The Biblical Illustrator
Give us water, that we may drink.
Rephidim: ancient and modern
How far have we travelled from Rephidim? This is mere than a question in geography: it is a profound inquiry in morals. How far have we advanced morally, spiritually, and in all the higher ranges and Diviner outlooks of our being? Here we seem to be still at Rephidim. Geographers say they cannot find out the exact locality. Verily, there need be no difficulty about the exact locality--it is just where we are. Why be so emphatic about our being at Rephidim?
I. Because the people at Rephidim were tormented by a continual consciousness of necessity. How far have we got from necessity? Not one inch. Necessity has followed us all the time. We must advance from the lower to the higher. We have it before us as a certain and indisputable fact that for the support of the body we need external help: we need the whole ministry of kind and gracious nature. What wonder if in the education, and culture, and strengthening of the soul we need all heaven, with its infinite Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Were we pressed to affirm that necessity it would be in strict consonance with all the other wants that follow and devour our wasting life.
II. Because at Rephidim help was found in unexpected places and given in unexpected ways: “Thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.” We are always helped by unexpected people, in unexpected ways, and at unexpected places. God would appear to delight in baffling the ingenuity that would forecast the future with too exclusive a minuteness. God will not allow us to trifle with His prerogatives. He will find water where we should find none. Why be so emphatic about still being at Rephidim?
III. Because peevish tempers were corrected by great duties in that ancient locality. Israel fell into fretfulness, and whining, and dissatisfaction, and rebellion. What did God do? He sent Amalek upon Israel. That is the function of war among the nations. It is no use reasoning with peevishness. It is time wasted to try to expostulate with any man who is in a whining mood of soul, displeased because of his bread, discontented because of the scarcity of water, making no allowance for the undulations of life--reasoning, remonstrance, expostulation would be lost. What must be done? An enemy must be raised up to smite him with the sword. Then he will come into a new mood of mind, forget his littleness, and, springing forward to a realization of his true power, he will lose in service the discontent which he contracted in unbelief. What we want to-day is persecution. We do not want eloquence, criticism--new learning, some new invention in theological confectionery that shall tempt appetites that have been sated; we want war--persecution--the enemy at the gate. Then we should begin to forgive one another, to pray for one another, to come more closely together at the altar and more near in that consent of soul which is blessed with insight into spiritual mysteries. We have lost in losing the enemy. The sting of Smithfield fire would correct our theology a good deal; the old gibbet would take the fretfulness out of our tone; the great earthquake rocking our cities would make us forget our animosities and unite us in bolder intercession. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Refreshing thoughts for the hot season
I was told by a gentleman who walked over one of the battle-fields on a hot summer night, after a day of carnage, that the cry of the wounded was absolutely unbearable, and after giving all supply that he could, he put his fingers to his ears, for the cry all over the plain was from hundreds of dying men, “Water! Water! For God’s sake, give us water.” Coming home from the store on a hot summer day, in the eventide, every muscle of your body exhausted with fatigue, what do you first ask for? A cup of water--fresh, clear, sparkling water. This Bible is all agleam with fountains, and rivers, and seas. The prophet sees the millennium, and cries, “Streams in the desert.” David thinks of the deep joy of the righteous, and calls it “A river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” While the New Testament holds forth ten thousand chalices filled with living water for a thirsty world.
I. Water is typical of the Gospel, because of its brightness. The fountain breaks forth from the side of the hill, flashing with gold, and silver, and beryl, and chrysolite; and as you see it, you almost clap your hands with gladness. But there is no brightness in it compared with this living fountain of the Gospel; for in each falling drop I see the glory of heaven.
II. Water typifies the Gospel by its refreshment. How different you feel after you get a glass of cool water, or after you have plunged into a bath! On a hot summer day there is nothing that so soon brings you back from a bad temper or a disturbed spirit, and puts you into a happy frame of mind and body, as cold water. Blessed be God for water. I love to hear it fall in the shower and dash in the cascade, and to see it rush from the ice pitcher into the clear glass. Hand round this nectar of the hills and drink, all of you, to the praise of Him who brewed it among the mountains. Thank God for water. But there is a better refreshment even than that. There was a time when you were hounded by convictions. Sinai thundered. The wrath of God cried, “Fly.” Justice cried, “Fly.” Your own fears cried, “Fly.” Mercy said, “Come, come!” and you plunged like a hart into the water brooks, and out of that flood your soul came up cool, and clean, and radiant; and you looked round and said, Come, and hear ye all that fear God, and I will tell you what He hath done for my soul.”
III. Water typifies the Gospel because of its abundance. When we pour the water from the pitcher into the glass we have to be careful, or the glass will overflow, and we stop when the water has come to the rim. But when God, in summer, pours out His showers, He keeps pouring on and pouring on until the grass blades cry, “Enough!” and the flowers, “Enough!” and the trees, “Enough!” but God keeps pouring on and pouring on, until the fields are soaked, and the rivers overflow, and the cisterns are all filled and the great reservoirs are supplied, and there is water to turn the wheel, water to slake the thirst of the city, water to cleanse the air, water to wash the hemisphere. Abundance! And so with this glorious gospel. Enough for one, enough for all. Just after the battle of Antietam, with some of the other members of the Christian Commission, I went down to help look after the wounded, and on the afternoon of a very hot day I came to a pump of water. I saw a soldier, with musket, guarding the pump. I said, “Why do you not fill my cup?” He replied, “Water is scarce. Here is a great army, and we do not know where to get water after this is gone; and I have orders to give no more than that.” What a poor supply for a thirsty man on a hot day I But, glory be to God! that in this gospel fountain there is water enough for all the armies of the earth, and for all the armies of heaven. You cannot drink it dry.
IV. Water typifies the Gospel in the fact that it is perennial. In this hot summer weather some of the fountains have dried up; but stand you on the bank of the Amazon, or of the St. Lawrence, or of the Mississippi, or of the Ohio, and see if it runs dry. No; they have been flowing on for thousands of years, and they will probably flow on for thousands of years more. The trees of the forest have cast their leaves for ages into the bosom of these waters, and the birds of heaven have dipped their wings in the wave. And so it is with this gospel. It is a perennial gospel. On earth we only see a portion of that great River of Life; but after a while the river will rise, and it will join the tides of the celestial river that flows hard by the throne of God. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Want of water a terrible experience
About 1858, while a number of routes from the proposed, now completed, Pacific railway were being surveyed, E. T. Scovill, of Cleveland, was in charge of a corps of engineers in Nevada. On one occasion they were obliged to leave their base of supplies for a trip of six days. On the fourth day’s journey their water gave out, and the sufferings of men and beasts were terrible. The heat appeared to rise from the sand like vapour and dance a death dance before the sufferers’ eyes. Not a breath of air stirred. The sun was like a great round furnace, The horses struggled on, their noses hung nearly to the ground, and their eyes bulged out of their heads like knots on a tree. Two of the men became delirious and were bound in the waggons. Near night a gulch was reached and all plunged into it expecting to find water. It was dry! The situation was desperate, when Mr. Scovill, taking in the situation at a glance, directed some to go up the gulch and some down and the one who found water to shout. Some found wet gravel and sand and with their hands dug a hole into which trickled water. It was brackish and warm, but it was water. Nothing ever tasted sweeter. They were saved. Next morning by digging a deep hole in the creek bed a good supply of water was obtained. As they were about to move away the next morning the thought struck Mr. Scovill that some other poor creature might come along the trail, strike the gulch, find a dry instead of a wet camp, and despair. So he took an empty flour-barrel and scrawled upon it: “Water 1,000 feet up the gulch, E. T. Scovill, chief of engineers.” This he stuck in the sand by the side of the trail. Now the scene of the story shifts to South America. Mr. Scovill sat in the Llama Club, Lima. He had gone to Peru to help Henry Meigs build those wonderful railways in the mountains. Here, to a company of Americans and English, he told the story of his journey across the plains. There was one man in the party who was evidently excited. As Mr. Scovill reached the end of the story, and told how he had put up the sign that water could be found a thousand feet up the gulch, the nervous stranger, a man of giant frame, leaped from his seat and took Scovill in his arms as if the latter had been a child. “Then you are the man, are you”? he exclaimed; “you are the man who saved my life. I went across the desert a few days after you. I--my companions and I--suffered as you suffered. On the way we killed our horses and drank their blood. When we finally reached the gulch we had just strength enough left to enable us to crawl down into the dry creek bed. There we lay down to die, when one of us happened to see your blessed guide board. A thousand feet up the gulch we found water. If we hadn’t I should not be here to-night to take the hand of the man who saved our lives.”
The people, miraculously fed, are therefore called to exhibit more confidence in God than hitherto, because much is required of him to whom much is given. They have now to plunge deeper into the wilderness; and after two stages which Exodus omits (Numbers 33:12-13), and just as they approach the mount of God, they find themselves without water. Even the Son of Man Himself was led into the wilderness next after the descent of the Spirit, and the avowal by the voice of God; nor is any true Christian to marvel if his seasons of special privilege are succeeded by special demands upon his firmness.
One finds himself conjecturing, very often, what nobler history, what grander analogies between type and antitype, what more gracious and lavish interpositions might have instructed us, if only the type had been less woefully imperfect--if Israel had been trustful as Moses was, and the crude material had not marred the design.
It would be more practical and edifying to reflect how often we ourselves, like Israel, might have learned and exemplified deep things of the grace of God, when all we really exhibited was the well-worn lesson of human frailty and divine forbearance.
In the story of our Lord, it has been observed that before the Pharisees directly assailed Himself, they found fault with His disciples who fasted not, or accosted them concerning Him Who ate with sinners. And so here the people really tempted God, but openly "strove with Moses," and with Aaron too, for the verb is a plural one: "Give ye water" (Exodus 17:2).
