The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The Preservation of the Israelites
During the plague of hail,—when the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast, when the fire ran along upon the ground and the hail was so grievous that there had been none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation,—"Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail"—"The Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." After the plague of hail came the plague of darkness. It was a darkness that night be felt. "There was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days," during which period the people "saw not one another, neither rose any from his place." In the midst of this darkness "all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings"—"The Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." After the plague of darkness came a still more terrible midnight, the midnight in which the firstborn of Egypt were destroyed. But in view of that infinite darkness the Lord changed the beginning of the year. He changes the beginnings of time now. He will not have your history reckoned from your fleshly birthday, but from the day when you were born again. On the tenth day of the new year every man in Israel took a lamb, "a lamb for an house,"—a lamb without blemish, either a sheep or a goat. So a touch of grace is in this technical regulation. On the fourteenth day—four days having elapsed, during which the lamb would be examined to see if there were spot or blemish in his flesh—the lamb was killed in the evening, and each family took of the blood and struck it on the two side posts and on the upper doorpost of the houses wherein the lamb was eaten. The sign was blood: the blood was a token upon the houses,—"and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." So in hail there was dryness; in darkness there was light; in destruction there was preservation—"The Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." To explain the detail is not in human power, but to me the detail is a small mystery compared with the greater problem that these trifling acts of mitigation still left the people themselves in the cruel bondage of Egypt. They were dry in the midst of the hail, but they were not the less in bondage; they had lights in their houses, but their houses themselves were prisons; they were not killed in sudden judgment—the very suddenness of which is mercy;—but they died the slow and sevenfold death of studied cruelty. If I had read all this in an ancient book written by an author unknown, I should have been staggered by its romance, and strongly disposed towards unbelief. But it is not written in an ancient book; it is not a romance by an anonymous author; it is not a weird poem written by a poet who plucked his feather from the pinion of a flying eagle and madly dipped it in some sea of sulphur. It is a picture of our own life; it is stiff prose, hard as facts, true to the lines which give definiteness to every day. We may give up every one of the descriptive words and leave in its splendid integrity the internal doctrine. The fear is that the critic should never get beyond the door of the words, simply because he is a critic only within a narrow compass. The great and solemn question to be put by every reader is this:—What is the purpose of the description? What is the moral truth which the description is intended to picture and convey? Having seized the spiritual teaching, all that is external and decorative may be traced to national habits of expression—perhaps to Oriental exaggeration. Our business does not end with the language, but with the inner truth which that language was intended vividly to represent. In the light of this canon of interpretation let me repeat that this whole incident, turning upon the differences which it represents between men, is part of our own history, and the whole drama is passing before our own eyes,—yes, through the very centre of our own houses and dwelling-places. See if this be not so.
Is it an experience quite unknown that the most terrific and overwhelming flood should be kept back from some part of our life and hope? Is it a universal deluge? The flood was very tempestuous; it seemed to break upon the poor life from every point; but now that we have had time to look at the whole case, what is the reality? Was nothing left untouched? Was there not some little ark sailing quietly on the great water? Is there any man who can say, "The flood utterly destroyed me; nothing was left,—no token of mercy, no sign of the Divine providence, no expression of heavenly care; the ruin was total, absolute, overwhelming and irreparable"? Can we not say,—"The ruin was very great, but, thank God, the sweet child was left: in Goshen"s land we had that gracious comfort"? Or can we not say,—"Amidst it all our health was wonderfully preserved"? or "Reason never staggered"? or "In the midst of all there was a strange peace, deeper than any measured sea in the very centre of the heart"? Can we not say,—"In the midst of all there was a sanctuary, there was a stairway leading straight up into the heavens"? Once discover that fact, and see how natural it is to express it in poetic form. Cold prose is not fit for this holy service. We will speak of it rapturously, poetically: with exaggeration to the man who does not understand the experience. We will say that a chamber was found for us in the steeps of the mountain whilst the valleys were engulphed by the roaring flood. We will say that in the sunlit cloud of heaven we rested whilst the thunder-rains flashed and foamed far under our uplifted feet; and in our rapture we may feel as if heaven itself had warmly curtained us whilst the earth was drowned in seas of rain. The imagery is not the point; the mere verbal expression has next to nothing to do with the reality of the case,—except that it must ever be an effort to express the inexpressible. Our boldest metaphors, our fiercest eloquence must be but a dim symbol indicative of the infinite, the unutterable, the profound and eternal. The temptation is to wrestle with the words, to raise a controversy where no battle is needed, and where battle indeed is wholly out of place. The one inquiry which should urge itself upon the mind is:—What is the reality? What is it that occasions the poetry? Why this use of brilliant colour?—and we shall find in reply to that inquiry that the reason is that God, though terrible in judgment, has yet given us dryness in the midst of the storm, a quiet resting-place amid the tumult of the seas; a hiding chamber, a sanctuary stronger than rock, amidst all the transient and mutable—all that could be upset and filled with the spirit of ruin.
