The Biblical Illustrator
Up, make us gods.
I. The very essence of idolatry is not spiritual ignorance and obtuseness, but a wilful turning away from the spiritual knowledge and worship of God.
1. This act of idolatry was in the very front of the majesty and splendour of Jehovah revealed on Sinai.
2. With the idol before him, the priest proclaimed a feast unto the Lord; and the people pleased themselves with the thought that they were “fearing the Lord, while they served their own gods.” The real heart of idolatry is here laid bare. It is, in plain terms, an effort to bring God within reach; to escape the trouble, pain, and weariness of spiritual effort, and substitute the effect of the eye, hand, and tongue for the labour of the soul.
3. In God’s sight--i.e., in reality--this is a turning away from Him. They meant this bull to be an image of God their leader. God saw that it was an image of their own idolatrous and sensual hearts.
II. The contrast between the prophet and the priest.
III. The central principle of idolatry is the shrinking of the spirit from the invisible God. It is the glory of the Incarnation that it presents that image of the invisible God which is not an idol, that it gives into the arms of the yearning spirit a Man, a Brother, and declares that Jesus Christ is the God of heaven. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Lessons from the worship of the calf
I. The difficulty to human nature of faith in the unseen.
II. The impatience of man at God’s method of working. Moses delayed in the mount. The people would not wait for the man with God’s Word.
III. That man will have a god. Up, make us gods. They are often manufactured gods. The man who would be popular must make gods to go before the people. It is the very height of folly when men of science, art, or manufactures, say of their own works, “These be thy gods, O Israel.”
IV. The effect of slavish adherence to old ideas. In one sense, at least, they were not out of Egypt--The sacred ox. See the importance of keeping the young from early impressions of error. Let none expose themselves to false teaching, it may bring them into bondage.
V. Their extravagant expenditure fob the gratification of a fancy (Exodus 32:2-3). People often spend more in superstition than Christians for the truth. Christians spend far more for luxury, pleasure, fancy, than for Christ. Who amongst us is willing to do as much for Jesus as these people did to procure a golden calf?
VI. How art is desecrated to sinful purposes (Exodus 32:4). So in building at Babel; in worship at Babylon, and Ephesus, and Athens. Abundant proof in our picture galleries and museums, and also in our modern theatres, gin palaces, etc., etc.
VII. That if God is dishonoured, man is misled, humiliated, ruined. (W. Whale.)
The golden calf of Aaron and the Lamb of God-an infinite contrast
1. The calf of gold was made of earth’s choicest valuables. The Lamb of God was heaven’s greatest treasure.
2. The calf of gold was made to make God visible. Christ was God manifest in the flesh.
3. The calf of gold was made to meet a seeming extremity. Christ came when man was lost beyond hope.
4. The calf of gold was made to go before the children of Israel to the land of promise. Christ is the way from sin and bondage to a land glorious beyond the imagination of men to conceive. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The golden calf
I. The first fact that asserts itself in these lines is this--that the greatest manifestations of God s presence and power do not necessarily keep us from sin. We must rely on Christian principle; or, if we say it in other terms, we must walk by faith, not by sight.
II. Another lesson which comes out of this painful history is the uncertainty of popular movements in religion. They are very deceptive, and never more so than to-day, when the democratic idea is carried over into the realm of Christian faith and made to do duty where it has no place. The work of the tempter is seen not only on individuals, but on whole communities, swaying them from the severe standard of purity and truth. With the children of Israel the rule was the Ten Commandments which they had just accepted from Jehovah and which left them no excuse for idolatry. With us the standard is the whole Word of God.
III. Perhaps the most pitiable figure in the world is a priest like Aaron who weakly succumbs to the popular will and attempts to lower the unchanging and the spiritual laws of God. It was convenient for the turbulent and idolatrous crowd at the foot of the mountain to have an Aaron to do their wicked work. It made it look better and soothed the outcries of conscience. It has often been convenient for godless and cruel monarchs, like Henry the Eighth, to have a Wolsey to sanction their wickedness.
IV. Lastly, we see that the covenant was broken, but not annihilated, because there is forgiveness with God our Father. The two tables were shivered to atoms, but the law that was written on them by God’s finger is still in power. (E. N. Packard.)
It was then a period of ignorance and superstition; but even now the greater portion of humanity worship tangible gods. The cry is for something which can be touched; and though men believe in an invisible God, yet they seek to gather comfort from makeshift idols. Men see that gold will enable them to obtain the comforts of life, and thinking that such comforts will give joy to the soul, they say, “Oh, that we could get gold!” They work and slave, and bow down, and sacrifice themselves for gold, as if it were a god. The fountain of pure joy and rest can be given only by a living God; gold is a dead thing, which does not know us and cannot sympathize with us. Men have an instinct for religious worship and for holy conduct, and if they do not exercise this sacred instinct in its true channels, they must have a makeshift to satisfy them for the time being. Let us describe some of the makeshifts on which men try to lean for comfort.
1. Some people make their intention to serve God to-morrow a makeshift for goodness to-day. You use this intention as a makeshift for true piety, and try to persuade your conscience to be content with it instead of the genuine article.
2. Many people seek worldly satisfactions as makeshifts for spiritual realities. Men say, “If I had this wealth, or that friendship, or his love, or her affection, I should have a happy soul.” They think that earthly satisfactions will be good makeshifts for blessings which none but God can bestow.
