Exodus Chapter Fourteen
God directs the Israelites to Pihahiroth, Pharaoh pursues after them. (1-9) The Israelites murmur, Moses comforts them. (10-14) God instructs Moses, The cloud between the Israelites and the Egyptians. (15-20) The Israelites pass through the Red sea, which drowns the Egyptians. (21-31)
Commentary on Exodus 14:1-9
(Read Exodus 14:1-9)
Pharaoh would think that all Israel was entangled in the wilderness, and so would become an easy prey. But God says, I will be honoured upon Pharaoh. All men being made for the honour of their Maker, those whom he is not honoured by, he will be honoured upon. What seems to tend to the church's ruin, is often overruled to the ruin of the church's enemies. While Pharaoh gratified his malice and revenge, he furthered the bringing to pass God's counsels concerning him. Though with the greatest reason he had let Israel go, yet now he was angry with himself for it. God makes the envy and rage of men against his people, a torment to themselves. Those who set their faces heavenward, and will live godly in Christ Jesus, must expect to be set upon by Satan's temptations and terrors. He will not tamely part with any out of his service.
Commentary on Exodus 14:10-14
(Read Exodus 14:10-14)
There was no way open to Israel but upward, and thence their deliverance came. We may be in the way of duty, following God, and hastening toward heaven, yet may be troubled on every side. Some cried out unto the Lord; their fear led them to pray, and that was well. God brings us into straits, that he may bring us to our knees. Others cried out against Moses; fear set them murmuring as if God were not still able to work miracles. They quarrel with Moses for bringing them out of Egypt; and so were angry with God for the greatest kindness ever done them; thus gross are the absurdities of unbelief. Moses says, Fear ye not. It is always our duty and interest, when we cannot get out of troubles, yet to get above our fears; let them quicken our prayers and endeavours, but not silence our faith and hope. "Stand still," think not to save yourselves either by fighting or flying; wait God's orders, and observe them. Compose yourselves, by confidence in God, into peaceful thoughts of the great salvation God is about to work for you. If God brings his people into straits, he will find a way to bring them out.
Commentary on Exodus 14:15-20
(Read Exodus 14:15-20)
Moses' silent prayers of faith prevailed more with God than Israel's loud outcries of fear. The pillar of cloud and fire came behind them, where they needed a guard, and it was a wall between them and their enemies. The word and providence of God have a black and dark side toward sin and sinners, but a bright and pleasant side toward the people of the Lord. He, who divided between light and darkness, Genesis 1:4, allotted darkness to the Egyptians, and light to the Israelites. Such a difference there will be between the inheritance of the saints in light, and that utter darkness which will be the portion of hypocrites for ever.
Commentary on Exodus 14:21-31
(Read Exodus 14:21-31)
The dividing the Red sea was the terror of the Canaanites, Joshua 2:9; the praise and triumph of the Israelites, Psalm 114:3; 106:9; 136:13. It was a type of baptism, 1 Corinthians 10:1,2. Israel's passage through it was typical of the conversion of souls, Isaiah 11:15; and the Egyptians being drowned in it was typical of the final ruin of all unrepenting sinners. God showed his almighty power, by opening a passage through the waters, some miles over. God can bring his people through the greatest difficulties, and force a way where he does not find it. It was an instance of his wonderful favour to his Israel. They went through the sea, they walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea. This was done, in order to encourage God's people in all ages to trust him in the greatest straits. What cannot he do who did this? What will not he do for those that fear and love him, who did this for these murmuring, unbelieving Israelites? Then followed the just and righteous wrath of God upon his and his people's enemies. The ruin of sinners is brought on by their own rage and presumption. They might have let Israel alone, and would not; now they would flee from the face of Israel, and cannot. Men will not be convinced, till it is too late, that those who meddle with God's people, meddle to their own hurt. Moses was ordered to stretch out his hand over the sea; the waters returned, and overwhelmed all the host of the Egyptians. Pharaoh and his servants, who had hardened one another in sin, now fell together, not one escaped. The Israelites saw the Egyptians dead upon the sands. The sight very much affected them. While men see God's works, and feel the benefit, they fear him and trust in him. How well were it for us, if we were always in as good a frame as sometimes! Behold the end to which a Christian may look forward. His enemies rage, and are mighty; but while he holds fast by God, he shall pass the waves in safety guarded by that very power of his Saviour, which shall come down on every spiritual foe. The enemies of his soul whom he hath seen to-day, he shall see no more for ever.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Exodus》
 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.
They were got to the edge of the wilderness, Exodus 13:20, and one stage or two would have brought them to Horeb, the place appointed for their serving God, but instead of going forward, they are ordered to turn short off, on the right-hand from Canaan, and to march towards the Red-sea. When they were at Etham, there was no sea in their way to obstruct their passage; but God himself orders them into straits, which might give them an assurance, that when his purposes were served, he would bring them out of those straits.
Before Pi-hahiroth — Or the straits of Hiroth, two great mountains, between which they marched. Migdol and Baal-zephon were cities of Egypt and probably garrison'd.
 For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.
They are entangled — Inclosed with mountains, and garrisons, and deserts.
 And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?
And it was told the king that the people fled — He either forgot, or would not own that they had departed with his consent; and therefore was willing it should be represented to him as a revolt from their allegiance.
 And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.
Captains over every one of them — Or rather over all of them; distributing the command of them to his several Captains.
 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.
With an high hand — Boldly, resolutely.
 But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon.
Chariots and horsemen — It should seem he took no foot with him, because the king's business required haste.
 And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD.
They were sore afraid — They knew the strength of the enemy, and their own weakness; numerous indeed they were, but all foot, unarmed, undisciplined, dispirited, by long servitude, and now pent up, so that they could not escape. On one hand was Pi-hahiroth, a range of craggy rocks unpassable; on the other hand were Migdol and Baal-zephon, forts upon the frontiers of Egypt; before them was the sea, behind them were the Egyptians; so that there was no way open for them but upwards, and thence their deliverance came.
 And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.
Moses answered not these fools according to their folly: Instead of chiding he comforts them, and with an admirable pretence of mind, not disheartened either by the threatenings of Egypt, or the tremblings of Israel, stills their murmuring, Fear ye not, It is our duty, when we cannot get out of our troubles, yet to get above our fears, so that they may only serve to quicken our prayers and endeavours, but may not prevail to silence our faith and hope. Stand still, and think not to save yourselves either by fighting or flying; wait God's orders, and observe them; Compose yourselves, by an entire confidence in God, into a peaceful prospect of the great salvation God is now about to work for you. Hold your peace, you need not so much as give a shout against the enemy: the work shall be done without any concurrence of yours. In times of great difficulty, it is our wisdom to keep our spirits calm, quiet, and sedate, for then we are in the best frame both to do our own work, and to consider the work of God.
 And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:
Wherefore criest thou unto me — Moses though he was assured of a good issue, yet did not neglect prayer. We read not of one word he said in prayer, but he lifted up his heart to God, and God well understood, and took notice of. Moses's silent prayer prevailed more with God, than Israel's loud out-cries. But is God displeased with Moses for praying? No, he asks this question, Wherefore criest thou unto me? Wherefore shouldst thou press thy petition any farther, when it is already granted? Moses has something else to do besides praying, he is to command the hosts of Israel.
Speak to them that they go forward — Some think Moses had prayed not so much for their deliverance, he was assured of that; as for the pardon of their murmurings, and God's ordering them to go forward, was an intimation of the pardon. Moses bid them stand still and expect orders from God: and now orders are given. They thought they must have been directed either to the right hand, or to the left; no, saith God, speak to them to go forward, directly to the sea-side; as if there had lain a fleet of transport ships ready for them to embark in. Let the children of Israel go as far as they can upon dry ground, and then God will divide the sea. The same power could have congealed the waters for them to pass over, but infinite wisdom chose rather to divide the waters for them to pass through, for that way of salvation is always pitched upon which is most humbling.
 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
The angel of God — Whose ministry was made use of in the pillar of cloud and fire, went from before the camp of Israel, where they did not now need a guide; there was no danger of missing their way through the sea, and came behind them, where now they needed a guard, the Egyptians being just ready to seize the hindmost of them. There it was of use to the Israelites, not only to protect them, but to light them through the sea; and at the same time it confounded the Egyptians, so that they lost sight of their prey, just when they were ready to lay hands on it. The word and providence of God have a black and dark side towards sin and sinners, but a bright and pleasant side towards those that are Israelites indeed.
 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
We have here the history of that work of wonder which is so often mentioned both in the Old and New Testament. An instance of God's almighty power in dividing the sea, and opening a passage through the waters. It was a bay, or gulf, or arm of the sea, two or three leagues over. The God of nature has not tied himself to its laws, but when he pleases dispenseth with them, and then the fire doth not burn, nor the water flow. They went through the sea to the opposite shore; they walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the pillar of cloud being their rereward, the waters were a wall to them on their right hand, and on their left. Moses and Aaron it is likely ventured first, into this untrodden path, and then all Israel after them; and this march through the paths of the great waters would make their march afterwards through the wilderness less formidable. This march through the sea was in the night, and not a moon-shine night, for it was seven days after the full moon, so that they had no light but what they had from the pillar of fire. This made it the more awful, but where God leads us, he will light us; while we follow his conduct we shall not want his comforts.
 And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
And the Egyptians went in after them into the midst of the sea — They thought, why might they not venture where Israel did? They were more advantageously provided with chariots and horses, while the Israelites were on foot.
 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians,
The Lord — Called the angel before, looked - With indignation, upon the Egyptians, and troubled the Egyptians - With terrible winds and lightnings and thunders, Exodus 15:10; Psalms 77:18,19. Also with terror of mind.
 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
They had driven furiously, but now they drove heavily, and found themselves embarrassed at every step; the way grew deep, their hearts grew sad, their wheels dropt off, and the axle-trees failed. They had been flying upon the back of Israel as the hawk upon the dove; but now they cried, Let us flee from the face of Israel.
 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thy hand over the sea — And give a signal to the waters to close again, as before upon the word of command they had opened to the right and the left. He did so, and immediately the waters returned to their place, and overwhelmed all the host of the Egyptians. Pharaoh and his servants, that had hardened one another in sin, now fell together, and not one escaped. An ancient tradition saith, That Pharaoh's magicians Jannes and Jambres perished with the rest. Now God got him honour upon Pharaoh, a rebel to God, and a slave to his own barbarous passions; perfectly lost to humanity, virtue, and all true honour; here be lies buried in the deep, a perpetual monument of divine justice: here he went down to the pit, though he was the terror of the mighty in the land of the living.
 And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.
After them — That is, after the Israelites.
 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.
And Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the shore — The Egyptians were very curious in preserving the bodies of their great men, but here the utmost contempt is poured upon all the grandees of Egypt; see how they lie heaps upon heaps, as dung upon the face of the earth.
 And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses.
And Israel feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and his servant Moses — Now they were ashamed of their distrusts and murmurings; and in the mind they were in, they would never again despair of help from heaven; no not in the greatest straits! They would never again quarrel with Moses; nor talk of returning to Egypt. How well were it for us, if we were, always in as good a frame, as we are in sometimes!
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Exodus》
14 Chapter 14
Encamp before Pi-hahiroth.
The good in the trying situations of life
I. That the good are often brought, by the providence of God, into the most trying situations in life (Exodus 14:1). It is in the trying situations of life that we get the best revelations of the love and power of God. When men feel that they cannot help themselves, then God helps them. Thus they are humbled. They are brought to despair of creature aids. Then the promises become precious. The circumstances of life are all divinely ordered with immediate reference to the moral culture of the good; the Israelites were taught a great lesson before Pi-hahiroth. When God fixes our position, it is sure to be a salutary one, even though it be perplexing.
II. That the trying circumstances into which the good are providentially brought are vigilantly observed by the wicked (Exodus 14:3). Satan watches the best opportunity of frustrating the march of the soul into freedom. But the wicked often misinterpret the providence of God in reference to the good, and hence pursue their plans to their own ruin.
III. That the trying situations into which the good are brought are designed ultimately to enhance the glory of God and the retribution of wicked men. “I will be honoured upon Pharaoh,” “That the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.” Lessons:
