Exodus 23:20
Behold, I am sending an angel before you to protect you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.
Sermons
Christ At the Head of the ColumnM. Simpson, D. D.Exodus 23:20
Divine GuidanceW. Burrows, B. A.Exodus 23:20
Life's PilgrimageJ. B. Brown, B. A.Exodus 23:20
Mine Angel Shall Go Before TheeG.A. Goodhart Exodus 23:20
The Angel in LifeJ. Parker, D. D.Exodus 23:20
The Angel of the CovenantJ. W. Burn.Exodus 23:20
Sabbaths and FeastsJ. Orr Exodus 23:10-20
The Angel of the CovenantD. Young Exodus 23:20-23
Promises and WarningsJ. Orr Exodus 23:20-33
The Mediatorial GuideH.T. Robjohns Exodus 23:20-33


These conclude the Book of the Covenant.

I. PROMISES.

1. An angel guide (vers. 20-23). But this angel was no ordinary or created angel. He is repeatedly identified with Jehovah himself. God's "name" - his essential nature - was in him. He is one with Jehovah, yet distinct from him - no mere personification, but a real hypostasis. See the careful treatment of "the doctrine of the Angel of the Lord," in Oehler's "Old Testament Theology," vol. 1. pp. 188-196 (Eng. trans.). We view the "angel" as the pro-incarnate Logos - Christ in the Old Testament. Israel's guide was the Son of God - the same Divine Person who is now conducting "many sons unto glory," and who is become" the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him" (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9).

2. Defence against enemies (ver. 22). If Israel obeyed God's voice, and did all that God spake, their enemies would be reckoned his enemies, and their adversaries his adversaries. And "if God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31).

3. Aid in the conquest of Canaan (vers. 23, 27-31). Apply throughout to the spiritual warfare of the individual and of the Church.

(1) The way for the conquest would be prepared. God would send his fear before the Israelites (ver. 27) - would, as stated in Deuteronomy, put the dread of them, and the fear of them, upon the nations that were under the whole heaven (Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25; cf. Exodus 15:15, 16). There is a presentiment of defeat in the hearts of the enemies of God, especially when the Church is energetic and fearless in her work, which goes far to secure the victory for the latter. Something whispers to them that their "time is short" (1 Corinthians 7:29; Revelation 12:12; cf. Matthew 8:29). Moral forces are all on the side of the kingdom of God. They assist its friends, and operate to enervate and discourage its enemies. The Christian worker may rely on numerous invisible allies in men's own hearts. Workings of conscience, stings of fear, dread of God, etc. God would also send hornets before the Israelites, to drive out the Canaanites from their strong castles (ver. 28). To us there seems no good reason for taking this declaration otherwise than literally. If taken symbolically, the "hornets" are equivalent to the stings of fear, etc., above referred to. A veritable hornet warfare this, and one of great value to the Gospel cause. Taken literally, the "hornets" may be regarded as types of secret providential allies - of the co-operation of God in his providence, often by means of things insignificant in themselves, but working, under his secret direction, for the furtherance of his kingdom, and the defeat of those opposed to it. In a million unseen ways - how encouraging the reflection! - Providence is thus aiding the work of those who fight under Christ's captaincy.

(2) They would be prospered in battle (ver. 27). The individual, in his warfare with the evil of his own heart - the Church, in her conflict with the evil of the world - enjoy a similar promise. If Christ inspires, if he, the captain of the Lord's host, gives the signal to advance, victories are certain. However numerous and powerful our spiritual enemies, greater is he that is with us than they that are against us (1 John 4:4).