3. Others seek in the approval of men a makeshift for the approval of God.
4. Is it not true that many people consider the pleasures of sin a makeshift for the joys of holiness? Can you find any of the men who have given themselves to sin and profligacy who can truly say that they have enjoyed life?
5. Perhaps you have given up some sins, and make that fact a makeshift for perfect cleansing. As a child is content with washing a part of her face, leaving the crevices of the eyes and ears untouched, so you have put away some of your sins, but have left your heart as it was.
6. Some people make attendance at church a makeshift for Divine service. (W. Birch.)
Aaron, formerly so courageous; fearlessly speaking to Pharaoh; who was a mouth unto Moses his brother; called the saint of the Lord. Aaron, so prompt in obedience to the will of God, listens to the people, and actually leads them on in the way to destruction! In all probability he was afraid of offending the people, who were assembled in numbers, and he had not courage to resist their sinful desires. We have other instances in Scripture in which the servants of God failed in that very grace for which they were most remarkable. Simon Peter could declare his determination to go with his Master to prison and to death; yet within a short time he cursed and swore, saying, “I know not the man.” Elijah, who cut off four hundred and fifty of the prophets of Baal, was intimidated by the threats of Jezebel, fled from his post of duty and usefulness, and wished for himself that he might die. We may remark from this that no sacredness of office or of character will keep man from sin. It is only grace that can effect this for us. It is imagined by many that Aaron did not intend to promote idolatry; that he merely gave the advice which he did give to get rid of the difficulty, and that he did not expect the people would make the sacrifice which he demanded, knowing their love for their ornaments and jewels. But how unwise and unholy was such conduct: he was at any rate appearing to sanction what he knew to be wrong; he was putting the most important interests in jeopardy, and descending from the only ground which a child of God ought to occupy in moral questions. But Aaron’s manner of defending himself with Moses afterwards proves that he had given way in opposition to his conscience (Exodus 32:24). What need have we to pray that ministers especially be not left to themselves! we are men, not angels; we are compassed with infirmities, and subject to like passions with others; we have need constantly to watch and pray, that your desires may not lead us to say or do what would be injurious to your best interests. (George Breay, B. A.)
Aaron’s flexible disposition
Of ready and eloquent utterance, he seems, like many who have been similarly gifted, to have been of a pliant and flexible disposition. He bent, like the sapling, to almost every breeze; his nature was receptive rather than creative; he took impressions from others, but made little or no impression on them in return; he floated on the current which others formed, but he rarely, if ever, made a torrent which swept all opposition before it. He had little of that formative power which is always the indication of the possession of the highest greatness, and by which the individual moulds and fashions all who come within the range of his influence. He had more of the soft impressiveness of the melted wax than of the hardness of the die that stamps it. Hence he was well enough in time of peace, and when everything was going smoothly; but when a sudden emergency arose, when a mutiny was to be quelled, or, as in the present instance, a fit of idolatrous madness was to be repressed, he proved unequal to the occasion, and was found yielding, against his better judgment, to the demand of the multitude. From a timid and pusillanimous regard to his own safety, he would not oppose the wishes of the people; and so it happened that the spark, which a moment’s firmness might have trodden out, became at length a mighty conflagration, in the flames of which some thousands were consumed. It was in his power, had he resisted the demand at the first, to have prevented all this evil; and even if he could not have put down the idolatrous revolt, it was still his duty to have offered to it the most uncompromising opposition. Hence his conduct was not only condemned by Moses, but also in the highest degree displeasing to God (Deuteronomy 9:20).
1. It is always wrong to do wrong. Aaron does not think for a moment of denying that idolatry is a sin; but the whole drift of his reply to Moses is, that his making of the golden calf was, as far as he was concerned, a thing which he could not get rid of. The man who came home intoxicated last night, saying that he could not help it, because he met some friends who insisted on his going with them, and he could not get away; the family who are ruined by reckless extravagance, and declare that they were under the necessity of keeping up appearances; the merchant who, on the eve of bankruptcy, has recourse to dishonourable expedients; the youth who helps himself to his employer’s money, because he had to do something to pay his debts--all are in the same category with Aaron.
2. The difficulty of doing right is always exaggerated by the timid. The world’s own maxim is, “Grasp the nettle firmly, and it will not sting”; and a deep knowledge of your own heart, or a large experience of the ways of men, will convince you that, if with spirit and energy you do the right thing at the right time, opposition will fall away from before you, and they who threatened to persecute will in the end approve. Nor ought we to forget that God has promised to be with those who stand up bravely for His cause. The stern eye of an unflinching man will hold--so it is said--even the lion spell-bound; and courage in the service of God, turning an unyielding eye on Satan, will send him away from us for a season.
3. The consequences of wrong-doing are always more serious than the wrong-doer at first supposed. I can imagine Aaron bitterly upbraiding himself for his weakness when he saw the fatal fruits of it, but then it was too late to repair the wrong. You cannot stay the shell midway in its flight; after it has left the mortar it goes on to its mark, and there explodes, dealing destruction all around. Just as little can you arrest the consequences of a sin after it has been committed. You may repent of it, you may even be forgiven for it, but still it goes on its deadly and desolating way. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
That most men have their weaknesses, by which they may be taken
I have never read of any island so impregnable but nature has left in it some place or other by which it might be vanquishable; nor have I ever met with any person so well armed, at all points, as not to leave some way whereby he might be sometime surprised: this passion, that affection, this friend or that kinsman, this or that delight or inclination. He is the strongest who has the fewest accesses. As those places are the weakest which lie open to every invader, so, certainly, he is the most subject to be overcome whose easiness exposes him to be prevailed upon by every feeble attempt. And however fertile he may be by nature, and of a good soil, yet, if he lies unsurrounded, he shall be sure to be always low. At least he ought to have a fence and a gate, and not let every beast that has but craft or impudence to graze or dung upon him. (Owen Felltham.)