But as Aaron is merely an agent and spokesman, the chief value of this tacit allusion to him, besides proving his fidelity, is to refute the notion that he sinks into comparative obscurity only after the sin of the golden calf. Already his position is one to be indicated rather than expressed; and Moses said, "Why do ye quarrel with me? wherefore do ye try the Lord?"
But the frenzy rose higher: it was he, and not a higher One, who had brought them out of Egypt; the upshot of it would only be "to kill us, and our children, and our cattle, with thirst."
Look closely at this expression, and a curious significance discloses itself. Was it mere covetousness, the spirit of the Jew Shylock lamenting in one breath his daughter and his ducats, which introduced the cattle along with the children into this complaint of dying men? Shylock himself, when death actually looked him in the face, readily sacrificed his fortune. Nor is it credible that a large number of people, really believing that a horrible death was imminent, would have spent any complaints upon their property. The language is exactly that of angry exaggeration. They have come through straits quite as desperate, and they know it well. It is not the fear of death, but the painful delay of rescue, the discomfort and misery of their condition in the meanwhile, the contrast between their sufferings and their own conception of the rights of the favourites of heaven, which is audible in this complaint. And thus their "Trial" and "Quarrel" are admirably epitomised in the phrase "Is Jehovah among us or not?" a phrase which has often since been in the heart, if not upon the lips, of men who had supposed the life divine to be one long holiday, the pilgrimage an excursion, when without are fightings and within fears, when they have great sorrow and heaviness in their hearts.
Because God is not a Judge, but a Father, the murmurs of Israel do not prevent Him from showing mercy. Accordingly, when Moses prays, he is bidden to go on before the people, bringing certain of their elders along with him for witnesses of the marvel that was to follow. Such is the Divine method. As soon as unbelief and discontent estranged the Jews of the New Testament from Christ, He would not vulgarise His miracles, nor do many mighty works among the unbelieving. After His resurrection He appeared not unto all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before. And as the Jews were chosen to bear witness to Him among the nations, so were these elders now to bear witness among the Jews, who might without their testimony have fallen into some such rationalising theory as that of Tacitus, who says that Moses discovered a fountain by examining a spot where wild asses lay.
With these witnesses, he is bidden to go to a rock in Horeb (so nearly had these murmurers approached the scene of the most awful of all manifestations of Him whose presence they debated), and there God was to stand before them upon the rock, making His universal presence a localised consciousness in their experience.
A true religion is progressive: every stage of it leans on the past and sustains the future; and so Moses must bring with him "the rod, wherewith thou smotest the river." The dullest can see the fitness of this allusion. Among all the wonders which the shepherd's wand had wrought, the mastery over the Nile, the plague which inflicted an unwonted thirst upon the inhabitants of that well-watered field of Zoan, was most to the purpose now. To kill and to make alive are the functions of the same Being, and He Who spoiled the Egyptian river will now refresh His heritage that is weary. At the touch of the prophetic wand the waters poured forth which thenceforth supplied them through all their desert wanderings.
Reserving the symbolic meaning of this event for a future study, we have to remember meanwhile the warning which the apostle here discovered. All the people drank of the rock, yet with many of them God was not pleased. Privilege is one thing--acceptance is quite another; and it shall be more tolerable at last for Sodom and Gomorrah than for nations, churches and men, who were content to resemble soil that drinketh in the rain that cometh upon it oft, and yet to remain unfruitful. Already the conduct of Israel was such that the place was named from human worthlessness rather than Divine beneficence. Too often, it is the more conspicuous part of the story of the relations of God and man.
Thou shalt smite the rock.
Horeb; or, great mercies from unlikely sources
I. The secular department of human history will furnish abundant illustrations of this principle.
1. Does intelligence conduce to this end? Undoubtedly knowledge tends to make men secularly happy. How often, then, do you find streams of intelligence gushing from the most unlikely sources. Demosthenes was a stammerer; Homer and Milton were blind; Shakespeare was the son of a butcher.
2. Do philanthropic institutions conduce to the secular well-being of man? Unquestionably. If you look to the origin of temperance societies, asylums, provident associations, etc., you will find they have generally sprung from the most unlikely sources.
3. Does political liberty conduce to the secular well-being of man? Undoubtedly. It, too, has come mostly from unlikely sources--Moses, Luther, etc.
II. The spiritual department of human history will furnish still greater illustrations of this principle.
1. See it exemplified in the spiritual Deliverer of the race. Babe in manger; Son of carpenter; Man of sorrows, etc.; malefactor on cross. “This rock,” says St. Paul, “is Christ”--is like Christ. How?
(a) Most needed.
(b) Most adequate.
2. See it exemplified in the first preachers of the gospel. Poor fishermen, etc.
3. See it exemplified in the missionary enterprise. Carey, the shoemaker; Williams, the blacksmith; Moffat, the gardener, etc.
Conclusion: This subject suggests--
1. Good ground for trusting God in the greatest difficulty.
2. To remove all ground for glorying in your usefulness. God could make the meanest creatures do all and more than you can accomplish. (Homilist.)
Crying unto the Lord for help
Hiacoomes, an early Indian convert, was a remarkable man. Two years after his conversion (1743), having in the meantime been prepared by Mr. Mayhew, he commented teaching to the Indians the things of Christianity. He was not suffered to proceed without opposition from the Paw-Waws, Sachems, and other Indians; but he made this improvement of the injustice done him. “I had,” he remarked, “one hand for injuries and another hand for God; while I received wrong with the one, I laid the faster hold on God with the other.” These words should be written in gold. (New York Independent.)
The needful things of life providentially supplied
I. That men are sometimes brought into great straits through lack of the ordinary things of life. “And there was no water for the people to drink.” Thus the Israelites lacked water. They had lacked bread only a few days previously.
1. It is not the lot of man to be long free from trial of some kind. Trials come successively. Job, Joseph, David. They are diversified according to the station in which our tent is fixed. Every sphere of life has something of perplexity connected with it, which tests our moral nature and brings the mercy of God near to us. We must learn both how to want and how to abound, to be sorrowful and yet always rejoicing.
2. Thus by the varied trials of life man is made to feel that earth cannot give him abiding satisfaction, and he is led to anticipate the rest of heaven. There the wilderness is unknown, and hunger and thirst are not experienced. The Lamb feeds them. They drink of the River of the Water of Life.
3. But we see from this narrative that each occasion of want on the part of Israel was signalized by a rich manifestation of the mercy of God. Their hunger was met by the manna. Their thirst was met by the streams of Horeb. The hour of man’s need is often the hour of God’s richest gift and blessing.
II. That when men are brought into great straits through lack of the ordinary things of life, they often appeal to human agencies rather than to divine. “Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink.” How foolish, for did not he suffer from the same calamity? nor was it in his power to create fountains. How cruel, for was not he seeking their freedom? How fickle the approbation of men, it varies with the circumstances of life. People often go to the human in trouble when they ought to go to the Divine.
III. That when men are brought into straits through the lack of things they very much need, they often get them in the providence of God from the most unlikely sources. “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.” Thus we see that God did not flash immediate judgment upon these rebellious people. He is long-suffering toward the race. We must learn to be patient with those who injure us. God has regard to human need, and evil in men will not turn Him away from His promise, None need despair of His mercy. When the people chide, the minister should pray. Our heavenly Father is never absent from the good; goodness and mercy follow them all their days.
IV. That when men are brought into straits, the way in which they act therein will leave irreparable memorials of sin or victory. “And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel,” etc. Let us not leave behind in our life memorials of strife and unbelief, but of faith and good works. Such memorials are abiding; once erected, they cannot be removed; hence the need that they should be worthy. Lessons:
1. That man is frequently called upon in this life to endure great physical need.
2. That the physical needs of life often reveal our real and inner character.
3. That the physical needs of life are no indication that God has failed us.
4. That the physical needs of life give us a great insight into the wealth and method of the Divine mercy. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The smitten rock
I. The rock a type of Christ.
1. Its situation. In midst of wilderness.
2. Its stability (Isaiah 28:16).
3. Its durability. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
II. Moses striking the rock. An act of violence required. When man is to be saved, the rod of Divine wrath strikes the Saviour, and “the rock” pours forth streams of everlasting salvation.
III. The purpose of the miracle. (I. Saunders.)
Water out of the rock, a type of Christ
I. As a rock it elegantly typed out Jesus Christ, fitly compared to a rock in five resemblances.
1. For the despicable appearance. The rock is in appearance dry and barren, the most unlikely thing in all the world to afford water, so as it was incredible to Moses and Aaron themselves to fetch water out of a rock. Even so Jesus Christ was (for outward form and appearance in the world) most unlikely of all men to afford any such waters of grace and salvation (Isaiah 53:2).
2. A Rock for exaltation and advancement. A rock is a promontory lifted up above the earth. Such a Rock was Christ advanced above the earth, yea, and the heavens; advanced above all men and creatures--
3. A Rock for firmness and stability. He is the strength of Israel (Matthew 16:18). Hence He is a rock of defence and safety to His chosen; and every wise man builds his house on this Rock.
4. A Rock of scandal and offence to wicked men (Romans 9:32).
5. A Rock for weight and danger and unavoidable judgment upon His adversaries, which, “on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44).
II. It was a type of Christ, as it sent out water in abundance to the people of Israel ready to perish for thirst. For so Jesus Christ is the only Rock that sends from Himself all the sweet waters of life for the salvation of His elect, otherwise ready to perish eternally. For explanation whereof, mark--
1. As from that rock issued waters to wash and cleanse themselves and their garments, so from this Rock stream waters of ablution or washing, which serve to wash away both the guilt of sin and stain of sin.
2. As from that rook issued waters to cool and comfort Israel in their weariness and wanderings, so from Jesus Christ do issue the waters of refrigeration and comfort, to cool and refresh the dry and thirsty soul; to allay the heat of a raging and accusing conscience, and to revive with new strength the fainting soul in temptation or persecution.
