Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AN ACT OF FAITH ON THE PART OF MOSES' PARENTS. The faith of Moses' parents is signalised in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:23). Observe -
1. The occasion of its trial. The king's edict threatened the child's life. The ease of Moses was peculiar, yet not entirely so. No infancy or childhood but lays a certain strain upon the faith of parents. The bark of a child's existence is so frail, and it sets out amidst so many perils! And we are reminded that this strain is usually more felt by the mother than the father, her affection for her Offspring being in comparison deeper and more tender (cf. Isaiah 49:15). It is the mother of Moses who does all and dares all for the salvation of her babe.
2. Its nature. Both in Old and New Testaments it is connected with something remarkable in the babe's appearance (Acts 7:20; Hebrews 11:23). Essentially, however, it must have been the same faith as upholds believers in their trials still - simple, strong faith in God, that he would be their Help in trouble, and would protect and deliver the child whom with tears and prayers they cast upon his care. This was sufficient to nerve Jochebed for what she did.
3. Its working. Faith wrought with works, and by works was faith made Perfect (James 2:22).
(1) It nerved them to disobey the tyrant's edict, and hide the child for three months. Terrible as was this Period of suspense, they took their measures with prudence, calmness, and success. Religious faith is the secret of self-collectedness.
(2) It enabled them, when concealment was no longer practicable, to make the venture of the ark of bulrushes. The step was bold, and still bolder if, as seems probable, Jochebed put the ark where she did, knowing that the princess and her maidens used that spot as a bathing-place. Under God's secret guidance, she ventured all on the hope that the babe's beauty and helplessness would attract the lady's pity. She would put Pharaoh's daughter as a shield between her child and Pharaoh's mandate. Learn -
1. Faith is not inconsistent with the use of means.
2. Faith exhausts all means before abandoning effort.
3. Faith, when all means are exhausted, waits patiently on God.
4. Pious parents are warranted in faith to cast their children on God's care.
It was a sore trial to Jochebed to trust her child out of her own arms, especially with that terrible decree hanging over him. But faith enabled her to do it. She believed that God would keep him - would make him his charge - would provide for him, - and in that faith she put the ark among the rushes. Scarcely less faith are parents sometimes called upon to exercise in taking steps of importance for their children's future. Missionaries in India, e.g., parting with their children, sons leaving home, etc. Sorest trial of all, when parents on their deathbeds have to part with little ones, leaving them to care of strangers. Hard, very hard, to flesh and blood; but God lives, God cares, God will provide, - will watch the ark of the little one thus pushed out on the waters of the wide, wide world.
II. AN ACT OF PROVIDENCE ON THE PART OF MOSES' GOD. The faith of Moses' parents met with its reward. Almost "whiles" they were yet "praying" (Daniel 9:20), their prayers were answered, and deliverance was vouchsafed. In regard to which observe -
1. How various are the instrumentalities employed by Providence in working out its purposes. A king's edict, a mother's love, a babe's tears, a girl's shrewdness, the pity of a princess, Egyptian customs, etc.
2. How Providence co-operates with human freedom in bringing about desired results. The will of God was infallibly accomplished, yet no violence was done to the will of the agents. In the most natural way possible, Moses was rescued by Pharaoh's daughter, restored to his mother to nurse, adopted by the princess as her son, and afterwards educated by her in a way suitable to his position. Thus was secured for Moses -
(2) A liberal education.
(3) Experience of court-life in Egypt.
3. How easily the plans of the wicked can be turned against themselves. Pharaoh's plans were foiled by his own daughter. His edict was made the means of introducing to his own court the future deliverer of the race he meant to destroy. God takes the wicked in their own net (Psalm 9:15, 16).
4. How good, in God's providence, is frequently brought out of evil. The People might well count the issuing of this edict as the darkest hour of their night - the point of lowest ebb in their fortunes. Yet see what God brought out of it! The deliverance of a Moses - the first turning of the tide in the direction of help. What poor judges we are of what is really for or against us!
5. How greatly God often exceeds our expectations in the deliverances he sends. He does for us above what we ask or think. The utmost Moses' parents dared to pray for was doubtless that his life might be preserved. That he should be that very day restored to his mother, and nursed at her bosom; that he should become the son of Pharaoh's daughter; that he should grow to be great, wise, rich, and powerful - this was felicity they had not dared to dream of. But this is God's way. He exceeds our expectations. He gives to faith more than it looks for. So in Redemption, we are not only saved from perishing, but receive "everlasting life" (John 3:16) - honour, glory, reward. - J.O.
1. Obscurity of birth.
2. Peril in infancy.
3. Protection in Egypt.
4. Rejected by brethren
5. Humble toil. The carpenter's shop - keeping sheep.
6. Long pencil of silent preparation.
See F. W. Robertson's striking sermon on "The Early Development of Jesus" ('Sermons,' vol. 2.). The period was not so long in Christ's case as in the case of Moses, but had a like significance - preparation for future work. - J.O.
I. WE HAVE, IN THIS EXPERIENCE OF THE INFANT AND HIS MOTHER, A MOST AFFECTING ILLUSTRATION OF THE MISERABLE STATE TO WHICH ISRAEL HAD BEEN REDUCED. We come down from the general statement of the first chapter to the particular instance of the second. Moses was born, in all likelihood, just at the very height of Pharaoh's exasperation, and when the command of Exodus 1:22 was in process of being carried out. His servants, ever becoming more savage and brutal in disposition, as the very consequence of the harshness and severity they had daily to exercise, would be going about, watching the midwives and hanging round the abodes of the Israelites to listen for the first faint cry of the newborn child. In such circumstances, the work of the midwives most likely fell into abeyance; for the midwife became the unwilling herald of the murderer. Thus mothers in the crisis of their greatest need might be left without any ministry or sympathy whatever; their greatest safety in solitude, their greatest comfort to know that the newborn infant's existence was utterly unknown to any Egyptian. No hour could well be darker, no circumstances more provocative of despair. We may depend upon it that God meant much to be suggested to Israel in after generations, by the birth of Moses just at this time. "In which time Moses was born" (Acts 7:20). May we not well imagine that when in later years Moses stole away from time to time, out of the splendours and luxuries of his royal home, to spend an hour or two with his own mother, she would tell him that, for all his relation to Pharaoh's daughter and all his privileges about the court, he had been once, with many another helpless babe, the object of Pharaoh's bitterest animosity. Things were in a very bad state when Moses was born. Bad for Israel in point of present suffering; bad for Egypt itself, seeing what a merciless and unscrupulous man sat upon the throne; bad for the prospects of Moses and all the coming generation. And so we cannot but feel that the whole world was in a very bad state when Jesus was born. He was exposed to the risk of a Herod; and Herod was but one of many like-minded oppressors. And worse than any cruelty and oppression from without was the state of the people in their hearts. Jew and Gentile were alike utterly departed from God. Romans, ch. 1., does as much as human language can do to give us the measure of the universal corruption and degradation. We shall do well to mark in the New Testament the many things that show what unregenerate, vile, and apostate hearts were those with whom Christ and his apostles came in contact. Then, when we have the dark, repulsive picture of the times well before us, we may imitate Stephen, and say - "in which time Christ was born."
II. WE HAVE A MOST AFFECTING INSTANCE OF THE PECULIAR CARES AND SORROWS WHICH BELONG TO THE MATERNAL RELATION. "When she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months." This can hardly mean that if he had been a puny dwarfling, she would have cast him aside as not worth anxiety. We know that it is precisely the weakest, the least attractive to a stranger's eye, who most draws forth the mother's love; thus furnishing a sweet suggestion of that Divine affection which yearns, with the greatest tenderness, over those who may seem to others hopelessly lost. But as Moses Was a goodly child, she was bound by this fact to give all available chances for the promise that was in him. Who can tell what anxieties and alarms filled her thoughts during these terrible three months, and how often she skirted the extreme edge of disaster, always feeling that with each succeeding week her task became more difficult? How keen must have been the struggle before she brought her mind to face the dread necessity of exposure! We can imagine her being driven to decisive action at last, by seeing the agonies of some neighbouring mother, as the servants of Pharaoh discover her child and ruthlessly extinguish its delicate life. Here, in the sufferings of the mother of Moses, and of all the rest whom she but represents, we have something like the full significance set before us of that curse which first rested upon Eve. There may have been a measure of truth in what the midwives said concerning the case with which the mothers in Israel had been delivered; but not so were they going to escape the curse. Their trouble only began when the man-child was born into the world. Not to them at least was the birth to be an occasion of joy, but the beginning of unspeakable solicitude (Matthew 2:16-18; Matthew 24:19; John 16:21). This poor woman exposed her tender infant, not because she was callous of heart, unnatural, and lacking in love; but because of the very intensity of her love. So wretched had the state of Israel become that its infants found no place so dangerous as the place that should have been safest - the warm bosom of the mother.
