trial Moses is taught a distinct and suited lesson, so that his soul is growing in God while his service is affording the needed relief to the people.

      In this chapter they felt the dearth of the wilderness so intensely (and this we must bear in mind was on the second month after leaving Egypt) that they murmured against Moses and against Aaron and said, " Would to God that we had died in the land of Egypt, where we did eat bread to the full." Moses was the one who under God had led them into these circumstances ; and must he not have felt how critical the position? Yes, truly : for human help, there was none. But so much the more must his soul have depended upon God, who thus exercised him in order to cast him on Himself. Again the Lord communicates to him instruction suited for the occasion. " Behold, I will rain down bread from heaven for you," etc. This is the revelation to Moses. But the way in which he evangelises it (if I may so say) is also recorded, and worthy of notice in connection with our subject, as showing the nearness to God and consequent searching and humbling of heart which revelations of God's mercy effect. He desires the people to " come near " before the Lord who had heard their murmurings. He had known in himself the effect of " coming near " ; and as a wise leader he would conduct his brethren into the same, though it be by a different path. The glory of the Lord and the resources of the Lord had already instructed him; and now he seeks that the people may receive the same blessed instruction, though it be drawn forth by their discontent and murmurings. "And they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud," etc. And then they hear His gracious provision for their need.

      Let us note that a servant's discipline must always be in advance of the service required of him. He cannot lead beyond the point to which he himself has been led. But when the depth and reality of the truth has been established in his own soul he is made the channel of it.

      At Rephidim (chap. 17) he again suffers from the congregation, who are ready to stone him ; but the Lord, ever a very present help to him in time of trouble, invests him with peculiar power to effect relief for the rebellious people. Since he has been personally assailed he must be personally honoured-and by those, too, who had reproached and threatened him. The elders of Israel are called to see the water gush forth from the rock as Moses strikes it. Thus the Lord approves His servant before the heads of the people : and the servant's own soul is confirmed and enlarged in apprehension and appreciation of the power which God had given him for service. At Rephidim, too, was it that the children of Israel first encountered mortal strife with any of the human family. Amalek comes against them. Moses is now placed in new and untried difficulties, and he determines that Joshua must encounter man, but he, in spirit, must be engaged with God. He will betake himself to the top of the hill with the rod of God in his hand.

      What a season of blessing to him, thus separated unto God-storing his heart and filling his soul with the assurances and evidences of God's might and mercy for His people. But at this very moment the sense of his own feebleness is made more convincing than ever. If he held up his hand (an expression of dependence on God) victory was secured to Israel ; but if he let it fall Amalek prevailed. A place of eminent service this without doubt. But how humbling to Moses to know and to feel that he was too weak in nature to accomplish what the spirit of his mind so desired 1 His hands were heavy and would have dropped but for the help and intervention of others. In the primary sense, we learn by this, as has been often before remarked, that the priesthood is necessary to sustain any service, however devoted ; but in a secondary sense, and regarding the scene in its individual relation to Moses, we are taught that when contending with man, the greater the eminence of the place assigned us by God, the more must our own insufficiency in nature be made apparent. No wonder Moses should have built an altar there, and called it " Jehovah-nissi." The conflict was with man-an unnatural contest. "Woe unto the world because of offences! and woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh! " But when it does come, there is no banner to shield against it but Jehovah. And at that stage of the soul's experience Jehovah-nissi is its altar, or in other words, the character of its worship.

      The next incident recorded in Moses' history (chap. 18) brings him before us in a lower point of view. He is influenced and in a measure perverted by man. He had reached great eminence in service; he had just erected an altar in record of what God had been to him in his conflict with hostile man : but now he has to encounter the voice of nature in the well-intentioned but pernicious advice of his father-in-law, and yielding to it he morally sinks. In converse with Jethro, he seems to forget the lesson just taught him by the conflict with Amalek, and surrenders the service to which he was called, or part of it, without any counsel or even sanction from God. The assistance which he sought here from the heads of the people was of a very different order to that which he rightly accepted from Aaron or Hur in the conflict with Amalek. The latter was a help to himself personally, whereas the former was a transference of the duties imposed by the Lord on himself to others. Jethro had heard of all that the Lord had done for Moses and for Israel, and he comes to re-engage Moses with his wife and children, whom it appears he had sent back. Jethro, I think, here morally represents the association amongst men which a servant of God may be enticed into by relationship ; and which, while owning in common with him the work of the Lord, assumes an undue importance, for it was an assumption for an uncircumcised Gentile to arrogate to himself leadership of the people of God by inducing Moses and Aaron and the elders of Israel to join in fellowship with him. When the soul gets into a clouded position before God it is comparatively easy to divert it from its responsibilities on the plea of inability. Moses here is induced to consider himself unequal to what God did not consider him unequal for. And though the arrangement is permitted, it must have been with loss to him. He is now at the mount of God, experiencing the fulfilment of God's promises to him at the burning bush, after having traversed a strange and wondrous path. But even here, at the very end of it, after all the Lord's dealings and communications to him, he appears before us as susceptible of the influence of nature even as other men proving how little in any position is man to be accounted of.