Then again is it an experience quite unknown that, amidst darkest darkness, there has yet remained to Christian hearts some ray of tender light—a lustrous edging of a cloud vast as the span of heaven? The experience is familiar; we can all testify to it,—that in the very blackest night we have at least supposed we could see some star battling its way to us as if bearing messages of hope. Who has been stripped utterly? What Job is there who has been so impoverished as to have taken away from his soul the desire to pray? That being left, all is left,—a clear, dry way up to the throne, and nothing is lost. In the consciousness that full and bold access can be had to the Father poverty is wealth; loss is gain; weakness is immortal strength. Never have I met a man that has not had upon him some little token that God had not absolutely forsaken him:—some of his old friends were living: his memory was unusually quick in bringing up incidents of the gone time which warmed him like prophecies: stress and agony had forced to his lips some new and surprising eloquence of prayer. In some cases the sufferer has said,—"I would not have been without that affliction, now that I see the whole case, before I was afflicted I went astray; I have seen in darkness what I never could see in the common daylight; I bless God for the night, for if the sun had always glared upon me I had not known that "the floor of heaven is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold."" Once let the mind seize that fact, and instantly there will be a light in the habitations above the brightness of the sun,—a glory humbling the pomp of summer, a splendour which angels might wish to see,—a miracle wrought in light. Then the heart will invent words. The heart is not to be silenced by the taunt of exaggeration. The mean man who never felt the throb of a noble passion shall not be invested with power to put down the rapture of souls that are aflame with thankfulness. There is a danger in this, however. There are some men who never warm. They are not children of the sun,—no music can thrill them, no colour can bring tears to their eyes,—a sunset is upon them a wasted miracle. The boldness of the Bible is seen in that it is never afraid to put the case in exactly opposite light and with exactly opposite bearing. Sometimes all the advantage is upon the side of the ungodly. The Psalmist was not afraid to say respecting those who made themselves their own gods,—"They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment."
So the Bible does not shrink from changing the ground entirely and representing the exactly reverse picture of that which is presented in the Book of Exodus in relation to the children of Israel. How is this?—because the Book is true,—true at the core, true in its purpose and meaning,—bearing upon it all the colours of all the ages through which it has passed; but the root is the same, drawing its nutriment and its force from the very heart of the Divine power.
As to the sprinkled blood, have we no feeling of its relation and sublimity? Do we part company with the historian here, saying we have no corresponding experience? We do touch the historic spirit in the matter of protection from the overwhelming flood, and of having some gleam of light in the midst of surrounding darkness; but when the lamb is provided a language is spoken which has no interpretation to our souls,—here we fall out of the music, having no answering harmony in our own experience.
Was not a Lamb slain for us also? Here silence is better than speech. We worship him who by his own blood entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. We are redeemed not with corruptible things as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; he hath redeemed us to God by his own blood. Why here we seem to have still larger confirmatory experience. This is our hope in the day of judgment. Not that we have been moral, clever, free from public charge; but that the sprinkled blood is upon the poorest of our forfeited lives. When the angels shall come to execute the Divine judgment what is our hope? That we were not so immoral as some other man? If that is all, there is no blood in the mean, frivolous speech. That we have kept ourselves from the cognisance of the magistrate and the penalty of the national law? By such protestations and felicitations we may but aggravate the guilt which is at once our burden and our curse. What then is our hope? The Lamb—the Lamb slain—the Lamb of the precious blood. Can we explain it? Thank God, no. We cannot explain the sin,—how then can we explain the remedy? We feel it, and we know it by feeling. The highest knowledge comes to us not along the narrow way of the intellect, but through the broad thoroughfares of the responsive and sympathetic heart. We keep ourselves outside the sanctuary because we will only have the intellect satisfied with all its vain questionings, and curious analyses and propositions, whereas it is the heart that must enter. The intellect as a clever, boastful, self-idolatrous faculty must be left outside, and only the heart come within the sanctuary of the Divine forgiveness and the Divine complacency,—the broken heart, the contrite heart, the heart that has no speech in self-defence, but that yields itself into the hands of the loving Saviour to be treated by his grace, not daring to encounter his judgment.
We are not ashamed of this word blood. We are not to be driven away from it because some minds have debased the term, having taken out of it all its highest symbolism and noblest suggestion. We speak not of blood merely as it is commonly understood, but of blood as the life, the love, the heart,—the whole quality of Deity—a mystery in words having no answer in speech. Is the blood upon the house of my life? Is the blood upon the doorpost of my dwelling-place? Have I put up against the Divine judgment some hand of self-protection? Verily, it will be swallowed up in the great visitation. In that time nothing will stand but the blood which God himself has chosen as a token and a memorial. "The blood of Jesus Christ, God"s Song of Solomon, cleanseth from all sin." There is a fountain opened in the house of David for sin and for uncleanness. Do not attempt to bar iron window, to close iron door, to protect yourself against the judgments of God. All we can do will be overwhelmed in the Divine visitation. We must allow God to find his own answer to his own judgments.