III. WE HAVE A MOST IMPRESSIVE ILLUSTRATION OF WOMANLY SYMPATHY. The Scriptures, true to their character as being the fullest revelation not less of human nature than of the Divine nature, abound in illustrations of the demonstrativeness of womanly sympathy. To go no further afield, we have such an illustration in the previous chapter (the conduct of the midwives). But here there is an instance which is peculiarly impressive. It was the daughter of Pharaoh who showed the much-needed sympathy. She knew well how the babe came to be forsaken, and how, though it was forsaken, this waterproof ark had been so carefully provided for it. Somewhere in Israel she could see a mother anxiously speculating on the fate of this child; and she knew that all the strange discovery she had made came out of the stern, unrelenting policy of her own father. Some women indeed in her circumstances would have said, "Sad it may be that an infant should thus perish, but my father knows best. Leave it there." But compassion rose to flood-tide in her heart, and choked all thoughts of selfish policy, if they even so much as entered into her mind. Jesus says to his disciples, concerning one of the difficulties and pains of discipleship, that a man's foes shall be they of his own household. And the principle seems to hold good in the carrying out of worldly plans. If a man wants to be downright selfish, he also may find foes in his own household, not to be conquered, bribed, or persuaded. Pharaoh thinks he is closing-up the energies of Israel in a most effective fashion; but his own daughter opens a little window only large enough for an infant three months old to get through it, and by this in the course of time all the cunning and cruelty of her father are made utterly void.
IV. We have, in all these events connected with the infancy of Moses, A CRITICAL ILLUSTRATION OF THE REALITY OF SPECIAL PROVIDENCE. Notice that there is not a word about God in the narrative; indeed, he is not mentioned as having anything directly to do with Moses, until the interview, long after, at Horeb. There is plenty of mention of human beings, in the play of their affections, their desires, and their ingenuity. The mother, the child, the sister, the nurse, the mother by adoption, all come before us, but there is no mention of God. Yet who does not feel that the Lord of Israel, unmentioned though he be, is yet the central, commanding, and controlling figure in all that takes place! It was he who caused Moses to be born at that particular time. It was he who sheltered the infant during these three months, when perhaps others were being snatched away in close proximity on the right hand and the left. It was he who put into the heart of the mother to dispose of her child in this particular way, and taught her to make such a cradle as surely never was made before. It was he who gave the sister wisdom to act as she did - a wisdom possibly beyond her years. It was he who turned the feet of Pharaoh's daughter (of her and no one else) in that particular direction, and not in some other. All his excellent working in this matter is hidden from those who do not wish to see it; but how manifest it is, how wonderful and beautiful, to those whose eyes he himself has opened! How different is his working here from the working of the Deus ex machina in the tanglements and complications of classical fable. There, when things get to all appearance, hopelessly.. disordered, a deity comes in visible form and puts them right. But m thin real deliverance of Moses, the God who is the only true God works in a far different way. He works through natural means, and so silently, so unobtrusively, that if men wise in their own conceits are determined to ignore his presence, there is nothing to force it upon them.
V. This narrative, along with that of the midwives, has A VERY SPECIAL BEARING ON THE CAPABILITIES AND DUTIES OF WOMEN. We have here in the compass of some five-and-twenty verses a most encouraging instance of what women are able to do. So far, in this book of the Exodus, God is seen exalting the woman and abasing the man. Man, so far as he appears, is set before us a weak, thwarted creature; cruel enough in disposition, but unable to give his cruelty effect. Even a king with all his resources is baffled. But weak women set themselves to work, to shelter a helpless infant, and they succeed. Here as on other occasions the hand of God is manifest, taking the weak thing? of the world to confound the strong. What a lesson, what an appeal and warning to women! We are all only too readily inclined to say, "What can I do?" Ñ women perhaps more than others, because of their inability to share in the bustle and strain of public life. Think then of what God enabled these women to do, simply following out the dictates of natural affection and pity. They did far more than they were conscious of. Might not women ask very earnestly if they are doing anything like what they ought to do, and have the opportunity to do, in bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Christian women, those who are themselves new creatures in Christ Jesus, able to have all the love and wisdom and every spiritual grace that belongs to the new creature, might do a work for the world, compared with which the work of these women whom we have been considering would look a small matter indeed. - Y.
experience and a dark prospect. Still the man believed in God, remembered the promises, and knew that God also must remember them; did not see how they were to be fulfilled, but was content to do his own duty and leave all else to God. See -
I. How HIS FAITH WAS MANIFESTED BY HIS WORKS. We have -
1. His marriage. Under all the circumstances he might well have been excused if he had decided to remain unmarried. Such advice as that of St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:25-28) would seem to apply to such a time. The matter, however, was not to be so easily settled. Faith will not permit marriage without prudence and due forethought, but neither will Faith permit abstinence from marriage merely because marriage will bring "trouble in the flesh." Improvidence and a too-calculating abstinence both prompted by selfishness. Faith looks forward and looks around, but she looks up also, and is guided by the result of that upward look. Theories of political economists, etc., are not to be despised, none the less Faith will act - her actions regulated to some extent, but not fettered, by calculation. Paul's teaching is to be qualified by Amram's example; Amram knew the times, foresaw the rocks ahead, yet he "took to wife a daughter of Levi."
2. His choice of a wife. Clear from narrative that the woman was the man's true helpmeet. Of the same family, they must have been well acquainted, and her conduct shows that her faith equalled his. Faith not only prompted marriage, but also directed choice. Amram and his wife did not marry merely for the sake of marrying, but "for the mutual society, help, and comfort which the one ought to have of the other both in prosperity and adversity."
3. Conduct in the face of trial. The two, man and wife, now as one: though the woman comes to the fore, no doubt her faith represents that of both. Aaron and Miriam, reared before the trial reached its height; then "a goodly child," just at the season of greatest danger. Note the action prompted by faith; how different from that which might have been suggested by fatalism. Fatalism would have said, "Let things be; if he must be killed he must." Cf. Eastern proverb, "On two days it skills not to avoid death, the appointed and the unappointed day." Faith, on the other hand, is ready and courageous, holding that God helps those who help themselves, or rather that he helps them through self-help. But notice -
II. HOW THIS LIVING FAITH WAS APPROVED AND JUSTIFIED.
1. The conduct of the wife justified her husband's choice. She was the helpmeet he hoped she would be. God gave her wisdom to comfort and strengthen him; His blessing added the third strand to that threefold cord which is not quickly broken.
2. Their united efforts for the preservation of their children were crowned by God with complete success. [Illustrate from the history - all happening, all ordained to happen, just as they hoped.] They had prepared, by carrying out the plan which faith prompted, a channel through which God's gracious and ready help might reach them; and God used the channel which they had prepared. The whole narrative shows how faith, when it is living, proves its life by works, and how in response to a living faith God shows that he is a living God. If Amram had walked by sight and not by faith, Moses might never have been bern, Jochebed never have been married; as it was he walked by faith and not by sight, doing his duty and trusting God, and through him came redemption unto Israel - the child "taken out of" the water became the leader who should "take" his people "out of" bondage. - G.
I. WHAT TRUE FAITH IS.
1. There was obedience to a Divine impulse: her heart was appealed to, she saw he was a goodly child, and she hid him three months. She read in the child's appearance an intimation of future greatness, and that God did not mean him to die in accordance with the king's commandment. The work of faith begins in obeying the Spirit's prompting in the heart.
2. She was not daunted by difficulties. She might have asked what could this temporary concealment do but only prolong her misery. Faith is content if it has light but for one step.
3. Faith is fertile in expedients. The safety which is no longer to be had in the home may be found on the waters.
4. When it has done all, it waits, as with girded loins, for the dawning light. Miriam stood afar off.
II. HOW GOD JUSTIFIES OUR TRUST. When we have done all, and, knowing it is nothing, look unto him, then God appears for us.
1. The child's life was saved.
2. He was given back into his mother's arms.
3. The very might which before was raised to slay was now used to guard him.
4. He was freed from the unhappy lot of his countrymen, and set among the princes of the land. Our trust prepares a place where God may manifest himself. He "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." - U.
Exodus 2:10. Save Jesus, Moses is the greatest name in history. Compare with it Mahomet, or even that of Paul. As the founder of the Jewish religion - under God - his influence is felt to-day, not only by 6,000,000 Jews, but throughout the Christian Church. Here is the beginning of his career. This mighty stream of influence we can trace to its source; not like the Nile, whose origin is still in debate, a mystery. The text gives the name and its reason. The derivation is either Hebrew, and then = "Drawing out," so designating the act of the princess; or Egyptian, and then = "Saved from the water." The name a memorial of salvation. Happy, when children bearing distinguished names, shame them not in the after-years. We treat the subject in the order of the story: so its suggestiveness for heart and life will appear.