1. Rest patiently in the circumstances in which God has placed you.
2. God is greater than all the hindrances to your true freedom.
3. Follow God, even though it be through the great waters. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
In a fix
I was led to take this subject from seeing a sheet almanac upon which was painted a boy who had got his satchel full of apples, which, I presume, he had been stealing. He was hanging by the tips of his fingers from the top of a wall, and just above the wall on the other side was the owner, while at the bottom was a big bulldog, chained to a kennel--he could not go up for fear of the owner, he dare not drop down for fear of the dog; and it said at the bottom, “In a fix.” It would be very well for us if that represented the only fix in which we had ever been. I might talk for a considerable time in a general way about men who have been in a fix, but now I want you to give me your attention while I try to point out to you a nation that was once in a fix, and, if I can, teach some lesson, s that may be of use to you and me. There they are--the river before them, rocks on either hand, and the Egyptians behind them. They could not make boats to cross the sea; they could not fly; and were unable to fight--they had not the skill, neither the weapons. The most remarkable thing is this, that God, who had sent Moses to deliver them, had brought them into this very position! Observe, they were in the path of duty--doing just as He had commanded them; suggesting to us the thought that if we would serve our God faithfully, sometimes we may find ourselves “in a fix.” There will be times when dark clouds will gather, and we cannot see our way, and we shall feel inclined to give up in despair. But wait a bit. If God has brought them into this fix, He will bring them out of it. There they are; and, see! Pharaoh is following. He did not let the people go until he had been compelled; and, like a man shamed out of half-a-crown for some charitable purpose, he repented afterwards. He went after them designing their ruin, but God designed to ruin him. He designed to put the Lord’s people into a fix, and the Lord--who always protects His own--designed to fix him. And then comes this thought: That what seems to tend to our ruin is often over-ruled to our good. A great many years ago there used to be the old stage coach, and in those days they were the chief means of travelling. I have heard some old men say what a terrible thing it was to take a long journey. One day the locomotive was invented; they were going to take goods and people in such quantities and at such a speed as the stage coach never could. The owners of the coaches might declare they were all to be ruined! What would become of them? The stage coach was ruined, but what of its owners? They shared the common advantages of the “puffing billy.” This same principle will apply to things of the present day. Years ago, tailoring was said to be a good business. Their sewing was then done by hand. By and by the sewing-machine was invented; and when it was brought to something like perfection, clothing was sewn with it. The tailors were in such a state--it would destroy their prospects! it would ruin their trade! And the dressmakers were in the same excited condition. When were tailoring and dressmaking better than now? They are, I am told, more profitable than they ever were. I give you these illustrations to prove my statement--that very often that which seems to tend to our injury is over-ruled by a merciful Providence to our good. These Egyptians were following the Israelites, and were about to destroy them; they appeared now in the jaws of death, but it was over-ruled. “The wicked,” says Solomon, “diggeth a pit, and falleth into it.” “He layeth a snare, and his own feet are taken therein.” Ah I there are many things you and I cannot understand now. Many a cloud sweeps over our path; many dark things we cannot quite see through. If we could rise above all these things, and see God’s doings, perhaps we should rejoice that He sometimes puts us in a fix. We do not see through it all now; we shall by and by. “Sometimes God brings us into straits that He may bring us to our knees.” You know that to be true. Often in your sorrow you have looked unto your Father for the help you could not get elsewhere. Observe, if they were in a fix, Moses was not. What did he do? He cried, “Fear not, God will fight for you”; though God has led you here, He will lead you elsewhere. He knew they could do nothing, so he commanded them to stand still. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Have you never been in a fix like this? Your business has failed, your prospects blighted, your heart smarting through some bereavement. A darling child or wife has been snatched from you. In utter helplessness you have cried, “What can I do?” You can do nothing. You have been doing too long. God has brought all this to teach you to stand still, and let Him do. “Stand still.” Oh! there is reason in that. If your God brings you to see your helplessness and poverty, and He reveals His true riches to you, it is worth your while to “stand still.” Have salvation; you may. Get His love into your hearts; stand till He makes you free; and when once He does, then comes the cry as Moses gave it, “Forward!” and though there be before you a dark night and a troubled sea, you may go forward with safety. There is this further thought: that though sometimes God allows the enemies of His people to bring them into a fix, be assured the Lord will turn the scales, and bring the enemies into a fix. What He did for these Egyptians--the haters of the friends of God--He may do for you. Many a faithful man o! God has been annoyed, perhaps by you; but be assured, God will annoy you. See what He did for these Egyptians. There was, first, darkness. That which gave light to His people became dark to His enemies. It is dark where the enemies of God are--so dark! Secondly, God troubled them. The children of God crossed the sea, and you know how in following them the Egyptians all perished in the waters, through which the Israelites had passed in safety. One word more. If you are on the side of God and truth, He will be with you, and bring you out of every fix into which you may get whilst serving Him. On the other hand, if you refuse to acknowledge Him, you may get into a fix which you will never be able to get out of. (Charles Leach.)
Right beginnings; or, no “progress”
Every true and strong life has its sharp transitions, its critical choice, its decisive moment between Migdol and the sea. It is true enough, most of our time we move on in a path no way remarkable, or in a routine with nothing signal or memorable about it. Day takes after day, and the scene, the occupation, the company, helps and hindrances, are much the same from month to month. But look longer, and you find that, however the wheels of habit may run on in a kind of groove, with few startling outside changes, yet somewhere there was a spot where this regular drift got its start and its new direction. You stood alone somewhere, at a parting of two ways, and you chose; and then, as the consequence of that choice, your life went thenceforth in a particular channel, pure or filthy, straight or crooked, heavenward or hellward, long after. And there is nothing exceptional about this. The same law governs national concerns, processes in nature, and mechanics. War, for instance, is well-nigh the staple of history; and yet historians count but fifteen decisive battles of the world, all other vast movements of ages and empires winding like a whirlpool around these bloody centres. So in mechanics. Only now and then, on its turn-table, the engine is set in its new direction; but all it does, or draws, afterwards, proceeds from that momentary pivotal determination. The grain grows clay and night all summer till harvest; but there is a single time of planting. The patriarch lodged only one night at Bethel; but then, afterward, all his journeyings over the Eastern lands were at the bidding of his God. How did you come to be the man you are to-day? There was most likely some hour of choice. Two forms of apparent good lay before you. Two voices spoke. Among all the common questions that rise, this one question rose. It was the question of your soul’s eternity. Very likely it had relation, too, to some other soul besides your own--your affection, your duty, to him or her. Perhaps it was in the line of your common doing, only an emergency of larger and uncommon concern. How did you act? Did you say Yes, or No? Did you go or stay? Did you accept the partnership, the companionship, the offer--or refuse? The question is not one of expediency, or taste, or convenience, or profit. It has to do with your soul’s life, honour, uprightness, salvation. Such periods can be recalled in memory, I think, by most persons; but never recalled in fact. The rest of life depends on them, and on the way we meet them. We are between Migdol and the sea. Egypt and Pharaoh--an old, bad life, and its despotism of darkness--are behind; the other way the road runs where God will. With Israel it was well that it ran to the baptism in the cloud and in the sea. We have only to enlarge the reach of such a decision, carrying it through the roots and springs of character, to find in it that one all-including, all-controlling choice which turns a bad man into a good one, or creates a living Christian. Indeed, it is of that one radical renewing that the exodus of Israel has always been regarded as the type. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)
The Egyptians marched after them.
Notice some analogies between the flight of Israel from Egypt and the progress of the sinner from the captivity of the devil. In both eases we have a debased condition of mankind, a powerful enemy, a pursuing foe, a perilous road, a human ministry, and an omnipotent and gracious Redeemer.
I. The state of Israel in Egypt was a state of the utmost abasement. Every sinner is a slave. The wicked man serves a cruel master. He is watched on every hand; all his movements are understood: every desire or aspiration after liberty is turned into an occasion of augmented suffering. Wickedness reduces the volume and quality of manhood. Every bad thought and every wicked deed is so much taken from the completeness and dignity of human nature.
II. The enemy of israel was powerful. So with the great enemy of man. His resources are all but inexhaustible. He is not confined to one series of temptations. The diabolic genius in luring and seducing men to evil dispositions and courses is fertile beyond all parallel. He assaults us through the flesh; he insinuates ruinous ideas into the mind; he secretly touches the very fountains of life. He can touch our nature with a light hand, or he can smite us with tremendous force.
III. Israel was pursued--so is the redeemed man. It is too frequently expected that when a man forsakes his evil ways, he will at once become an exemplary saint. It is forgotten that the devil relinquishes his hold reluctantly. Years upon years after our conversion to God we are conscious of the presence of the old nature; there are sudden uprisings of forces which we supposed to be extinct.
IV. There is an omnipotent and gracious redeemer. In the course of our Christian experience we are often called upon simply to stand still. Herein is shown the tender grace of the living Redeemer. We are weak, we are weary, and there is no more strength left in us; at that point He says, “Waiting shall be accounted as serving, and standing still as the progress of triumphant strength.” Israel was not self-redeemed, nor are we; Jesus Christ is the angel of our redemption; trusting to His leadership, neither mountain nor sea shall keep us back from the Canaan of God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Difficulty in duty
I. Difficulty in duty deeply felt.
1. Our temporary well-being here greatly depends upon the conduct of our contemporaries toward us.
2. The majority of our contemporaries are governed by corrupt principle,
3. The man, therefore, who carries out in his daily life the principles of duty, must more or less excite the anger and create the antagonism of his contemporaries.
II. Difficulties in duty testing character.
1. Look at the influence of this difficulty upon the Israelites.
2. Look at the influences of difficulty upon Moses. He now rises into the majesty of the hero.
III. Difficulty in duty Divinely overcome. Thus it is ever.
1. The nature of moral progress shows this.
2. The promises of God’s Word ensure this. (Homilist.)
The good pursued by old enemies
I. That the good, in seeking to come out of the bondage of sin, are frequently pursued by old enemies.
1. Satan. He is powerful. He has great resources. He will arouse indwelling corruption. To sense all seems dark. To faith all is bright. We cannot get to the Promised Land without much resistance from the devil.
2. Wicked habits. The habits of youth are not easily conquered, hence they should be carefully formed, or they may impair the Christian career of the future.
3. Wicked companions pursuing with taunts and slanders even to the banks of the Red Sea. These are a terror to many a godly soul. Thus we see that Satan pursues the good with a great army, with many allies, in splendid array, and often strikes fear into their hearts.
II. That sometimes the circumstances of life appear to favour the pursuit of the old enemies of the soul. “And overtook them encamping by the sea,” etc. The world in which we live is a Pi-hahiroth, and the devil knows it: but the God who has brought us from Egypt can bring us from before Pi-hahiroth, if we trust in Him--He is greater than the pursuing enemies.
III. That the pursuit of the old enemies of the soul often awakens the sorrowful apprehension of the good. “And when Pharaoh drew near . . . sore afraid.” How often does it happen that when the good are followed by their old enemies, they forget the mercies of the past, the power of God, and look only to the on-coming foe. They think they will have to yield to the prowess of Satan, and go back to the old bondage of the soul. But we see in this narrative the folly of allowing the advance of old enemies to awaken terror in the heart of the good; for they are only advancing that the power of God may be seen in their defeat. Good people of melancholy temperament sometimes think that they made a mistake in coming out of Egypt, and that they will never reach Canaan. Such fears are dishonouring to the grace of God.
IV. That the pursuit of the old enemies of the soul must be met under the guidance of heaven. “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” It is a blessed fact that God adapts the method of His redemption to the weak condition of His people.
1. The enemies of the soul are overcome by God. He alone can give salvation from the enmity of Satan, from the weakness of self, and from the perilous circumstances of the wilderness life.
2. The soul must wait patiently the outcome of this aid. The good know not by what method of discipline the Lord will deliver them from their old habits of evil. We see here the advantage of having God as our Helper, in that He can make a way for our feet through the sea.
1. That the good, being pursued by the enemies of their old life, are in constant need of Divine grace.
2. That progress in the freedom of the soul is in spite of the enmity of Satan.
3. That all moral progress is the outcome of the help of God to the soul. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Pursuit of the entangled
The things of the world are so many purveyors for Satan. When Pharaoh had let the people go, he heard after a while that they were entangled in the wilderness, and supposes that he shall, therefore, now overtake them and destroy them. This stirs him up to pursue them. Satan, finding those whom he has been cast out from entangled in the things of the world, by which he is sure to find an easy access unto them, is encouraged to attempt upon them afresh, as the spider to come down upon the strongest fly that is entangled in his web: for he comes by his temptations only to impel them unto that whereunto by their own lusts they are inclined, by adding poison to their lusts, and painting to the objects of them. And oftentimes by this advantage he gets so in upon the souls of men, that they are never well free of him more whilst they live. And as men’s diversions increase from the world, so do their entanglements from Satan. When they have more to do in the world than they can well manage, they shall have more to do from Satan than they can well withstand. When men are made spiritually faint, Satan sets on them as Amalek did on the faint and weak of the people that came out of Egypt. (J. Owen, D. D.)
Hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?
The foolish way in which many people anticipate difficulties
I. That many people meet anticipated difficulties in a spirit of great fear.
II. That many people meet anticipated difficulty in a spirit of complaint against those who have generously aided them in their enterprise. It is base to turn upon men who have spent their best energy and wisdom in our service when trouble seems to threaten, But this is the way of the world, a momentary cloud will eclipse a lifetime of heroic work.
III. That many people meet anticipated difficulties in a spirit which degrades previous events of a glorious character. Lessons:
1. That when trials threaten we should trust in God.
2. That fear weakens men in the hour of trial.
3. That it is ungenerous to murmur against those who earnestly seek our good. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
An unreasonable complaint
During one of the campaigns in the American Civil War, when the winter weather was very severe, some of Stonewall Jackson’s men, having crawled out in the morning from their snow-laden blankets half frozen, began to curse him as the cause of their sufferings. He lay close by under a tree, also snowed up, and heard all this; but, without noticing it, presently crawled out too, and, shaking off the snow, made some jocular remark to the nearest men, who had no idea he had ridden up in the night and lain down amongst them! The incident ran through the army in a few hours, and reconciled his followers to all the hardships of the expedition, and fully re-established his popularity.
Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.
The temper for the crises of life
I. The question was once asked by an eminent thinker, whether nations, like individuals, could go mad. There certainly have been movements, like the Reformation or the French Revolution, of which no one could foretell the existence or power. But such movements, like the cataclysms of geology, have been rare, and they seem likely to be rarer as the world goes on. Yet this is not the aspect of the world which our imagination presents to us. There are the two opposite poles of feeling, the one exaggerating, the other minimizing, actions and events; the one all enthusiasm and alarm, the other cynical and hopeless. The true temper in politics is the temper of confidence and hope. “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” Be patient, and instead of changing every day with the gusts of public opinion, observe how curiously, not without a Divine providence, many things work themselves out into results which we never foresaw.
II. A temper of confidence and repose is needed in matters of religion. The great changes in religious opinion during the last forty years have taken two directions--Rome and Germany. These changes are far from unimportant, but the temper of alarm and exaggeration is not the right way of dealing with them. Amid the charges of religious opinions and the theological discord which distracts the world, we may possess our souls in peace. If sometimes our ears are thrilled and our minds confused by the Babel of voices which dins around us, we may turn from without, and listen calmly to that voice which speaks to us from within, of love, and righteousness, and peace.
III. Let us apply the same principle to our own lives. We need to see ourselves as we truly are, in all our relations to God and to our fellow-men. We need to carry into the whole of life that presence of mind which is required of the warrior who in the hour of conflict is calm, and sees what he foresaw. (B. Jowett, M. A.)
A duty and a blessing
I. These words which to fleshly Israel must have seemed so strange, and which to weak faith echo so strangely still, contain two parts, a duty and a blessing. They were to “stand still,” and so should they see the salvation of God. And this condition of blessing runs continually through the whole history of the Jewish and Christian Church. When God has tried His chosen servants or His chosen people, the most frequent trial perhaps has been this, whether they would tarry the Lord’s leisure, be content to receive God’s gift in God’s way, hasten not, turn not to the right hand or the left, but “stand still” and see the salvation of God. By patient (the word implies suffering) waiting for God, an unresisting resistance unto blood, did the Church take root in the whole world.