      Now, however, at the mount of God, Moses is to enter on a new office, and fulfil a different mission; chap. 19. Up to this he had been a deliverer and a ruler; now he is to be a lawgiver and a prophet-one who, as revealing the mind of God to the people, is thus, in a sense, a mediator between God and them. Moses, as a highly favored servant, must be instructed in this blessed line. God had met His people in their need, and delivered them, but as yet, like many a delivered one, they do not apprehend the nature of God. The pressure of impending ruin had been removed, but they have yet to learn God, and how utterly ruined they are in His sight; and Moses, instructed of God, is now to instruct them in this.

      He is therefore, called up into the mount, and brought into a nearness to the Lord, and receives a revelation of Him, different from what he had previously received in the burning bush. There it was all grace, though " holy ground " the aspect of the Lord was one of grace and compassion; here, it is God's terrible majesty, the claim of a holy God on man, and the greatness of His distance from man. Both these lessons were necessary for Moses in order to fit him for the place assigned him, towards the people of God; and it is always the manner of God's discipline to make His servants practically pass through, and learn in a fuller and more vivid way, that particular line of truth of which He designs them to be the channel. Stephen saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, before he made his announcement that heaven was open, and that he saw the Son of man standing at the right hand of God ; that is, he saw a greater and fuller truth than he communicated ; but the greater only qualified him the more for communicating the lesser, which last was the suited measure for his audience. So Moses, now in the mount, divinely instructed in the nature and mind of God, is thus qualified for revealing Him to the people. He sees Him in His righteousness making a demand on man on earth, and still in the flesh.

      Having pronounced the law, and in type and figure sprinkled the blood of purgation, he is called (Exod. 24) to receive not only the law, engraven on stones, but also a much fuller revelation of God's interest for His people ; the provision of grace based on the Lord's foreknowledge of their inability to keep the law. In these interesting scenes, it is not the subject of them which must engage us here, but the blessed way in which Moses is prepared and qualified for the fulfilment of the task entrusted to him. He is called up into the mount, on which the glory of God rested. Six days the cloud covered the mount, and on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the midst of that glory, which was like a devouring fire in the eyes of the children of Israel : and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights. A fit preparation, truly, for one who is to be commissioned to set forth on earth a pattern of the things which he saw. Thoroughly detached from earth, and enwrapped in the cloud which surrounded the glory of God, his soul was impressed with the wondrous subject and detail of His commission. Then it was that the Lord said unto him, " Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them, according to all that I shew thee." Thus we have an insight into God's manner of educating His servant for His own purposes ; and let us here especially note two things: first, that Moses is near God while learning the truth, and knows in himself the effect of being near Him : and, secondly, he learns the truth consciously from God; he is not only near Him while learning it, but he knows that he has learnt it from Himself.

      But before Moses has entered on this new mission, the people of Israel have fallen into idolatry and made a calf, and he is summoned from his exalted position in the mount to witness the departure of the people from the covenant just made . and here he gives expression to sentiments which testify to us how deeply he had learnt to care for the glory of God. In this point of view (Exod. 32 : 11-13) it is an utterance hardly equalled in the whole of Scripture ; but the previous forty days and forty nights enabled him thus to appreciate it, and every step he takes in this trying moment declares how fully he had entered into the mind of God. He breaks the tables of the covenant, for they had already been broken on man's side, and this is no time to publish them. Then he took the idol which they had made and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it on the water, and made the people drink of it. Their sin must not only be put away, but they must taste in themselves the reality of it. Then he insists on separation from evil, and requires every one who is on the Lord's side to slay the recreants. In a day of universal failure, the witnesses of repentance and returning allegiance cannot too strongly enunciate their severance from their former associations, annihilating every trace of them, even unto death, and Moses, the well-prepared servant, leads the way in this.