That is the attitude which God will respect. A looking in any other direction will be regarded as an aggravation of our offence; but a hopeful, tender, trustful looking towards the Cross will keep back the thunder, and God will spare us when he makes inquisition for blood.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
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"This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you." — Exodus 12:2.
God is the Ruler of time.—We do not invent years and months and weeks. These are really, when searched into, the creations and appointments of the Divine power.—New days are new opportunities. New days enable us to forget the evil of all yesterdays.—Consider the dawning year in this light, and the opening day.—The true birthday of a man is the day on which his soul was born into a purer and nobler life. A birthday may be determined by a vow. The birthday of the body is the poorest of all anniversaries.—When the great idea entered the mind, inspiring and ennobling it, and filling it with Divine enthusiasm, the man was truly born.—We are entitled to date our existence from our regeneration, otherwise our memory might become an intolerable torment—Regeneration destroys the recollections of remorse.—Man is breaking a Divine ordinance when he goes beyond the day of his recreation, and insists upon making alive again all the iniquities that corrupted and degraded his earliest life.—Beautiful is the word beginning. It is one of the first words in the Bible. God himself alone could have invented that word. It is a dewy term; it is tender with the brightness of morning; it is beautiful with the bloom of heaven; a very holy and most helpful word.—Blessed is the man who knows he has begun his life again, and who can confidently date his best existence from a point in time which separates him from every evil and accusing memory.
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"And he called for Moses and Aaron by night."— Exodus 12:31.
What men are always doing.—It is not enough to have a religion or a conviction for the daytime.—Our religious convictions must be large enough to include the whole circle of existence.—Were life a summer day and one steady pulse of health, a certain kind of religion might be made to do; were life one gloomy night and one continued consciousness of pain, another kind of religion might be wanted. Were life eternal youth or endless old age, such a condition would require special treatment.—Life is a mixed quantity; darkness—light, youth—age, enthusiasm—coldness, wealth—poverty; all these and infinitely more elements enter into its composition; and only a religion at least as large as itself can come to such life with any hope of doing it permanent good.—Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron by night; ministers are most wanted when the darkness is deepest.—Darkness is always a mystery to the superstitious mind.—Moses and Aaron are always prepared to go, whether by night or by day; their message is always in season.—No invitation addressed to ministers or churches should be declined, if there is in it the faintest sign of sincerity.—A conversion wrought at night may be as good as a conversion wrought at noonday.—Nicodemus went to Jesus by night, and the blessed Christ showed the inquiring rabbi all the stars of God.—Do not put off sending until night; begin early in the day.—A whole life consecrated to heavenly pursuits will drive away the night, and it may be said of such a life as is said of the heavenly world, "There is no night there."—God uses darkness as an instrument of fear.—The ministry of Christ in the world would be incomplete if it did not appeal to the fear as well as to the hope of man.—That Isaiah, indeed, the poorest of the appeals; but it is essential in order to make up the completeness of the holy ministry, which seeks to excite the attention and save the lives of men.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
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"And a mixed multitude went up also with them."— Exodus 12:38.
This may be taken as a sign of mercy.—God permits men to work along the line of their impulses, even when they cannot justify those impulses by natural right or by technical argument—Impulses to go with the people of God ought never to be repelled; out of those impulses something better may come.—We must not be too curious in inquiring into the metaphysical reasons of human action. When that action points in the right direction, we should accept it, and afterwards begin and continue the work of spiritual education. In the meantime it ought to be accounted a sign of hopefulness that men are inclined to go to church, to listen to preaching, or take any interest in spiritual activities.
This may also be taken in mitigation of judgment of a severe kind often passed upon the Church.—They are not all Israel that are called Israel; neither are they all Christians that follow the Christian standard. We must always distinguish between the true Israel and the mixed multitude. Time will separate them by teaching them.—It is of the nature of evil that it must destroy itself, and it is of the nature of life, rooted in God, that it must grow and bloom eternally.—Men are not judges.—Wherever a man proves himself to be bad and to be acting the bad man"s part, he unchurches himself without any formal and penal excommunication.
There is a sense in which the Church itself is a mixed multitude. Take it, for example, in the light of spiritual attainments.—We are not all upon one level.—In the Church there are great scholars and poor learners; some are far advanced and others are toiling at the alphabet.—Take it in the matter of disposition.—It is not equally easy for all men to be religious. It is not equally easy for all men to be generous.—Where the difficulty is greatest, the sincerity may be of a very pure kind.—Take it in the matter of individual action.—Probably no human action is free from some kind of suspicious motive.—Our motives are a mixed multitude.—We often have to go by majorities, even in our personal considerations and decisions; we have to marshal a mixed multitude of thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears.—Herein is the delicacy of life, and herein the necessity for a discerning judgment and a sound discipline.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 12". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25