II. It is for instruction only that we may ask why God should so have annexed the blessing of conquest to enduring suffering, and made patience mightier than what men call active virtues.
1. It may be that it has some mysterious connection with the sufferings of Christ. Vicarious suffering may be so far well-pleasing to God as having a communion with the sufferings of His beloved Son, and doubtless it may make those who are partakers of it more capable of the communication of the merits and influence of His passion.
2. Then, also, it may be needful, in the wisdom of God, for the perfecting of His saints. As all trial implies pain, so the trial of the most precious vessels, it may be, is to be accompanied by pains proportionate.
3. It is evident, that so God’s power and glory are most shown in averting suffering, or in crowning the enduring faith by His blessing.
4. Since man’s self-will was the cause of his fall, God would thus teach him to renounce dependence upon himself, to quit his own wisdom and his own schemes, and do God’s will. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
1. It concerns God’s instruments of salvation to reason quietly with a froward people who despise it.
2. God much contends by His ministers to remove the unbelieving fears of His people.
3. Stability in faith is God’s command to cure fears in unbelief.
4. Jehovah’s salvation is worth the looking unto by His poor creatures in faith.
5. Present salvation God can and will give to His people to quiet them in believing.
6. God’s command for faith carries proportionable reason for it in all cases.
7. Causes of fear which hinder faith God removeth at His pleasure.
8. In God’s great redemption, typical and real, the Church is passive, not a word to it.
9. In such appearances of God it is but just with men to be silent from murmuring (Exodus 14:14). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Faith and fear
As man is capable of different forms of actions, so is he susceptible of various kinds of emotions. There are two kinds of emotions which govern mankind more than any others--faith and fear. These comprehend almost all the interests, and sway almost all the actions of life. They are often opposed to each other, and frequently fear conquers faith. Fear is a power governed more by sense than faith; it is more selfish and timid than it. Faith is a more spiritual and religious power than fear, and must conquer all fear and all opposing powers before men can be powerful and triumphant.
I. Let us observe, first, the triumph of fear or feeling over faith.
1. Faith is often opposed and conquered when immediate danger appears, and when it cannot point to immediate deliverance.
2. When the superficial inclination of man is opposed and self-denial demanded, faith often is vanquished, and feeling triumphs.
3. Faith is often conquered by sense or feeling when reason cannot comprehend and explain things in God’s dealings towards His creatures.
4. Feeling often overcomes faith when religion appears to militate against what men consider their present interest.
5. Feeling sometimes gets the advantage over faith on the ground of ease and indulgence.
6. Faith also is often conquered for want of free and open heart and mind to receive truth and conviction. Prejudice and narrowness of mind are deadly enemies to faith, as they are to the advancement of truth and right life everywhere.
7. I mention another ground on which faith is too often conquered by feeling--namely, because it looks to the future for its full reward. Feeling has no patience to wait; it must be satisfied with its objects now; whilst faith rises above the visible and the present to the unseen and the future.
II. We shall now notice the triumph of faith over sense and feeling. Though faith is above feeling, it is not necessarily opposed to it; it works through it, and makes it subordinate to its influence and end. The unity of the two is essential to make men strong and happy; when they are divided the happiness of men is marred, and their strength of heart and character is shorn.
1. When the mind is profoundly convinced of truth it conquers. In the degree the mind is capable of deep conviction, it is strong, and this also is one of the strongholds of faith. When the mind becomes thoroughly imbued with the importance and truth of anything, it possesses the first qualification of conquest over all opposition and difficulty; and never till then can great things be accomplished.
2. Another condition under which faith proves itself triumphant is a deep conviction of need. Conviction of need, either personally or relatively, is both the reason and power of any and every effort, and no great sacrifice and conquest will be accomplished without.
3. For the development and triumph of faith, it is requisite as a condition that the soul should be convinced of the failure and insufficiency of all sensuous and finite things to satisfy its requirements.
4. It is requisite that the moral perception and feeling of the soul should be opened and awakened to see and feel things as they are before faith can conquer. Though faith is a power of confidence in the dark, it is nevertheless a power that thrives in light, and demands all the evidence the case in hand permits.
5. Faith conquers whilst the soul lives in close union with God, and carries with it a consciousness of His presence; for conscious communion with God is the power as well as the life of the soul, and so long as this is enjoyed faith is triumphant.
III. We come now to the triumph of God over nature--“See the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you to-day.” Such a salvation was not wrought in the ordinary course of nature. Apparently the forces and laws of nature were against the possibility of it; it was a Divine display of Divine triumph of God over nature.
1. The event is represented as authentic and real. It is not an allegory, or any ideal manifestation representing a potential possibility, or a thing to excite human fancy.
2. The event was a manifestation, and produced in subordination to the purpose of mercy.
3. The event was produced for a moral and religious end. God had repeatedly promised to deliver them, and the act was a fulfilment of an old and repeated engagement. The promise was made and performed on the ground of religion.
4. The event is in harmony with its conditions. The event is not professed to be the production of ordinary power, which would be inconsistent; for it is an extraordinary one, and there must be some equality between the power of production and the production itself. The event is professed to be an extraordinary manifestation of an infinite power; and unless this power itself is denied in the fact of its existence, it is hard to guess how the event can be considered impossible. The event is professed to have been produced for a wise and sufficient reason.
1. The dealings of God are suitable always to the occasion. He works in the right time and place, when and where the thing is needed.
2. It is possible to be in a condition which is beyond all human and natural deliverance.
3. God sometimes delays His deliverance to an extreme hour.
4. Where duty is clear, difficulties should not prevent an effort to perform it.
5. The difference between the real and the unreal is seen most clearly in extreme conditions.
6. There are things in life which we meet once, and we pass on and never meet again.
7. Genuine and deep-rooted faith shows its superiority in circumstances that baffle sensuous reasoning. (T. Hughes.)
Direction in dilemma
Our text exhibits the posture in which a man should be found while exercised with trial. Methinks, also, it shows the position in which a sinner should be found when he is under trouble on account of sin. We will employ it in both ways.
I. Take our text first as A picture of the believer when he is reduced to great straits. Then God’s command to him is, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” In this brief sentence there are two things very conspicuous: first, what is to be done, “Stand still”; and secondly, what is to be seen, “See the salvation of the Lord.”
1. What is to be done? Faith hears the bidding of her faithful God, and is not willing to be shut up in the iron cage of despair; nay, she defies the old giant to put so much as a finger upon her. Lie down and die? that she never will while her God bids her stand. See the word “stand.” What does it mean? Keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice. But in what way are we to “stand still”? Surely it means, among other things, that we are to wait awhile. Time is precious, but there are occasions when the best use we can make of it is to let it run on. A man who would ride post.haste had better wait till he is perfectly mounted, or he may slip from the saddle. He who glorifies God by standing still is better employed than he who diligently serves his own self-will.
2. But now, secondly, what is to be seen? You are to see the salvation of God. In your present temporal trials you are to see God’s power and love manifested. Now, I think I hear you say, “Well, one thing I know, I cannot deliver myself out of the dilemma in which I am now placed. I had some dependence once upon my own judgment and upon my own ability, but that dependence is entirely gone.” It is a good thing for you sometimes, Christian, to be wholly weaned from yourself. But you are saying, “What shall I see?” Well, I know not precisely what you shall see, except I am sure of this, you shall see the salvation of God, and in that salvation you shall see two or three things, just as the children of Israel saw them.
II. I intend to take the text in reference to the sinner brought into the sake condition in a moral sense.
1. “Stand still” in the renunciation of all thine own righteousness, and of all attempts to seek a righteousness by thine own doings.
2. But now the sinner says, “Suppose, then, I give up all hope, and do no more by way of trusting to myself, what shall I see?” Do remark that all the sinner can do, is to see the salvation. He is not to work it out, he is not to help it on, but he is to see it; yet, mark you, that sinner cannot even find out that salvation of itself, for if you notice, the next sentence to our text is, “which He will show you to-day.” God must show it to us, or else we cannot see it. I will tell thee of it.
Salvation of the Lord
John Lyons, a well-known citizen in Arizona, while at work in the shaft of his mine near Tres Alamos, had just put in a blast and lighted the fuse, when, on reaching the top of the shaft, he beheld four mounted Apaches rapidly approaching. Their horrible yells and hostile gestures revealed their murderous intent, and Mr. Lyons was for an instant paralyzed with terror. His first impulse was to hurl himself into the shaft and be blown to atoms by the explosion of the blast rather than perish miserably at the hands of the remorseless foe. Suddenly the blast at the bottom of the shaft exploded with terrific effect, throwing a shower of rock and debris high in the air, which was followed by a dense volume of smoke rolling up from the shaft. The Indians checked their horses, appalled by the unexpected and to them mysterious eruption, then, with a yell of terror, wheeled round and galloped off in the direction whence they came. But for the coincidence of the blast igniting at that particular moment, the man would, doubtless, have been tortured to death in the true Apache style. In the Christian life there come times when destruction seems inevitable, as it seemed to the miner, but those who trust in God experience deliverance as unexpected as his.
Fitness before action
The first thing this proud and sinful soul of mine needs is to be emptied of self and become like a little child. Action by and by. Work when you are ready and fit for work. March when you have been told where to go, and can see your way--not before. First of all, if we would do anything good or great we must get into a right attitude with God, from whom all goodness and greatness come. First of all get you to the Fountain Head, and see that the channels are open for real streams of light and life to flow down from the unseen and supernatural Heart into your own. Make sure that there is a God, and that He is your God; and that, being yours, His course is your course and His fight is your fight. It is not the atheist that is told to go forward; for his very going will be godless and he will blunder into Egypt again. The farther he goes the worse. It is not the pantheist that is bidden to go forward; for no fatherly hand will lead him but a blind force, the blind leading the blind. It is not the arrogant and unreligious moralist; for he will have to build his system out of the same materials that have failed him so often, or else trust the poor instinct which has already cast him helpless between the wilderness and the sea. When Christ and the apostles were asked, “What shall I do to be a Christian”? the answer was always in the same order--it was a pointing upward, first, not forward: Believe; lay hold on Heaven; take the hand of Christ; see that spiritual things are real; make your first act one of devotion; repent; be baptized; be confirmed; pray. Fill your mind and will with power from on high. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)
The Christian must both “stand still” and “go forward”
Twice the Divine voice speaks. It says, first, “Stand still.” Stand still, O impatient, eager, unthinking, unbelieving men! Stand still, men of unregulated activity, of unconsecrated knowledge, of swift and sweeping passion, of intemperate desire! Stand still, reckless competitions, grasping enterprises, immoderate labours and furious amusements, of these hurrying days and heated nights! Stand still, boundless ambition, over-wrought and overconfident brain, from your wild chase for bubbles in the air! Stand still, selfish traffic, corrupted legislation, Mammon and Passion and Vanity Fair, an unprincipled press, a frivolous society, a worldly-minded and mercenary Church! Stand still and see the salvation of God! Stand still, O lustful appetite and unfeeling avarice and cruel pride and headstrong self-will in the unchildlike and unchristian heart! But go forward, men of duty, men of honour, men of faith, men of God! Speak to the children of the Christian Israel soberly; speak encouragingly to one another, you who have long borne a burden that presses hard and borne it for your covenant’s and your sanctuary’s sake. “The Lord shall fight for you.” Go forward, mercy and charity, works of faith and love, missions, healings, sacrifices, praises, reconciliations--go forward, O kingdom, in every soul and every land till they all are the kingdom of our God! (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)
Sit still and trust
One day when Stonewall Jackson, with his sister-in-law, was crossing the boiling torrent, just below the American falls at Niagara, in a slight boat manned by two oarsmen, the current so swirled the boat that the lady became terrified, believing they were going to the bottom. Jackson seized her by the arms, and turned to one of the men and said, “How often have you crossed here?” “I have been rowing people across, sir, for twelve years.” “Did you ever meet with an accident?” “Never, sir.” “Never were capsized? never lost a life?” “Nothing of the kind, sir!” Then turning, in a somewhat peremptory tone, he said to the lady, “You hear what the boatman says, and unless you think you can take the oars and row better than he does, sit still and trust him as I do.”
These words contain God’s command to the believer when he is reduced to great straits and brought into extraordinary difficulties. “Stand still.” Despair whispers, “Lie down and die; give it all up.” But God would have us put on a cheerful courage, and even in our worst times rejoice in His love and faithfulness. Cowardice says, “Retreat, go back to the worldling’s way of action; you cannot play the Christian’s part, it is too difficult. Relinquish your principles.” But, however much Satan may urge this course upon you, you cannot follow it, if you are a child of God. The Divine fiat has bid thee go from strength to strength, and so thou shalt; and neither death nor hell shall turn thee from thy course. Precipitancy says, “Do something; stir yourself--to stand still and wait is sheer idleness.” We must be doing something at once. Presumption boasts, “If the sea be before you, march into it and expect a miracle.” But Faith listens neither to Presumption, nor to Despair, nor to Cowardice, nor to Precipitancy, but it hears God say, “stand still,” and immovable as a rock it stands. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Ye shall see them again no more for ever.--
Although the Israelites beheld the next morning the Egyptian host dead upon the beach, they saw them no more in their pomp and power, fierceness and anger; they saw them no more in this world for ever. Let us look at the fact in three aspects.
I. As affording a glimpse of the moral government of God. A signal interposition displaying justice towards the oppressor, and mercy towards the oppressed.
1. Moral government takes cognizance of man’s conduct.
2. Moral government righteously visits man’s conduct.
II. As illustrating separations that are going on between men every day.
1. Every day we see men that we shall see no more in this world for ever.
2. Every day we see men that we shall see no more in their present circumstances for ever.
3. Every day we see men that we shall see no more in their present character for ever.
III. As foreshadowing that final separation which must take place between the wicked and the righteous.
1. This takes place really at death. No more sensualists with their seductions, sceptics with their insinuations, devil with his temptations.
2. This takes place publicly in the day of judgment. (Homilist.)
I. Then wicked men shall perish in the very hour of their splendour and pride. Ii. Then wicked men are often powerless to inflict the injury they desire upon the good. If we are injured by these enemies of the soul, it is because of our unbelief.