3. As from that rock streamed abundance of waters to make fruitful that barren wilderness wheresoever they ran, so only from the true Rock issue plentiful waters of grace to make our dry and barren hearts fruitful in all works of righteousness (Isaiah 44:3-4).
III. In the manner of attaining this water are many sweet resemblances.
1. The people might ask Moses for water, but Moses cannot give it. It is God must give it, and miraculously fetch it out of a rock.
2. The rock gives water, but not till it be smitten (verse 6).
3. It was the rod in Moses’ hand that smites and breaks the rock. Even so it was the Law given by Moses’ hand and our transgression against it that breaks the true Rock (Isaiah 53:5; Galatians 3:13).
4. The rock was smitten, but it was not so much the striking on the rock, but the Lord’s standing upon it that gets water for Israel (verse 6). There was no virtue in the stroke, but all depended on God’s commandment and presence; even so it is not the death of Christ, nor an abundance of price and merit of His blood, nor the striking on this rock before men’s eyes in the ministry of the Word and sacraments that can bring one drop of true water of comfort, but by the presence and word of God’s blessing. The efficacy of grace depends not on any means or work wrought, but it is God’s word and presence that doth all in them. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
Help from an unlikely source
The manna was simply sent from heaven, but the water, on the contrary, was brought out of the smitten rock--the most unlikely place that could be imagined. Some men went about collecting funds for an important charity. They arrived in course of time at a very rich man’s door who was known to be churlish in his manner and niggardly in his gifts; whereupon they said that there was no need to call on him, “he is not likely to give.” However, they entered, and laid their case before him, and to their surprise he at once responded by giving them the largest donation they had yet received. Rephidim-Rock was a most unlikely place from which to receive supplies of water.
Is the Lord among us, or not?
Evidences of the Divine presence
I. We observe an increase of spiritual enlightenment is an evidence of the Divine presence among a people.
II. We observe spiritual-mindedness is an evidence of the Divine presence among a people.
III. We observe Christian love is an evidence of the Divine presence among a people.
IV. Activity and devotedness in the cause of Christ is an evidence of the Divine presence among a people. We have three remarks in conclusion--
1. The unrenewed may learn from this subject that there is no hope for him of any radical improvement save in the grace of God. The Holy Spirit is the sole agent for this work.
2. The Church of God should learn from this subject that the grace and presence of the Lord in the midst of them is the one thing needful.
3. Let all know that the Lord is to be found in the power and sufficiency of His grace by all who seek Him through the Saviour. (H. F. Holmes.)
“Is the Lord among us, or not?”-a false inference
Notwithstanding all the other tokens of God’s presence they thought that their renewed difficulties were a proof that God was no longer amongst them. And are not our hearts far too apt to come to the same conclusion on the same grounds? We enter on some new path, on some fresh work, because we think that the hand of God is leading us to it, and, almost unconsciously to ourselves, we suppose that His presence will secure us from any great and discouraging difficulties. Our expectations are disappointed--one difficulty after another presents itself--one door after another is closed. What follows? Too often doubts begin to arise in our minds whether God is really with us. But these doubts should not be encouraged. It is altogether a false inference, that because our path is one of difficulty or trial, therefore the Lord is not among us. The very reverse will usually be found to be the true conclusion. (G. Wagner.)
Then came Amalek, and fought.
Fighting and praying
“Then came Amalek”; that is, after the manna had fallen, after the rock had been smitten. First food, then conflict. God spared His people all battles in their early days. In our march to heaven, it may happen that one part of the way is free from conflict; but let no man wonder if things change. One of these days we shall read this despatch from the seat of war, “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel.” Do not court attack, nor even desire it. When you hear the older folk talk about their inward conflicts, do not lament if your chronicle of wars is a short one. It has often been the Lord’s way to give His people space for refreshment before trying them. We cannot work for God too soon; yet it is possible to go to work before you have sharpened your tools. There is a time for every purpose; and each thing is good in its season. Learn, and then teach. I would have you serve the Lord successfully: wherefore, as God gave to Israel manna and water before He sent them to fight with Amalek, so should every believer feed on the truth himself, and then go forth to teach others also. Feed, that you may work, and work because you have been fed. After the manna and after the smitten rock, came the fight: “Then came Amalek.” He was a descendant of Esau, full of his father’s hate. Note well, that in this battle of the Lord, there were two kinds of fighting. The first was the Joshua-service; and that was done in the plain by the fighting men. The second was the Moses-service; and this was done upon the side of the hill, by the men of God, who communed with heaven. We need both modes of warfare.
I. To begin with, we want much of The Joshua-service.
1. This is the service of many. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek.” We have a battle against sin, error, pride, self, and everything that is contrary to God and to His Christ; and in the Joshua-service many can be employed. Every believer should be a soldier in Christ’s own army of salvation.
2. In this Joshua-service all the combatants were under due command. “Joshua did as Moses had said to him,” and the people did as Joshua commanded them. In all holy service, willingness to be led is a great point. Certain workers may be very good personally; but they will never combine with others to make a conquering band. They work very well alone, or as fore-horses in the team; but they cannot trot in double harness. Soldiers without discipline become a mob, and not an army. Friend, will you be one of the steady workers?
3. In Joshua-work courage was required. “Go out, fight with Amalek.” The Amalekites were fierce, cruel, strong. They are said to have been the chief among the nations; by which I understand first among the plunderers of the desert. The soldiers under Joshua had courage, and faced their wolfish foes. Saints need courage for Jesus in these days. May God, in His mercy, make His people bold against scepticism, superstition, and open wickedness! We are called, not to flirt with error and evil, but to fight with it; therefore, let us be brave, and push on the conflict.
4. Those fighting under Joshua did not grow weary. Moses had the more spiritual work, and his hands grew heavy: we sooner tire in private devotion than in public service. Joshua and his men were not weary: never let us be weary in well-doing. Do you ever grow weary in one peculiar way of serving God? It may be useful to try something else. I mean, do something extra. Variety of labour serves for recreation.
5. In the Joshua-service they were successful, for “they discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” Beloved workers for the Lord: may He grant you like success against evil! The devil goes to be beaten, and he shall be beaten.
II. The Moses-service--the service of Moses and his comrades. These did not go down to the battle-field themselves, but they climbed the mountain-side, where they could see the warriors in the conflict; and there Moses lifted up the rod of God.
1. Note, that the Moses-service was essential to the battle; for when Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. The scales of the conflict were in the hand of Moses, and they turned as his prayer and testimony failed or continued.
2. This holy work was of a very special character. Only three were able to enter into it. I believe that, in every Church, the deeply spiritual, who prevalently commune with God, and bring down the blessing upon the work of the rest, are comparatively few.
3. This Moses-service lay in very close communion with God. Moses, and Aaron, and Hur were called to rise above the people, and to get alone, apart from the company. They climbed the hill as a symbol, and in retirement they silently communed with God.
4. In this sacred engagement there was a terrible strain upon the one man who led the others in it. In the process of bringing down the Divine power upon the people, the vehicle of communication was sorely tried. “Moses’ hands were heavy.” If God gives you spiritual power to lead in Christian work, you you will soon find out that the condition of such leadership is a costly one.
5. In this hallowed service help is very precious. When Moses’ hands began to drop down, and he himself was faint, Aaron and Hur gave him substantial aid. Are you a worker? Have you a leader fit to lead you? Bring a stone and put under him: cheer his heart with some gracious promise from the Lord’s Word, or with some happy sign from the work itself. Cheer the good man as much as possible. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The battle between good and evil
I. That the good are required to do battle with inveterate enemies (verse 8).
1. Every soul has to contend with the Amalek of
2. The soul is led gradually into the moral battle of life. We cannot get to heaven without being interrupted by many enemies--by Satan, by poverty, by sickness, by prosperity; all these will seek to stop or slay us.
II. That the good in this conflict must combine prayer with the utmost exertion to overcome their enemies (verses 9-11). Truth has lost many a battle through bad generalship. Truth needs a man like Luther to lead the attack. If we would overcome evil within us and without us, we must summon the best energies of our mental and moral nature, and put them under the command of Christ; then shall we be led to victory. Joshua fought. Moses went up the hill to pray. Prayer is often uphill work. And the conflict between Good and Evil necessitates the use of prayer and activity. Man must pray over his evil heart, and he must also fight against its sinful tendencies. Sin is persistent in its opposition to the soul.
III. That the good in this conflict are often impeded by the weakness consequent upon the physical condition of life (verse 12). Nature at the strongest is weak. But the hands of Moses were supported by Aaron and Hur. Holy companionship is helpful in the hour of severe moral conflict. Two are better far than one. Christians should seek to hold up the hands of ministers. They must bear one another’s burdens. The insignificant members of the Church may render service to the most important; Hut may strengthen Moses. The hands of our heavenly Intercessor never grow weary with pleading; and the infirm Christian will soon be as the angels. It is consoling that God knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust.
IV. That the good in their conflict should keep faithful record of their victories (verses 13, 14).
1. To aid memory.
2. To inspire hope.
3. To awaken gratitude to God.
V. That the good in this conflict should ascribe all the glory of victory to God (verses 15, 16). Lessons:
1. That there are inveterate enemies to moral goodness.
2. That these enemies are doomed to ultimate defeat and destruction.
3. That the good must pray and fight to this end.
4. There will be a final celebration of victory. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
War with Amalek
I. First, then, we have here the experience of every individual Christian,
1. Observe, the Children of Israel were emancipated from bondage, and had left Egypt behind, even as you and I have been rescued from our natural state and are no longer the servants of sin.
2. The Children of Israel were probably anticipating ease, forgetting that the Promised Land was yet many days’ journey beyond them. Inexperience made them expect a continuance of uninterrupted song and feasting, and there was a time when we indulged in the same foolish hopes.
3. Like Israel, we soon experienced tribulations. You must fight if you would win the crown, and your pathway to the other side of Jordan must be the pathway of an armed crusader, who has to contend for every inch of the way if he is to win it.