Lack of decision of character
“A man without decision,” writes John Foster,”can never be said to belong to himself; since, if he dared to assert that he did, the puny force of some cause about as powerful, you would have supposed, as a spider, may make a seizure of the hapless boaster the very next moment, and contemptuously exhibit the futility of the determination by which he was to have proved the independence of his understanding and his will. He belongs to whatever can make capture of him; and one thing after another vindicates its right to him by arresting him when he is trying to go on, as twigs and chips floating near the edge of a river are intercepted by every weed and whirled in every little eddy. Having concluded on a design, he may pledge himself to accomplish it, if the hundred diversities of feeling which may come within the week may let him. His character precluding all foresight of his conduct, he may sit and wonder what form and direction his views and actions are destined to take to-morrow; as a farmer has often to acknowledge that next day’s proceedings are at the disposal of its winds and clouds. This man’s notions and determinations always depend very much on other human beings; and what chance for consistency and stability while the persons with whom he may converse or transact are so various? A succession of persons whose faculties were stronger than his own might, in spite of his irresolute reaction, take him and dispose of him as they pleased. Such infirmity of spirit practically confesses him made for subjection; and he passes like a slave from owner to owner.”
A disappointing development of character
How surprised sometimes is the naturalist who, after carefully preserving a chrysalis, and awaiting day by day the appearance of the beautiful butterfly, of which it is the coarse and mysterious envelope, sees a crowd of flies emerge in place of it! This is through the work of the echinomyia, a genus of insects which derive their nourishment from flowers. They deposit their eggs on caterpillars, and the young larvae on hatching penetrate their bodies and feed on their viscera. How surprised sometimes is the kind father of a family who, after carefully watching the growth of a child, and anticipating the development of a noble character, sees to his dismay an exhibition of all the gross and common vices instead of it. This is the work of various bad associates, such as servants, tutors, or others who, whilst deriving their livelihood from tending children, have deposited in their minds--perhaps unintentionally, but nevertheless effectually--vicious ideas which have only waited the opportunity for a horrible unfolding. The victory of these vicious ideas is so insidious that forethought is disarmed. The embryo is placed where even ingenuity might search in vain. When those ideas develop they are as certain to destroy a beautiful character as the echinomyia are to destroy the most lovely butterfly. (Scientific Illustrations, etc.)
We must not be persuaded to sin
Then there was John Bunyan, who, under the despotic and profligate reign of Charles II., was sent to the Bedford gaol. True, they offered to release him, and allow him to go back to his wife and four children (one of them blind), but it was at the sacrifice of his convictions, and he scorned that. He was a man every inch of him, and in reply to the offer he said, “Before I will do that, I will stay in the gaol until the moss has grown around my eyebrows.” Brave John Bunyan!
Sat down to eat and to drink.
Epicurism described and disgraced
I. Who did this? The people; who had impiously presumed to set up a worship against God. Whence note that feastings and idleness are the undivided companions of idolatry. The counsel, then, of the apostle, upon this ground, is not unseasonable (1 Corinthians 10:7). Be not idolaters, as they were. But we are the people of God, and baptized in the name of Christ; there is no fear we should be idolaters. The Jews were God’s people, yet set up the golden calf.
II. When they did this. Even when their case was most miserable, then were they most insensible; for--
1. They had robbed themselves and made themselves poor, in that the ear-rings and jewels which God had given them from the Egyptians they bestowed upon an idol.
2. They had committed an horrible sin, aggravated sundry ways. They had turned the glory of an incorruptible God into the similitude of a calf that eateth hay.
3. For this fearful sin they lie under a heavy punishment: they were now naked, and God was coming to revenge upon them; and after He was entreated, at the instance of Moses, to spare them, yet, for example, three thousand of them were presently slain.
III. But is it not lawful to eat and drink? Yes, it is not lawful only, but necessary to nourish our life, to repair strength decayed, and enable us to our duties and calling. Nay, more: we may use the creatures, not only for necessity, but for delight. God hath given us leave liberally to use His mercies, and furnished us with variety far beyond necessity. He hath not given bread only to strengthen the heart, but oil to make the face shine. What, then, did this people other? They failed in many things.
1. Whereas the chief end of eating and drinking is to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31), the end of this eating and drinking was to dishonour God and honour the calf.
2. Whereas eating and drinking should fit us to our duties and callings, both general and special, they by eating and drinking made themselves fit for nothing but play and wantonness.
3. Whereas men ought to eat and drink according to the call of nature, in sobriety and moderation, the text noteth an intemperate waste both of time and creatures, addicting themselves to the creature and nothing else.
4. Whereas feastings are seasonable in times of joy and gladness, these feast in a time when God’s judgments are coming on them for their sin, and so the deepest sorrow would better beseem them, as also did they in Noah’s time. They ate and drank, etc. (and Isaiah 5:12), not considering the work of God. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
Rose up to play.--
If we be ruled by God in our sports and rejoicings, we must listen to His directions.
