In all their distress, He too was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them. In His love and compassion He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
I. GOD CAN FEEL. It may be said that this needs no proof. But the God sometimes presented in theological systems, preached from our pulpits, and addressed in our prayers, does not really feel as we do. It is said that "he is complete in himself, infinitely full, infinitely happy, infinitely satisfied. Nothing can add one jot to his happiness, nothing can diminish his bliss. He, as a King, recognizes and punishes sin and rebellion, but he does not feel hurt by it himself. No waves heave and toss on the quiet ocean of God." But is the impression left on our minds by all this concerning God quite true? And is that the God we are asked to love - that immovable statue? We want a God whose bosom heaves with feeling, whose face beams with smiles, who can pity us as a father pities. Too often the impression left on us is, that it is only Christ who can suffer, since he was a man. God cannot feel; Christ feels. Christ is in self-sacrifice, not God. But we must be far from the truth when we divide our vision, and with one eye see Christ, and with the other see God. Look with both eyes, and we shall see Christ in God, and God in Christ. This is true - God cannot be physically affected. We must not think of him as a body, capable of feeling bodily pain. He cannot be struck. He cannot be subject to disease. God is a Spirit. But he is a real Being. He is what we understand by a moral being - a moral being who can sustain relations to other beings, and can be affected by the conditions and doings of other beings. Our deepest feelings - joys or sorrows - do not come from our bodies, but from our minds. And when we say that God can feel, we mean that his moral being can be affected, and that his precise glory lies in this - he does feel rightly, suitably, adequately, divinely, in every case.
1. God must feel if he can be said to have a perfect character. We should take no impressions from the wrongs or the goodnesses around us if we bad no power of feeling, and so there could be no culture of character. If God cannot feel it is no longer intelligible to us to say that he is "good." that he is "love."
2. That God can feel is taught by the imagery of Old Testament Scriptures. Constantly he is represented as though he were a man. We read of his feet, his breath, his hand, his arm, etc. "He is represented as blessed according to the merit and beauty of whatever is done that is right. He smelled a sweet savour in Noah's sacrifice. He has pleasure in them that hope in his mercy. He is affected with joy over his people, as a prophet represents, even to singing in the day of their restored peace. He is tender in his feeling to the obedient, pitying them that fear him as a father pitieth his children. His very love is partly passive; that is, it is a Being affected with compassion by the bitter and hard lot of those under sin. On the other hand, by how many unpleasant varieties or pains of feeling does he profess to suffer in his relation to scenes of human wrong and ingratitude! The sighing of the prisoner comes before him to command his sympathy. He calls after his people as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit. He testifies, 'I am pressed under you as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves.' His repentings are kindled together in view of the sins of his people. He is said to be exercised by all manner of disagreeable and unpleasant sentiments in relation to all manner of evil doings: displeased; sore displeased; wroth; angry; loathing; abhorring; despising; hating; weary; filled with abomination; wounded; hurt; grieved; and he even protests, like one sorrowing, that he could do nothing more to his vineyard than he had done for it" (Dr. H. Bushnell). There must be deep moral meanings in these anthropomorphic expressions.
3. Rightly regarding the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, it becomes a proof that God can feel. It is said that Christ felt because he was human; the feeling was part of the humanity. But if there had been no human nature, would not he have felt and borne our sorrows and our sins just the same? 'The great thing about Christ is that he manifests God to us in these our human spheres, and under these our human conditions. And in him we see not only the glory of God's holiness and claims, but the glory also of his pitying feeling. When God makes himself most evident to us - as he does in the person of his Son - then we behold a loving, pitying, suffering God.
II. GOD DOES FEEL IN THE PARTICULAR WAY OF SYMPATHY WITH THE SUFFERING. "In all their affliction he is afflicted." The prophet is reviewing the Divine dealings with his forefathers; recalling more especially that deliverance from Egypt, and guidance to the promised land, which was the dearest of memories to every Jew. God's interest, he declares, had been bound up with that of his people. He suffered in their suffering. Sorrows came upon that people from outward circumstances; and worse sorrows came through their wilfulness and sin. We are to understand that God sympathized with them under both kinds of sorrow. The text is as true for us as for Israel of old. Our human troubles are so overwhelming because we persist in. bearing them alone; we will not let God bear them with us, much less will we let him bear them for us. We even try to persuade ourselves that he does not feel for us under certain of our sorrows, because the sin whence they come is so abhorrent to him. Yes, the sin is, but the sinner is not - especially the stricken, suffering sinner is not.