I. THE FAMILY OF THE CHILD. Amram and Jochebed, the father and mother; Miriam, much older, and Aaron, three years older, than Moses. Note: Moses owed -
1. Little to his family. Look at ver. 1. But the pre-eminence of Levi was not yet. The tribe did not make Moses; rather Moses (with Miriam and Aaron) the tribe. "Blue blood?' Yes! and No! There is a sense in which we may be proud of ancestry, a sense in which not. What to me that I descend from a Norman baron? Everything to me that I come from able, gifted, saintly parentage. See Cowper on "My Mother's Picture," lines 108-112.
2. Little to his home. Only a slave but; the scene of toil, poverty, suffering, fear. Out of it brought one thing - sympathy with suffering.
3. Little to his parents. Biographers usually give us the attributes and history of ancestors, and show how they account for the career of the child. Nothing of that here. Even the names of the parents do not appear. Note omission in ver. 1. "A man," etc. "A daughter," etc. No doubt here a mental and moral heritage; but little training, because little opportunity. Generally, there is, under this head, a lesson of encouragement for those who have, or fancy they have, hard beginnings in life. Some of earth's noblest have risen out of disadvantage.
II. THE APPEARANCE OF THE CHILD. For traditions of predictions of his birth see Jos. Antiq. 2:9. 2-4. Moses was -
1. No common child. Scepticism objects that Miriam and Aaron are not mentioned in vers. 1, 2 by name. But the motive and impulse of inspiration are to be taken into account. The object was to give the event which led to the Exodus, and to the constitution of the Jewish Church. From this point of view interest concentrates on Moses. Hence we infer the extraordinary greatness of his character and career.
2. Born at a critical moment. See Acts 7:20. So the Jewish proverb: "When the tale of bricks is doubled, then comes Moses." Note: -
(1) At the moment of deepest darkness God sends deliverance.
(2) When he wants instruments he creates them.
3. Of no common beauty. Not only in his mother's eyes, which would be natural enough, but absolutely. See Acts 7:20, as well as Exodus 2:2; and for interesting illustration, Jos. Antiq. 2:9.6. All this the promise of a higher beauty of character that opened out with the years.
III. THE DANGER OF THE CHILD. The child born to great issues, and therefore must run the gauntlet of peril. Compare Jesus under the edict of Herod with Moses under that of Pharaoh. No sooner born than a battle for life. The two only infants, but full of possibilities. Pharaoh! the babe you may crush; hereafter the man shall ruin you. A seeming law in the ease, to which witness the legends of many nations, e.g. Romulus and Remus, Cyrus, King Arthur.
IV. LOVE FENCING FOR THE CHILD.
1. Of the mother.
(1) Concealing. Hebrews 11:23. How by faith? Went right on in the discharge of common duty to the child, not turning aside to observe the king's commandment. Then the love went to the other extreme: -
(2) Exposing. Here narrate the facts, for which see the text and commentary above; e.g. impossibility of longer concealing a growing child, form and material of the ark, laid in a place of comparative safety, "in the flags" at "the lip of the river," the elements of danger - starvation, discovery - not crocodiles on the Tanitic branch of the river. But observe the feeling behind the facts. A mother's despair becoming hope, and then faith; but a faith provident and workful, for, living in the neighbourhood, she could not fail to know where the childless (so says tradition) princess was wont to bathe. Just there she placed the child.
2. Of the sister. Imagine her anxiety! The mother-heart in every girl. She was
(1) Watchful: over the ark, against an enemy, for the princess;
(3) Clever, full of resource;
(5) Became eminent; a prophetess, Exodus 15:20.
3. Of God. Before all, over all, and behind all! Love to the child, sister, parents, to Israel, and to the world to be blest through him.
V. THE DELIVERANCE OF THE CHILD. This of God, but note the part played by each of the following instruments: -
1. The princess. Note the independent status of an Egyptian princess, the custom then of bathing in the open river, the probable locality, Zoan (Psalm 78:43), that compassion was inculcated by the Egyptian religion, and the probable application to her of Acts 10:35.
2. The sister.
3. The mother.
4. The princess again; and possible lifelong parting from the mother. Finally, observe -
1. The deliverances of God are wonderful. Only one person in all the land of Egypt that could save Moses, and she came to the river.
2. The object of God's deliverances does not centre and rest on the delivered. It passes beyond: Moses for Israel, Israel for the Messiah, Messiah for the world. So Abraham, Genesis 12:2. So with elect spirits and elect nations in all ages. None for himself.
3. So is it with the great salvation. Wonderful! The benediction thereof unresting, passing on from the first recipients.
4. But the retributions of God are just as marvellous. Moses was to be the ruin of the house of Pharaoh, and deservedly so. But in the providence of God the tyrant is made to pass by and even protect the instrument of his future punishment. - R.
Hebrews 11:24-27). Two views may be taken of the episode. Either, as might be held, the elements of decision were floating in an unfixed state in the mind of Moses, when this event happened, and precipitated a choice; or, what seems more likely, the choice had already been made, and the resolution of Moses already taken, and this was but the first outward manifestation of it. In either case, the act in question was a deliberate committal of himself to his brethren's side - the crossing of the Rubicon, which necessitated thereafter a casting-in of his lot with theirs. View this choice of Moses -
I. AS A RESULT OF MENTAL AND MORAL AWAKENING. "When Moses was grown." With years came thought; with thought "the philosophic mind;" with this, power of observation. Moses began to think for himself, to see things with his own eyes. What he saw made evident to him the impossibility of halting longer between two opinions. He had not before felt the same necessity of definitely making up his mind whether he would be Hebrew or Egyptian. He had not seen in the same way the impossibility of retaining a sort of connection with both - sympathising with the Hebrews, yet enjoying Egypt's pleasures. Now there came awakening. The two spheres of life fell apart to his vision in their manifest incongruity - in their painful, and even, in some respects, hideous contrast. He may now be Hebrew or Egyptian; he can no longer be both. Up to this time choice could be staved off. Now it is forced upon him. To determine now not to choose, would be to choose for Egypt. He knows his duty, and it is for him to decide whether or not he will do it. And such in substance is the effect of moral awakening generally.
1. In most lives there is a time of thoughtlessness, at least of want of serious and independent reflection. It is not at this stage seen why religion should require so very decided a choice. God and the world seem not absolute incompatibles. It is possible to serve both; to agree with both. Christ's teaching to the contrary sounds strangely on the ears.
2. But an awakening comes, and it is now seen very clearly that this double service is impossible. The friendship of the world is felt to be enmity with God (James 4:4). The contrariety, utter and absolute, between what is in the world and love of the Father (John 2:15) is manifest beyond dispute. Then comes the need for choice. God or the creature; Christ, or the world which crucified him; God's people or the friendship of those who deride and despise them. There is no longer room for dallying. Not to choose is already to have chosen wrongly - to have decided for the world, and rejected Christ.
II. AS A VICTORY OVER STRONG TEMPTATION. It was no slight victory over the temptations of his position for Moses to renounce all at the call of duty, and cast in his lot with an oppressed and despised race. His temptation was obviously a typical one, including in it everything which tempts men still to refrain from religious decision, and to dissemble relationship to Christ and connection with his people; and his victory was also typical, reminding us of his who became poor that we might be rich (2 Corinthians 8:7), and who put aside "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them," when offered him on sinful terms (Matthew 4:8-10). View it -
1. As a victory over the world. Moses knew his advantages at the court of Pharaoh, and doubtless felt the full value of them. Egypt was to him the world. It represented to his mind
(1) Wealth and position.
(2) Ease and luxury.
(3) Brilliant worldly prospects.
(4) A sphere congenial to him as a man of studious tastes.
And all this he voluntarily surrendered at the call of duty - surrendered it both in spirit and in fact. And are not we, as Christians, called also to surrender of the world? Renouncing the world, indeed, is not monkery. It is not the thoughtless flinging away of worldly advantages. But neither is it the mere renouncing of what is sinful in the world. It is the renouncing of it wholly, so far as use of it for selfish ends or selfish enjoyment is concerned: the sinking of its ease, its pleasures, its possessions, in entire self-surrender to Christ and duty. And this carries with it the ability for any outward sacrifice that may be needed.
2. As a victory over the dread of reproach. In renouncing Egypt, Moses chose that which the multitudes shun as almost worse than death itself, viz.
Yet how many stumble at reproach in the service of the Saviour! A measure of reproach is implied in all earnest religious profession. And it requires courage to face it - to encounter the moral crucifixion involved in being flouted and scouted by the world. It is when "tribulation and persecution ariseth because of the word" that "by and by" many are "offended" (Matthew 13:21). Yet to be able to encounter reproach is the true moral greatness - the mark of the spiritual hero.