I. First, our choice must be of sports in themselves lawful. We may not play with holy things, suppose Scripture phrases; we must fear the holy name of Jehovah, not play with it. Neither on the other side may we play with sin, or things evil in themselves, viz., to make one drunk or swear, or to laugh at such persons. It is a matter of sorrow to see God’s image so defaced. So in other sinful merriments. Or if we have not warrant for them, by general rules of the Word, if the laws of the land prohibit them as unlawful. Here pause on that rule (Philippians 4:8). And Christian wisdom will also guide us to the choice of the best sports. A spiritual mind will choose spiritual recreations, as a carnal mind will use carnal.
II. Secondly, when we have chosen warrantable sports, we must beware we sin not in the use of them. And to keep us from sin in our recreations we must look to our neighbour, to ourselves.
1. For our neighbour two rules must be observed: one of wisdom, the other of justice.
2. We must look carefully to ourselves. First, for our affection, that it be moderate. We may use lawful sports, but not love them. Secondly, for our ends. Our ends must not be to pass the time, which passeth whether we will or no, and we ought to redeem our time, and not let it pass without gaining something better than itself; nor yet to maintain idleness as men that cannot tell what to do with themselves else. Again, the end of sport is preservation of our health, both of soul and body, and not to impair the health of either, as many by watching at play, and forgetting or foregoing their diet and rest for play, destroy their health and call in numbers of diseases on themselves, and oftentimes untimely death. Lastly, seeing nothing can be lawful wherein some glory accrues not to God, therefore, if the end of our sports be not to enable us with cheerfulness in duties of religion and Christianity, it will all be returned as sin in this reckoning. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
The right use of amusements
Remember our amusements and recreations are merely intended to fit us for usefulness. I hope that none of you have fallen into the delusion that your mission in life is to enjoy yourselves. Pepper and salt and sugar and cinnamon are very important, but that would be a very unhealthy repast that had nothing else on the table. Amusements and recreations are the spice and the condiment of the great banquet. But some of you over-pleasuring people are feeding the body and soul on condiments. We are to make these recreations of life preparations for practical usefulness. We must make our amusements a reinforcement of our capacity. Living is a tremendous affair, and alas! for the man who makes recreation a depletion instead of an augmentation. Once when the city of Rome was besieged by Hannibal’s army there was a great shout of laughter inside the walls, and it strangely frightened the besieging army, and they fled in wild precipitation. That is a matter of history. But no guffaw of laughter will ever scatter our foes, or lift our besiegement, or gain our victory. It must be face to face, foot to foot, battle-axe to battle-axe, if we achieve anything worthy. Can you imagine any predicament worse than that which I now sketch? Time has passed, and we come up to judgment to give our account for what we have been doing. The angel of the judgment says to us: “You came up from a world where there were millions in sin, millions in poverty, millions in wretchedness, and there were a great many people, philanthropists and Christians, who toiled themselves into the grave trying to help others. What did you do?” And then the angel of the resurrection, the angel of the judgment will say: “Those are the women who consecrated their needle to God and made garments for the poor.” The angel of the resurrection, the angel of the judgment facing the group of pleasurists: “What did you do?” “Well,” says one of them, “I was very fond of the drama, and spent my evenings looking at it.” May the Almighty God forbid that you and I should make the terrific mistake of substituting merriment for duty! Pliny says that the mermaids danced on the green grass, but all around them were dead men’s bones. Neither bat nor ball, nor lawn tennis racquet, nor croquet mallet, nor boat, nor skate--although they all have their uses--can make death, life, and eternity happy. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
A sermon on play
Play is neither idleness nor folly. It is one of the many good things which have come into your life from heaven. It is a gift from God. It is a part of your life as truly as prayer is, as truly as the soul itself is. And it is part of the life of children all the world over.
1. Now, the first thing I want you to see is that this playing of you boys and girls is a pleasure to God. He is a God so kind and loving that He delights in everything innocent that is a delight to you. Just as He delights in the songs of birds and in the colour and fragrance of flowers, He delights in the play of childhood.
2. God has made play a part of your life, because He wants you to be strong. He has work waiting in the years to come for every boy and girl on the earth. And although it is not all the same kind of work, all of it is work which will want strength for the doing. Therefore He will not have you always at tasks. He has divided the time for tasks with the time for play. He will have you out in the open air. By your games He will have your body in endless motion. You shall run and not be weary.
3. For another thing God wants you to have a happy gateway into life. Nobody can tell beforehand whether your after-life will be happy. In games you are joined together, just as we who are old are in our toils. The playground is a little world. You cannot have any pleasure in any of its games unless you try to have the others playing with you as happy as yourself. To be unkind, unjust, unfair, or ungenerous in a game is to spoil it or bring it to an end. Surely this is a new, rich addition to our knowledge of God when we discover that the same kind Father, who gave His Son to die for us, that He might deliver us from sin and death, made the joy and play of boys and girls in the streets and in the house. May you carry something of the joy of it through life with you, and may you remember that God has been so good to you that He has set your life between two worlds of joy--the world of your happy childhood and the world that awaits you in heaven! (A. Macleod, D. D.)
THE GOLDEN CALF.