4. In proceeding with the narrative we notice that they found opposition from an unexpected quarter. It is just where we feel most safe that we should be most cautious. I do not think the Christian has so much to fear from open and avowed enemies as from those deceitful foes who feign to be his friends. Sin is never so much a Jezebel as when it paints its face with daubs of respectability and patches of innocence. Things dubious are more dangerous than things distinctly evil.
5. When the assault was made, the people were commanded to exert themselves. The message was given, “Go, choose out men, and fight with Amalek.” Israel never fought with Egypt. God fought for them, and they held their peace. The yoke of sin has been broken by God’s grace from off our necks, and now we have to fight not as slaves against a master, but as freemen against a foe.
6. Spiritual fighting must be conducted on most earnest and prudent principles. They were to choose out men. So we must choose out our ways of contending with sin. The best part of a man should be engaged in warfare with his sins.
7. This makes me notice that though the men of Israel were to fight, and the chosen men were to be selected, yet they were to fight under the command of Joshua, that is, Jesus, the Saviour.
8. That where holy activity is joined with earnest supplication, the result as to our sins is absolutely sure--the enemy must be defeated; we shall put our feet upon the necks of all our sins. There is no fear of their overcoming us if we do but lay hold on Divine strength.
9. And, if ever we overcome sin once, it should be the signal for proclaiming a general war against all sin. The fight and victory over Amalek brought from God’s mouth the solemn declaration that there should be war with Amalek for ever and ever. Have you mastered one sin? Slay the next, and the next, and the next.
II. The whole narrative may be interpreted as the history of any one Christian church. In any one Church there will be, there must be, if it be a Church of God, earnest contention for the truth and against error. If we do indeed hold the very truth as it is in Jesus, we must fight for it valiantly, for if we do not fight Amalek, Amalek will certainly fight us, and the hindmost will always be suffering and the weakest go to the wall. It is on behalf of the weaker brethren, who are easily perverted, that we must watch and fight perpetually. To all Christian effort in every Church must be added unpleasing intercession.
III. But lastly, the history of the whole Christian Church is here before us as in a picture. The sacramental host of God’s elect is warring still on earth, Jesus Christ being the Captain of their salvation. He has said, “Lo! I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The war of truth
I. The great warfare.
1. Not with men, but with Satan and error.
2. A most righteous warfare.
3. A war of the greatest importance.
4. Insidious and very powerful foes.
5. A war of perpetual duration.
II. The appointed means of warfare.
1. Hard blows.
2. Hard prayers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Both sides of the shield
I. First, let us look at persecution in its double aspect. On the one hand, notice that this attack upon Israel was Amalek’s great sin, on account of which the nation was doomed to be extirpated. Because of this, God said, “I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” But, on the other hand, this assault was the result of Israel’s sin; for it is significantly put after the strife of Massah and Meribah, “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” The point is this: persecution may come to you from evil men, distinctly from them, and it may be their wicked free will which makes them assail you; and yet, at the same time, it may be your sin which lies at the bottom of it, and because you have erred they have been permitted, and even appointed, to bring trouble upon you. Let us think of these two things.
1. Notice well that assaults upon us may arise from the sins of others. It is right that we should recognize this, lest in the dark day we should become unduly discouraged. These Amalekites attacked Israel, and greatly sinned in so doing, for they were the first that made war against God’s people. But the impiety was still worse; for Amalek went out of his way to attack Israel. The people had not come into his territory; they were a good way off it, and were passing quietly by; but we read, “Then came Amalek.” His envy was stirred up so much that he came away from his own region to fight with Israel without any provocation. Moreover, Amalek in this act went forth to fight against God Himself. It was not with Israel alone that he warred; he battled also with Jehovah, the God of Israel. When you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, the Lord takes notice of it. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” Let us now turn our thoughts to the other aspect of this subject.
2. The guilt of ungodly men in persecuting God’s people is not inconsistent with my next statement, that assaults upon us may also arise from our own sins. We may have brought the evil upon ourselves. When they had chided with Moses, and murmured against God, “Then came Amalek.” Israel had been quarrelling with God. Do you wonder, then, that other people quarrelled with them? You may often read your sin in its punishment. They put a question about God, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” But, because they questioned God, God makes it a serious question between them and Amalek. If we make God a question, God will make our safety a question, and we shall have a stern fight for it. Moreover, we find that Israel had uttered threats against Moses, so that he said, “They be almost ready to stone me.” Now, if they would stone the man of God, is it at all wonderful that the men of the world were ready to kill them? If you go against Moses, God will sent Amalek against you, for remember that God does chasten His people. So, there is our first point. We may sometimes justly charge our afflictions upon the ill intent of ungodly men; and yet, at the same time, we may have to charge them also upon ourselves.
II. In the second place, let us think of instrumentality in its double relation. Here, again, another contrast is to be found in the text and its connection. If you will notice, in the fifth verse, God says to Moses, “Take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river”; but when Moses talks about the rod, in the ninth verse, which forms our text, he says, “To-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.” In both verses it is the same rod which is spoken of.
1. One side is that God calls it the rod of Moses, and so honours him. Wherever there is an opportunity of doing honour to the faith of His own servants, God is never slow to use it. He is a King who delights to give glory to His warriors when they behave themselves bravely in the heat of battle. Moreover, it really was the rod of Moses, and would not so well have fitted any other hand. God does not put into a position of influence a man unfit for the post. Even Moses did not work wonders with the rod until he had renounced the riches of Egypt, and borne the burden of life in the wilderness. There was a fitness in the fact of the rod being in the hand of such a man. Thus, in a very real sense, it was the rod of Moses. In addition to this, it was the faith of Moses which gave power to his rod; he himself was the conductor of the Divine energy. Had the rod been wielded by another man, self-appointed, and lacking the confidence which Moses had come to possess in God, it would have been simply a powerless stick.
2. On the other hand, Moses calls it the rod of God, and so honours God. He whom God uses gives God the praise, for God is ever the source of our:strength; and if any work is done that is worth the doing, unto Him must be ascribed all the glory. “Not unto us, O Lord; not unto us, but unto Thy name, give glory.” Let us learn, from these words of Moses, that instrumentality is not to be decried, for God uses it; but the instrument must never be allowed to usurp the place of God, for it must be always remembered that it is God who uses it. The axe must not exalt itself against him that heweth therewith; but, when there are trees to be felled, it would be folly to throw the axe away.
III. Behold, in this incident, prudence in its double activity. You have that in the text. Moses said unto Joshua, “Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek.” To which Joshua might have replied, “Yes, I will gladly do that, and you will go too, Moses, and fight, will you not?” No, no, he will not. “To-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.” Prudence prays with Moses, while it fights with Joshua. In like manner, in the activities of our holy faith, we must learn to balance work and worship, prayer for victory and conflict with the enemy.
1. In the case before us, we see that the means are not neglected. Moses did not call all the people to pray when it was time for fighting. He prayed, but at the same time he set the battle in array. This is true wisdom, for “faith without works is dead.” The means must not be neglected. Observe how Moses prepared to fight the Amalekites. He said to Joshua, “ Choose us out men.” He did not lose sight of the necessity of:having the fittest warriors, because his trust was in God. Let the Church always see to it that she tries to get the best men she can to fight the battles of the Lord. It is a mistake to suppose that anybody wilt do for Christian work. The leader was also chosen--“Moses said unto Joshua.” He did not pick up the first youth that he met, and say to him, “Go and fight these Amalekites.” The time for the battle was also chosen. “To-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill. Why not fight them at once? Well, because the people were not ready; it would take a little time to get the fighting men in order. Choose the best time. Serve God wisely. Go about the work as if all depended upon you, and then trust in God, knowing that all depends upon Him. Note, again, that the battle was most real. Moses did not say, “Choose you out men, and go and drive Amalek away like a flock of sheep.” No; but “Go out, fight with Amalek.” Believe me, we make a great mistake if we think that this world is to be conquered for Christ without mighty efforts. Some talk as if the expenditure of a few pounds, and the going forth of few men, will end the whole war.
2. But, on the other hand, in this battle, reliance upon God is not neglected. Moses ascends the hill holding up his banner, and that banner is the rod of God. Unfortunately, in our work for God, we generally fall into one of two blunders. Either we get a lot of machinery, and think that we shall accomplish everything by that; or else we are like some whom I have known, who have confided so much in prayer that they have done nothing but pray. It is a very heinous fault to trust the means without God; but, though it is a much smaller fault to trust in God, and not use the means, yet still it is a fault. Practical prudence will lead you to do both.
IV. Behold here, in a wondrous type, Christ in his twofold capacity. Christ is represented to us here as Moses on the hill pleading, and as Joshua in the valley fighting.
1. Learn, first, that Christ is pleading for us. He is not here: He is risen. It is because He intercedes for us that we win the victory. In His mediation is our confidence.
2. But, then, do not forget that He is also warring for us. On the very eve of His departure, He said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” This is the dispensation of the Holy “Ghost, and in Him Christ is always with us, our greater Joshua, fighting for the people whom He will one day lead into the promised land, the heavenly Canaan. I think that I see our Joshua now, sword in hand, chasing our adversaries; and I turn my eye upwards, and see our Moses, rod in hand, pleading for His people. Let us see Him in both capacities. Believe in Christ in heaven, and trust Him with your prayers. Believe in Christ on earth, range yourself on His side, and rest assured that no foe will be able to stand against Him. So, you see that, though two things may look contradictory, they are often both really true, and are both different sides of one shield. Try, then, always to see both sides of every truth revealed in the Scriptures. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The assistance of prayer
An unaccountable revival broke out in a congregation in a village, and about one hundred were converted in a few weeks. At last the minister discovers the secret of the revival, and relates it thus: “There is a sister in my Church who has for years been an invalid, and confined to her bed. She lives several miles from the village, and the other day I rode out to see her. As I sat by her bedside she said, ‘You have had a very precious revival?’ ‘We have,’ I answered. ‘I knew it was coming,’ she said.” And then she proceeded to give her pastor an account of the burden that had been upon her for weeks, and the manner in which her soul had gone out in prayer for the unconverted, in midnight hours and at other times; and before the interview closed the pastor felt that the unaccountable revival was accounted for. Like Hur and Aaron, who held up the hands of Moses, this bedridden sister had by her prayers obtained victory for the soldiers of Christ.