3. As a victory over private feelings and inclinations. Not only was there much about his life in Egypt which Moses dearly loved (leisure, opportunities for self-culture, etc.); but there must have been much about the Hebrews which, to a man of his courtly up-bringing, would necessarily be repulsive (coarseness of manners, servility of disposition, etc.). Yet he cheerfully cast in his lot with them, taking this as part of his cross. A lesson for people of culture. He who would serve God or humanity must lay his account for much he does not like. Every reformer, every earnest servant of mankind, has to make this sacrifice. He must not be ashamed to call those "brethren" who are yet in every way "compassed with infirmity," about whom there is much that is positively distasteful. Here also, "no cross, no crown."
III. AS AN ACT OF RELIGIOUS FAITH. The determining motives in Moses' choice were -
1. Patriotism. This people was his people, and his blood boiled with indignation at the wrongs they were enduring. Only a nature dead to the last spark of nobleness could have reconciled itself to look on their sufferings and yet eat bread and retain favour at the court of their oppressor.
2. Humanity. "There was in him that nobleness of nature, which besides tending to sympathy with the oppressed, revolts from all that is selfish and cruel; and this nobleness was stirred up in him by seeing the state of his kindred, and comparing it with his own. This was his faith. Faith saved him from being content to be idle and useless, and gave him zeal and courage to play the part of a man and a hero in the liberation of his people" (Dr. J. Service).
3. Religion. We fail of a right view of Moses' conduct if we stop short of religious faith proper. Moses knew something of the history of his people. He knew them to be the people of God. He knew of the covenants and promises. He knew of their religious hopes. And it was this which weighed most of all with him in casting-in his lot among them, and enabled him to count their reproach greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt. His faith was -
(1) Faith in God. He believed in the God of his fathers, and in the truth and certainty of his promise.
(2) Faith in the spiritual greatness of his nation. He saw in these Hebrews, sweat-covered, down-trodden, afflicted as they were, the "people of God." Faith is not misled by the shows of things. It pierces to the reality.
(3) Faith in duty. "It is of the essence of faith that he who has, it feels himself to be in a world of better things than pleasures, whether innocent of sinful, which are only pleasures of sense; and in which to be right is greater and better than to be mighty or to be rich - feels, in a word, that the best of this life, and of all life, is goodness" (Dr. J. Service).
(4) Faith in the recompense of reward. Moses believed in future recompense - in immortality. A cardinal doctrine, even in Egyptian theology, it can scarcely be supposed to have been absent from his. How great was the reward of Moses, even in this life! "He was happier as the persecuted and despised worshipper of Jehovah, the avowed kinsman of slaves, than as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and the admired proficient in all Egyptian wisdom. He felt that he was richer, despoiled of the treasures of Egypt. He felt that he was happier, divorced from the pleasures of sin. He felt that he was freer, reduced to the bondage of his countrymen. He was richer, because enriched with the treasures of grace; happier, because blessed with the smiles of an approving conscience; freer, because enfranchised with the liberty of the sons of God. The blessings he chose were richer than all the advantages he cast away" (Lindsay). How great has been his reward in history! "For ages past his name has outshone all the monarchs combined of the one-and-thirty dynasties" (Hamilton). But the eternal reward has been greatest of all. A glimpse of it in the glorious reappearance of Moses on the mountain of transfiguration. Wise choice, for honours like these to surrender riches and pleasures which were perishable! Through faith in God, Christ, duty, and eternity, let the same noble choice be repeated in ourselves! ? J.O.
Acts 7:25). But how to proceed he knew not. His plans had taken no definite shape. There was no revelation, and perhaps one was not expected. So, acting under impulse, he struck the blow which killed the Egyptian, but did no service to the cause he had at heart. That he did not act with moral clearness is manifest from the perturbation with which he did the deed, and from his subsequent attempt to hide the traces of it. It completed his discomfiture when, next day, he learned that the deed was known, and that his brethren, instead of welcoming his interposition, were disposed to resent it. He had involved himself in murder. He had sown the seeds of later troubles. Yet he had gained no end by it. How true it is that violence seldom leads to happy issues! "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). An exhibition of violence on our own part is a bad preparation for interfering in the quarrels of others. He that does the wrong will rarely fail to remind us of it. Learn lessons from the narrative -
I. AS TO THE CHARACTER OF MOSES. Moses, like every man of true, powerful, and loving nature, was capable of vehement and burning anger. He was a man of great natural impetuosity. This casts light upon the sin of Meribah (Numbers 20:10). An outbreak of the old, long-conquered failing (cf. Exodus 4:13). The holier side of the same disposition is seen in the anger with which he broke in pieces the Tables of the Law (Exodus 32:19). It casts light also on his meekness, and teaches us to distinguish meekness from mere natural placableness and amiability. Meekness - the meekness for which Moses is famed (Numbers 12:3) - was not. a gift of nature, but the result of passions, naturally strong, conquered and controlled - of long and studied self-repression.
II. AS TO UNPURIFIED ZEAL.
1. Unpurified zeal leads to hasty action. It is ungoverned. It acts from impulse. It is not schooled to bearing and waiting. It cannot bide God's time, nor keep to God's ways.
2. Unpurified zeal unfits for God's service. It relies too much on self. It takes events into its own hand. Hence Moses is sent to Midian to spend forty years in learning humility and patience - in acquiring power of self-control. He has to learn that the work is not his, but God's, and that only God can accomplish it.
3. Unpurified zeal, by its hasty action, retards, rather than furthers, the accomplishment of God's purposes. By driving Moses into Midian, it probably put back the hour of Israel's deliverance. - J.O.
I. CONSIDER THE CONDUCT OF MOSES HERE AS CASTING LIGHT UPON CERTAIN QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE WORK TO WHICH HE WAS AFTERWARDS CALLED.
1. Though he had been brought up amid Egyptian surroundings, he remained an Israelite in heart. Very early he must have been made acquainted, in some way or other, with the strange romance that belonged to his infancy. Whatever Pharaoh's daughter brought to bear on him in the way of Egyptian influence one day, would be neutralised by what he heard from his own mother the next. For it was not likely that, alter he was able to understand it, his nurse would long conceal the fact that she was his true mother. Perhaps the very ark of bulrushes had become one of his treasured possessions. His name, once explained, was a continual memento of infantile peril and deliverance. And as he grew onward to manhood, he would be inclined to reproach himself again and again for living so easily and comfortably with Pharaoh's daughter, while her father was treating with such harshness and injustice his own people, his own kinsfolk - Aaron his own brother being probably among them. Thus there was everything to keep the state of Israel incessantly in his mind; everything in the way of good soil to make the seed of patriotism grow, if only the seed were in his nature to begin with. And there it unquestionably was, growing with his growth and strengthening with his strength.
2. It is very important to notice how clearly the vicarious element comes out in the relation of Moses to Israel during the years he spent with Pharaoh's daughter. In one sense, he did not suffer himself. His life was not made "bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field." No taskmaster ever smote him. And yet, in another sense, he suffered perhaps even more than any of the Israelites. There are burdens of the spirit which produce a groaning and prostration far worse than those of any bodily toil. There is a laceration of the heart more painful, and harder to heal, than that of any bodily wound. Moses felt the sorrows of Israel as if they were his own. In all their affliction he was afflicted. Not one of them smarted more under a sense of the injustice with which they were treated than he did. It is a most precious, ennobling and fruitful feeling to have in the heart - this feeling which links the unsuffering to the suffering in a bond not to be broken. It brings together those who have the opportunity to deliver, and those who, fastened hand and then can do nothing for themselves. We find this feeling, in its purest, most operative, and most valuable expression in Jesus, in him who knew no sin, no defiling thoughts, no torture of conscience for his own wrong-doing; and who yet came to feel so deeply the misery and helplessness of a fallen world, that he descended into it for its deliverance, having an unspeakably keener sense of its calamities than the most observant and meditative of its own children. It is a grand thing to have this element of vicarious suffering in our hearts; for the more we have it the more we are able to follow Jesus in serving our needy fellow-men. Moses had this element; the prophets had it; Paul had it; every true and successful apostle and evangelist must have it (Romans 9:1-5). Every Christian in process of salvation should have this element as he looks round on those still ignorant and out of the way. The civilised should have it as he looks on the savage; the freeman as he looks on the slave; the healthy as he looks on the sick; the man as he looks on the brute creation. This element of vicarious suffering has been at the root of some of the noblest and most useful lives in all ages, and not least in modern times. A thousand times let us run the risk of being called sentimental and maudlin, rather than lack the element or cripple it in its vigorous growth. Certain it is, that we shall do but little for Christ without it.