III. Then the wicked and the good will be eternally separated in the life to come. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
I have seen one person at least, to-day, whom I have seen for the last time in this life. He may live many days or many years--I may live many days or many years; but in a crowded city like this it must needs be that there is one among that throng whom I have passed whom I never again will see. He stands, therefore, as a messenger direct from me to the judgment seat of God. Little did I think, when I spoke to him, with what a message I was freighting him l It is the last look that strikes, the last touch that tells, and if it was an unkind or a false word I then spoke, that unkind or false word has sunk like a die on the molten memory of him from whom I have just parted, as well as of myself. What testimony will he bear against me in the judgment of the future?
1. Perhaps it was one whom I was bound to love on whom my words fell. If it were, may God forgive me! for if they burned and seared that heart, far more deeply will they burn and sear mine, when I find that the ear that listened so eagerly for love, and shrank so agonizingly from unkindness, is now closed in death.
2. Perhaps it was one whom I was bound to protect, and whom with words of cunning I have overreached. If so, may God forgive me, for I have thus sent direct to His throne of justice this accusation against myself! Never again! And yet again when I go forth to-morrow there is at least one other whom I will meet whom I may meet never again! Guard my tongue and my heart, O God, that my account as to him may be just before Thee! (Episcopal Recorder.)
The resource of God against the enemies of the good
During the American Civil War an English ship was boarded by the crew of a confederate cruiser. They drew their swords. But the gallant English Captain Williams marched forward and said, “Gentlemen, I am a simple sailor, but do not forget that behind this flag which I hold in my hand lies all the power of the army and navy of England. If you strike me you strike the might of England.” So we may be simple men and women, but when we are engaged in the Lord’s work we do not stand alone. (G. Howard James.)
Wherefore criest thou unto Me?
. . . Go forward.
Men are more ready to cry out for help than to help themselves. They are more ready to call for more light, means, privileges, than to use faithfully what they possess. They are more ready to complain than to exert themselves; to wonder at what the Divine Providence has done, or to speculate on what it intends to do, than to observe its will, and stand in the line of their duty, and “go forward.”
1. And first, when we are confused with uncertain speculations as to points of religious doctrine and the designs of Providence, let us rest from the questions that are beyond mortal solving, from the debate and from those who would pretend to settle it for us, and obey the practical exhortation of the text. What we can discover and know may not be much; but what we have to do is plain enough, and deserves the chief place in our attention. Theories are many, and the counsel of the Lord is hid; but what He requires of us there needs but singleness of heart to discern and follow. The absolute truth may often be beyond us; but the right, as distinct from the wrong, is in the sentiment of every one’s conscience and in the power of his hand. The present age is remarkably bent upon a prying kind of research into the deep things of religious faith. Let me not find fault with this tendency, so long as it is reverent, and not presumptuous; so long as it is humble, and not disputatious; so long as it is neither carping, nor over-anxious, nor neglectful of nearer claims. But it has its dangers. Sometimes it distracts the thoughts with fears and unprofitable conjectures; and sometimes it absorbs them in cares that are intense, but stationary, holding back the mind from a manly progress and impeding the cheerful diligence of life. Do not gaze backward, nor pause to contemplate anxiously what is in front, but move. If you are faithful, God will carry you through. Work and you shall believe. Do and you shall know. You shall learn more that is worth the learning through your conscience than through your researches. You will be guided to the best convictions, by being heartily engaged in an obedient service.
2. Thus, duty is better than speculation; and this is the first lesson that our subject teaches. But the mind is troubled with other things than the doubtful aspects of truth. There are afflicted and dejected hours, when we hardly care to inquire about anything. A feeling of discouragement hangs about the heart. Now, sorrow is naturally sluggish, selfish--as indisposed to strive for anything as to be thankful for anything. It chooses to sit. It looks upon the ground. It nurses its gloomy meditations. When it is caused by losses and disappointments, it is apt to make men think that there is nothing that deserves their winning, or at least that it is not worth while for them any longer to try. No doubt it makes many a man better. It brings the thoughtless to reflection. Sorrow is a holy thing when it is rightly accepted. It gives a consecrated turn to the experiences and affections of our humanity. And yet it has a power of an opposite kind; and they who come under that power are rendered worse instead of better by it. They lose their usefulness, as well as give up their own good. Others add the sin of murmuring to that of supineness. Why have they been thus distressed? What have they done to be so hemmed in? They complain of the very prophets and guiding messengers of God, because they show them no more mercy, and will encourage them in no other way than one that they refuse to follow. They want to be relieved just where they stand. They want to be delivered without any thought or effort of their own. But it is not so that God will have it. “Speak unto them,” is His word still, “that they go forward.” The best consolation is in your tasks, with their straining toil or their steady and quiet occupation.
3. But it is perhaps the labour imposed upon your unwilling strength that most disconcerts you. The apprehension of coming calamities has fastened its terrors upon you. The fears of a faint heart form the chief trial of your lot. Not an arrow has reached you yet from the pursuing host of your enemies, but you hear their trumpets, and you are dismayed at the trampling of their approach. You have not yet wet your shoes in the waves of the intercepting sea; but you look at its broad flow, and are dismayed at what seems to you its unfathomable and impassable depth. You are afraid of what you may be compelled to do; or you are afraid of what you may be appointed to suffer. What is so depressing as this dread, when once it settles down upon a man? How it paralyzes his resolution 1 But no power can assist him, at least not in the manner he would choose--by interfering to change his whole situation, and that without any step of his own taking. He must stand in his lot. He must march at command. There will be always something like a chase in the rear. There will be some gulf crossing his advanced post. He will not be listened to, if he sits and prays that all this may be otherwise. At the same time the help that was refused to his complaint and his supplication awaits his diligence. Let him “go forward.” The cowardice that was his worst enemy shall then be vanquished. Beware how you waste in sighs the time that should be spent in exertion. Beware how you look abroad for the succour that you will contribute nothing to bring. Beware how you abandon your own cause. Bear your part, according to the imperfect ability that you have received, in the work of your deliverance. Commit the issues of events to the Sovereign Disposer. They may venture, as long as their trust is in Him. “Speak unto all My people,” saith God, “that they go forward.” Their prayer is good; but their obedience is better. His grace shall be sufficient for them while they move towards it. (N. L. Frothingham.)
The journey through life
It points out, with sufficient clearness, the best mode of journeying through life. “Go forward”--
I. You are, then, willing to go forward? But whether you will or not, you must. What better starting-point can you discover than that from which Israel began--the point to which God has brought you now? Stop for a moment, my impatient fellow-traveller; we are not speaking of the point to which you have now brought yourself, but of that to which God has conducted you; and you must very soon, I think, feel that there may be an important difference between these two. God may, indeed, command us to go forward from the point to which He has Himself conducted us, but not by any means to make advance on that wrong path which we have chosen through our own folly and our sin. In such a case, God must have rather asked, “Why do you cry to Me? You are yourselves the cause of your distress and misery; there is no safety on this road, but only death and horror; speak unto the Israelites that they return immediately!” But now, because the Lord Himself has pointed out the place where they were to encamp, between Pi-hahiroth and Baal-Zephon, they are in the position which He bade them occupy; they now are standing in the place where He would have them be: now we may speak of going on. “Advance!”--it is a glorious word; and that which it denotes deserves the application of our noblest powers. But, in advancing, the main question is--not whether we are rising rapidly enough, but simply whether we are really on the right track, and keeping the great end in view. Yes; “Forward” is still a glorious word, but not the first, scarcely the second that we should employ; and you will be in a position to apply it with advantage to yourselves only when, like these ransomed ones, you have an Egypt at your back, and a Canaan before. But what think you? O man of sin, the path you now pursue leads down to death; repentance is the only way to life--regeneration of the soul the first, although perhaps the least felt requisite for entering on the new period. Nay, no advance ere you have first stood still, made full confession of your guilt, sought for deliverance from worse than Egypt’s bondage, and cried for blood more precious than the blood of even the spotless Paschal Lamb, to hide your sins!
II. “Advance!” The order may be given easily, but is it quite as speedily performed? Then listen, in the second place, to what is further given in the summons--advance along the way which God commands. “Which God commands.” This, in a certain aspect, makes the thing much easier, but in another much more difficult. You will at once perceive this when you place yourself again in the position of the Israelites. Moses need not, in deep anxiety, inquire, “Whither?” for there is but one path, and not another given him to choose. There is the most peremptory command not to go back; nor would good come of turning to the right or left; moreover, there are mountains rising up to heaven, and rocks, which shut the people in, as if within a fortress. Forward, then! But well may we, also, in spite of not a little difference, find a resemblance to the path on which the Lord once more calls you and me to make advance. That way itself is, in its leading features, quite as plain, as difficult, and yet withal as safe, as that for which the Israelites now looked. If we are Christians, there is only one way possible for our understanding, our faith, our conscience; and that is the way God bids us go. See that the path before you is indeed the way appointed by the Lord; and do not venture on a single step before you bow the knee to Him in deep humility. But if it be quite evident that just this, and no other, is the road which God deems best for you, then act as if you heard His voice from heaven saying, “Why do you cry to Me? Surely you know that I am not a God who says, ‘Go forward,’ without giving strength wherewith to go.” Nay, verily, God has not changed, so that He now should call His people to advance into the sea, and leave them there to perish in the flood. Suppose the Israelites, alarmed at the idea of advancing through the waves, had taken time to think, and then attempted to retreat; or sought, amidst the mountains on each side, an opening by which they might escape approaching death- according to the judgment of the natural man, they would have acted with the utmost prudence, yet they would have but been hastening into the yawning grave. The passage through the sea turns out to be much safer than the path along the quiet shore, as soon as it appears that God is with us. It is precisely when the prophet Jonah seeks to flee from Nineveh, and find a safe retreat in Tarshish, that such mortal danger comes so close on him; and, on the other hand, when Paul, led by the Lord to Rome, courageously defies Euroclydon and every storm, his life is saved, although the ship is lost. Our life is ever free from danger when we risk it in the service of the Lord; because, as has been truly said,we are immortal while God needs us here.
III. “But what avails it me, even though I know the way, so long as, in short-sightedness, I still must grope about under dark clouds?” You are quite right; but you too, just like Israel, are this day summoned to advance under the light that God affords you can imagine that you now behold the mysterious fiery pillar, scattering its golden rays upon the silvery waters in the darkness of the night, and straightway turning its fierce lightnings on the host of the Egyptians. But say, has not God, in His written word, sent light from heaven sufficient in amount and clear enough to brighten, with its friendly rays, many a gloomy night and many a cloudy day? And have you ever been kept waiting long without an answer, when, with the earnest question: “What will the Lord have me to do?” you took your precious Bible up, in silent solitude, not to consult it, like so many, just as if it were a kind of heathen oracle--examining the first page that might open up to you--but earnestly endeavouring to find out what the Lord desires? But is it not the case that we are just like that rebellious Israel--constantly inclined to cheese their own way rather than simply pursue the path to which the cloudy pillar guided them? And even after we have been already taught, on numberless occasions, through the shame and injury that have befallen us, we still direct our eyes continually to the ignis fatuus of human wisdom, when we rather should fear God, and give attention to His word. And what should hinder you from choosing that same word of God to be a lamp unto your feet, a light unto your path? Should the obscurities and enigmas that here present themselves to you prove such a barrier? Even the fiery pillar had for Israel its impenetrable and mysterious side; but this much they perceived quite well, that it afforded them more light than a thousand other lights. And there is something wondrous in the fact that this great light illumines everything, although you know not where it has its seat; nor can you find in anything besides a proper substitute when it has been removed. Or--just acknowledge it--are you offended at the vehemence with which the Word of God denounces sin? Yes, verily, the cloudy pillar sent forth dreadful thunderbolts, but they were only aimed at hardened ones like Pharaoh; and that same light of God’s unspotted holiness, which is so terrible to sinners, is the consolation of all those who make His mercy the foundation of their hopes. Or has that light no longer an attraction for you, inasmuch as it has lost the splendour of most novelties? Surely the fiery pillar was quite as invaluable in the fortieth year that followed Israel’s Exodus, as in the first night when they were redeemed? And should you not be rather cheered by the consideration that, when everything to-day announces instability and change, the word of God endures for aye?
IV. But do you make complaint--not against God, but rather against yourself? And do you fear your strength will fail? We could not urge you to advance, did we not also, in the fourth place, indicate the staff which God bestows on us. Let it suffice to state that, without living faith working within the heart, it is as hopeless to set out upon life’s journey as it would have been impossible to march through the Red Sea without the all-prevailing, wonder-working rod. Poor man, you rise up, but you know not whence; you wander here and there, hut do not know how long; you ask for strength, yet know not whence it may be gained! The Lord’s words are most true: “Cursed is the man that maketh flesh his arm . . . Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord.” But have you never found that all things are possible to him that believeth, and that even mountains of difficulties seemed to dwindle away into molehills when touched by this wonder-working staff? The time will often come when you shall stand before a task for which your own unaided wisdom will be quite unequal; but the prayer of faith works wonders, and strength comes down from above into the heart which owns, in deep humility, that it is naught hut weakness when apart from God.
V. The Lord arouses us to march on to the land which He prepares for us. You are aware that Israel was called not merely to forsake the land of Egypt, nor even to spend a desert life in peace and liberty, but to march on into a land which God, ages before, had promised to bestow on the posterity of those who were His friends. Not one of all those multitudes who passed through the Red Sea had ever seen that promised land. Upon the ground of credible authority, they were constrained to the belief that it was a reality awaiting them beyond the flood. Not even the wisest of them all was free to choose the mode of access to that land which flowed with milk and honey. But their great Leader ever held Himself responsible for the result, although the moment when the earthly paradise was to unfold its gates was still kept in deep secrecy. Nor are we called to wander aimlessly, and to march on without exactly knowing where we are to go. The Lord from heaven has appeared on this vile earth that we, exiles from Eden, might have an eternal dwelling-place; and though no messenger has come back from the habitations where He has prepared us room, we know, as surely as we live, that what no eye hath seen, what ear hath never heard, what hath not entered into any human heart, is hid with Christ in God for all who know and love Him. Whoever will draw back unto perdition may perceive, in Israel’s case, that while God presses upon sinful men His heavenly gift, He will by no means let Himself be mocked. The way that leads to it may not, perhaps, be quite the shortest (and those who, like Israel, are slow to learn require a longer training-time), still less is it the most agreeable, but most assuredly it is the best. And the inheritance itself will only seem more beautiful if we, like Moses, are obliged to wait a long time on God that we may get possession of the whole. Do you know any prospect more inspiriting than that of one day having done entirely with that daily dying which we now call “life”; of our at last, some time or other, breathing with a pleasure and a freedom we have never yet felt here, where every day brought us more than enough of its own ills; of once more hearing there, too, the command, “Forward!” and then advancing through the spacious fields of heaven, but finding nowhere near us any foe, nor seeing any wilderness before? Surely, even though it cost us other forty anxious years, as it cost Israel the Promised Land, what one of us would think the price of such a calling far too dear? (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)
I. Sometimes the answer will be very unsatisfactory.
1. Because I was brought up to do so.
2. It is a part of my religion. These pray as a Dervish dances or a Fakir holds his arm aloft; but they know nothing of the spiritual reality of prayer (Matthew 6:7).