      Thus having, so to speak, prepared them for God, as repentant and separate, he returns to God to intercede for them. The Lord refuses to go up with them, and desires them to strip themselves of their ornaments, that He may know what to do with them ; chap. 33. In this moment of great suspense, while the people are waiting under the hand of God, Moses, instructed in the holiness of the mind of God, knows what to do with the people, and how to restore relations. He pitches the tabernacle afar off from the guilty camp, in order that every one who, humbled under a sense of sin, desired the Lord might seek Him there, apart from the defilement. This act met the mind of the Lord and restored His presence to Israel ; the cloudy pillar descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord speaks to Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend ; and not only promises that His presence shall go with him, but also accedes to his request that He will resume His place in the midst of Israel. How blessedly Moses is enlarged in the mind of God! Difficulties the most serious are only unfolding to him the more the resources of God ; but he only reaches these resources by first responding to the holiness of God. At this juncture he learns both God and man; the latter as unreliable and failing in every circumstance, and the Lord as the resource of his heart and his portion for ever. And hence, when God had acceded to all his desires, he breaks forth in the earnest entreaty, " I beseech thee, shew me thy glory." " I have seen enough of humanity to recoil from it. I have seen enough of the blessed God to desire to see Him in His fulness." This desire was answered (chap. 34); but still more fully and distinctly was it realised (Luke 9: 30, 31) when, on the mount of Transfiguration, he, with Elijah, talked with the Lord of His decease which He was to accomplish for, and on account of, this very stiff-necked Israel, as well as all the redeemed.

      We have now followed Moses in his ascent to the highest point which was ever accorded to man. To the apostle Paul, a man in Christ, greater, fuller and more peculiar glories were revealed, but " there arose not a prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face." Paul (though unconscious of being in the body) must needs have a thorn in the flesh, lest he should be puffed up. We need not, therefore, be surprised to find Moses ere long demonstrating that he is not able, by reason of his infirmity, to maintain the great position assigned him.

      He who had seen so much of God's power forgets and ignores it when pressed by the evil and unbelief of the people (Num. I I) and exclaims, " I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me." Man cannot sustain the high position God calls him to without notices now and then of his own weakness. If we have not the sentence of death in ourselves, we shall trust in ourselves. Had Moses who had been in the glory known this, he would not have looked to himself, either in strength or in weakness, but to " God who raiseth the dead." He is now humbled before the seventy elders of Israel, before whom he had previously been exalted. The spirit which was upon him is upon them. We have seen that at the suggestion of his father-in-law he had before allowed this leaven to enter, in a milder form, but now, as is ever the case when yielded to, it has worked to a fuller development. This is a time of humbling for Moses, but no less interesting to us than the time of his exaltation, as illustrating the nature of the divine school in which he is. His submission and acknowledgment of the hand of the Lord is very instructive, and his interest in the work is not abated by being in a measure supplanted. He rebukes Joshua for envying for his sake. But though the Lord had thus dealt with the unbelief of His servant, He will not allow man to undervalue or slight him ; chap. 12. The cause of reproach appeared just, for he had married an Ethiopian woman, and it appears that Aaron and Miriam were encouraged by the late humbling which Moses had undergone; but the Lord in a most signal and terrific manner avenges him, and makes him the intercessor for their guilt. The Lord may rebuke Himself, but man must not; and the way in which Moses bore these taunts evinces how deeply taught he was in God's interest for himself, and also how humbled in spirit. We have seen his righteous anger burst forth when the glory of God was at stake ; but when personally assailed he is silent.

      Another instance of this we find in the case of Korah; Num. 16. Instead of vindicating himself and his office, Moses refers the decision to the Lord, who pronounces on it, by terrible judgment on the offenders ; and then, instructed in the mind of God he knows what will stay the plague among the people ; and he makes use of the priesthood here, as before in the case of the golden calf, and the unbelief of Kadesh-barnea, when he himself had mediated on their behalf before God.