3. We have a very suggestive intimation of the superiority of Moses to the people whom he was about to deliver; this superiority being not a mere matter of greater social advantages, but arising out of personal character. The brother whom he succoured treated him but badly in return. He did not mean to treat him badly; but simple thoughtlessness makes untold mischief. He must have known that Moses wished the act kept a secret, yet in a few hours it is known far and wide through Israel. Not all might have been so inconsiderate, but assuredly most would; and so this man may be taken as representative of his people. He had not the courage and energy to return the Egyptian's blow himself; nor had he the activity and forethought of mind to shelter the generous champion who did return the blow. Israel was in servitude altogether; not only in body, but in all the nobler faculties of life as well. Hence, if Israel was to be saved, it must be by the condescending act of a superior and stronger land. And thus Moses slaying the Egyptian shadows forth a prime requirement in the greater matter of the world's redemption. Unless the Son of God had stooped from his brighter, holier sphere, to break the bonds of sin and death, what could we poor slaves have done?
II. CONSIDER THE CONDUCT OF MOSES HERE AS INDICATING THE PRESENCE IN HIM OF GREAT DEFECTS WHICH REQUIRED MUCH DISCIPLINE AND ENLIGHTENMENT TO REMOVE THEM. Moses, in respect of his ardent and sustained sympathy with Israel, was a man after God's own heart; but he had everything yet to learn as to how that sympathy was to be made truly serviceable. His patriotism, strong and operative as it had proved, was produced by entirely wrong considerations. His profound and fervent interest in Israel was a right feeling, and an indispensable one for his work; but it needed to be produced by quite different agencies, and directed to quite different ends. How had the feeling been produced? Simply by observing the cruelties inflicted on his brethren. He slew the Egyptian simply because he smote his brother, not because that brother belonged to the chosen people of God. The thing wanted was that he should come to understand clearly the connection of Israel with God, their origin and their destiny. He was to sympathise with Israel, not only as his brethren, but first and chiefly as the people of God. Patriotism is a blessing or a curse just according to the form it takes. If it begins to say, "Our country, right or wrong," then it is one of the greatest curses a nation can be afflicted with. Arrogance, conceit, and exorbitant self-assertion are as hideous in a nation as in an individual, and in the end correspondingly disastrous. Our greatest sympathy with men is wanted in that which affects them most deeply and abidingly. Sympathy has no full right to the name till it is the sympathy of forgiven sinners who are being sanctified and perfected, with those who are not only sinners, but still in the bondage of sin, and perhaps hardly conscious of the degradation of the bondage, and the firmness with which its fetters are fixed. Moses did not know how much his brethren were losing, because he did not know how much he himself was still lacking, even though in such comfortable freedom at Pharaoh's court. In his eyes, the main thing to be done for Israel was to get them freedom, independence, self-control in this world's affairs. And therefore it was necessary for God to effect a complete and abiding change in Moses' way of thinking. He needed to be made better acquainted with God, and with God's past revelations, and expressed purposes for Israel. Slaying the Egyptian did not advance the real interests of Israel a whit, except as God wove the action in with his own far-reaching plans. Considered purely as a human action, it was an aimless one, fruitful of evil rather than good. It was natural enough and excusable enough; but the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; they that take the sword shall perish with the sword; and thus Moses in his carnal impetuosity made clear how dependent he was to be upon God for a really wise, comprehensive, practical plan of action. In the providence of God he was to come back to Israel, not to deal with some obscure subordinate, but with a Pharaoh himself; not to take the sword into his own hands, but to stand still himself, and make the people stand still also, that he and they together might see the salvation of God. - Y.
Acts 7:22). At his age, forty years, with his influence, surely if ever he was to do anything for his people, now must be the time. Notice:
I. THE HASTY MISCALCULATION OF THE MAN.
1. What he did, and why he did it. "It came into his heart to visit his brethren." In the seminaries of the priests, in the palace, with the army, he had not forgotten his people; but he had scarcely realised the bitterness of their trial. Now his heart burns within him as he looks upon their burdens. He feels that he is the appointed deliverer trained for this very purpose. What is so plain to him must, he thinks, be equally plain to others (Acts 7:25). A chance encounter gives him the opportunity of declaring himself; defending a Hebrew, he kills an Egyptian. The supposition that his brethren will understand proves to be a great mistake: "they understood not." Moses did that which we are all too ready to do: took it for granted that other people would look at things from his standpoint. A man may be all that he thinks himself to be; but he will fall in accomplishing his designs if he makes their success depend upon other people taking him at his own estimate; there is an unsound premiss in his practical syllogism which will certainly vitiate the conclusion. What we should do is to take pains to place ourselves at the standpoint of other people, and before assuming that they see what we see, make sure that at any rate we see what they see. Moses, the courtier, could see the weakness of the oppressor, and how little power he had if only his slaves should rise; the slaves, however, bowing beneath the tyranny, felt and exaggerated the tyrant's power - they could not see much hope from the aid of this self-constituted champion.
2. What followed from his deed. Life endangered, compulsory flight, a refuge amongst shepherds in a strange land, forty years' comparative solitude, life's prospects blighted through impatience. "More haste worse speed" is one of the world's wise proverbial generalisations. Moses illustrates the proverb - forty years' exile for an hour's hurry!
II. THE OVERRULING PROVIDENCE OF GOD. "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will." The apparently wasted years not really wasted - no needless delay, only preparation and Divine discipline. Moses had learnt much, but he needed to learn more. God takes him from the school of Egypt, and places him in the university of Nature, with Time and Solitude and the Desert as his tutors. What did they teach him?
1. The value of the knowledge gained already. Well "to be learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." But wisdom improves by keeping - it needs time and solitude to ripen it. Intellectually and spiritually we are ruminants; silence and- solitude are needed to appropriate and digest knowledge.
2. New knowledge. Few books, if any, of man's making, but the books of Nature invited study. The knowledge of the desert would be needed by-and-bye, together with much other knowledge which could be gained nowhere else.
3. Meekness. He not merely became a wiser man, he grew to be also a better man. The old self-confidence yielded place to entire dependence upon the will of God. God had delivered him from the sword of Pharaoh (cf. ver. 15 with Exodus 18:3), and would help him still, though in a strange land. Nothing makes a man so meek as faith; the more he realises God's presence and confides in him, the more utterly does the "consuming fire' burn out of him all pride and selfishness. Application: - Turning the pages of the book of memory, what records of delay occasioned by impatience! Yet how do the same pages testify to the way in which all along God has shaped our ends! It is a mercy that we are in such good hands, and not left to our own devices. Trusting in God, we can hope to make the best even of our errors. He can restore - ay, more than restore - even years which the locust hath eaten (Joel 2:25). - G.
I. MOSES' SELF-SACRIFICE (Hebrews 11:24-26).
1. He owned his relationship to the enslaved and hated people.
2. He cast in his lot among them. God calls for the same sacrifice to-day; confession of Jesus and brotherhood with his people.
3. The result of a mother's influence: from her he must have learned the truth regarding his descent and the hope of Israel. The seed sown outlived the luxury, temptations, ambitions of the court. God's blessing rests on these efforts of holiest love.
II. THE LESSONS OF HIS FAILURE.
1. True desire to serve is not the only requisite for success. We may be defeated by mistakes of judgment, an ungoverned temper, etc.
2. There can be no true service without the heart's waiting upon God. In order to guide we ourselves must follow.
3. The power which does not wait upon God comes to nothing. Contrast the prince with the unknown wanderer in Midian. Not only were means and influence lost, his very opportunity was gone. "Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil." - U.
Acts 7:25). The heart-abandonment of the throne must have taken place before Moses went out from the palace of the princess to inquire, and therefore before the enforced flight. Place therefore "the crisis of being" between Exodus 2:10 and 11. Let no one fear to face this error in the life of the Lord's servant. Admit frankly that Moses was wrong. We are embarrassed by a notion that clings to us, that the Bible is a repertory of good examples. It is not so. Only One perfect. All other men and women in tee Bible are imperfect and sinful, the subjects of God's grace, pardoning, correcting, sanctifying, glorifying. Never lower the moral standard to defend a Bible character. It gives occasion to the adversary, and brings no satisfaction to the believer. In this chapter of the biography of Moses observe in his conduct -
I. THE RIGHT.
1. Inquiry. No inclination to shrink from responsibility under the plea of want of knowledge. See the striking passage, Proverbs 24:11, 12. Moses going out to investigate for himself, argues that either his mother or his people, or both, had opened and maintained communication with him, informing him of his origin, teaching the doctrine of the true God, and awakening concern.
2. Sympathy. "He looked on their burdens."
3. Indignation. We may be angry and sin; but it is also true that we may not be angry, and sin even yet more deeply. For illustration cite modern instances of cruel oppression.