While God was thus providing for Israel, what had Israel done with God? They had grown weary of waiting: had despaired of and slighted their heroic leader, ("this Moses, the man that brought us up,") had demanded gods, or a god, at the hand of Aaron, and had so far carried him with them or coerced him that he thought it a stroke of policy to save them from breaking the first commandment by joining them in a breach of the second, and by infecting "a feast to Jehovah" with the licentious "play" of paganism. At the beginning, the only fitness attributed to Aaron was that "he can speak well." But the plastic and impressible temperament of a gifted speaker does not favour tenacity of will in danger. Demosthenes and Cicero, and Savonarola, the most eloquent of the reformers, illustrate the tendency of such genius to be daunted by visible perils.
God now rejects them because the covenant is violated. As Jesus spoke no longer of "My Father's house," but "your house, left unto you desolate," so the Lord said to Moses, "thy people which thou broughtest up."
But what are we to think of the proposal to destroy them, and to make of Moses a great nation?
We are to learn from it the solemn reality of intercession, the power of man with God, Who says not that He will destroy them, but that He will destroy them if left alone. Who can tell, at any moment, what calamities the intercession of the Church is averting from the world or from the nation?
The first prayer of Moses is brief and intense; there is passionate appeal, care for the Divine honour, remembrance of the saintly dead for whose sake the living might yet be spared, and absolute forgetfulness of self. Already the family of Aaron had been preferred to his, but the prospect of monopolising the Divine predestination has no charm for this faithful and patriotic heart. No sooner has the immediate destruction been arrested than he hastens to check the apostates, makes them exhibit the madness of their idolatry by drinking the water in which the dust of their pulverised god was strewn; receives the abject apology of Aaron, thoroughly spirit-broken and demoralised; and finding the sons of Levi faithful, sends them to the slaughter of three thousand men. Yet this is he who said "O Lord, why is Thy wrath hot against Thy people?" He himself felt it needful to cut deep, in mercy, and doubtless in wrath as well, for true affection is not limp and nerveless: it is like the ocean in its depth, and also in its tempests. And the stern action of the Levites appeared to him almost an omen; it was their "consecration," the beginning of their priestly service.
Again he returns to intercede; and if his prayer must fail, then his own part in life is over: let him too perish among the rest. For this is evidently what he means and says: he has not quite anticipated the spirit of Christ in Paul willing to be anathema for his brethren (Romans 9:3), nor has the idea of a vicarious human sacrifice been suggested to him by the institutions of the sanctuary. Yet how gladly would he have died for his people, who made request that he might die among them!
How nobly he foreshadows, not indeed the Christian doctrine, but the love of Christ Who died for man, Who from the Mount of Transfiguration, as Moses from Sinai, came down (while Peter would have lingered) to bear the sins of His brethren! How superior He is to the Christian hymn which pronounces nothing worth a thought, except how to make my own election sure.
Moses besought the Lord.
We find him in succession--
1. Highly privileged.
2. Deeply grieved.
3. Raised to a holy frame of mind.
4. Visibly answered.
5. Abundantly strengthened.
I. Many events have taken place since Moses, at the Lord’s command, drove back the waters of the Red Sea, and the song of deliverance voiced forth from heart and mouth of many myriads. Amidst the sound of thunder and of trumpets, heaven has already spoken to the earth, and Israel’s camp has now for weeks been gathered round Mount Sinai, waiting patiently till Moses shall return. Return! Where is he, then, you ask, and where can Amram’s son remain with more advantage than amidst the people, who, as is already fully evident, cannot remain without his help and guidance for another single day? Where? As if Moses could have been himself had he been always living in the abject sphere in which this Israel moved; as if a man to whom the Lord Almighty has vouchsafed a look into celestial mysteries should hasten back to earth again! The story of those forty days is written in heaven’s register; and if Moses were himself still here to give his witness as to what occurred, perhaps he would repeat the words of Paul regarding the most blessed hour of his experience, “Whether it took place in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell--God knoweth.” It is enough for us that he receives the law there through the medium of angels; that at this time he may have had withdrawn from him the cloud, which hitherto had quite concealed from human eyes God’s counsel in its grand development, as now revealed in these last times; that there is now made known to him, not merely the grand principles of law to regulate the Jewish commonwealth, but God’s express appointments as to everything relating to the life, both civil and religious, of the chosen nation, even to minute details; that he is now allowed (and this, the greatest privilege of all, I mention last) to pray in such a way that he most truly lives in close communion with the Infinite. Oh, happy Moses! who shall tell in what a stream of deep enjoyment you must then have bathed; how much refreshment your soul must have drawn from the full cup of God’s delights; and how oblivious you must have now become of all the troubles which so often, like a leaden weight, oppressed your soul on earth? How high stands this great man of God above the carnal Israelites, who long for nothing so incessantly as for Egyptian flesh! Among those born of women, there has not been one, belonging to the days of the Old Covenant, that stood in such an intimate relation to Jehovah, except, it may be, Abraham alone: in this respect, then, we look upon Moses as a happy man. But the greatest privilege which Moses had at Sinai--confidential intercourse with God--is granted to each one of us who know Him in His Son.