3. It is a right thing to do. So indeed it is if we pray aright, but the mere repetition of pious words is vanity (Isaiah 29:13).
5. I think it meritorious and saving. This is sheer falsehood, and a high offence against the merit and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
II. Sometimes the answer will betray ignorance.
1. When it hinders immediate repentance. Instead of quitting sin and mourning over it, some men talk of praying. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” and better than supplication.
3. When we suppose that it fits us for Jesus. We must come to Him as sinners, and not set up our prayers as a sort of righteousness (Luke 18:11-12).
4. When we think that prayer alone will bring a blessing.
III. Sometimes the answer will be quite correct.
2. Because I know I shall be heard, and therefore I feel a strong desire to deal with God in supplication. “Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him” (Psalms 116:2).
3. Because I delight in it: it brings rest to my mind, and hope to my heart. It is a sweet means of communion with my God. “It is good for me to draw near to God” (Psalms 73:28).
4. Because I feel that I can best express the little faith and repentance I have by crying to the Lord for more.
5. Because these grow as I pray. No doubt we may pray ourselves into a good frame if God the Holy Ghost blesses us.
6. Because I look for all from God, and therefore I cry to Him (Psalms 72:5). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Self-help is one of the popular topics of the day, and seems to be commended in the passage which contains the text. Help thyself, and Heaven will help thee, is a proverb which, both in its French and its English form, is widely current; and wisely current, if we understand the Divine principle on which it rests. Read in the light of Scripture, it does not run, Venture, and the Almighty hand will meet thee, the help will come; but rather, Venture, for the Everlasting Arms are around thee, the help is here. Thus read, it is an all-mastering truth. But what is the principle here, the essential principle of the progress? Is it, March, and I will meet you; or March, for I have led you; I, not you, am responsible for these straits; you are here because through them lies the path to victory and glory. Therefore “cry not unto Me”; your being here is My answer to your cry. “Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.”
I. Their standing there at all was a miracle of Almighty power and love. By a series of the most tremendous miracles recorded in history, God’s hand had led them out to that mountain gorge, and shut them in between the moaning sea and their raging foes. Pharaoh drew near, but God was even visibly more near. A great army was gathering behind them; but the angel of God’s presence was visibly in the midst of them. They distrusted and despised Emmanuel--God with them, a visible glory over their host.
II. They ought to have accepted God’s guidance thither as the absolute assurance that their way on lay clear before his eyes, and that all the difficulties which beset it were under the firm control of His hand. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Effort needed as well as prayer
A scholar was remarkable for repeating her lessons well. Her schoolfellow, rather idly inclined, said to her one day, “How is it that you always say your lessons so perfectly?” She replied, “I always pray that I may say my lessons well.” “Do you?” said the other; “well then, I will pray, too”: but alas! the next morning she could not even repeat word of her usual task. Very much confounded, she ran to her friend, and reproached her as deceitful: “I prayed,” said she, “but I could not say a single word of my lesson.” “Perhaps,” rejoined the other, “you took no pains to learn it.” “Learn it! Learn it! I did not learn it at all,” answered the first, “I thought I had no occasion to learn it, when I prayed that I might say it.” The mistake is a very common one. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The flight from Egypt
I. Their danger. Foe behind, sea in front, mountains on each side.
II. Their dilemma. Knew not which way to turn.
III. Their deliverer. Man’s extremity God’s opportunity.
IV. Their duty. “Go forward.” This demanded faith.
V. Their determination. They obeyed.
VI. Their delight. Song of Moses. (G. Weller.)
I. The story from which these words are taken is A story of national progress. It is also one of supernatural progress. For us the supernatural is, in the highest and truest sense of the word, natural, for it is the revelation of the nature of God. We accept the possibility of the supernatural and miraculous, but all the more for that do we hold that if God interferes in the affairs of men miraculously, He will not do it capriciously, unnecessarily, wantonly. Upon the whole story of these Jewish miracles there is stamped a character which marks distinctly the reason for which they were wrought; that reason was the religious education of the world. By these miracles the Jew was taught that for nations and men there is a God, an eternal and a personal will above us and around us, that works for righteousness. This great fact was taught him by illustrated lessons, by pictures illuminated with the Divine light and so filled with the Divine colour that they stand and last for all time.
II. The lesson that seems definitely stamped on the story of the miraculous passage of the Red Sea is the lesson of fearlessness in the discharge of duty, of resolute walking in the way that we know to be God’s way for us. We find this true--
1. In the case of individuals.
2. In the case of nations.
For individuals and for nations God has appointed a law of progress. All we have ever striven to raise the tone of a nation’s life, to bring the nation onward on the path that leads to peace and righteousness, have been preaching to mankind this great word of God’s, “Go forward where God would have you go.” (Bp. Magee.)
Progress is the great test of a Christian. It is not what we are absolutely, but what we are relatively, relatively to what we were. Religion mast always be “a walk,” and the child of God a traveller. Old things get further and further behind, and as they recede look smaller and smaller; new things constantly come into view, and there is no stagnation. The man, though slowly, and with much struggle, and with many humiliations, is stretching on to the ever-rising level of his own spiritual and heaven-drawn conscience.
I. We may be discouraged because of past failures. Still we have no choice but to go on. Life is made up of rash beginnings and premature endings. We have nothing for it but to begin again.
II. We may feel ourselves utterly graceless and godless. The remedy is, at once to determine to be a great Christian. We must aim at things far in advance. We must go forward.
III. Perhaps some great temptation or sin bars the way. Then we must not stand calculating. We must not look at consequences, but simply “go forward” to the new life of self-denial and holiness. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Both the Israelites and Egyptians went forward; but how? and to what?--
I. The Israelites went forward in obedience to Divine commands; the Egyptians, in opposition to the Divine will.
1. As regards the Israelites--In this particular crisis He commanded them to proceed (verse 15). The means and mode of their advance were prescribed by Him (verse 16).
2. The Egyptians went forward in defiance of the will of God.
II. The Israelites went forward having the presence of God with them as a help; the Egyptians having that presence as a hindrance (verse 19, 20).
III. The Israelites went forward in wise reliance upon God; the Egyptians in infatuated daring of him.
IV. The Israelites went forward having the forces of nature controlled in their favour; the Egyptians with those forces used to their confusion and overthrow (verses 21-27). Nature renders loyal obedience to its Lord. The Most High employs nature’s elements and forces for the defence and deliverance of His people, and for the defeat and destruction of His foes.
V. The Israelites went forward to splendid victory and spiritual profit; the Egyptians to utter defeat and death.
1. As to the Israelites--
2. But the Egyptians were utterly overthrown and slain (verse 28).
1. Going forward is not always making progress.
2. Going forward is true progress only when it accords with the will of God.
3. The path of duty is often beset with difficulties.
4. Difficulties in the path of duty disappear before believing obedience.
5. Rebellion against God leads to trouble and distress, and if persisted in must end in irretrievable ruin.
6. Faith in God and obedience to Him lead onward and upward to glorious triumph.
7. The deliverances wrought for us by the hand of God should encourage us to reverence and trust Him. (William Jones.)
Christian progress in the face of difficulties
I. In the Christian life advancement is demanded. Forward, upward, heavenward, Godward.
II. In the Christian life advancement is demanded, with a full recognition of the obstacles in the way of it. We pass from conquest to renew the conflict.
III. In the Christian life, obstacles to progress, manfully encountered, may be surmounted. Difficulties vanish, in the presence of believing obedience.
IV. In the Christian life, obstacles to progress, manfully encountered, contribute to our advancement.
V. In the Christian life we are incited to progress, notwithstanding obstacles, by a great host of encouragements.
1. Believing prayer is mighty with God.
2. Glorious examples encourage us onward.
3. The character of our Leader encourages us onward. (William Jones.)
Into whatever province of Divine government we look, we find that “Forward” is one of God’s great watchwords, onward to that state which is higher, more perfect. On Christian believers is ]aid the obligation to “go on unto perfection,” to “press toward the mark,” etc.
I. As the children of Israel, in obedience to the command of God, were on their way from a lower to a higher and more blessed life, so are Christians.
II. As the children of Israel were required to go forward for the discipline of their faith, so are Christian believers.
III. As the Israelites were required to go forward in the interests of the Kingdom of God in the world, so are Christian disciples. (R. Ann.)
The Christian’s watchword
I. In what the Christian is to go forward. Now this is evident; he must go forward in the path to eternal life. More particularly, he must go forward--
1. In the increase of Christian graces.
2. In the exhibition of Christian virtues. Such as justice, temperance, brotherly kindness, and charity.
3. In the performance of Christian duties. In reading the holy oracles, and in holy meditation, forward. In secret and public prayer, forward. In family worship and discipline, forward. In the services of the sanctuary, forward. In enterprises of usefulness and plans of benevolence, forward. In all the personal and relative obligations of life, forward.
4. In the attainment of Christian privileges and blessings. “Peace flowing as a river, and righteousness abounding as the waves of the sea.”
II. Why the Christian should go forward.
1. God commands it, and His authority is imperative.
2. Christ enforces it, and His claims are irresistible.
3. The Holy Spirit moves us to it, and His influences must not be quenched.
4. By the examples of saints with whom we are for ever to be associated.
5. By the sufficiency of the means provided for our progress and safety.
6. By the dreadful and calamitous effects produced by apostasy.
7. By the glorious rewards which God shall bestow upon His persevering people.
1. Let the subject be addressed to all classes and ages of Christian professors. To the young believer, and the aged disciple, the motto is the same--forward. To the illiterate, and the learned Christian. Forward, in prosperity and adversity; in sickness and health; in life and until death.
2. The subject must be reversed to the sinner. He is in the wrong path; far enough already from God and happiness and heaven. Turn from thy evil ways and live. (J. Burns, D. D.)
I. The necessity for progress as a condition for healthy life. The advancing tide has no sooner touched its highest point than it begins to recede. In the spiritual life, progress is needful to secure past attainments, as well as to gain fresh victories.
II. The directions in which progress should be sought.
1. Go forward to clearer and higher conceptions of spiritual truth.
2. Go forward in further development of the Church’s social life.
3. Go forward in all works of Christian beneficence.
4. Go forward individually in the cultivation of the spiritual life. (J. Legge, M. A.)
Go forward-a New Year’s sermon for the young
We have been spared to see the beginning of another year, we may therefore think of ourselves as having reached a certain halting-place in our journey.
I. We should believe in Christ, and also obey Him. Without believing in Christ, we have no true love to God in our hearts; and without love, we cannot give Him the obedience of children.
II. We are taught here also that we should both worship God and work for Him. I have heard of a heathen king who was wounded in battle, and who, in his dying hours, sending for his trusted servant, said to him, “Go, tell the dead I am come.” That soldier-servant, without hesitating for a moment, drew his sword and stabbed himself to the heart, that he might go to the dead before his master, and prepare them for his coming. Oh! that we had this spirit of service and of sacrifice for the King of kings! In His dying hour, He also said to us, “Go, tell the dead, I come.” He asks us to go to a world dead in trespasses and sins, to tell them of His coming, and to preach to them glad tidings of great joy. Alas! how many of us are content to worship Him, and say, “O King, rule for ever!” without spending and being spent, that His kingdom may come.
III. This passage further teaches us, that, while we enjoy religious privileges, we should seek to make yearly and daily progress by means of them. We should become liker to Christ, and seek to learn more perfectly the language of heaven. Christ’s work for us is complete. Christ’s work in us is only begun, and God loves to see His believing children growing in likeness to that Elder Brother who is the very image of Himself. If you ask me why you should thus go on towards perfection, I answer--
1. It is the will of God. We are to be perfect as our Father who is in heaven is perfect; and we see, from all that goes on around us and within us, that this perfection is not to be reached by a single effort, or in a single day.
2. But not only should we go forward in obedience to the will of God; we should also feel that it is needful for our own sakes to obey our heavenly Father. For--
The memorial charge to the Israelites
I. Let us consider this command in reference to the journey of the Israelites. It became them, and it becomes us, to obey whenever God commands; and to do whatever He enjoins us, and that for four reasons.
1. Because He has a right to command. He is the Sovereign, we are the subjects. He is the Master, we are the servants.
2. Because none of His commands are arbitrary. We may not be able to perceive the reasons upon which they are founded; but there are reasons.
3. Because all His commands are beneficial. They all regard our welfare, as well as His own glory.
4. Because they are all practicable. They all imply a power to obey. If not possessed, yet attainable--if not in nature, yet in grace. Now, men may enjoin what is really impossible; but God never does.
II. The advancement of Christians in the Divine life. For Christians are now on their way from Egypt to Canaan. An old writer says, “A Christian should never pitch his tent twice in the same place,” but with every fresh rising sun there should be some fresh advancement.
1. In order to see the possibility, the propriety, the importance, of thus advancing in the Divine life, turn to the commands of the Scriptures, “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” “Add to your faith virtue,” etc.
2. Then turn to the advantages of progression in your Christian course; for, as you advance, you will improve, and will rise higher in Divine attainments. As you advance, you are “changing from glory to glory.” Every step you take adds to your dignity; every step adds to your usefulness, and enables you more to adorn the “doctrine of God your Saviour in all things,” and to recommend His service to those around you. Every step you take adds to your comfort; it adds to the evidences of your state, and to your character; and so far exemplifies the words of the Saviour, “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be My disciples”; appear as such, and exemplify yourselves as such.