      We now come (chap. 20) to the last scene which we shall notice in the history of Moses, and that is, his forfeiture of his right to enter Canaan, because he failed to sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people. This occurred in the thirty-ninth year of their wanderings, just as he was about to see the happy termination of all his labours, and the fulfilment of God's promises. He seems to have failed in those very points in which he has appeared most eminent. He speaks " unadvisedly with his lips," and fails to sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people (that Lord whose glory was so dear to his heart), and thus disqualifies himself from planting the people in the land of their inheritance, when on its very borders. When the congregation murmured for water, God tells him, " Take the rod, and gather the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, and it shall give forth his water." But instead of this, Moses, carried away by his irritation, first upbraids the people, and says, " Must we fetch you water out of this rock? " and then lifts up his hand and smites the rock twice. The Lord was now acting through the priesthood in grace towards the people. The rock was not to be smitten again. Moses is not at this moment in fellowship with the mind and ways of the Lord -he has failed in his mission and he must forfeit his leadership. Such is the manner of God's discipline! No amount of faithful service will mitigate or divert the penalty of assumption in that service. Paul, contrary to the warning of the Spirit, would go to Jerusalem, and a prison was his penalty for many a day afterwards.

      God may, and will no doubt, use His servants in the place which their own failure has entailed on them (Paul was thus used in prison, in a new and special service): as his epistles were to him, Deuteronomy was to Moses: but He must subdue the nature which had led them to act independently of Him. Moses began his course by attempting a right work in his own strength, and endured many a day of exile on account of it, and now he lays himself down on Pisgah (Deut. 34), after beholding the glorious land, from which he is excluded, because in acting for the Lord's people, he acted independently of the Lord, whose servant he was.

      His first failure bears a close analogy to his last. But though thus chastened as to his service and mission, he loses nothing of his personal nearness to the Lord, and indeed gains in this way, for the Lord Himself shows him the land. So was it with Paul. While suffering the penalty of his failure in prison, he found more than ever that Christ was everything to him, and more than service ; and no doubt Moses on Pisgah must have felt that God was greater to him than even the promised land, or than leadership thereto. At any rate, his submission to the Lord's will is very beautiful (Num. 27: 12-23), and his ungrudging transference of his own dignity and office to Joshua bespeaks how truly self-crucified he is. While his eye feeds on the inheritance, he is suffering crucifixion in the flesh. He lays himself down in death, but the Lord takes care of his body; Satan contends for it in vain; Jude 9. Soon it will be raised a glorious body like His own glorious body, according to the power which He has to subdue all things to Himself.

      To recapitulate, I would call attention to the four great periods of discipline in Moses' history. The first: forty years' exile in the desert of Midian, because he had attempted to carry out in his own strength and in his own way the purpose of grace in his soul. Surely there is no more constant failure in many a young and earnest servant of Christ ; he is manifestly so unsuccessful and disheartened that he is driven into seclusion and solitude with God and with his own heart, until he has learned not to trust in himself, and this period ends when his soul is assured by signs and revelations of the power of God.

      The second is a still darker and more terrible moment, when the Lord met him and sought to kill him because he had not circumcised his son. Here it is not that he is a wanderer in the desert learning how powerless he is as a man, and learning that all power is in God, but the Lord is against him, because of his thoughtlessness in connecting as the Lord's servant what is uncircumcised with the Lord; and here the Lord seeks to kill him-to take away the life which Moses had not condemned in his son by circumcision. The old man must be crucified, and hence we are circumcised, in putting off the body of sin, by the circumcision of Christ.

      The third time of discipline is when he is introduced into the glory of God for forty days and forty nights. It is not now God seeking to kill him, as a man on earth; but in the glory, placing him above and outside of everything human, and hence so instructing him in all His ways and desires that he can construct a likeness on earth to the true thing-heaven itself; Exod. 25 ; Heb. 8 : 5.

      The fourth period is when on Mount Pisgah he must really enter into death, because of the unadvised expression of his lips in the most sacred service for God. Death there must be ; but at the same time his eye fully and distinctly surveys the inheritance which God has secured for His people. Amen.

Back to J.B. Stoney index.

See Also:
   Chapter 1 - Adam
   Chapter 2 - Abel
   Chapter 3 - Enoch
   Chapter 4 - Noah
   Chapter 5 - Abraham
   Chapter 6 - Isaac
   Chapter 7 - Jacob
   Chapter 8 - Joseph
   Chapter 9 - Job
   Chapter 10 - Moses
   Chapter 11 - Joshua
   Chapter 12 - Gideon
   Chapter 13 - Samson
   Chapter 14 - Ruth
   Chapter 15 - Samuel
   Chapter 16 - David
   Chapter 17 - Elijah
   Chapter 18 - Elisha
   Chapter 19 - Hezekiah
   Chapter 20 - Isaiah
   Chapter 21 - Jeremiah
   Chapter 22 - Ezekiel
   Chapter 23 - Paul
   Chapter 24 - The Second Part


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