II. Yet do not think that such a privilege exempts you from a multitude of struggles on this earth; rather, when you but look at Moses’ case, and find how deeply grieved he was, the contrary seems true. He is still standing in God’s holy presence, raised above the dust of earth, when suddenly he hears the words addressed to him, “Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.” “Thy people”: these are bitter, cutting words. Is it not just as if Jehovah meant to say, “A people such as this can no more be accounted Mine”? What has occurred to rouse the Holy One to wrath? “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Oh, wretched nation, thus, when not much more than called to liberty, to stretch their hands out for the fetters of unrighteousness, and, as it were, before the eyes of that Jehovah who touched yonder mountain-top and made it tremble, thus so quickly to transgress the first requirement of His holy laws! But we may also readily imagine what unutterable grief it was to Moses in particular, that even while in the immediate presence of his God, a dark cloud rises on His face. Is this, then, the reward for all the faithfulness with which he has devoted his whole energies to such an arduous work as Israel’s deliverance? Is this the seal confirming what the people, scarcely forty days before, declared, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do”? Where are the songs of thanksgiving that echoed all along the shores of the Red Sea? They now are changed into the shouts of a rebellious mob. Where is the spoil that the dismayed Egyptians gave up? It has been spent on the adorning of an idol. Where is the prospect now of national prosperity to be enjoyed if men observed the ordinances of the Lord? “I have seen this people, and behold it is a stiff-necked people; now, therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them.” “Let Me alone!” How well we recognize in these few words the living God, who glories in omnipotence combined with faithfulness, and who will not even let His anger burn without forewarning this His faithful servant of the dreadful work He is about to do. But ye should be in something like a proper state to understand the depth of this man’s sorrow--ye who had saved your dearest child from certain death, and who, just at the very moment when you fancied all was safe, beheld the one whom you had rescued rushing wilfully into the jaws of death. But which of us, my fellow Christians, has not at some time had experience like Moses’ in that memorable hour? We may have deemed ourselves blest in our fellowship with God, when suddenly the harsh, discordant sound of sin was heard--the clash of weapons in the struggle of this life. For the disciple always finds even yet, as did his Lord of old, that the desert where he undergoes temptation immediately adjoins the Jordan of self-dedication; yea, just in proportion as, like Moses, we are placed in higher station, and more privileged than other men, we often find our trials too are heavier. Like Moses, too, we often see our noblest efforts for the good of men in general rewarded with most base ingratitude; or, in a few brief hours, what we have raised by dint of sweat and toil, continued through successive years and months, is broken down through careless weakness on another’s part. In utter disappointment, we pour out our grief before the ruins of the edifice we reared so carefully; and when we would continue to rejoice in hope that God will yet fulfil His promises, it seems as if God hid His face from us, and we are terrified.
III. Would that we all were but of such a holy frame of mind as was the servant of the Lord, whose utter disappointment you have hitherto been witnessing. Does not the simple fact that Moses, at a moment such as this, betakes himself to prayer say very much for him? But which of us that suddenly perceives what deeply grieves us is at once inclined to pray, and not, instead, disposed to cry out in despair, but most of all disposed to silence and to utter inactivity? Now, it is well for him that he still lingers at the top, not at the foot, of Sinai, for he is near that God to whom he never called in vain. Moses pours out his supplications in the quiet solitude--for whom? Is it for himself, that God may give him strength to bear the burden of such oft rejection by the people? But wherefore should he think about himself, when his heart is filled with the thought of Israel’s salvation? Why should he think of men in their rejection of himself, when they so shamefully provoked the Lord? Nay, here the lawgiver becomes a mediator, interceding for his people in their sins, with but his prayers for an offering; words fail me in attempting to describe his true nobility of soul, which comes out in his prayers and pleadings here. Does it not seem as if love were exhausting all its energies in trying to find out, not some slight palliations of the shameful conduct which must be pronounced quite inexcusable, but some good grounds for not requiring, in this case, full satisfaction for the vast amount of guilt incurred? Now he reminds Jehovah of the great deliverance He has already wrought for Israel, and asks Him if He really intends to bring destruction upon His own handiwork. Then He points out to Him what the Egyptians and the other nations well might say when they would learn that the object of their hatred was destroyed. Again, he lays before Jehovah His own promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he asks what must become of that, if He do not turn from His wrath in time. And, finally, he earnestly entreats the Lord, if it must even be so, to take away his life, if Israel’s life, now forfeited, cannot be bought at any other price. In the full strength of interceding love he can be quite oblivious of everything except the sinful Israel; nor does he leave the mountain-top till he brings down with him the promise that the sentence, merited even though it is, shall be delayed at least, if not repealed. Does not a holy rapture seize you when you listen to a prayer like this? Here, we deliberately say, there is one greater even than Abraham when pleading in behalf of the guilty Sodom; for those wicked men had not rejected Abraham, at least in person, and the patriarch did not express his readiness to give his own life as an offering for sin. Who does not feel that prayer like this truly deserves the name; while, on the other hand, so much of what bears that fair name is little more than a mere mumbling over of some forms, and that, too, in a way the most mechanical--if it be not: indeed, but covert sin? Nay, it is not enough that you should cry to God for help whenever your own want and misery oppress your soul; Moses calls loudly, “Pray for others too”--and the more earnestly for them, as they are more unfortunate, more sinful than yourselves, and more unthankful and unkind to you! Neither is it enough that you present to Him your own and others’ miseries; for Moses says again, “God’s honour must be made the one great object in your prayer”; woe to the man whose prayer is but self-seeking who does not endeavour to extol God’s majesty! Nor yet, again, is it enough that you should raise your heart at special times in prayer, but soon abate your zeal; Moses cries out to every one who strives on earth, “Continue, persevere in prayer; the faithful friends of God are the best friends of men!”