There were four boys, all brothers, walking along the banks of a stream, and playing as they went. Like most boys, their idea of fun was to go as far into danger as they could, and at length one of them fell into a deep place. He could not swim, but immediately his brother who could, plunged in to rescue him. He got hold of him but could not bring him to the bank, then another brother, catching hold of a branch, stretched his body out its whole length so that the swimmer could catch hold, and thus all three were brought safe to land. When they got home they all began to tell their father about the affair. “Now give me time,” he said, “and I’ll hear you all.” Turning to the oldest, he asked, “When your brother fell into the river what did you do towards his rescue?” “Well, father, at first I was paralyzed with fear, and I stood on the bank for some seconds trembling for his safety, then I recovered myself and plunging in, caught hold of him, and strove to bring him to shore.” Then facing the second boy he said, “And what did you do to rescue your brother?” “I could not swim, father, but when I saw they could not reach the shore, I bridged the water between them and the bank so that they might pull themselves in.” Now there only remained the youngest, a little fellow of four years, and turning to him the father asked, “And what did you do? Oh, father, I could do nothing. I just stood on the bank and clapped my hands and shouted, “Well done, well done!” “Yes, well done, my boys, all of you, I am proud to have such sons,” exclaimed the happy father. Christians, standing safe on the bank, What have you done for the rescue of your brother? At least you can by your words and prayers encourage others who are stronger to go to the rescue of the lost. The working layman:--We shall find that the Church, like warring nations, expects every man to do his duty. If, as we suppose, Hur was not of the priestly office, we think the laymen of our day may find that this Scripture was written for their learning. They are, we fear, very far from walking in the steps of Hur, and from following his example. It will be noticed that it was a personal service in which he was engaged, one that required not only labour but the sacrifice of his time. Until the going down of the sun he stood by Moses and stayed up his hands. When Israel was at war with Amalek, he did not content himself with wishes for success, nor did he rejoice over a victory which he had not laboured to win. He did not serve God by proxy, nor send a substitute to perform his personal duties. When he was needed upon the mount, he did not beg to be excused; he pleaded no want of leisure and no press of worldly engagements. It is the great want of the Church in our day--working men and working women, especially working men; men with the true missionary spirit and zeal; men who, like Hur, will not grudge to spend a day on the mount, to stay up Moses’ hands. While Aaron and Hur stood on the one side or on the other, the strength of Moses failed not. It is in vain to have officers if men will not fight, or men willing to fight if there are no officers to direct and guide them. There must be the co-operation of all, if we expect prosperity. Our strength is not to sit still. Here is a field which we all may equally occupy; where wealth has no advantage, and where poverty is no loss,--the field of religious influence and personal exertion. We all can do something, many of us can do much, to promote the prosperity of the Church. To destroy Amalek, to bless Israel, we must labour as well as give; we must stay up Moses’ hands, as well as worship in the tabernacle. If the priest must pray and preach and toil, no less do we look for them to work. Hur, on the mount with Moses and Aaron, was a type of a working layman. (G. F. Cushman, D. D.)
Nothing can be more natural, to those who remember the value of a fountain in the East, than that Amalek should swoop down from his own territories upon Israel, as soon as this abundant river tempted his cupidity. This unprovoked attack of a kindred nation leads to another advance in the education of the people.
They had hitherto been the sheep of God: now they must become His warriors. At the Red Sea it was said to them, "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord ... the Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace" (Exodus 14:13). But it is not so now. Just as the function of every true miracle is to lead to a state of faith in which miracles are not required; just as a mother reaches her hand to a tottering infant, that presently the boy may go alone, so the Lord fought for Israel, that Israel might learn to fight for the Lord. The herd of slaves who came out of Egypt could not be trusted to stand fast in battle; and what a defeat would have done with them we may judge by their outcries at the very sight of Pharaoh. But now they had experience of Divine succour, and had drawn the inspiring breath of freedom. And so it was reasonable to expect that some chosen men of them at least will be able to endure the shock of battle. And if so, it was a matter of the last importance to develop and render conscious the national spirit, a spirit so noble in its unselfish readiness to die, and in its scorn of such material ills as anguish and mutilation compared with baseness and dishonour, that the re-kindling of it in seasons of peril and conflict is more than half a compensation for the horrors of a battle-field.
We do not now inquire what causes avail to justify the infliction and endurance of those horrors. Probably they will vary from age to age; and as the ties grow strong which bind mankind together, the rupture of them will be regarded with an ever-deepening shudder,--just as England today would certainly refuse to make war upon our American kinsmen for a provocation which (rightly or wrongly) she would not endure from Russians. But the point to be observed is that war cannot be inherently immoral, since God instructed in war the first nation that He ever trained, not using its experience of His immediate interpositions to supersede all need of human strife, but to make valiant soldiers, and adding some of the most precious lessons of all their later experience on the battle-field and by the sword. Now, it assuredly cannot be shown that anything in itself immoral is fostered and encouraged by the Old Testament. Slavery and divorce, which it was not yet possible to extirpate, were hampered, restricted, and reduced to a minimum, being "suffered" "because of the hardness of 'their' hearts" (Matthew 19:8). The wildest assailant of the Pentateuch will scarcely pretend that it fosters and incites either divorce or slavery, as, beyond all question, it encourages the martial ardour of the Jews.
And yet war, though permissible, and in certain circumstances necessary, is only necessary as the lesser of two evils; it is not in itself good. Solomon, not David, could build the temple of the Lord; and Isaiah sharply contrasts the Messiah with even that providentially appointed conqueror, the only pagan who is called by God "My anointed," in that the one comes upon rulers as upon mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay, but the Other breaks not a bruised reed, nor quenches the smoking flax (Isaiah 41:25, Isaiah 42:3, Isaiah 45:1). The ideal of humanity is peace, and also it is happiness, but war may not yet have ceased to be a necessity of life, sometimes as ruinous to evade as any other form of suffering.
Another necessity of national development is the advancement of capable men. The empire of Napoleon would assuredly have withered, if only because its chief was as jealous of commanding genius as he was ready to advance and patronise capacity of the second order. It is a maxim that true greatness finds worthy colleagues and successors, and rejoices in them. And while the guidance of Jehovah is to be assumed throughout, it is significant that the first mention of the splendid commander and godly judge, during all whose days and the days of his contemporaries Israel served Jehovah, comes not in any express revelation or commandment of God; but the narrative relates that Moses said unto Joshua, "Choose out men for us and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand." They are the words of one who had noted him already as "a man in whom is the Spirit" (Numbers 27:18), of one also who had unlearned, in the experience now of eighty years, the desire of glittering achievement and martial fame, who knew that the deepest fountains of real power are hidden, and was content that another should lead the headlong and victorious charge, if only it were his to hold, upon the top of the hill, the rod of God.
Once it was his own rod: with it the exiled shepherd controlled the sheep of his master; that it should be the medium of the miraculous had appeared to be an additional miracle, but now it was the very rod of God, nor was any cry to heaven more eloquent and better grounded than simply the reaching toward the skies, in long, steady, mute appeal, of that symbol of all His dealings with them--the plaguing of Egypt, the recession of the tide and its wild return, the bringing of water from the rock. Was all to be in vain? Should the wild boar waste the vine just brought out of Egypt before ever it reached the appointed vineyard? And we also should be able to plead with God the noble works that He hath done in our time. For us also there ought to be such experience as worketh hope. As long as the exertion was possible even to the heroic force which age had not abated, Moses thus prayed for his people; for the gesture was a prayer, and a grand one, and must not be criticised otherwise than as the act of a poetic and primitive genius, whose institutions throughout are full of spiritual import. While he did this, Israel prevailed; but the slow progress of the victory reminds us of these dreary centuries during which we are just able to discern some gradual advance of the kingdom of Christ on earth, but no rout, no collapse of evil. And why was this? Because the sustaining and permanent energy was not to flow from the prayers of one, however holy and however eminent; three men were together in the mountain, and the co-operation of them all was demanded; so that only when Aaron and Hur supported the sinking hand of their chief was the decisive victory given.
Now, the lesson from all this does not concern the High-priestly intercession of our Lord, for the office of Moses is consistently distinguished from the priesthood. Nor can the notion be tolerated that if our Lord requires mortal co-operation before asking and being given the heathen for His heritage, which is obviously the case, the reason can be at all expressed by that weakness which needed support.
No, the Lord our Priest is also Himself the dispenser of victory. To Him all power is given on earth, and to Him it is our duty to appeal for the triumph of His own cause. And here and there, doubtless, a Christian heart is fervent and faithful in its intercessions. To these, unknown, unsuspected by the combatants in the heat of battle,--to humble saints, some of them bed-ridden, ignorant, poverty-stricken, despised, holy souls who have no controversial skill, no missionary calling, but who possess the grace habitually to convert their wishes into prayers,--to such, perhaps, it is due that the idols of India and China are now bowing down. And when they cease to be a minority in so doing, when those who now criticise learn to sustain their flagging energies, we shall see a day of the Lord.
Observe, however, that as the active exertion of the host does not displace the silence of intercession, neither is it displaced itself: Joshua really bore his part in the discomfiture of Amalek and his host. And so it is always. The development of human energy to the uttermost is a part of the design of Him Who gave a task even to unfallen man. Let none suppose that to labour is (sufficiently and by itself) to pray; but also let none idly persuade himself that while energies and responsibilities are his, to pray is sufficiently to labour.