(3) The conquest would be given by degrees. God would drive out their enemies before them, "little by little" (ver. 30). The reason given is, "lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee" (ver. 27). The method was a wise one. It doubtless had its dangers. Remaining idolatry would tend to become a snare. The delay in the extirpation of the Canaanites had thus its side of trial - it would act as a moral test. In other respects it was attended with advantage. It would make the conquest more thorough. It would enable the Israelites to consolidate, organise, and secure their possessions as they went along. It would prevent the multiplying of the beasts of the field. And quite analogous to this is God's method of conducting us unto our spiritual inheritance. The law of "little by little" obtains here also. "Little by little" the believer gains the victory over evil in self, and the heart is sanctified. "Little by little" the world is conquered for Christ. In no other way is thorough conquest possible. Suppose, e.g., that, as the result of extraordinary shakings of the nations, a multitude of uninstructed tribes, peoples, communities, were suddenly thrown into the arms of Christendom - even supposing the conversions real, how difficult would it be to prevent mischiefs from arising! Compare the troubles of the Reformation Churches. Make the yet more extravagant supposition that by some supreme moral effort - the evil of our own hearts being suddenly aroused to intense activity - it pleased God to give us the victory over the whole of this evil at once. How little could we do with such a victory when we had it! Thrown at once upon our own hands, how difficult it would be to know what to do with ourselves! Would not new foes - fantastic conceits - speedily arise from the ground of our yet undisciplined natures, to give us new troubles? The surest method is "little by little." It is not good for any man to have more than he needs - to have a greater victory than he can rightly use; e.g., a man who reads more books than he can mentally digest and assimilate; who has a larger estate than he can manage; who has more money than he can make a good use of. And yet the fact of evil still lurking in our hearts, and continuing in the world around us, exposes us to many perils. It acts as a moral test, and so indirectly conduces to the growth of holiness.

4. Material blessings (vers. 25, 26). In the land to which he was conducting them, God would give the people of Israel abundance of food and water; would take away all sickness from their midst (cf. "I am the Lord that healeth thee." Exodus 15:26); would greatly bless their flocks and herds; and would lengthen out their days to the full term (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The blessings of the new covenant are predominantly spiritual (Ephesians 1:3). Yet even under it, "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). Godliness has a natural tendency to promote temporal well-being. So ample a measure of prosperity as that promised in the text could, however, only accrue from direct Divine blessing. The absolute form of the expression answers to the absoluteness of the requirement - "Obey my voice, and do all that I speak" (ver. 31). Falling short of the ideal obedience, Israel fell short also of the ideal fulness of the blessing.

5. Expansion of bounds (ver. 31). Only once or twice was this maximum of possession touched by Israel. Failure in the fulfilment of the condition kept back fulfilment of the promise. The Church's destiny is to possess the whole earth (Psalm 2:8).

II. WARNINGS. If these glorious promises are to be fulfilled to Israel, they must obey the voice of God and of his angel. Let them beware, therefore, -

1. Of provoking the angel (ver. 21). God's name was in him, and he would not pardon their transgressions. That is, he would not take a light view of their sins, but would strictly mark them, and severely punish them. He was not a Being to be trifled with. If his wrath against them were kindled but a little, they would perish from the way (Psalm 2:12). He was one with Jehovah in his burning zeal for holiness, and in his determination not to clear the guilty. See below. The Gospel is not wanting in its similar side of sternness. There is a "wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:17). There is a "judgment" which "begins at the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17). There is the stem word - "It shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:23). Cf. also Hebrews 2:2, 3; Hebrews 10:26-39; Hebrews 12:25.

2. They must not serve other gods (ver. 24). Conversely, they were utterly to overthrow the idol gods, and to break down their images. "Where Jesus comes, he comes to reign." No rival will be tolerated alongside of him. We cannot serve

(1) God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24).

(2) God and fashion (1 John 2:15-18).

(3) God and our own lusts (2 Peter 1:4; 2 Peter 2:20, 21).

(4) God and human glory (John 5:44).

The worship of Jehovah and that of any of the world's idols will not amalgamate. See reflected in these commands the principles which are to regulate the relation of God's servants at this hour to the world and to its evil -

(1) No toleration of it (Matthew 5:29, 30).

(2) No communion with it (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:3, 11).

(3) Unceasing war against it (2 Corinthians 10:4; Colossians 3:5).

3. They must make no league with the Canaanites (ver. 32). The lesson taught is, that believers are to seek their friendships, their alliances, their consorts, etc., elsewhere than among the ungodly. We are not only to keep out of harm's way, and avoid occasions of sin, but we are to labour to remove from our midst entirely what experience proves to be an incurable snare. - J.O.







To bring thee into the place which I have prepared.
The angel, the way, the prepared place. It is the Divine key to the mystery of life. Life is emphatically a way. Not by the way of the sea — a prompt and easy path — but by the way of the wilderness, of old God led His pilgrims. The vision of the angel in the way lights up the wilderness. Consider the suggestion of the text as to —

I. The pilgrim's CONDITION. God's children must be pilgrims, because this world is not good enough, not bright enough, not capable of being blessed enough, for the pilgrim in his home. For —

1. The instructed soul sees the touch of essential imperfection and the bounds of close limitation in everything here.

2. There is a constant aching of the heart through memory and hope.

3. Life is a pilgrimage because it is far away from the Friend whom we supremely love.

II. The pilgrim's GUIDE.

1. God has sent His angel before us in the person of His Son.

2. He sends His angel with us in the person of the Holy Ghost.

III. The pilgrim's WAY TO THE PILGRIM'S HOME.

1. It is a way of purposed toil and difficulty, of wilderness, peril, and night. Suffer we must in the wilderness; the one question is, Shall it be with or without the angel of the Lord?