II. THE WRONG.
1. Excess of indignat feeling.
The "supposition" of Stephen is no justification, even if true; but it may not be true, or may be only partially true; for the utterance of Stephen, based on tradition, is not to be confounded with the inspired dictum of God. That furtive look "this way and that way" does not indicate an assured conscience. Note the true meaning and spirit of Romans 14:23.
III. THE IMMEDIATE RESULTS. Failure - Peril - Fear - Flight - Delay of Israel's deliverance.
IV. THE FINAL OVERRULING. God originates no wrong, but, being done, lays on it the hand of the mighty. That enforced life in the desert became as important a part of the training of Moses as life at Avaris; acquainted him with "the Wilderness of the Wandering," its resources, mode of life; those other children of Abraham - the Midianites; gave him to wife a descendant of Abraham; led to an important policy for all the future of Israel (Exodus 18.); and furnished an all-but-indispensable human helper and guide (Numbers 10:29-31). Thus does the Eternal Mercy overrule and countervail the errors, even the sins, of penitent believers. - R.
I. WE HAVE HERE FURTHER IMPORTANT REVELATIONS WITH RESPECT TO THE CHARACTER OF MOSES AND HIS FITNESS TO BE DELIVERER OF ISRAEL.
1. It is evident that his conscience did not accuse him, as touching the slaying of the Egyptian. Wrong as the action was, he made it clear that he had done it from a right motive. Although he had taken the life of a fellowman, he had taken it not as a murderer, with malice in his heart against the individual, but as a patriot. Hence the conscience that makes cowards of us all - the consciousness, that is, of having done a wrong thing - was absent from his breast. It is a very great matter indeed not to go against conscience. Let conscience have life and authority, and God will take his own time and means to cure the blinded understanding.
2. Moses felt continued interest in the state of -Israel. He Went out the second day. He did not say, upon reflection, that these visits to his brethren were too perilous to be continued. He did not say, "I cannot trust my own indignant. ,, feelings,, and therefore I must keep away from these oppressed countrymen of mine. His heart was wholly and steadily with them. Interest may be easily produced while the exhibition of an injury is fresh, or the emotions are excited by some skilful speaker. But we do not want the heart to be like an instrument, only producing music so long as the performer touches it. We want it to have such a continued activity within, such a continued thoughtfulness, as will maintain a noble and alert sympathy with men in all their varied and incessant needs.
3. The conduct of Moses here shows that he was a hater of all oppression. His patriotic feeling had been excited by the Egyptian smiting the Hebrew, and now his natural sense of justice was outraged by seeing one Hebrew smiting another. He beheld these men the victims of a common oppression, and yet one of them who happens to be the stronger adds to the already existing sufferings of his weaker brother instead of doing what he can to diminish them. The patriotism of Moses, even with all its yet unremedied defects, was founded not only in community of blood, but in a deep and ardent love for all human rights. We may conclude that if Moses had been an Egyptian, he would not have joined Pharaoh in his remorseless treatment of Israel, nor seconded a policy of oppression and diminution on the plea that it was one of necessity. If the Egyptians had been under the thraldom of the Hebrews, then, Hebrew though he was, he would have sympathised with the Egyptians.
II. CONSIDER THE OCCASION OF HIS REMONSTRANCE. It is a sad lesson Moses has now to learn, that the oppressed will be the oppressors, if only they can get the chance. Here we are in the world, all sinners together, with certain outward consequences of sin prevalent amongst us in the shape of poverty and sickness, and all such trials onward to death. Right feeling should teach us, in these circumstances, to stand by one another, to bear one another's burdens and do what we can, by union and true brotherliness, to mitigate the oppressions of our great enemy. While he is going about seeking whom he may devour, we, his meditated prey, might well refrain from biting and devouring one another. But what is the real state of things? The rich sinner afflicts the poor, and too often uses him in his helplessness for his own aggrandisement. The strong sinner is always on the look-out to make as much as he can out of every sort of weakness among his fellow-sinners. And what is worse still, when the sinner professes to have passed from death unto life, he does not always show the full evidence of it in loving the brethren as he is bound to do (1 John 3:14). Some professed Christians take a long time to perceive, and some never perceive at all, that even simple self-indulgence is not only hurtful to self, but an ever-flowing spring of untold misery to others.
III. CONSIDER THE REMONSTRANCE ITSELF.
1. Notice the person whom Moses addresses. "He said to him that did the wrong." He does not pretend to come forward as knowing nothing of the merits of the quarrel. He does not content himself with dwelling in general terms on the unseemliness of a dispute between brethren who are also the victims of a common oppressor. It is not enough for him simply to beseech the disputants to be reconciled. One is clearly in the wrong, and Moses does not hesitate by implication to condemn him. Thus there appears in Moses a certain disposition towards the judicial mind, revealing the germs of another qualification for the work of his after-life. For the judicial mind is not only that which strives to bring out all the evidence in matters of right or wrong, and so to arrive at a correct conclusion; it is also a mind which has the courage to act on its conclusions, and without fear or favour pass the necessary sentence. By addressing one of these men rather than the other, Moses does in a manner declare himself perfectly satisfied that he is in the wrong.
2. Notice the question which Moses puts. He. smote the Egyptian; he expostulated with the Hebrew. The smiting of one Hebrew by another was evidently very unnatural conduct in the eyes of Moses. When we consider what men are, there is of course nothing astonishing in the conduct of this domineering Israelite; he is but seizing the chance which thousands of others in a like temptation would have seized. But when we consider what men ought to be, there was great reason for Moses to ask his question, "Why smitest thou thy fellow?" Why indeed! There was no true mason he could give but what it was a shame to confess. And so we might often say to a wrong-doer, "Why doest thou this or that?" according to the particular wrong he is committing. "Why?" There might be great virtue in this persistent interrogation if only put in a spirit purged as far as possible from the censorious and the meddlesome. What a man does carelessly enough and with much satisfaction, upon the low consideration of self-indulgence, he might come to forsake if only brought face to face with high considerations of duty and love, and of conformity to the will of God and example of Christ. Everything we do ought to have a sufficient reason for it. Not that we are to be in a perpetual fidget over minute scruples. But, being by nature so ignorant, and by training so bound-in with base traditions, we cannot too often or too promptly ask ourselves whether we have indeed a sufficient reason for the chief principles, occupations and habits of life.
3. Notice that the question put to the Hebrew wrong-doer might just as well have been put to the Egyptian. He also had been guilty of indefensible conduct, yet he as well as the other was a man with powers of reflection, and the timely question, "Why smitest thou this Hebrew?" might have made him consider that really he had no sufficient reason at all to smite him. We must not too readily assume that enemies will persist in enmity, if only we approach them in a friendly manner. He that would change an enemy into a friend must show himself friendly. The plan may not always be successful; but it is worth trying to conquer our foes by love, patience and meekness. We must ever strive to get the selfish people to think, their thinking powers and all the better part of their humanity only too often get crushed into a corner before the rush of pride, appetite and passion.
IV. CONSIDER THE RESULT OF THE REMONSTRANCE. The wrong-doer has no sufficient and justifying answer to give; and so he tells Moses to his face that he is a mere meddler. When men are in a right course, a course of high and generous aims, they hail any opportunity of presenting their conduct in a favourable aspect. But when they are doing wrong, then they make a pretence of asserting their independence and liberty in order that they may fight shy of awkward confessions. If we wait till we are never found fault with as meddlers we shall do very little to compose quarrels and redress injuries, to vindicate the innocent or deliver the oppressed. Men will listen to a general harangue against tyranny, injustice and selfishness. They will look at us with great admiration as long as we shoot our arrows in the air; but arrows are not meant to be shot in the air; they are meant, at the very least, to go right into the crowd of men, and sometimes to be directly and closely personal. - Y.
Psalm 17:3; Psalm 32:1). But he carried with him all his nobleness, all his magnanimity and courtesy. This comes beautifully out in his defence of the women at the well (vers. 16, 17).
I. AN INSTANCE OF CHIVALRY. We have in the incident -
1. The weak pushed aside by the strong. Rude, ill-mannered fellows thrust aside the daughters of the priest of Midian from the sheep-troughs, and shamelessly appropriate the water with which they had diligently filled them.
2. Brave championship of the weak. Moses takes their part, stands up to help them, and compels the shepherds to give way. Not content with this, he gives the maidens what assistance he is able. The two dispositions stand in fine contrast: the one all that is unmanly and contemptible, the other all that is chivalrous and noble. The instance teaches -
1. That the chivalrous disposition is also helpful. The one grace sets off the other. But the bully is a churl, helping nobody, and filching from the weak.
2. That the bully is to boot a coward. He will insult a woman, but cringes in the presence of her vindicator. No true man need be afraid to beard him.