IV. But does not this still further and more plainly show itself when you perceive how Moses was heard in prayer? There is (may I express it so?) something beyond description, human or Divine, in these words found in Exodus 32:14 : “Then the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people.” Nay, what man could expect by prayer to make God alter His decree? what godly man could wish to have such power? God has determined at all times to show His grace to sinful men, but He is gracious only to the humble prayer; and now, when Israel themselves neglect to pray that He may take away impending judgments, Moses puts himself in the position of the sinners; and no sooner does he venture on his intercession than he obtains God’s pardon for them all. Moses has prayed for grace, but grace does not in every case mean quite the same thing as impunity; and Moses himself is fully conscious that the nation must atone for its own sins, even when it is not visited according to its sins. “Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” These words, penned by the Psalmist, form the motto of God’s dealings with Israel. When God exterminates some hundreds, He acts like the surgeon, sparing not the knife though it inflicts much pain, nor hesitating to remove most precious, yea, important, members, that the body may itself be saved from otherwise inevitable death. Yea, what is it that prayer cannot do--humble, believing, fervent, persevering prayer? It opens up the treasures hid in God’s paternal heart, and shuts the flood-gates of His penal judgments; it brings blessings down upon the head already laden with the curse of sin; nor has it lost its power, although the mouth of him who offered it is long since silent in the dust of death. And is the history of the Israel of the New Covenant less rich in illustrations of the truth that God desires to have entreaty made to Him, not merely by, but also for, His people, so that He may pity them? Run over, then, yourselves the annals of Christ’s reign, and ponder specially the record made of your own history. What keeps the sword from Peter’s head when that of James already is removed? The Church sends up in his behalf a constant prayer that keeps the rock from falling down. What has the Christian Church to thank for her great teacher, Augustine? The prayer of Monica; because a child for whom so many tears were shed could not by any possibility be lost. Christians! if you most truly seek your brother’s and your own salvation, persevere in prayer!
V. “Your own salvation”--yes; it is just here that our own interest, which we so fully understand, combines most beautifully with our brother’s too. Come, look at Moses, in the last place, fully strengthened after prayer. Let us once more look to the sequel of the history. When you behold the man of more than eighty years descending from the mountain of the Lord with all the fire of youth still full in him, do you not recognize in that the power of fellowship with God in heaven? What calmness in his eye, what firmness in his gait, what firm decision in his actions, and what strength combined with moderation, as this very page can testify! Surely you do not disapprove of what he did, when, in a boiling rage, he cast away the tables made of stone, so breaking them, and strewed the dust obtained by pounding down the golden calf upon the water used to quench the thirst of Israel? “See my zeal for the Lord!” So Moses might have said with better right than Jehu did in later times, for his was anger without sin. And we confess that we would scarce have looked on him as Moses--yea, would almost have despised him--had he not on this occasion cast a single glance of deepest anger upon the abomination now committed by the Israelites. What would have been the meaning of such intercession for a race of sinners if the intercessor had esteemed the sin itself as trivial? Then, even though the world be all opposed to us, the Lord, in His eternal faithfulness, remains upon our side; though even our dearest friends may fall, the Friend who cannot die still watches us; although the head may bend through weariness, the heart that still can pray renews its youth. Behold in this the explanation of the mystery why two men, both engaged in the selfsame life-struggle, may yet fight in ways so utterly dissimilar, that while the one sinks under wounds he has received, the other issues from the fight victorious; the one required to carry on the war at his own charges, while the other had Omnipotence itself upon his side. On Sinai Moses prays for a rebellious nation; on Golgotha you hear Jesus pleading for His executioners when He was being crucified. Moses invokes God for His grace towards Israel only; Jesus for that same grace to sinners of all tribes and tongues, peoples and nations--yea, even towards you and me, in all our guilt. Moses but offers to make his own life a sacrifice for sin, while Jesus actually gives His life as a ransom for many. Moses obtains for Israel no more than mitigation of the penalty, not full forgiveness; Jesus can bestow a full salvation on all those who come to God by Him. Moses expires when he has watched and prayed for forty years, seeking the good of Israel; but Jesus ever lives, appearing in God’s presence for our interest. Nay, Israel, we do not envy you of this your prayerful mediator; we thank God that we look unto a higher One. (J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)
There came out this calf.
I. There never was a speech more true to one disposition of our human nature than this of Aaron. We are all ready to lay the blame on the furnaces. “The fire did it,” we are all of us ready enough to say. “In better times we might have been better, broader men, but now, behold, God puts us into the fire, and we came out thus.” Our age, our society, is what, with this figure taken out of the old story of Exodus, we have been calling it. It is the furnace. Its fire can set, and fix, and fasten what the man puts into it. But, properly speaking, it can create no character. It can make no truly faithful soul a doubter. It never did. It never can.
II. The subtlety and attractiveness of this excuse extends not only to the results which we see coming forth in ourselves; it covers also the fortunes of those for whom we are responsible. Everywhere there is this cowardly casting off of responsibilities upon the dead circumstances around us. It is a very hard treatment of the poor, dumb, helpless world which cannot answer to defend itself. It takes us as we give ourselves to it. It is our minister, fulfilling our commissions for us upon our own souls.