Thus it came to pass that Israel won its first victory in battle. Another step was taken toward the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation; and also toward the gradual transference of the national faith from a passive reliance in Divine interposition to an abiding confidence in Divine help. Let it be clearly understood that this latter is the nobler and the more mature faith.
With martial ardour, God took care to inculcate the sense of national responsibility, without which warriors become no more than brigands. So it was with Amalek: he had not been attacked or even menaced; he had marched out from his own territories to assail an innocent and kindred race ("then came Amalek" Exodus 17:8), and his attack had been cruel and cowardly, he smote the hindmost, all that were feeble and in the rear, when they were faint and weary, and he feared not God (Deuteronomy 25:18). Against all such tactics the wrath of God was denounced when, because of them, Amalek was doomed to total extirpation.
Moses now built an altar, to imprint on the mind of the people this new lesson. And he called it, "The Lord is my Banner," a title which called the nation at once to valour and to obedience, which asserted that they were an army, but a consecrated one.
* * * * *
Now let us ask whether this simple story is at all the kind of thing which legend or myth would have created, for the first martial exploit of Israel. The obscure part played by Moses is not what we would expect; nor, even as a mediator, is the position of one whose arms must be held up a very romantic conception. If the object is to inspire the Jews for later struggles with more formidable foes, the story is ill-contrived, for we read of no surprising force of Amalek, and no inspiriting exploit of Joshua. Everything is as prosaic as the real course of events in this poor world is wont to be. And on that account it is all the more useful to us who live prosaic lives, and need the help of God among prosaic circumstances.
The rod of God.
Moses’ rod, the emblem of power and faith
I. The rod served to join man and God in the work of the Lord. At the one end, Faith; at the other, Almighty Power.
II. The rod served to increase the confidence of the people in their God, Success everywhere attended the rod.
III. The rod served to teach the people dependence upon God for their success in battle.
IV. The rod served to teach the people the need of holy and devout men. (Homilist.)
Man as a servant of God
The words (Exodus 4:17) lead us to contemplate man as a servant of God--a servant to promote the true progress of the race. They suggest four things which God requires man to do in this grand service.
I. To use the instrument most at his command,
II. To turn old things to new uses.
III. To aim at mighty ends by apparently insignificant means.
IV. To follow god’s will, rather than the dictates of our own wisdom. (Homilist.)
The old rod, or the inspiration of common ministries
Wondrous is one little line in the history:--“And thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go,” and afterward Moses, having spoken to Joshua, said, “I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.” Never forget the old rod, the old book, the old truth;--the sword that cut off the head of Goliath--“Give me that,” said David, “there is none like it.” Thus God hides inspiration in things of apparently little value, and touches the imagination and the faith by books, ministries, churches, altars, which we thought had passed away into desuetude, perhaps oblivion. Your first prayer may help you to-day. The faith of your youth may be the only thing to win the battle which now challenges your strength. One little hour with the old, old book may be all you need to obtain the sufficiency of light which will drive away the cloud of mystery and bring in the heaven of explanation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Joshua discomfited Amalek.
Winning God’s battles
I. Amalek, as we learn from Deuteronomy 25:18, had “smitten the hindmost, even all that were feeble.” The stragglers are always a temptation to the foe. The hindmost and the feeble are sure to be the first attacked, and therefore should have special care.
II. Joshua discomfited Amalek, not Moses or some other friend. Let us keep our bitterness for sin, and our swords for the King’s enemies.
III. Amalek is not to be beaten without a fight. The struggle against sin is real, as we shall find to our cost if we are not wary.
IV. Moses was for each minding his own work. Joshua to fight, and himself to take the top of the hill.
V. Moses on the hill is an emblem of public prayer. There is a mystery about prayer that we cannot unravel, fine of the bravest of Christian soldiers, scarred with many a fight, said, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands.”
VI. How much even the mightiest of men are dependent upon others much weaker than themselves. It was well for the fortunes of the day that Moses was not alone.
VII. An altar marked the place of battle, and glory was given to the Lord of Hosts. The soldiers of the Cross should call the battle-fields where they have won their bravest fights by the name of Him to whom they ascribe all might and majesty. (T. Champness.)
The battle of Amalek, an instructive war
I. As the record of a war distinguished from most modern wars.
1. It was purely defensive on the Hebrew side.
2. It was Divinely sanctioned on the Hebrew side.
3. It was evidently judicial on the Hebrew side.
II. As the record of a war suggesting principles of general application.
1. The propagating influence of evil. I find the primal cause of this war in the injury which Jacob perpetrated upon his brother Esau (Genesis 27:18-19). God only knows the influence of one evil act.
2. The Divine liberty allowed to wicked men. Full freedom to work out revengeful passions.
3. The variety of instrumentality by which God works out His designs. The Eternal ever works by means.
4. The dependence of man’s progress on his relation to heaven.
5. The importance of transmitting to posterity the agency of God in history (see verse 14).
III. As the record of a war symbolizing the moral struggle in which the good are engaged.
1. That the good have spiritual enemies to contend with.
2. That the victory which the good are to obtain over their enemies depends on the help of others.
3. That whatever may be the amount of help obtained in the struggle, the victory must ever be ascribed to God. (Homilist.)
Israel and Amalek
I. The Christian’s example.
1. To fight.
2. To pray.
II. The Christian’s encouragement.
1. Christ, our Captain--
2. Christ, our intercessor.
III. The Christian’s prospect.
1. Of certain victory.
2. certain glory. (B. D. Macmillan.)
Amalek and Israel
I. The battle was forced upon the victors.
II. The battle was hotly contested.
III. The vanquished owed defeat, and the victors victory, to Divine power through human intercession.
1. As soon as we become followers of Christ, war is forced upon us.
2. Every Christian possesses a Divine rod which, wielded, will bring him Divine help (Hebrews 4:16).
3. Christians in their conflict have an Intercessor on the hill, and a Leader in the valley. Christ makes intercession (Hebrews 7:25); and the Holy Spirit helps our infirmities (Romans 8:26), and guides into all truth (John 16:13). (W. Harris.)
1. Hands of creature-instruments may be helpful under God, to give His Church success against its enemies.
2. Such hands lifted up to heaven in prayer, and for encouragement, God doth assist unto prevalency.
3. Hands hanging down and feeble in prayer, may give opportunity unto enemies to prevail.
4. Such languishings after strong strugglings, God sometimes orders upon His choicest servants.
5. Doubtful may be the fight of Israel as to success against its enemies for a time (verse 11).
6. Heaviness of flesh and spirit in contending with God for Israel may sometimes befall Moses (Matthew 26:41; Matthew 26:43).
7. Suitable support under such delinquencies are very requisite for God’s servants. Christ the stone to us.
8. Good helpers to strengthen hearts and hands in faintings are specially useful.
9. By such helps souls may be stedfast and faithful unto God unto time of victory (verse 12).
10. Moses praying and Joshua fighting, Amalek must fail, when prayer puts the edge on the sword it is furbished to the slaughter.
11. It is God’s just ordering that they who first oppress with the sword, shall perish by the sword (verse 13). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek.
1. Jehovah’s victories over His Church’s enemies He giveth in charge to be recorded.
2. Writing and tradition are both God’s ways of recording His works for future ages.
3. God’s book is the best record of His mighty works done for His Church.
4. A memorial would God have kept by the records of God’s works to men.
5. God hath irreconcilable displeasure against some enemies above the rest.
6. Blotting out of the names of such enemies will God make, who would blot out the name of His Church. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Destruction of Amalek
I. It is probable that from this time Moses began to keep a journal of striking and useful occurrences. Great men have frequently done the same for intellectual, and good men for religious, purposes.
II. Whatever may be said of the particular mode, the thing itself is of importance. If we are to be affected with transactions and feelings, they must be in some way secured and retained.
III. A reason is assigned for the recording and rehearsing of this transaction in a dreadful menace. The threatening was executed partially by Saul; but fully by David.
IV. The scriptures cannot be broken. Whatever improbabilities appear--whatever difficulties stand in the way--whatever delays intervene--God’s counsels of old are faithfulness and truth; not a lot of His Word shall fail. (W. Jay.)
Use of history
Lucius Lucullus, being appointed captain-general over the Roman forces against Mithridates, had not great experience or knowledge in war, but only what he had gotten by reading history, yet proved a discreet and valiant commander, and vanquished at that time two of the greatest princes in the East. Thus it is that history is, and may be, the director of meanest men in any of their actions, how others have behaved themselves upon several occasions, and what hath followed thereupon; it is a trusty counsellor of state, by whose advice and direction a commonwealth may be framed, governed, reformed, and preserved, an army may be ordered, enemies vanquished, and victory obtained. In it, as in a glass, we see and behold God’s providence guiding and ruling the world, and men’s actions which arrive often at unexpected events, and even sometimes reach unto such ends as are quite contrary to the actor’s intentions; it is a punisher of vice, presenting aged folly green and fresh to posterity; not suffering sin to die, much less to be buried in oblivion; it is also a rewarder of virtue, reserving worthy deeds for imitation; a good work, though it die in doing, is a reward to itself, yet that some dull natures might be stirred up the more, and all benefited by seeing gracious steps before them, this only is exempted by a firm decree from the stroke of death, to live in history. (J. Crompton.)
Jehovah-nissi, the Lord my banner.
I. The fight with Amalek was Israel’s first battle, and God made it to them the revelation of the mystery of all battles--the unseen spiritual things on which depend the final issues of all struggles and the progress of the world.
1. The main purpose of Israel’s history is the revelation of the unseen influences which mould the character and guide the progress of all people or minister to their decay and death.
2. It may be fairly asked if in all battles the victory is with those who can not only fight, but pray. The answer is that it is only on a very large scale that we can trace the ways of God. Yet we may say that in any conflict the best reinforcement, that which stands a man in best stead and raises our surest hope of victory, is the assurance that God is on his side.