3. That acts of kindness to the defenceless are often repaid in unexpected ways. They are indeed their own reward. It revives one's spirit to maintain the cause of the needy. Moses, like Jesus, sat by the well; but this little act of kindness, like the Saviour's conversation with the woman of Samaria, did more to refresh his spirit than the sweetest draught he could have taken from it. It was good for him, defeated in resisting tyranny in Egypt, and discouraged by the reception he had met with from his brethren, to have this opportunity of reasserting his crushed manhood, and of feeling that he was still useful. It taught him, and it teaches us -
(1) Not to despair of doing good. Tyranny has many phases, and when it cannot be resisted in one form, it may in another. And it taught him
(2) Not to despair of human nature. Gratitude had not vanished from the earth, because his brethren had proved ungrateful. Hearts were still to be found, sensitive to the magic touch of kindness; capable of responding to it; ready to repay it by love. For the little deed of chivalry led to unexpected and welcome results. It prepared the way for the hospitable reception of Moses by Reuel; found for him a home in Midian; gave him a wife; provided him with suitable occupation.
II. THE RESIDENCE IN MIDIAN. Notice on this -
1. The place of it. In or near the Peninsula of Sinai. Solitude and grandeur. Fit place for education of thought and heart. Much alone with God - with Nature in her more awful aspects - with his own thoughts.
2. The society of it. He had probably few companions beyond his immediate circle: his wife; her father, sheikh and priest, - pious, hospitable, kindly-natured; the sisters. His life simple and unartificial, a wholesome corrective to the luxury of Egypt.
3. The occupation of it. He kept flocks (Exodus 3:1). The shepherd's life, besides giving him a valuable knowledge of the topography of the desert, was very suitable for developing qualities important in a leader - watchfulness, skill, caution, self-reliance, bravery, tenderness, etc. So David was taken "from the sheepcote, from following the sheep," to be ruler over God's people, over Israel (2 Samuel 7:8). It lets in light on Moses' character that he was willing to stoop to, and did not spurn, this lowly toil. He that could so humble himself was fit to be exalted. By faithfulnesss in that which was least, he served an apprenticeship for being faithful also in much (Luke 16:10).
4. The duration of it. Forty years was a long time, but not too long for the training God was giving him. The richest characters are slowest in coming to maturity, and Moses was all this while developing in humility, and in knowledge of God, of man, and, of his own heart. The whole subject teaches us valuable lessons. Learn -
1. God's dealings with his servants are often mysterious. Moses in Midian seems an instance of the highest gifts thrown uselessly away. Is this, we ask in surprise, the only use God can find for a man so richly gifted, so remarkably preserved, and on whom have been lavished all the treasures of Egypt's wisdom? Any ordinary man might be a shepherd, but how few could do the work of a Moses? Moses himself, in the meditations of these forty years, must often have wondered at the strange irony of his life. Yet how clear it was all made to him at last! Trust God to know better what is good for you than you do yourself.
2. How little a man has, after all, to do with the shaping of his own history! In one sense he has much, yea everything, to do with it. Had Moses, e.g., not so rashly slain the Egyptian, his whole future would doubtless have borne a different complexion. Man is responsible for his acts, but once he has done them, they are taken in spite of himself out of his hands, and shaped in their consequences by overruling Providence. He who sent the princess to the river, sent also the priest's daughters to the well.
3. It is man's wisdom to study contentment with his lot. It may be humble, and not the lot we like, or had counted on. It may be a lot to which we never expected to be reduced. We may feel as if our gifts and powers were being wasted in it. Yet if it is our lot - the one meanwhile providentialiy marked out for us ? our wisdom is cheerfully to accept of it, and make the best of the tasks which belong to it, J.O.
I. WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND HIM.
1. Possibly Pharaoh's daughter was still alive. If so, we can imagine her sorrow and utter perplexity over the son of her adoption, and the reproaches she might have to bear from her own kindred. How often she may have heard that common expression which adds insult to bitter disappointment, "I told you so." We may be tolerably sure as to one result of the long sojourn of Moses in Midian, viz., that when he returned, she would be vanished from the scene, spared from beholding the son of her adoption the agent of such dreadful visitations to her own people. Yet even with this mitigation, the agony may have been more than she could boar. She had sheltered Moses, watched over him, and "nourished him for her own son," giving him the opportunity to become learned m all the wisdom of the Egyptians; only to find at last that a sword had pierced through her own soul (Luke 2:35; Acts 7:21, 22).
2. He left his brethren in servitude. Any expectation they may have had, from his present eminence and possibly greater eminence in the future, was now completely crushed. It is well to effect a timely crushing of false hopes, even if great severity has to be used.
3. He left behind all difficulties that came from his connexion with the court. Had he gone on staying in Egypt he would have had to make his election, sooner or later, between the Egyptians and his own people. But now he is spared having to decide for himself. We have to thank God that he sometimes takes painful and difficult decisions out of our hands, so that we have no longer to blame ourselves either for haste or procrastination; for rashness and imprudence, or cowardice and sloth. God in his providence does things for us, which we might find it very hard to do for ourselves.
II. WHAT HE FOUND BEFORE HIM. He went out, hardly knowing whither he went. The safest place was the best for him, and that safest place might not immediately appear. Yet how plain it is that God was guiding him, as really as he guided Abraham, though Moses was not conscious of the guiding. He fled because he had slain a fellow-man, yet he was not going forth as a Cain. Under the wrath of Pharaoh, he was not under that wrath of God which rests upon murderers. He Was going to a new school, that was all - having learned all that could be learned in the old one. He probably asked himself as he fled, "Where can I go? Who will receive me? What story can I tell?" He would feel, now the homicide was known, that it was impossible to say how far the news had reached. Onward he sped - perhaps, like most fugitives of the sort, hiding by day and travelling by night - until at last he reached the land of Midian. Here he concluded to dwells although it may have been in his mind only a temporary stage to a distant and safer abode. And now observe that with this fresh mention of what happened to him after his flight, there is an immediate and still further revelation of his character, all in the way of showing his natural fitness for the great work of his life. He has made an awful mistake in his manner of showing sympathy with Israel, and in consequence has exposed himself to a humiliating rebuff; but all this does not make him one whit less willing to champion the weak when the occasion comes. He was a man always ready for opportunities of service; and wherever he went there seemed to be something for him to do. He had fled from a land where the strong oppressed the weak, and come into another land where he found the same thing prevailing, and in one of its most offensive forms; for the tyranny was that of man over woman. The people of Midian had a priest who seems to have been himself a hospitable man and a judicious and prudent one (ch. 18.); but there was so little reality of religion among the people, so little respect for the priest's office, that these shepherds drove his daughters away from the well - whom rather they should have gladly helped. It was not an occasional misadventure to the daughters, but a regular experience (ver. 18). None of these shepherds perhaps had ever killed a man, but for all that they were a pack of savage boors. Moses, on the other hand, even though he has slain a man, is not a mere bravo, one who puts little value on human life. One might have said of him as Chaucer says of one of his pilgrims in the 'Canterbury Tales,'
"He was a veray parfit gentil knight." Then, when Moses had helped the women, his difficulties and doubts were soon brought to an end. He had helped them, though they were utter strangers, because he felt it his duty so to do. He was not looking to them for a release from his difficulties, for how could a few weak women help him, those who had just been the objects of his own pity? But as women had been the means of protecting him in infancy, so they were the means of providing for him now. He did not seek Reuel; Reuel sought him. He needed no certificate of character, these daughters themselves were an epistle of commendation to their father. He might safely tell all his story now, for even the darkest chapter of it would be viewed in the light of his recent generous action. - Y.
1. As we see Moses fleeing from the face of Pharaoh, so we see Jesus making a prudent departure from Judaea into Galilee, on account of the Pharisees.
2. Both Moses and Jesus are found sitting by a well.
3. As Moses comes in contact with seven women of a different nation, so Jesus with the woman of Samaria. And just as the daughters of Reuel made the difference seem greater still by calling Moses an Egyptian, which though a name partly appropriate, was yet particularly inappropriate at a time when he was the object of Pharaoh's bitterest hatred - so the woman of Samaria laid emphasis on the fact that Jesus was a Jew, being altogether ignorant how small a part was that of the truth concerning him.
4. The very difference in number is significant. Moses could help a number in the service that he rendered, because it was a mere external service. But Jesus needed to have the woman of Samaria alone, that he might deal effectually with her peculiar, individual need. There is a great difference in respect of the things to be said and done, according as we are dealing with one person or more than one.
5. The meeting of Moses with the daughters of Reuel led on to his becoming acquainted with Reuel himself; gaining his confidence and becoming his helper. So Jesus serving the woman of Samaria was led on to serve, not one only, but many of those connected with her.