III. Let us consider this command in reference to the progress of time. Time is always advancing; the hour-glass, the day, the week, the year--all go forward. And do they leave you behind? No; you advance with as much speed as the vessel which bears you along. You are not, therefore, to consider us here as exhorting you to go forward with time, but how to go forward, and in what way you ought to advance.
1. “Go forward” with humbleness of mind, not strutting into the new year, as if you had been acting wisely, worthily and meritoriously, throughout the year that is past; but “clothed with humility,” and “walking humbly with your God.”
2. “Go forward with gratitude in the remembrance of His mercies.” Have they not been “new every morning”?
3. “Go forward” under a sense of present aid, in opposition to complainings and murmurings.
4. “Go forward” also with a firm confidence as to what may befall you in the future.
5. “Go forward” with earnest and constant prayer.
6. “Go forward” with frequent thoughts of your journey’s end: for it will have an end, and you are brought one year nearer to it. (W. Jay.)
The pilgrimage of the saints
I. The character and course of the people of God.
I. These circumstances of Israel, illustrating the spiritual character and course of those who form the new-covenant Church, may apply to them as they are redeemed and called out of the world.
2. The circumstances of Israel apply to those who form the spiritual Church of God, as their redemption and calling out of the world are connected with a career of pilgrimage to a state of future happiness.
II. The impediments existing to the continuance of their progress.
1. An impediment is found, in the actual presence of adversaries, and the view of the danger which thence appears to exist.
2. An impediment is found also, in the fears excited by the prospect of future perils and opposition.
3. An impediment is found also, in the guilty remembrances of past ease and enjoyments.
III. The command under which they are placed, and which is connected with powerful excitements to obedience. “Forward,” is a word comprehending what must be the exclusive spirit of the Christian calling. Perils, foes, and fears, are not to be regarded; above them all, the mandate sounds its imperious note--“Go forward.”
1. Let us reflect on the danger of return.
2. Let us reflect on the sufficiency of the Divine protection.
3. Let us reflect on the value of the possessions, by the enjoyment of which our progress is to be closed. (J. Parsons.)
Encouragement in difficulties
I. The situation of the Israelites. It is no uncommon thing for many past mercies to be lost in one present perplexity.
II. The conduct of Moses. We see here--
III. The interposition of Jehovah. It was most seasonable and beneficial. Conclusion: It is plain that such an admonition as this in the text, must not be indiscriminately urged. It belongs to Christians. To as many as are of this character, we affectionately say, Go forward. More particularly.
1. You are engaged in a high spiritual pursuit. Your object now is, the acquisition of scriptural knowledge; not the knowledge of froth and folly; the cherishing and improving of religious impressions; not to stifle and strive against them. Your object is to vanquish sin in all its various forms, to make progress in the way of holiness; not to sit down at the entrance of the way. Your object is to increase in spiritual consolation. Much of this is yet to be enjoyed.
2. In this pursuit you must expect difficulties. And be not surprised if you meet with them at the very entrance of your religious course.
3. Notwithstanding difficulties, you must “go forward.” Backward you cannot go, but at the hazard of life, at the cost of utter destruction. “ If any man draw back, My soul,” saith the Lord, “shall have no pleasure in him”; and to lie under the displeasure of the Almighty is to be wretched and undone for ever.
4. In your progress there is much to encourage you. What is there?
The gospel is food, affording the best support; the promises are a cordial, administering the richest consolation. Divine ordinances are wisely adapted to the same end. The Lord’s Supper is a feast, a feast for refreshment. And what shall we say of heaven at the end of your course? The Israelites had the prospect of Canaan, and it encouraged them: the hope of the promised land helped them through many trials. But yours is a much better hope, a much more animating prospect! (T. Kidd.)
On going forward
The Hebrew life was a camp-life, and as such is the picture of ours. For a while we rest beneath the shadow of Elim’s palm-trees, or lie down beside the green pastures; but ere long the bugle-note of our great Leader’s voice is heard, calling us to the onward march.
I. The call to go forward shows that there are seasons for swift obedience, as well as earnest prayer. “Wherefore criest thou unto Me?” says God. Strange language from the lips of Him who has taught us to be instant in prayer. Even prayer must not be a medium for distrust to unveil itself. Prayer must bespeak faith, not doubt. We want brave hearts, as well as suppliant knees. We must fight against distrust. Doubt is defeat.
II. The call to go forward was accompanied by example. Men crave leaders--in the State, in the senate, in the field, and in the Church. Fix your eye on the unfaltering Moses. “Forward!” says a voice from the better land.
III. The call to go forward teaches us that God hides difficulties till they come. They had no forewarning of this event. But God keeps the veil down before each life’s future hour. We never know what shall be on the morrow: save that grace will be there if we live, and glory if we die. To-morrow, the fairest lamb in the fold may wander, the most loved friend be gone; the thorn may spring from the pillow, and the garden contain a grave.
IV. The call to go forward tells us that we are not to live in the past. Neither in its successes nor in its sorrows. “Let the dead past bury its dead.” Piety should be no fossil relic of past experience. Yesterday’s religion will not save us!
V. The call to go forward answers to the spiritual instincts of the soul. Forward! Not to the grave, but through the grave. The Christian revelation gives us the principles of progress, and opens up the sphere for their exercise, by its unveiling of the immortal state.
VI. The call to go forward tells us that we have supernatural assistance to go forward. When in our earthly life, God calls us to human progress, what aids He gives us in fellowship, friendship, and love! And when in a spiritual sense God says, Go forward, He does not leave us to ourselves. Go back to your first Communion--to brotherly sympathy and prayer--to tender help from hearts that now rest. What a way it has been! (W. M. Statham, M. A.)
1. Going forward supposes difficulty. You will find sometimes the path to be steep and uneven, rugged and rough. None but the brave go forward. The way, though right, is not always smooth and pleasant, charmed with music and song and perfumed with the fragrance of flowers, but much of a contrary kind. This is true of every enterprise in which men are engaged where either fame or opulence are sought. Thus, a man will be a successful painter, sculptor, mechanic, or merchant. Napoleon said of Massena that he was not himself till the battle began to go against him; then, when the dead began to fall in ranks around him, awoke his powers of combination, and he put on terrors and victory as a robe. So it is in rugged crises, in unweariable endurance, and in aims which put human sympathy out of question that the angel is shown. Nothing is gained that is worth the having without difficulty. Things easily got readily go.
2. To go forward implies decision and energy. Indecision is relaxing to the moral nature, it weakens, and has often proved fatal to the deepest interests in some of life’s most solemn crises. To swing this way and that, like the pendulum of the clock in the plane of its oscillation, without making any advance forward, is most pitiable in a man. A French orator says, “Indecision of movement shows lack, both in mind and heart; to wish and not to wish, is most wretched; he who hesitates, totters, falls back, and is lost.” Then, what is needed to secure true advancement is energy, decision of character, force, concentration, the power to will and to execute. And this implies having an aim, a definite object before us, and fixing the mind on that, moving steadily, unfalteringly towards its attainment; to know where we are going, looking to the grand final results, and measuring our steps accordingly.
3. To go forward implies patient endurance. The march sometimes will be slow and weary--you will not always be able to go with “alacrity and delight,” nor shall you find it “all glory going to glory.” Times will be when the apostle’s saying will have a deep significance--“Ye have need of patience”; and when obedience to the injunction--“In patience possess your souls,” will be the highest point of heroism. Times when the way is dark and slippery, and adverse forces combine to stop your progress, and when, if you can move at all, it will be but a step at a time.
4. This going forward implies an object. Something before and above us as yet, and that may be attained to and won by diligent toil, application, study, and earnest pressing after. This, then, is the grand end of all going forward--the attainment of glory. It is not now, nor here, but beyond and above. (J. Higgins.)
I. First, we will contemplate the children of Israel as a flock of fugitives; and in this light they give encouragement to trembling sinners, flying from the curse of the law and from the power of their sins. You are trying to escape from your sins; you are not, as you used to be, a contented bondsman. You have been flying as best you could from sin; but the whole of your sins are after you, and your conscience with its quick ear can hear the sound of threatening judgment. “Alas!” your heart is saying, “unless God help me, I shall be in hell.” “Alas!” says your judgment, “unless God be merciful, I shall soon perish.” Every power of your manhood is now upon the alarm. Now, what shall I do for you? Shall I pray for you? Ay, that I will. But, methinks, while I am praying for you, I hear my Master saying, “Wherefore criest thou unto Me?” Tell them to go forward; preach Christ to them, instead of praying any longer, or bidding them pray. Deliver to them the message of the gospel--“Forward, sinner, forward to the Cross!”
II. Secondly, we may view the great company who came out of Egypt as an army under command; therefore, they must obey. The command given to them is, “Forward!” “Sir, I have begun to be a Christian, but, if I continue in it, I shall lose my business. My calling is such that I cannot be honest in it, and serve my God faithfully. What ought I to do? Ought I not to give up my religion?” Forward I no matter what is before you. Forward! you are not fit to be a soldier of Christ unless you can count all costs, and still hold fast to the Cross of Christ. “Ah!” says one, “but what is to become of my children, my household?” Friend, I cannot tell thee, but God can. It is thine to trust them with Him, for the only command I have for you is, Forward! forward! “But my husband says, I shall never come into the house again; my father tells me he will turn me out of doors.” Be it so, no one pities you more than I do; but I dare not alter my message to your soul. “Go forward!” “Well,” says one, “these are hard commands.” Yes, but the martyrs had harder still.
III. Let us view these people as on the march towards Canaan. Many of you are on your way towards heaven, and the Lord’s command to you is “Forward! forward!” There are some persons who cannot be persuaded to make an advance in the Divine life. We ought to go forward in--
3. Fellowship with Christ;
4. Work for our Master.
IV. To Christians in trouble our text is applicable. The children of Israel were in a trial into which God had brought them; and it is an absolute certainty, that if God brings you in, He will bring you out. He never did take a saint where he must of necessity perish. What is to be done now? God’s word is--“Forward!” God shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
V. The Israelites were upon a divine mission. They were going up to slay the Canaanites. Preaching is the great weapon of God for pulling down strongholds; it will pull down the hugest blocks of stone the enemy can pile together, I would I could make every member of this Church feel in earnest about doing good.
VI. Soon you and I will stand on the brink of Jordan’s river; the deep sea of death will roll before us; trusting in Jesus, we shall not fear the last solemn hour. We shall hear the angel say, “Forward!” we shall touch the chilly stream with our feet, the flood shall fly, and we shall go through the stream dry-shod. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Don’t halt; “go forward”
It is the first step that costs. When the Israelites came up to the Red Sea, the command of God was: “Speak to the Children of Israel that they go forward,” The command is peremptory. It admits of no delay. “Go forward.” Death is behind you. Hell followeth hard after you. There is no salvation in retreat, Heaven lies before you, not behind. No man ever saved his soul by relapsing into indifference.
1. Perhaps you say, “I have prayed many a time already, and no blessing has yet come.” Will you cease to pray then? Will that bring an answer? How many a soul has quit praying when the door of mercy was just about opening! Go forward.
2. Another one is kept back by fear of ridicule. He cannot stand a laugh. There is a sneer waiting for him at his father’s table, or a cutting sarcasm in his countingroom. He wavers before it. Go forward; the sea will open to you, and so will many a heart to cheer you on. You will inspire respect in the very quarters from which you now expect opposition.
3. A third person complains: “I am in the dark; I cannot see my way.” Then go forward, and get out of the dark. The determination to do your duty will be attended by a luminous discernment of the path of duty.
4. Unbelief draws back a fourth. There is only one way to conquer doubt. It is, to believe. End the torturing uncertainty by going forward, “looking unto Jesus.” The only way to do a thing is to do it. God gives strength to the obedient. He has no promises for cowards, or double-minded vacillating doubters. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Safety in progress
Flying birds are never taken in a fowler’s snare. (Archbp. Seeker.)
And why were they to go forward? Not because there was less danger in the one path than in the other; there was much in both, and apparently more in the advancing than in the retreating path; but because to go forward was the path of duty and the command of God. Certainly advance is the great law of the Christian life, as well as of the universe. All things in nature and history go forward. The stream moves forward, not a wave of it turns back; its every eddy, even, is, in reality, advancing. The winds move forward, pausing, indeed, often on their journey, lingering amidst the locks of the pine, or in the cleft of the rock, but speedily resuming their onward sweep again. The stars--the earth included--move forward, “hasting not, resting not,” seeking, it is said, some distant centre. Science, art, philosophy, literature, every species of knowledge, move forward; invention following invention, discovery, discovery; one man of genius eclipsing another, to be in his turn outshone. Time moves forward, oh, how rapidly! and how his vast wings seem to say, as they rush along, “I have an engagement at the judgment seat; I have an appointment in eternity, and I must fulfil it. My King’s business requireth haste.” Christ Himself never rested. He was never in a hurry, but He was always in haste. The difference between Him and many of His people is, His life was short, and He knew it, and did the most in it; theirs, too, is short, but they know it not, and do not with their might what their hand findeth to do. God Himself even, with all the leisure of eternity, is not losing an hour, but is carrying on His broad plans, with undeviating regularity and increasing swiftness, and surely men should aspire in this respect to be imitators of, and fellow-workers with, God. Christ’s religion, too, has been active and progressive; sometimes frozen up for a time like a river, but, like a river, working under the ice, and when spring arrived making up for the time lost by the increased rapidity of its course. And so with the path of the individual; like the river, the winds, the stars, the Eternal Himself, it must advance. Our motto should be “Excelsior.” The progress of the Christian, indeed, is often from one difficulty to another; and very idle for him, in this earth, to expect an unvaried course of even moderate peace and happiness. No, no! he only exchanges one difficulty for another. True, there is a difference between the character of the difficulties. In becoming a Christian, a man quits the path of destruction for the Hill Difficulty, midnight for morning twilight, the wrath of a judge for the discipline of a father, the brink of hell for the thorny road to heaven; Pharaoh, the devil’s agent, for the Red Sea, which is God’s ocean, and through which He cain provide a passage. We are urged forward alike by the command of God, the expectation of rest, and the hope of heaven, Ay! and even there the word of command is to be “Forward!” No more Red Seas, indeed, no wilderness, no battles to be fought, no enemies to be overcome; but still it is an onward course which shall be pursued for ever by the people of God. Heaven would cease to be heaven were this progress to stop. For what is heaven but the fire of the Infinite Mind for ever unfolding itself to the view and reception of God’s creatures? We hear of people on earth whose “education is finished.” Ah, Christian, thy education shall never be finished! There is only one Being whose education was ever finished, or, rather, whose education never began--God. All others, having entered on their future abode, are to go onwards, pressing toward the mark, punting, running, hoping, believing, loving more and more, throughout the ages of eternity. All difficulties, we should remember, will yield to faith, prayer, and perseverance. (G. Gilfillan.)