II. The text is the revelation to us of the mystery of the great battle in which we are all combatants, the battle of life. “Jehovahnissi” must be our watchword, if we would not doom ourselves to go down before the foe.
1. The Lord is our banner against self, that baser part of us which is ever ensnaring, enslaving, and dragging us down into the pit.
2. The Lord is our banner against the world.
3. The Lord is our banner against the devil. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
I. The altar a memorial of an historic fact. Great battle of Rephidim. One of the most remarkable. The enemy--crafty, cruel, cowardly--attacked the rear where the young, aged, women, etc. (Deuteronomy 25:17-18). Israelites unarmed, unused to warfare. Taken by surprise in the rear. They could succeed only by the help of God.
II. The altar a record of religious duty.
1. The duty of diligently using the means at hand in doing our proper and appointed work. Moses chose the general. Joshua chose the fittest men. The men chose their weapons.
2. The duty of encouraging those who may be in peculiar danger. Moses to Joshua (verse 9).
3. The duty of rendering willing sympathy and aid. Israel hastening to the rescue of the feeble, etc., who were attacked.
III. This altar an expression of pious sentiments.
1. Of faith. Flushed with success, remembering much individual prowess, they acknowledge that their victory was from another source.
2. Of gratitude. The altar left behind would teach all desert travellers to trust in the Lord.
3. Resolution for the future. They would only fight for the right, and under this banner. We too have a banner (Isaiah 11:10). Must be united (Isaiah 11:12-13), and rally round it (Psalms 60:4; Song of Solomon 2:4). (J. C. Gray.)
Jehovah my banner
There are two names in Scripture conspicuous above all others, the names Jehovah and Jesus; the one stamped upon the Old Testament, the other upon the New. Jesus is “the name which is above every name”; it is the crowning word of Revelation. And the title Jehovah is that which lies beneath and sustains every other name, that on which all teaching about God contained in the Bible, and all true knowledge of Him, virtually rest. It is the foundation name of Scripture. With the name of Jesus we are very familiar. But the other word, the proper name of the God of Israel and of our Lord Jesus Christ, is too much overlooked and forgotten by the Church. And this greatly to our loss; for in declaring it to Moses God said, “This is My name for ever, and My memorial unto all generations.” And this oblivion betokens the neglect of not a little belong-Lug to the fundamental teaching about God contained in Scripture; to which in turn we may attribute certain grave defects, painfully manifest in the religious life and experience of our times. I mean the lack of reverence, the decay of that sober, serious piety, that “fear of Jehovah” in which true wisdom begins. It is in rude and violent surroundings that great spiritual principles are often first asserted, and out of the throes of fierce conflict they come to birth. Upon this battle-field, with routed Amalek disappearing over the edge of the desert, “Moses built ‘his’ altar, and called the name of it Jehovah my banner.” So he lifted up this mighty name and flung it forth as the ensign under which God’s Israel should march through all its pilgrimage and warfare in the time to come. This great name of our God was, however, in later times overlaid and almost destroyed by superstition. After the age of prophecy had closed, when spiritual faith died down in Judaism, it ceased to be a living word in the mouth of Israel. Through fear of “taking the name of Jehovah in vain,” the people no longer dared to pronounce it; and it is a saying of the rabbis that “he who utters the name as it is written, has no place in the world to come.” But what does this mysterious word mean? I cannot give an answer beyond all dispute. Its origin goes back to the very beginnings of Hebrew speech and religion. The differences of interpretation, after all, lie within a narrow compass. Most interpreters have taken it to signify “He is.” Others render it “He is becoming,” “He goes on to be,” or “will be.” Others again, “He creates,” “He makes to be.” I have little doubt that the first is the proper, or, at least, the principal sense of the word, although no very clear or sharp line can be drawn in Hebrew between this and the second interpretation. But the third application, if it were certainly established, is at any rate subordinate to the first. “He is,” therefore “He makes to be.” Creation rests upon the being of God.
I. By the name Jehovah, therefore, God is declared as the supreme reality. So the Greeks render it, “He who is”; and John, in the Apocalypse, “Grace and peace to you from Him which is, and which was, and which cometh.” No grace or peace, verily, from things that are not! “Say unto the children of Israel”--so He authenticated Moses--“I AM hath sent me unto you.” The finite demands the Infinite; the chain of causes and effects hangs upon the Uncaused; all creatures unite to point to their Creator, and by their very being proclaim His, in whom they live, and move, and are.” But I hear some one saying, “This is metaphysics; this is very obscure and transcendental doctrine, this talk about the Absolute and Uncaused. How could ideas of this sort ever have existed or been entertained in these early and barbarous times? But everything depends on the way in which you take notions of this kind. To ancient Israel--the true Israel of spiritual faith--this was no philosophical abstraction, arrived at by a process of difficult reasoning: it was the revelation of an immediate and self-evidencing fact. Behind all sensible objects, the forms of nature, the movements of human affairs--there He is! They discerned, they felt the presence of Another--the real, the abiding, the living God, breathing on their spirits by His breath, searching their hearts with holy eyes, as of flame; He who said to their souls, “I AM,” and concerning whom they could say, as neither of their mortal selves nor of the fleeting world, “Yea, and of a truth, He is.” Hence this name was a standing protest and denouncement against all idolatry. “The name of Jehovah,” so their proverb ran, “is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe.” “I am Jehovah,” says the Lord in Isaiah, “that is My name; and My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to graven images.” You see the argument. If He is, then they are not. His very name annihilates them. It was this sublime and solid faith in the unity and sovereignty and spiritual reality of God, that lifted the Jewish people above superstition and the fear of worldly power. See the whole history of Israel gathered into a single incident. “Thou comest unto me,” said David to Goliath, “with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield; but I come to thee in the name of Jehovah of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied!” Here is the one immortal certainty, the Rock of Ages.
II. This glorious name proclaims the eternity of God. His reality is our strength; His eternity our consolation. If you turn to the French Bible you will find Jehovah translated, in place of our English “Lord,” by l’Eternel, “The Eternal.” This rendering is often singularly apt and true, as for instance in Psalms 102:1-28., where the Psalmist in melancholy mood is sighing, “My days are as a shadow that declineth, and I am withered like grass.” But he remembers the name of his God, and he continues: “But Thou, O Eternal, sittest King for ever; and Thy memorial is unto all generations.” And from that point in his song he mounts up as on the wings of eagles. God’s name is the He Is--a timeless present, a perpetual now. John expands it backwards and forwards into the everlasting past and future: “Grace and peace to you from Him which is, and which was, and which cometh.” Men live and die; empires rise and fall; worlds and systems of worlds run through their courses, and dissolve and vanish like a puff of smoke; still He Is; always He Is; the unchanged, the abiding God, whose being fills and constitutes eternity. There is no thought so sublime and overwhelming to the human mind as that of the eternity of God. But there is none more restful, more soothing and satisfying. “We which have believed,” it is written, “do enter into rest.” Here we touch the calm of eternity, the “Sabbath of God.” We have found a haven which no storm can ruffle, a rock to build upon which no earthquake will ever move. You find great religious minds, like that of St. Augustine in his Confessions, constantly returning to this thought as their solace and shelter, hovering round it as birds about their nest; here they find an ever-renewed spring of mental strength, of spiritual joy and courage. The Jews have been not unfitly called “the people of eternity.” Their monumental endurance, the toughness and indestructible vitality of their national fibre, are due, to no small extent, to the force with which the doctrine of Jehovah has possessed them. It would seem that the revelation of personal immortality was not made in the early ages to the men of Israel, that their souls might be the more completely filled and absorbed with the thought of God Himself--His being, His character; that they might find in “Jehovah the portion of their inheritance and their cup.”
III. Jehovah is the specific name, the proper and personal name of the God of revelation and redemption. It is, so to speak, the Divine autograph written across the face of Scripture; it is nothing less than the signature of the Eternal attached to His covenant of grace; its very presence on the page, the sublimity of its import, and the transcendent dignity and force with which it is employed, fill the mind with awe, and compel one to say as he reads and listens, “Surely God is in this place.” To the believing Israelite this name was a summary of revelation past. The call of Moses, the judgment upon Pharaoh, the passage of the Red Sea, the lawgiving on Sinai, the conquest of Canaan--all these and a thousand glorious recollections clustered round this immortal name, and served for its verifying or illustration. And it was at the same time the basis and starting-point of future revelations. Having learnt to say He Is, they could go on to say: “He is just, He is wise, He is faithful, He is merciful and gracious--Jehovah of Hosts, Jehovah our Righteousness, Jehovah our Peace, Jehovah our Banner.” In Himself unchangeable, in His manifestations to mankind God is perpetually new. He is ever advancing and unfolding Himself to His creation. The “He Is” of the Bible is no frozen, silent Impersonality, like the Pure Being of Greek philosophy, or like Spinoza’s Infinite Substance. This is the name of the living, self-declaring God, whose revelation is the single stream that runs through all cosmical and human history, the working of whose counsel forms the process of the ages. His name, like “His mercies,” is “new every morning.”