III. WE ARE GOD-LIKE ONLY AS WE ARE AFFLICTED IN OTHERS' AFFLICTIONS. Pity for the suffering is a natural emotion. Some of us cannot bear to see even the meanest creature suffering pain. There is much of this "milk of human kindness" left in the sinful, sorrowful world, where man is "horn to trouble as the sparks fly upward." But we can only be rightly "afflicted with others' afflictions" when:
1. Like God, we can see sin at the root of the affliction, and yet feel drawn to the afflicted. Mere human feeling is not strong enough to draw us to the sinner.
2. When we can discern God working out through them his purposes of grace. As mere sufferings they must be borne alone. We cannot share the feeling of pain; but as chastisements, as discipline, we may bear troubles with others; and it is in these religious aspects of human suffering that a God-like sympathy becomes possible.
3. As we ourselves are led through experiences of trouble, as life passes on, it ought to make the brotherhood of souls perfect. Nothing brings hearts together like a common trouble. Send a woman who has a child in heaven to comfort the mother who looks into a newly emptied cradle. God touches us all - touches us to the quick sometimes - and helps us thus to feel for others' infirmities. God's power on us is his fellow-feeling of our infirmities. Our power on each other must be just this - in closeness of sympathy we bear one another's burdens. - R.T.
1. The "Presence" (lit. "Face") of Jehovah is used elsewhere of His self-manifestation. The fundamental passage is Exodus 33:14, 15. But compare also Deuteronomy 4:37; Lamentations 4:16.
In all their affliction He was afflicted.not impassive.. — Just as a man may feel pain, whilst in his own person he is raised above it, so God feels pain without His blessedness suffering hurt; and so He felt His people's suffering; it did not remain unreflected in His own life; it moved Him inwardly.
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
2. An "angel of the Presence," on the other hand, is a figure elsewhere unknown to the Old Testament: the phrase would seem to be "a confusion of two forms of expression, incident to a midway stage of revelation" (Cheyne).
3. The "Face" of Jehovah, however, is not (as the LXX inferred) just the same as Jehovah Himself in person. It is rather a name for His highest sensible manifestation, and hardly differs from what is in other places called the Mal'ak Yahveh (Angel of Jehovah). This is shown by the comparison of Exodus 33:14 f. with Exodus 23:20-23. The verse, therefore, means that it was no ordinary angelic messenger, but the supreme embodiment of Jehovah's presence that accompanied Israel in the early days.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)The Angel in whom Jehovah was seen; who was Jehovah Himself in manifestation.
(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)Not some one of the "ministering spirits," nor some one of the angel-princes standing in God's immediate presence (archangels), but the one whom God makes the medium of His presence in the world for affecting the revelation of Himself in sacred history.
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
I. AFFLICTIONS MAY BE DIVIDED INTO THREE CLASSES — the physical, the mental, and the emotional. Not that we can ever totally separate these three, but for purposes of consideration it may be practicable to do so.
1. It is very hard to resist a plea from physical disability. It is well that it should be so, for callous indifference to the causes of sorrow and pain found in the lives of others is surely a most unpromising state. Anything which will draw us out of ourselves, and keep us from being self-contained, must surely be, in some sort, a servant of God. Our Lord recognized the physical afflictions of men and entered sympathetically into them.
2. But physical afflictions, though more impressive, are oftentimes more endurable than mental afflictions. Indeed, when we come to the last analysis of the case, we find that the mental region is the region where pain reports itself. If we could totally separate the physical and mental, and keep the mind clear and calm while the body suffered its pains and penalties, affliction would be a very different matter from what it now is. Only that then physical affliction would lose its meaning and purpose, for everything physical is for the sake of the mental. But there are mental sufferings which do not report themselves in physical manifestations. The mind is often so tried with doubt and debate — so cast down by its own inability and decrepitude — that it is in a constant state of unrest, and no report thereof is made in the physical frame — no report anyway of such a nature that all can read it.
3. But back of the intellectual department of the mind is that other profounder realm covered by the word "emotional." This emotional region is the strangest and strongest of all. It is the realm of love, of joy, of peace — or of hatred, joylessness, discord. Without our emotions we should be not men and women, but stones, or at best animals. Our emotions gather around persons, places, objects, and these become to us of such transcendent worth that all the world seems poor in comparison with them.