6. Moses soon entered into a nearer relation still with Reuel, and Jesus in the course of his conversation with the woman asserted principles which were to break down the barriers between Sew and Samaritan, and every wall of partition separating those who should be united. Lastly, he who helped these women became a shepherd; and his dying thought was of a shepherd's work, as he prayed God to give him a successor who should be a true shepherd to Israel. And as to Jesus, we all know how he delighted to set himself before his disciples as the Good Shepherd, deeply concerned for the nourishment and security of his flock, and concerned most of all to seek and to save that which was lost (Matthew 18:11-13; Luke 15:4; Luke 19:10). - Y.
1. The good man in this world is often lonely at heart.
(1) When violence reigns unchecked.
(2) When God's cause is in a depressed condition.
(3) When repulsed in efforts to do good.
(4) When severed from scenes of former labour.
(5) When his outward lot is uncongenial.
(6) When deprived of suitable companionships, and when he can find few to sympathise with him.
2. God sends to the good man alleviations of his loneliness. We may hope that Zipporah, if not without faults, formed a kind and helpful wife to Moses. Then, sons were born to him - the first, the Gershom of this text. These were consolations. A wife's affection, the prattle and innocence of children - have sweetened the lot of many all exile. Bunyan and his blind daughter. - J.O.
Exodus 2:22), compared with - "And the name of the other was Eliezer," etc. (Exodus 18:4). Note the isolation and misery of the earlier time, and the mercy of the later - each begetting its own tone and mood of mind; and further, the desirability of living above the mood of the passing day. Rev. O. Kingsley says ('Life,' 1:82): "Let us watch against tones. They are unsafe things. The tone of a man or woman's mind ought to be that of thoughtful reverence and love; but neither joy or sorrow, or activity or passiveness, or any other animal tone, ought to be habitual," etc. - R.
1. It was long delayed.
(1) Till tyranny had done its worst.
(2) Till the last hope of help from man had disappeared.
Improvement may have been looked for at death of king.
2. It came at last.
(1) When the bondage had served its ends.
(2) When the people, in despair of man, were crying to God.
3. When it did come -
(1) The man was found ready who was to bring it.
(2) God was found faithful to his promise. - J.O.
I. THERE WAS SIGHING AND CRYING YET NO REAL PRAYER. There was no supplication for help, no expression of confidence in a helper; seeing there was no real sense of trust in One who could keep, and therefore no possibility of real expectation from him. These Israelites did not wait as they that watch for the morning, sure that it will come at last (Psalm 130:6), but rather as those who say in the morning, "Would God it were even!" and at even, "Would God it were morning!" (Deuteronomy 28:67). Their right attitude, if only they had been able to occupy it, was that which Jesus is said to have occupied (Hebrews 5:7). They should have offered up prayers and supplications along with their strong crying and tears to him that was able to save them. But the God who had been so near to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, seemed now removed to a distance. No one appeared with whom the Israelites in their despair could wrestle until they gained the blessing of deliverance. And thus it has been in every generation, and still continues. The misery of the world cannot be silent, and in it all the saddest feature is, that the miserable have no knowledge of God, or, if they have, it is a knowledge without practical use. They are without hope in the world, because they are without God in the world. They go on groaning like a sick infant that neither knows the cause of its trouble nor where to look for help. And in the midst of all this ignorance, Jesus would lead men to true prayer - to intelligent and calm dependence upon God for things according to his will.
II. NOTICE THE REASON GIVEN FOR THE SIGHING AND CRYING. They sighed by reason of the bondage. Bodily restraint, privation, and pain - in these lay the reasons for their groaning. Their pain was that of the senses, not that of the spirit. Little wonder then that they were not susceptible to the presence of God. Contrast their painful experiences with those recorded in the following Psalms, Psalm 32, 38, 39, 51, 119, 136. Jesus made it evident by his dealings with many of those who came to him that the bulk of men, like the Israelites of old, are sighing because of some temporal bondage. They think that pain would vanish, if only they could get all sensible comforts. The poor man thinks what a comfort wealth and plenty must be, yet a rich man came to Jesus, still unsatisfied in spite of his wealth, and was obliged to go away again, sad, because of what Jesus had said, deeply disturbed and disappointed; and all because he had great possessions. There was no chance of doing much good to Israel, as long as they were sighing simply because of the bondage. The pain of life which comes through the senses would sink into a matter, of superficial insignificance, if only we felt as we ought to do the corruption and danger which come through sin. We should soon come to the true remedy for all our pains, if only we learnt to cry for the dean heart and the right spirit.
III. THOUGH THE SIGHING AND CRYING DID NOT AMOUNT TO A REAL PRAYER, YET GOD ATTENDED TO IT. God made allowance for the ignorance of the people. He knew what was wanted, even though they knew not. The father on earth, being evil, has to make the best guess he can at the interests of his children; our Father in heaven knows exactly what we want. God does not expect from the ignorant what can only be presented by those who know him; and he was about to deal with Israel so that they might know him. And first of all they must be made to feel that Egypt was in reality a very different place from what it appeared to Jacob and his sons, coming out of famine-stricken Canaan. The time had long past when there was any temptation to say, "Surely Egypt is better than Canaan; we shall be able to take our ease, eat, drink, and be merry." There had not only been corn in Egypt, but tyrants and taskmasters. We have all to find out what Egypt really is; and until we make the full discovery, we cannot appreciate the nearness of God and profit by it. God can do much for us when we come to the groaning-point, when the dear illusions of life not only begin to vacate their places, but are succeeded by painful, stern, and abiding realities. When we begin to cry, even though our cry be only because of temporal losses and pains, there is then a chance that we may attend to the increasing revelations of the presence of God, and learn to wait upon him in obedience and prayer. - Y.
Exodus 2:23-25Exodus 2:23-25. As in streams the water is attracted to and swirls round various centres, so here the interest of the narrative circles about three facts. We have -
I. THE KING'S DEATH. Who the king was may be uncertain. [Some say Aahmes I. . - see Canon Cook, in 'Speaker's Commentary;' others, Rameses II. - see R. S. Poole, In Contemporary Review,' March, 1879.] What he had done is sufficiently evident. Confronted with an alien people, of whose history he knew little and with whom he had no sympathy, he had treated them with suspicion and cruelty. Walking by sight he had inaugurated a policy which was sufficiently clever but decidedly unwise; he had hatched the very enmity he dreaded, by making those whom he feared miserable. Nevertheless, he, personally, does not seem to have been the loser in this life. He left a legacy of trouble for his successor, but probably to the last he was feared and honoured. Such lives were to the Egyptians, and must still be, suggestive of immortality. If evil can thus prosper in the person of a king, life must indeed be a moral chaos if it end with death and there be no hereafter. "The king of Egypt died:" what about the King of Heaven and Earth?
II. THE PEOPLE'S CRY. The inheritance of an evil policy accepted and endorsed by the new king. Results upon an oppressed people: -
1. Misery finds a voice. "They sighed" - a half-stifled cry, which however gathers strength; "they cried. Forty years of silent endurance seeks at length relief in utterance. The king's death brings the dawn of hope; the first feeling after liberty is the cry of anguish which cannot be suppressed. Such a cry, an inarticulate prayer which needed no interpreter to translate it - an honest and heartfelt prayer of which God could take cognizance.
2. The voice of misery finds a listener. The cry was a cry with wings to it - it came up unto God." Too many so-called prayers have no wings, or at most clipped wings. They grovel on the earth like barn-yard fowls, and if they chance to pick up solace, it is, like themselves, of the earth earthy. Winged prayers, even when winged by sorrow, go up, and for a time seem lost, but they reach heaven and find harbour there.
III. GOD'S RESPONSE.
1. Attention secured and the covenant remembered. God had not been deaf before, nor had he been forgetful of his promise. For practical memory, however, there must be a practical claim upon that which is remembered. So long as the people are indifferent, their indifference suspends the fulfilment of the covenant. All the while God, by permitting the tyranny, had been stirring up their memory that they might stir up his. When they are aroused, he shows at once that he is mindful.
2. The children of the covenant beheld, and respect paid to their necessities. So far, God had looked upon a people of slaves, trying hard to make themselves content with servitude. Now that misery has aroused them to remember who and what they are, he sees once more the children of Israel - offspring of the wrestling Prince. People have to come to themselves before God can effectually look upon them. Content with servitude, he sees them slaves. Mindful of the covenant, he sees them as children. God is ready to help them directly they are ready to claim and to receive help from God. Application: - Evil in this world often seems to triumph, because men submit to it, and try to make the best of it, instead of resisting it. The general will not fight the foe single-handed; in the interest of those who should be his soldiers, he must have them ready to fight under him. When we realise our true position, then God is ready at once to recognise it. Indifference, forgetfulness, delay, all really due to man, God the deliverer only seems to be that which man the sufferer is. - G.