IV. Finally, this glorious name of God is a creed, a confession of faith. God says to Moses, through Moses to Israel, through Israel to the world, “I AM”: faith answers back, “He Is”; and “this is His name for ever, and His memorial unto all generations.” Pronouncing it in spirit and in truth, we “set to our seal that God is true.” It is the communion of heaven and earth, the dialogue between man and his Creator; it is the Church’s Amen answering back to God’s self-affirming Yea. And “Ye are My witnesses,” saith Jehovah, “even Israel whom I have chosen.” Despite its apostasies and its chastisements, nay, even by virtue of them, the Jewish nation has proved itself the people of Jehovah, the witness of the true God. Israel has made the nations hear the voice of her God; and now they are sitting at the feet of her prophets, learning of His ways. It is the flag of conflict, the symbol of a faith which has the world to overcome. So our text continues, with a prophetic symbolism that has proved itself all too true: “And Moses said, Jehovah hath sworn that He will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” “All nations compassed me about,” said Israel, in worldly power the smallest and least considerable of the peoples--“Yea, they compassed me about; but in the name of Jehovah I will destroy them!” And what is more, she has done it; her faith, her Christ have done it I Those gigantic and cruel empires of the East, with their vile and sensual idolatries, have passed away for ever. Isaiah sang their doom ages before: “They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise. Therefore hast Thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.” Fact is stranger than fiction. The true God has lived down the false ones. The “He Is” must displace the “are nots.” As it has been, so it will be. Moloch and Belial and Mammon--the gods of hate and lust and greed, the gods of this world that still rule in the nations and blind the souls of men--oldest of all false gods, which men formed out of their own evil passions, before they set them up in wood and stone--as the Lord liveth, they shall surely perish! If the Church is worthy of her faith, she will say like David, “In the name of Jehovah I will destroy them.” And these latest idols, which our fathers knew not, of modern nature-worship and scientific materialism, will they fare any better, do you suppose? The name Jehovah, we have said, is a confession of faith. It is a personal confession, which only personal experience qualifies us properly to make. It is not enough to read it in the Bible, to understand and assent to its theological and historical import; God Himself must pronounce His own “I AM,” must “speak into our soul His name.” Jesus is to us the revealer of Jehovah. “I have declared unto them Thy name,” He said to the Father in leaving this world, “and will declare it.” The name Jehovah--the Absolute, the Eternal, the Creator, the living God--Christ has rendered into the tender yet no less awful name of Father. (G. G. Findlay, B. A.)
A flag is in itself a simple thing enough. A piece of bunting, or of silk, having on it an emblematic device--that is all I and, when so regarded, it is “nothing in the world.” But when we view it as a symbol, it forthwith acquires transcendent importance. It becomes then the mark of nationality, and all the sentiments of patriotism are stirred in us by the sight of it. We think of the struggles of our fathers, when for the first time it fluttered over them in the breeze, as they resisted injustice and oppression. We recall the many bloody fields over which, amidst the smoke of battle, its streaming colours waved their proud defiance. The memories of centuries have woven themselves into its texture; and as it floats serenely over us, we see in it at once the aggregated result of our history in the past, and the bright prophecy of our greatness in the future. Now, it is quite similar with the banner which God has given us, that it may be displayed because of the truth, and which, as this inscription declares, He is Himself.
I. Jehovah is our token of decision. In the opening days of the first French Revolution, it is said that a timid trimmer fixed a cockade beneath the lappel of his coat on one breast, and a tricolour in the corresponding portion on the other; and that when he met a royalist he exposed the cockade, and shouted, “Long live the king!” but when he met a republican he showed the tricolour, and cried, “Long live the Republic!” That, however, sufficed only for a short time: for as the strife increased, every man was forced to make a decision between the two. So sometimes, in times of indifference, it has been possible for men to seem to combine the services of God and mammon; but happily, as I think, for us, we have fallen on an earnest age, in which it is becoming impossible even to seem to be neutral. Everywhere the cry is raised, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” and it becomes us all to hoist our flag, and display to the world in its expanding folds this old inscription, “Jehovah-nissi--the Lord is my banner.” When Hedley Vicars, the Christian soldier, was converted, he knew that he should be made the butt of much ridicule, and the victim of much petty persecution by his comrades; so he resolved to be beforehand with them, and in the morning on which he made his decision he took his Bible and laid it down open on his table. Very soon a fellow-officer came in, and, looking at the book, exclaimed, “Hallo, Vicars! turned Methodist?” To which he made reply, “That is my flag; and, by the grace of God, I hope to be true to it as long as I live.” That was his Rephidim, and there he, too, conquered Amalek by raising the banner of the Lord. So let it be with you.
II. Jehovah is our mark of distinction. When, in travelling through England, one comes on the stately residence of some duke or earl, and sees the flag floating in quiet dignity from its turret, he knows from that indication that the proprietor is himself within the walls. Now, the distinguishing peculiarity of the Christian is that God, to whom he belongs, is, by His Spirit, dwelling within him, and that shows itself in many ways. It is apparent in the love by which he is animated for all who are in suffering, sorrow, or want. It is seen in the purity of speech and conduct which he maintains; in the earnestness of his devotion to the will of Christ; and in the eager efforts which he makes to attain to that perfection of character which he sees in his Lord.
III. Jehovah is our joy. When we make demonstration of our enthusiasm, we raise a whole forest of flagstaffs, and fix on each an appropriate banner. Let it be the commemoration of some victory, or the welcome to some foreign prince visiting our shores, and the whole city is gay with flags, while the emblems of many nationalities are seen fluttering in friendly fellowship from the mastheads of the ships in harbour. So we are reminded, by the inscription on this altar, that “the joy of the Lord” is “the strength” of the Christian. His life is one of constant gladness; his characteristic is what I may call a calm enthusiasm, or, to use the phrase of Jonathan Edwards, a “quiet rapture.”
IV. God is the protector of His people. There is nothing of which a nation is so jealous as the honour of its flag, and he who is in reality a citizen has a right to the protection of the government. Great Britain has few prouder chapters in her recent history than that which tells of the expedition to Abyssinia some years ago. A great force was landed on the Red Sea shore; a large, troublesome, and dangerous march of many days was made into an enemy’s country; a fierce assault was successfully attempted on a hitherto impregnable fortress; many lives were lost, and fifty millions of dollars were spent--and all for what? Because a brutal tyrant was keeping in horrid imprisonment two or three men who had a right to the protection of the British flag; and you can hardly conceive what an outburst of joy broke forth from the nation when the news came that they had been set free, and that the insulting monarch had been made to bite the dust. But what is the power of the British Empire, in comparison with Omnipotence? Yet he who sincerely raises this banner has God’s pledge that He will protect him (see John 10:28-29; John 16:33; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 54:17). (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The Lord my banner
I. In the first place, this covenant banner is a wonderful banner when looked at with reference to its antiquity. It is very easy indeed to tell, for ourselves individually, when we were first made acquainted with this banner. With some it was in the lessons of earliest childhood. With others, it was later on in life, when our knowledge of it began. When this banner was first unfurled, for any of our race to gaze upon, it is easy enough to tell. We go back to the garden of Eden. But this is only the date of its first unfolding. The design of it was not first formed then. To get at this, we must go back far, far beyond that distant date. That takes us indeed to the farthest shores of time. Standing there we gaze upon the ocean that lies before us. It is the shoreless ocean of an unmeasured eternity. Far back in its hidden depths the design of this banner was formed.
II. But now, let us take another look at this banner, and we shall see that it is not less wonderful in its material than in its antiquity. The material of which our flags or banners are ordinarily composed is a coarse woollen substance known as bunting. True, we sometimes see banners made of more costly materials, as silk or satin. And gold and silver, and jems and jewels, are not unfrequently employed to enrich and adorn the material employed in making the banner. These things, of course, very greatly enhance the value of the banners on which they are employed. But when we speak of the Lord as our banner, and think of His revealed truth as the material of which this banner is composed, and then contrast it with the material of which our ordinary banners are made, how unspeakable the difference! Jehovah-nissi--the Lord my banner. All the names, or titles, or symbols applied to God in Scripture, are the elements of truth that make Him known. And so it is when He is spoken of as the covenant banner, unfurled over His people. The folds of this banner are woven out of the truth of His blessed word--“the truth as it is in Jesus.” This constitutes the material of which this banner is composed.
III. But in the third place, it is a wonderful banner when we consider the mottoes inscribed upon it. The banner of England has in French the words--“God and my duty.” The idea thus embodied is, “My duty to God--and my duty to my country.” This simply expresses what should be the foremost thought and desire with every Christian patriot. And the mottoes on the banners of other nations are of a similar character. They are expressive, for the most part, of some sentiment of honour, or some principle of duty to the country over which they float. But the contrast is very striking, when we compare this banner of the covenant with other banners in regard to the mottoes which they bear. Each other banner bears but a single motto--while this bears many: those mainly refer to some matter of personal obligation and duty--while these refer to matters of high and glorious privilege. Every page of the volume of revealed truth may be regarded as a distinct fold of this covenant banner; and emblazoned on each fold is one or more of these inspiring mottoes.
IV. It is a wonderful banner, in the fourth place, when considered with reference to its influence on the hearts and lives of men. Doubtless the flag of every nation has a history, in this respect, that would be deeply interesting if the incidents connected with it could be collected and written out. But who can tell how many hearts have been stirred, and how many enterprises of great pith and moment have been started, and led on to successful issues, by the influence of this blessed banner? Every motto emblazoned on its waving folds, or, in other words, every passage of saving truth within the leaves of the Bible, has a history of its own. How wanderers have been reclaimed!--how slumbering consciences have been aroused!--how anxious inquiries have been directed!--how depraved hearts have been renewed!--how sorrowing spirits have been comforted!--how listless energies have been quickened and consecrated!--how useless lives have been ennobled land lost souls have been saved, through the influence of the mottoes on this banner--or of particular passages of God’s Word--who can tell!
V. And then, lastly, this is a wonderful banner in view of its durability. This is a quality which cannot be imparted to our national banners. The materials of which they are made is frail--and subject to decay. But how different it is with the banner of the covenant of our salvation! This is something which the hand of violence cannot rend. Time, with his effacing finger, can make no impression upon it. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Jehovah my banner. We acknowledge and honour Him as such four ways.
1. By voluntarily and inflexibly adhering to Him as our Leader and Commander.
2. By confessing Him the author of every success with which we have been crowned.
3. By our courageously trusting in Him to enable us to overcome in every future conflict.
4. By looking to Him for the remuneration of victory at last. As Jehovah’s banner floated over the triumphant host, bearing the sweet and heart-sustaining inscription just explained, so should the assurance of victory be as complete as the sense of forgiveness, seeing both alike are founded upon the great fact that Jesus died and rose again. (A. Nevin, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24