2. It is a way of stern, uncompromising duty. God asks us now simply to do and to bear, and to wait to see the whole reason and reap the whole fruit on high. We must train ourselves to the habit of righteous action, and leave the results to God and eternity.

3. It is a way of death. God promises to none of us an immunity from death. The shadow hangs round life as a drear monitor to all of us. He only who can eye it steadily and fix its form will see that it is angelic and lustrous with the glory beyond. The grave is but the last step of the way by which the angel leads us to the place which He has prepared.

(J. B. Brown, B. A.)

I. THERE IS A DIVINE WAY.

1. Through the wilderness.

2. Beset with enemies.

3. Many privations.

4. Contrary to mere human liking.God's way is not our way! Ours may be pleasant at first but bitter at last, but God's way is the reverse; and yet not exactly, for sweets are graciously mingled with the bitters. There is hunger, but there is manna. There is thirst, but there is clear water from the smitten rock. There is perplexity, but there is an angel to guide and protect.

II. THIS WAY LEADS TO DIVINELY-PREPARED PLACES. Heaven is a specially prepared place. "I go to prepare a place for you." A place in the best of all places. A home in the best of homes. A dwelling-place where all the abodes are mansions. A seat where all the seats are thrones. A city where all the citizens are kings. What matters it though the way be long and sometimes dreary, so long as the place is so attractive; and we cannot fail to reach it if we obey Divine directions.

III. THE TRAVELLERS ON THIS WAY ARE FAVOURED WITH A DIVINE GUIDE. Jesus Christ, the Angel of the new covenant, is fully competent to direct and protect. He has trodden every inch of the way.

IV. DIVINE PROMISES ARE CONTINGENT ON THE FAITHFUL PURSUIT OF DIVINE METHODS (ver. 21). The Divine methods are — Caution, obedience, self-restraint, and the entire destruction of all that has the remotest tendency to damage the moral nature.

(W. Burrows, B. A.)

I. HIS NATURE WAS DIVINE.

1. Equal with God.(1) Bearing the Divine name; "My name is in Him." The incommunicable covenant name of Jehovah.(2) Performing Divine actions; "Mine angel shall go," etc., "I will cut them off." So New Testament, "I and My father are one."

2. Distinct from the personality of the speaker, "I send," so New Testament, "The Father which sent Me."

II. HIS OFFICE WAS TO CONDUCT THE COVENANT PEOPLE TO THE FULFILMENT OF GOD'S COVENANT ENGAGEMENT.

1. Providence. "To keep thee in the way." So Christ "upholds all things by the word of His power." "In Him all things consist." Generally and particularly He preserves those who trust in Him (John 10:28).

2. Redemption. "To bring thee into the place which I have prepared." Israel's redemption is only half accomplished as yet. So Christ's eternal redemption is not complete till the last enemy is destroyed (John 14:2, 3).

III. THE PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARDS HIM.

1. Fear. Carefulness not to displease Him. Christ is the Saviour of those only who believe in Him. To others He is a "savour of death unto death."

2. Obedience. "Obey His voice." So says the Father in the New Testament (Matthew 17:5); and Himself (Matthew 28:20). This implies

(1)Trust in His person.

(2)Subjection to His authority.

(3)The prosecution of His commands.

IV. THE REWARD OF OBEDIENCE TO HIM (vers. 22, 23).

1. Identification and sympathy with us in our cause. "I will be an enemy," etc.

2. Victory over our foes (1 Corinthians 15:57), world, flesh, devil, death, etc.

3. Inheritance in the promised land.Learn —

1. (2 Timothy 1:9), That God's grace has been manifested in Jesus Christ from the beginning of the world.

2. That God's grace has been, through Jesus Christ, with His people up to the present moment.

3. And will be till the end of the world.

(J. W. Burn.)