II. When we think of these things, HOW WONDROUS, HOW TERRIBLE DOES THIS NATURE OF OURS SEEM! We become afraid of ourselves. To be owners of ourselves seems too great a responsibility. Does it not seem to us that the Creator, in giving us this nature, has taken upon Himself a responsibility so great and so fearful that none but Himself could bear it? We ask ourselves, in amazement, what must His own nature be?
III. Is not this the revelation made by the prophet, that WE ARE NOT ALONE IN OUR AFFLICTIONS.
IV. As it was with the Israelites, so is it with all the Spiritual Israel; for they and we are not unlike. "In all their affliction He was afflicted." He! Who? The Deliverer. The One who identified Himself with them. And His nature has not changed. We assume that Deity cannot suffer, but we do not know it. We suppose that Deity means perfection — impassive perfection. But is impassivity perfection? May there not be suffering which has in it more of perfection than imperfection, suffering which does not arise from sin, or from weakness, or from anything outside perfection
V. Anyway, Jesus Christ has come between us and naked, unknowable Deity; He has united in some way the human and the Divine. And He is, in some mysterious manner, identified with us; and in all our afflictions He is afflicted, and inside all the affliction is "the Angel of His presence" to save us. I can't tell you what this Angel of the presence means. But cherish faith in these unseen forces and powers — ay, in unseen personal ministries.
(R. Thomas, D. D.)
II. GOD'S COMPASSION IN THE SPHERE OF SIN. The compassion of God has a greater work to do than to transform suffering, by grace, into nobility and strength. It has to go down into the depths of sin. Though the sin of the world lies behind all our suffering, there is much sorrow that is wholly pure. But when we come to sin, to the bondage of evil habit, the riot of wicked passion, to the indulgence of sloth and vanity and pride, ending in defiance of the Almighty and rebellion against His law, then compassion might well be exhausted. And then, indeed, holiness cannot but condemn, and sovereignty cannot but execute the decree; but compassion finds a way even in the sphere of,, sin, and so the prophet continues," "m" His" love and in His pity He redeemed them. But the compassion needs no words to make itself known. In the thorns on His brow, in the nails in His hands, in the prayer for human forgiveness, compassion proclaims its victory. This cross of Christ, just because it is so unlike man and is so like God, is the greatest mystery in the world. Whatever be your sin, whatever be your shame, whatever may have been your past lack of faith, come to-day again to the Cross, to find that sovereignty, holiness, and compassion have redeemed you.
III. GOD'S COMPASSION IN THE SPHERE OF HUMAN WEAKNESS. Our human needs are not all supplied when our sufferings are borne with us, and our sins are pardoned. Though we cross our Red Sea, we have still the years of pilgrimage: though we lose our burdens at the Cross, we have still our cross to carry. Though we surrender ourselves to Christ, we have our warfare to accomplish. And who is there among us who knows the frailty of his past, the slips and falls of poor human nature, who does not feel the inspiration of the Word when it completes the revelation: "He bare them and He carried them all the days of old." There is no one so helpless as a disciple of Christ. Before we came to Christ, we could gird ourselves, and walk whither we would. Now we cannot take a step alone. Only by continually casting ourselves upon Him in our prayers, being led, guided, instructed, strengthened by HIS Spirit; only by clinging to Him in faith does our safety lie.
(W. M. Clow, B. D.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
In His love and in His pity He redeemed them
(J. D. Jones, B. D.)
I. IT IS JUST.
II. IT IS EQUITABLE (Psalm 85:10).
III. IT IS REMEDIAL — designed, like a righteous, law, for good, not for punishment. -It is paternal, for it brings the wanderer home.
IV. IT IS SPECIAL. It is adapted to each case.
V. IT IS EXHAUSTIVE OF DIVINE HELP. You cannot think of any one thing which God has neglected to do that man might be saved.
VI. IT EXHAUSTS THE GREATEST EFFORTS OF THE HUMAN SOUL. Take away the beneficial effect of this Divine discipline, and the human soul sinks in anarchy and woe for evermore. Rightly improved, it lifts man to more than his pristine glory.
(N. H. Schenck, D. D.)
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