Forward, the true direction
Livingstone, having broken fresh ground among the Bakh-atlas, wrote to the Directors of the London Missionary Society, explaining what he had done, and expressing the hope that it would meet with their approval. At the same time he said he was at their disposal “to go anywhere--provided it be forward.” Pushing through obstacles:--What won’t, must be made to. On these wintry days, when I cross the ferry to New York, I sometimes see large thick cakes of ice lying across the path of the boat. They will not take themselves out of the way; so the pilot drives the copper-cased bow of his boat squarely against the ice-floes, cleaving them asunder. If they will not get out of the way, they must be made to, and the propelling power within is more than a match for the obstacles without. That is a fine passage in the “Pilgrim’s Progress” where Christian approaches the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and hears the howlings of the dragons, and sees the “discouraging clouds of confusion” hanging heavy and black over the horrible place. He does not flinch an instant. Crying out “I perceive not but that this is my way to the desired haven,” he pushes his way through the frightful fiends and past the mouth of the burning pit. The road to heaven is full of obstacles. They lie right across every sinner’s path, and like the ice-floes around the boat, they will not remove themselves. An energetic young man who starts life with a pile of hindrances at his bow, understands that the battle of life is to smash through them. David Livingstone, when a factory boy, and fastening his school books on his loom to study Latin, was practising this process. You have to contend with a depraved heart. It is just in the condition of a clock whose inner works are a heap of disordered wheels and springs. They can be repaired, and the clock will go. Your soul is dislocated and disordered by sin. The Divine hand that made it can mend it. Sinful habits, long indulged, are obstacles in your way. They are tendencies of the mind strengthened by frequent repetition. If you have not any such horrible habits as swearing, or cheating, or hard drinking, you have formed the habit of refusing all Christ’s rich offers of salvation. This has been a hardening process--as the cart-wheels made a hard beaten road across certain fields of my grandfather’s farm. Persistent push is indispensable to your salvation. To enter into the strait gate requires striving. To overcome obstacles requires might in the inner man, and that comes from the Holy Spirit. Dr. Spencer tells us of a man who once came bursting into his inquiry-meeting in almost breathless excitement. The poor man had been walking back and forth between his own door and the meeting, until at last he said, “I am determined to go into that inquiry-room or die in the attempt.” In that fierce fight with a wicked heart, he not only had to call on God’s help, but he said afterwards--“If you expect God to help you, you must be perfectly decided.” (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Through the midst of the sea.
The Red Sea
I. God’s deliverance of Israel.
II. Judgment on God’s enemies, as well as a deliverance of His friends.
III. God’s separation of Israel for his service.
IV. The unity of God’s redeemed ones. (E. N. Packard.)
The Red Sea
I. Protection at the Red Sea.
1. The nature of the protection.
2. The all-sufficiency of the protection.
II. Deliverance through the Red Sea.
1. Its means, A blending of the human and the Divine.
2. Its method.
III. The enemy destroyed in the Red Sea.
1. The superinducing cause. The daring persistency of Pharaoh brought him and his hosts into danger. So even with sinners. “Thou hast destroyed thyself.”
2. God left Pharaoh and his hosts to themselves in the peril.
3. God caused the waters to return to their normal state.
1. Pharaoh undertook what no one has ever succeeded in--to fight against God.
2. Moses placed himself and Israel in a relation to God, in which no one has ever failed. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The passage of the Red Sea
1. Israel leaves Egypt for the purpose of proceeding to Canaan, the promised land. A figure of an awakened soul, drawn to God, which takes the firm and noble resolution to renounce all sin, and serve God, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
2. The fiery and cloudy pillar is the secret but powerful attraction of the Father to the Son, which the soul follows, and by which it is faithfully and correctly guided. Here the individual is brought to the salutary means of grace, or they to him, in such a manner that he is afterwards obliged to confess, that if a single, and often inconsiderable, circumstance of his life had been otherwise, his whole course would have assumed another form.
3. The pursuing Pharaoh is a figure of the law in its strict and insatiate requirements, as well as of Satan and the powers” of darkness. The latter soon perceives when any one is desirous of escaping from him, and consequently opposes him in every way. Some he torments with blasphemous, others with unbelieving thoughts, etc.
4. The utterly helpless condition of the children of Israel represents the oppressive weakness felt by the awakened soul.
5. But the Red Sea, which threatened destruction to the Israelites, proved of the greatest benefit to them. And this very feeling of sin, misery, and inability, which causes an awakened person so much uneasiness, turns to his greatest advantage. For it serves, like the blindness of the man born blind, and the death of Lazarus, to promote the Divine glory that Christ may be honoured by it.
6. The way by which Israel was delivered was one which was most miraculously opened; a way apparently dangerous and terrific, and hidden from the Egyptians. This may be also said of the way by which the Lord leads His people to life. For how wonderful is the way of salvation through the birth, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ!
7. A strong east wind arose, and dried the sea; and a rushing, like the sound of a mighty wind, was the signal to the holy apostles of the approach of the Holy Spirit. When He blows upon man, “all flesh is as grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field.” He it is that quickens.
8. The cloud, which overshadowed the people of Israel, protecting them from the pursuing foe, descending upon them as a refreshing dew, and serving by its radiance instead of a lamp, may be regarded as an emblem of the Redeemer’s blissful mediation between God and man. From it drops a refreshing dew upon the troubled heart, and a healing balm for the wounded conscience, yea, a peace of God which passeth understanding.
9. Lastly, the divided sea is a type of baptism, and consequently of all that which is requisite to purify the soul from sin. The Red Sea of the Redeemer’s blood is the abyss into which the sins of believers are so deeply plunged, that, if sought for, they can never be found; the sea which swallows up, overwhelms, and drowns Satan, with all his host, and the old man, and quickens in us a new man, who after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. This precious blood of Christ, who offered Himself to God by the Holy Spirit, is that which alone perfectly cleanses our consciences from dead works, to serve the living God. (G. D. Krummacher.)
The Red Sea
Regarding this passage of the Red Sea as typical of some events in the pilgrim-life of every Christian, let us say--
I. We are not delivered at the beginning of the life of faith from all the old enemies of the house of bondage.
II. The hour when old enemies return may reveal the fact that no accumulation of confidence in god has been gained by the experience of past deliverances. To most men the great events of life seem to be disconnected. They bear no relation one to another. If Fremont’s Peak and Pike’s Peak and the Spanish Peaks stood apart, connected by no mountain-ridge, no great results would come from them upon soil or climate. They would not determine the rain-fall or fix the trend of the rivers. But, linked together by lofty mountain-chains, they become part of the vast water-shed of a continent, fixed the length and course of the rivers and causing the humid atmosphere and fertile soil on one side, the dry air and arid wastes upon the other. So the great facts of Divine Providence, isolated and separate one from another, have no determinative influence over life. But linked together they make its moral atmosphere.
III. Some old enemies of the soul may be utterly destroyed. Evil companionships abandoned, etc.
IV. The providential way of deliverance is often mysterious.
V. Deliverance came to Israel not by human achievement, but by the power of God. The most solemn hours of life are not times of great endeavour and of high achievement. They are times when we are called to” Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” Such an hour is that when we begin the life of faith, not a time of achievement when, by mental struggle and spiritual travail, we win the favour of God. It is rather the time of self-surrender, when unreservedly we commit our ways to the Lord, that He may work for us, and in us, His redeeming work. (W. G. Sperry.)
Between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel.
1. God in Christ moveth Himself in His hand or work where the Church doth most need help. Before and behind Israel is He.
2. God by Christ the Angel of His Covenant hath given and doth give all help to His Church (Exodus 14:19).
3. God sets His posture for help between cruel persecutors and His Church.
4. The very same means God makes to darken His enemies which enlighten His people. So the gospel.
5. This interposition of God keeps the wicked world from destroying His Church (Exodus 14:20). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The removal of Israel’s cloud to the rear
This passage leads me to speak of God our Rearward. It is God alone who can make the past a source of peace and comfort. We think much of the future; we desire greatly to have an assurance that all will be well with us in time to come. We accept with gratitude the promise, “The Lord shall go before thee”; but do we fully consider how important the concluding part of that passage is--“and be thy rearward”?
I. We often need to be deeply impressed with the memory of past blessings.
II. We need the pillar of cloud behind us for our protection from the evil consequences of the past. Wonderful sight! the angel of the Lord breaking camp and going to their rear! that beautiful meteor, the guiding cloud, sailing back over their six hundred thousand fighting men, powerless as their infants, while Egypt was pouring out its swarming myriads to swallow them up. So, my soul! thy sins and the hosts of hell are ready this day to destroy thee; but the angel of the covenant has not forsaken thee; faith can see Him, as plainly as Israel beheld Him going to their rear to stand between them and danger; are not His promises a pillar of cloud to you, and do they not stand between you and the past, saying, “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins”?
III. This rearward angel and this pillar of cloud seem to bid me to say to believers, it shall be well with you. For these two things are true concerning all who believe in Jesus. First, you have not seen your best days; and, secondly, you never will. Never through eternity, will you arrive at that summit of bliss from which you will anticipate declension. Onward and upward is to be your way. (N. Adams, D. D.)
Different effects of the same events and dealings
1. A family is visited by dreadful calamity; is reduced from a state of ease and affluence to comparative want. The members of this family are of very different characters; some of them sincere believers, devout worshippers, faithful servants of God; ever considering their talents, as lent for God’s use. Other members of the family are the reverse of all this; sensual, worldly, regardless of spiritual things; caring for nothing, but that “to-morrow may be as this day, and much more abundant.” Observe, now, how differently these members of the same family will be affected by what has befallen them: how the calamity will wear a bright side to some, and a dark side to others. Trouble of another kind overtakes the same family; a friend, a relation, upon whom the comfort of their life depended, is suddenly removed by the stroke of death. Some acknowledge the providential hand of God, inflicting a wound, but supplying a gracious remedy; they are drawn the more closely to their sure, unchangeable Friend. But who are they, that are sitting down gloomy and disconsolate and “refusing to be comforted”? They are the godless members of this family, whose all is in the world, in the creature. And thus, while some are utterly discomfited by this loss, others can find it to be their gain.
2. This leads me to speak upon the different impressions made upon different persons by the means of grace, by the doctrines, and promises, and precepts of the gospel. The humble, faithful servant of God, derives light and life from every portion of Divine revelation. Very contrary to this are the views and feelings of the blinded sinner; nay, of the careless, lukewarm, outward believer. The same doctrines, which afford so much satisfaction and peace to the godly wear to him a different aspect; “there is no beauty in them that he should desire them”; no power derived from them even to affect, much less to change, the heart. The same promises also appeal to him without any encouraging, life-giving effect. And the same holy precepts, instead of being loved and honoured, are a trouble to his soul: conscience whispers, that he ought to obey them; and the law of God, instead of being his guide, stands in opposition to him, and fills him with fear. “The light that is in him is darkness”; that which is a light to others, and should be a light to him, is perverted into darkness; and then, “how great is that darkness!” (J. Slade, M. A.)
The glory in the rear
God is always with those who are with Him. If we trust Him, He hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” There is a special and familiar presence of God with those who walk uprightly, both in the night of their sorrow, and in the day of their joy. Yet we do not always in the same way perceive that presence so as to enjoy it. God never leaves us, but we sometimes think He has done so. The sun shines on, but we do not always bask in his beams; we sometimes mourn an absent God.
I. In considering the subject of the Lord’s abiding with His people, I shall first call attention to the Divine presence mysteriously removed. “The angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed.”
1. The symbol of God’s presence removed from where it had usually been. So has it been with us at times: we have walked day after day in the light of God’s countenance, we have enjoyed sweet fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord, and on a sudden we have missed His glorious manifestation.
2. Moreover, they missed the light from where they hoped it would always be. Sometimes you also may imagine that God’s promise is failing you; even the word of God which you had laid hold upon may appear to you to be contradicted by your circumstances. Then your heart sinks to the depths, for “if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
3. The pillar of fire also removed from where it seemed more than ever to be needed. Even thus is it with you, who once walked in the light of God’s countenance; you perhaps have fallen into temporal trouble, and at the same moment the heavenly light has departed from your soul. Now, it is bad to be in the dark on the king’s highway; but it is worse to be in the dark when you are out on the open common, and do not know your road. It is well to have a guide when the road is easy; but you must have one when you are coming upon precipitous and dangerous places. Then let him trust; but he will need all the faith of which he can be master. Oh, my Lord, if ever Thou dost leave me, forsake me not in the day of trouble.. Yet what have I said? It is a day of trouble when Thou art gone, whatever my condition may be.
4. Thus it did seem a mysterious thing that the Covenant Angel should no longer direct the marchings of the host of God, and I dare say that some of them began to account for it by a reason which their fears would suggest. I should not wonder that, if they had been asked why the blazing pillar was no longer in the van, they would have replied, “Because of our murmurings against the Lord and His servant Moses. God will not go before us because of our sins.” This, however, would have been a mistake. There was not a touch of the rod about this withdrawing of His presence from the van, not even a trace of anger; it was all done in lovingkindness. So you must not always conclude that the loss of conscious joy is necessarily a punishment for sin. Darkness of soul is not always the fruit of Divine anger, though it is often so. Sometimes it is sent for a test of faith, for the excitement of desire, and for the increase of our sympathy with others who walk in darkness. There are a thousand precious uses in this adversity. Yet it is a mysterious thing when the light of the future fades, and we seem to be without a guide.
II. Now all this while the Divine presence was graciously near.
1. The Angel of the Lord had removed, but it is added, He “removed and went behind them,” and He was just as close to them when He was in the rear, as when He led the van. He might not seem to be their guide, but He had all the more evidently become their guard. He might not for the moment be their Sun before, but then He had become their Shield behind. “The glory of the Lord was their rereward.” Oh, soul, the Lord may be very near thee, and yet He may be behind thee, so that thine outlook for the future may not be filled with the vision of His glory.