It is said when the Duke of Wellington, on one occasion, rode up to his retreating army, a soldier happened to see him first and cried out: "Yonder is the Duke of Wellington; God bless him!" and the retreating army had courage to nerve itself afresh and went forward and drove the enemy away. One has said that the Duke of Wellington was worth more at any time than five thousand men. So it would be if we had the Captain of our salvation in front, we would go forward. How gloriously would this Church contend if Christ were visibly in front of them! But the army was sometimes without the Duke of Wellington. There was a place where he could not be. And if Christ were visibly present, He would be present at the same time, only at one church in one locality; it might be in Philadelphia, but what of the thousand other cities? But an unseen Saviour is at the head of the column everywhere. We know He is there. The Captain of our salvation is where two or three are gathered in His Name to inspire us; and to-day, in every city on the face of this globe, where the columns meet to march, His voice sounds "Onward!" in their ears.

(M. Simpson, D. D.)

Laws without angels would turn life into weary drudgery. Life has never been left without some touch of the Divine presence and love. From the very first this has been characteristic of our history. The solemn — the grand, fact is, that in our life there is an angel, a spirit, a presence; a ministry without definite name and altogether without measurableness! a gracious ministry, a most tender and comforting service, always operating upon our life's necessity and our heart's pain. Let us rest in that conviction for a moment or two until we see how we can establish it by references to facts, experiences, consciousness against which there can be no witness. See how our life is redeemed from baseness by the assumption that an angel is leading it. Who can believe that an angel has been appointed to conduct a life which must end in the grave? The anticlimax is shocking; the suggestion is charged with the very spirit of profanity. If an angel is leading, us, is he leading us to the grave? What is it within us that detests the grave, that turns away from it with aversion, that will not be sent into so low and mean a prison? It is "the Divinity that stirs within us." Then again, who could ask an angel to be a guest in a heart given up to evil thoughts and purposes? Given the consciousness that an angel is leading us, and instantly a series of preparations must be set up corresponding with the quality and title of the leading angel of our pilgrimage. We prepare for some guests. According to the quality of the guest is the range and costliness of our preparation. Whom our love expects our love provides for. When we are longing for the coming one, saying, "The presence will make the house the sweeter and the brighter, and the speech will fill our life with new poetry and new hope. Oh, why tarry the chariot wheels?" then we make adequate — that is to say, proportionate — preparation. The touch of love is dainty, the invention of love is fertile, the expenditure of love is without a grudge or a murmur, — another touch must be given to the most delicate arrangement; some addition must be made to the most plentiful accommodation; love must run over the programme just once more to see that every line is worthily written. Then the front door must be opened widely, and the arms and the heart, and the whole being to receive the guest of love. And that is so in the higher regions. If an angel is going to lead me, the angel must have a chamber in my heart prepared worthy of myself. Chamber! — nay, the whole heart must be the guest-room; he must occupy every corner of it, and I must array it with robes of purity and brightness that he may feel himself at home, even though he may have come from heaven to do some service for my poor life. Any appeal that so works upon every kind of faculty, upon imagination, conscience, will, force, must be an appeal that will do the life good. It calls us to perfectness, to preparedness, to a nobility corresponding in some degree with the nobility of the guest whom we entertain. The Divine presence in life, by whatever name we may distinguish it, is pledged to two effects, supposing our spirit and our conduct to be right. God undertakes our cause as against our enemies. Would we could leave our enemies in His hands! I do not now speak altogether of merely human enemies — because where there is enmity between man and man, though it never can be justified, yet it admits of such modification in the system of words as to throw responsibility upon both sides — but I speak of other enemies, — the enmity expressed by evil desire, by the pressure of temptation, by all the array against the soul's health and weal of the principalities of the power of the air, the princes of darkness, the spirits of evil. Send the angel to fight the angel; let the angel of light fight the angel of darkness. The second effect to which the Divine presence in our life is pledged is that we shall be blessed with the contentment which is riches. Thus we have mysteries amongst us which the common or carnal mind cannot understand. Men asking God's blessing upon what appears to be unblest poverty — men saying it is enough when we can discover next to nothing in the hand uplifted in recognition of Divine goodness. Thus we hear voices coming from the bed of affliction that have in them the subdued tones of absolute triumph; thus the sick-chamber is turned into the church of the house, and if we would recover from dejection, and repining, and sorrow, we must go to the bedside of affliction and learn there how wondrous is the ministry of God's angel, how perfecting and ennobling the influence of God's grace.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

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