2. Note in the text that it is said the pillar went, and “stood behind them.” I like that, for it is a settled, permanent matter. The Lord had removed, but He was not removing still. Even thus the Lord remaineth with the dear child of God. Thou canst not see anything before thee to make thee glad, but the living God stands behind thee to ward off the adversary. He cannot forsake thee.
3. What is more, these people hart God so near that they could see Him if they did but look back. See how the Lord has helped you hitherto.
4. A thoughtful person would conclude the Lord to be all the more evidently near because of the change of His position. When a symbol of mercy comes to be usual and fixed, we may be tempted to think that it remains as a matter of routine. If the rainbow wore always visible it might not be so assuring a token of the covenant. Hence the Lord often changes His hand, and blesses His people in another way, to let them see that He is thinking of them.
III. The Divine presence wisely revealed. That the symbol of God’s presence should be withdrawn from the front and become visible behind, was a wise thing.
1. Observe, there was no fiery pillar of cloud before them, and that was wise; for the going down into the Red Sea was intended to be an act of lofty faith. The more of the visible the less is faith visible.
2. Moreover, let us mark that the cloudy pillar was taken away from the front because the Lord meant them simply to accept His word as their best guidance.
3. Moreover, God was teaching them another lesson, namely, that He may be near His people when He does not give them the usual tokens of His presence.
4. The host of Israel did not require any guide in front when they came to the sea. “How is that?” say you. There were no two ways to choose from: they could not miss the way, for they must needs march through the sea. So when men come into deep trouble, and cannot get out of it, they scarcely need a guide; for their own plain path is submission and patience.
5. What they did want was the pillar of cloud behind them, and that is where they had it. What was that cloud behind them for? Well, it was there for several reasons: the first was to shut out the sight of their enemies from them. The cloudy pillar went behind for another reason, namely, that the Egyptians might not see them. Their enemies were made to stumble, and were compelled to come to a dead stand. Be calm, O child of God; for the Covenant Angel is dealing with your adversaries, and His time is generally the night.
IV. That the Divine presence will one day be more gloriously revealed. “The Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward.” This is the condition into which the Lord brings His people when they depart from Babylon, and are no more conformed to this present evil world.
V. This Divine presence has a twofold aspect: that same glory which lit up the canvas city, and made it bright as the day, darkened all the camps of Egypt. They could see nothing, for the dark side of God was turned to them. Oh, is it not a dreadful thing that to some men the most terrible thing in the world would be God? If you could get away from God, how happy you would be! One of these days Jesus will tell you to depart. “Keep on as you were,” says He, “you were always departing from God; keep on departing. Depart from Me ye cursed!” That will be the consummation of your life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The sureness of God’s interposition when He is needed, in the way His wisdom chooses (Exodus 14:19). When we are called to difficult duty, God will keep His promise to be with us, and always His help will be found stationed at the exposed point.
III. The practical bearing of a courageous faith (Exodus 14:21). We may never be put before an actual ocean tossing with billows under difficult stress of demand like this; but we shall often be placed where mere obedience is commanded, and where God’s covenant is all that ensures success. “Doing duty belongs to us; achieving deliverance belongs to God.” Then it is that an unbroken faith “laughs at impossibility,” and says, “It shall be done!”
IV. The perfect safety of a believer’s exposure, upon a promise of the living God (Exodus 14:22). One of Aristotle’s sayings may well be quoted here. He says: “Every how rests upon a that.” That is, if God has declared that a difficult duty is to be done, He may be trusted to show how it is to be done. He will never ask us into straits of obedience without providing for our preservation. And when once a path of service is lying out before us, it does not matter at all how dangerous it appears; we shall go through it without harm. So our safety is in the exposure when God is our companion. His love will hold the sea-walls steady, and the seawalls will keep back Pharaoh. Some solicitous friends once warned Whitefield to spare himself in such extraordinary efforts; he only answered with words that long ago went into history “I am immortal till my work is done!”
V. The forgetfulness and incorrigibleness of a daring unbelief (Exodus 14:23).
VI. The mercy of God, exhibited in the fact that the way of the transgressor is hard (Exodus 14:24). Up to the last moment there was a chance for that pursuing army to retreat by the way they came. So it was a manifest benevolence to them on the part of God to hinder them as much as possible. Chrysostom calls attention to the familiar fact that God always warns before He waits, and waits before He strikes, and strikes before He crushes, so as to give space for repentance. He threatens plagues so that we may avoid plagues; and indeed, remarks the golden-tongued orator, it is doubtful whether the prospect of hell has not availed as much as the promise of heaven in hindering the blasphemies of open sin. We may safely assert now that many a man has had occasion to thank God that his chariot-wheels drave heavily, so that he recognized the hindering hand of his Maker (Exodus 14:25).
VII. Our last lesson is concerning the sure judgments of Almighty wrath when once the cup of iniquity is full (Exodus 14:26). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A double aspect
It makes a good deal of difference which side of a barrier you are on, in your estimate of the actual worth of that barrier. To the burglar, a strongly barred door is a great annoyance. It is a real comfort to those who can lie down to sleep behind it at night. A garden wall is a pleasant protection to those who can walk freely within its enclosure. It frowns gloomily on those whom it shuts out from a share of the joys within. Another’s wrong-doing which separates him from us, may be a source of light to us and of only despair to him. Even a cause of misunderstanding with others may be a source of advantage to us and of worry to them. The cloud of trouble which they and we faced together for a while, now that it has been put behind us, and before them, may shed light on our path by the lessons it teaches us, while it confuses them just as much as ever. The knowledge of the Scriptures, and the commandments of the moral law, only make plainer the course of the child of God; but they are a cause of continued trial and discomfort to him who is unwilling to walk in the way God has pointed out. (H. C. Trumbull.)
The dividing pillar
A tradition current in the west of Scotland tells that when one of the Covenanting preachers and his little band of hearers had been surprised on a hill-side by the military, the minister cried out, “Lord, throw Thy mantle over us, and protect us.” And immediately out of the clear sky there fell a mist, which sundered and protected the pursued from the pursuers. And a Netherland tradition tells how a little army of Protestants was once saved from the king of Spain’s troops by the flashing lights and noise as of an army sent by the Lord to throw confusion into the camp of the enemy. The teacher will recollect the story of the Christian woman, who calmly awaiting in her home the approach of the enemy, was, in answer to her prayer, saved from them by a circling wall of snow. The dividing pillar is a reality yet. (S. S. Times.)
Different aspects of the same thing
There are many scenes in life which are either sad or beautiful, cheerless or refreshing, according to the direction from which we approach them. If, on a morning in spring, we behold the ridges of a fresh-turned ploughed field from their northern side, our eyes, catching only the shadowed slopes of the successive furrows, see an expanse of white, the unmelted remains of the night’s hailstorm, or the hoar-frost of the dawn. We make a circuit, or we cross over, and look behind us, and on the very same ground there is nothing to be seen but the rich brown soil, swelling in the sunshine, warm with promise, and chequered perhaps here and there with a green blade bursting through the surface. (J. A. Froude.)
Verses 21-25 Made the sea dry land.--
I. The deed of valour. Moses walking down the gravelly beach into the sea; Israel following. A lesson to us to come with boldness.
II. The miraculous way. We walk in new and unseen ways.
III. The overthrow of the enemy.
1. His wrath.
2. His foolhardiness; forgetting the plagues. All sin is irrational.
3. His sudden destruction. Death surprises the impenitent.
IV. The same instruments both defending and destroying.
1. The cloud.
2. The water.
3. The gospel.
V. What Israel found in the sea-path.
1. Rebuke for the murmuring.
2. Filial fear.
3. Trust in God.
4. Trust in Moses.
5. Nationality; before, they were all slaves, then free men, now a nation.
1. All people must struggle and dare.
2. Our characters come from soul-struggles where self is abandoned, and trust is put in God.
3. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
4. God will, out of every temptation, make a way of escape. (Dr. Fowler.)
A treacherous element
“An easy conquest!” said the eagle, attracted by the glittering scales of a large fish, which shone through the clear, deep waters of the lake. “An easy conquest!” As he dashed into the water, it was as if lightning had smitten the cliff and a fragment of it had fallen into the lake. There was a struggle; the fish dived, and drew the eagle with it. “Ah!” exclaimed the drowning king of birds, “had I been in the air, who would have dared to measure strength with me? But in this strange and treacherous element, I am overcome by one whom elsewhere I should have despised.” (Great Thoughts.)
Safe in the danger of duty
“The waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.” It is amazing what a blessing the things that we dreaded most become to us, when we go straight toward them at the call of God! The sea of business troubles, which looked as if it never could be crossed, but which we had no choice but to enter, how it opened right and left as we came to it, and then became to us a wall against competitors on either side, because we had ventured into its very depths when it was our clear duty to do that and nothing else! That desert life of danger which we entered with fear and trembling, at the call of our country, or of some loved one of our family, or of some dear friend, how its very exposures and trying experiences toughened us and trained us, and made us stronger and manlier and happier, so that its results to-day--its physical and mental and moral results-are as a wall of protection to us on our right hand and on our left! There is no place in all the world so safe for us as the place of danger, when danger is a duty. The best way of caring for ourselves is not to care for ourselves. If we want to walk dry shod, with a wall shielding us on either hand, the better way is to plunge right overboard into a sea of work or of trial or of peril, when God says Go forward. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Overthrew the Egyptians.
The destruction of the Egyptians
Consider this destruction of Pharaoh and his host as--
I. A judgment. It was--
1. Sudden in its execution. No warning given.
2. Terrible in its nature. Involving the destruction of a whole army, the picked men of the most powerful nation in the world.
3. Well merited by the subjects of it. Repeated warnings were conveyed in the plagues, yet all were now disregarded.
II. A deliverance. Israel delivered from Pharaoh--
1. Out of a perilous situation.
2. Notwithstanding their want of faith.
3. By a glorious miracle.
III. A lesson to--
1. The sinner. Beware lest your end be like Pharaoh’s; heed the warnings given to you.
2. The Christian. Learn to know the greatness of your deliverance from the host of Satan. (H. Barnard, B. A.)
It is not always safe to follow those who are in the path of duty
A place that is the safest in the world for one man may be the most dangerous in the world for the next man. The portcullis which comes down to shut in the endangered refugee, may crush to death his close pursuer. Because another man actually saves his life and acquires new strength by exposing himself in some sea of battle, or pestilence, or perils of search for a lost one, it is no reason why you should venture in that same line. II God told him to go there, the very waves of danger were a shield to him; but if you have no call there, those waves may overwhelm you. His risks in business prove his safety, because he made them in faith, when God commanded them. They would be your ruin if you presumed on them without a command from God, The question for you is not, Is that other man safe in that sea? but, Do I belong there? The call of God settles the question of your place of duty and your place of safety. God gives the walls of protection to His children when they are where He tells them to be. God throws down those very walls on those who have no business to be there. (H. C. Trumbull. )
Thus the Lord saved Israel
The great deliverance
Had it not been for this great deliverance, the children of Israel
would only have been remembered in the after-history of the world as the slaves
who helped to build the Pyramids.
Their religion was fast perishing among them, their religious rites forgotten; and they would soon have been found among the worshippers of the monster gods of Egypt. But God had better things in store for them, when He led them through the Red Sea, making a path for them amid the waters.
I. It was one of the greatest blessings for the human race, that during the preservation of the Jewish people, the great truth of the personality of God, and His nearness to His people, was set before them in language which could not be mistaken. And it is one of the greatest blessings which we enjoy, that we have the same Lord personally presented to us, revealed in the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ.
II. God is set before us here not only as a Person, but as a person who cares with all a father’s love and watchfulness for his own people, Our hopes in days of doubt and difficulty are directed to the same personal fatherly care of the great God who loves all His creatures, and who loves Christians above all in the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. When a great national victory is achieved, what boots it to him who loses his life in the hour of victory? The question for us is, not whether God has wrought a great deliverance, but whether we as individuals are partakers of that deliverance, partakers of the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Archbishop Tait.)
I. The state of the Israelites when Moses came to them.
1. They were in bondage.
2. They were so far conscious of the misery of their position that they had a strong desire for liberty.
3. They were by no means ready at first to accept the message of God’s deliverance.
4. They had their comforts even in slavery. In all these things we have a picture of ourselves.
II. The deliverance.
1. The moment the Passover is observed, that moment Pharaoh’s power is broken. The moment that all is right between us and God, that moment Satan’s power is broken, and he can no longer hold us in bondage.
2. The waters of judgment which saved the Israelites were the means of destroying the vast hosts of Egypt. The power of Satan is broken by the very means by which he intended to destroy.
3. It is our privilege to take our stand on the other side of the Red Sea, and see ourselves “raised up with christ” into a new life. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The diving deliverer recognised
And this mighty God, who so delivered Israel in ancient time, is our God for ever and ever. The walls and covering of our habitations are as truly upheld and kept from falling and crushing us to death, by the Divine hand, as were the walls of waters kept upright, like solid stone, by Almighty power, while the Hebrews passed safely between. We say that it was miracle which protected them, and the laws of nature which protect us. But in both cases it is God. The deepest and truest philosophy of life and faith for us is to bring ourselves into the most intimate relations with the infinite God. The most profound and accurate student of nature is he whose eye is quickest to see the plan and purpose of an intelligent, governing Mind in everything that exists. What should we think of an Israelite walking through the depths of the sea on dry ground, between walls of water standing up like marble on either hand, and yet not recognizing the intended and merciful display of the Divine power for his protection? What should we think of a ransomed Hebrew standing on the safe shore of the Red Sea on that memorable morning, and yet refusing to join in the song of thanksgiving for the great deliverance of the night? The same that we ought to think of one who lies down to sleep at night in his own house, and goes to his daily occupation in the morning, and never prays, never offers thanksgiving to God, for the mercy which redeems his life from destruction every moment. In God we live, and move, and have our being. Every use of our faculties, every sensation of pleasure, every emotion of happiness, every possession, experience, and hope that makes existence a blessing, is a witness to us of God’s special, minute, and ceaseless attention to our welfare. (D. March, D. D.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》