III. There is delusion and self-deception in this excuse. Very rarely indeed does a man excuse himself to other men and yet remain absolutely unexcused in his own eyes. Often the very way to help ourselves most to a result which we have set before ourselves is just to put ourselves into a current which is sweeping on that way, and then lie still, and let the current do the rest, and in all such cases it is so easy to ignore or to forget the first step, and so to say that it is only the drift of the current which is to blame for the dreary shore on which at last our lives are cast up by the stream.
IV. If the world is thus full of the Aaron spirit, where are we to find its cure? Its source is a vague and defective sense of personality. I cannot look for its cure anywhere short of that great assertion of the human personality which is made when a man personally enters into the power of Jesus Christ. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
I. Aaron blamed society. Thus is it with men now. Yielding to the pressure of society, we do not live out our highest convictions.
1. We defer to public opinion. Great is the tyranny of public opinion, and many dare not brave it. Aaron dare not in the text, and thousands still are overawed by it. We like to be talked about, but not against. We stay short of being what we ought to be, of doing what we ought to do, for fear of the adverse criticism of our neighbours, work-fellows, countrymen.
2. We defer to public custom. The Jewish rabble wanted images, such as were in Egypt, and Aaron had not courage to resist the demand. So we often bow to the questionable customs of society. Our convictions are otherwise, but we have not the bravery to be singular--we cast a grain of incense on the world’s altar when we ought to hurl a stone at its gods.
3. We defer to public violence. “They gathered themselves together unto” (verse 1)--rather “against”--Aaron in a tumultuous manner, to compel him to do what they wished. And Aaron was coerced by them. So we often fear the anger, menace, violence of those around us, and act a consciously unworthy part. Aaron in the text blaming “the people” is a picture of thousands of us to-day! We do not wish to act thus and thus, but we are the victims of our social surroundings. It is not I, but the people. We, none of us, are guilty; it is the crowd behind which pushes us.
II. He blamed nature. “I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” As if it were not his fault, but nature’s. He says nothing about the mould that he made; nothing about the graving tool that he used (verse 4); but nature has done it--it has done itself. So do we reason still.
1. We blame nature for our sins. We ignore the fact that we failed to interpose our will; that we fed the fires of passion; that in making preparation for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, we constructed the mould.
2. We blame nature for our miseries.
1. The childishness of this method of shifting responsibility.
2. The foolishness of it.
3. The uselessness of it. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Aaron’s excuse is the standing excuse of at least one large class among us. Servants use it every day. Who has not heard them plead? “Please, ma’am, I couldn’t help it; it broke in my hands.” As if it were not they, but the wilful jug or dish which was responsible for the fracture, or some malign fate which mocks at human endeavour and care. “It was an accident” has been their sigh ever since domestic service became an institution among us. But is the plea confined to them? Do you not also hear it from the lips of every child? “I didn’t do it”--they are all quite sure of that; though, if they did not do it, it would be hard indeed to say who did. Here are two large classes, then, to whom Aaron’s excuse is familiar; and to one of these classes we all belonged in our time. But are there no more? Most of you will remember that inimitable scene in “Adam Bede” in which Mrs. Poyser, while rating the clumsy Molly for her broken jug of beer, herself drops a still more precious jug from her angry fingers, and exclaims: “Did anybody ever see the like? The jugs are bewitched, I think.” You will remember how she proceeds to argue that “there’s times when the crockery seems alive, an’ flies out o’ your hand like a bird,” and concludes, philosophically enough, that “what is to be broke will be broke.” Possibly most of us have known mistresses who, while indignantly repudiating the common excuse of their maids, have nevertheless condescended to employ it in their own behalf. And what bankrupt tradesman, or broken merchant, or fraudulent banker is there who does not plead the same, or a similar, excuse? It is hardly ever their fault that they cannot pay twenty shillings in the pound; it is their misfortune. “Things have gone against them.” “Circumstances over which they have no control have been their ruin”--not their own rashness, or dishonest discounts, or risky speculations. They put their capital into that shop, that firm, that bank, and, lo, there came out this ugly calf of bankruptcy! But you must not blame them; it is the furnace that was in fault. And if mistresses no less than their maids, and men of business no less than their wives, attribute to accident, mischance, or a malignant and mysterious fate, results of which the cause might be found much nearer home, scholars no less than men of business, men of science no less than scholars, Christian commentators no less than men of science, too often betake themselves to the same egregrious line of argument and excuse. There are illustrations and repetitions and modifications of Aaron’s apology which touch us closer home. The man who is a sinner--as which of us is not?--has it perpetually on his lips. How often, when arraigned at the bar of Conscience or taken to task by Authority, have we urged that we really could not help ourselves; that, to use Mrs. Poyser’s word, we were “bewitched” by some evil and malignant power; that it was impossible to keep the law we had transgressed, and that “what is to be broken” will and must be broken? “A hot temper leaps o’er a cold decree.” With passions so fierce and strong as mine, with a natural and hereditary bias to evil, exposed to temptations so numerous and so nicely adjusted to my temperament, why should I be blamed, why should I overmuch blame myself, if now and then I have overleaped the cold and strict requirements of the law? Such as I am, in such a world as this, with a passionate craving for immediate enjoyment, exposed to forces so powerful and so constant in their operation, hampered by conditions so inauspicious, how could I do otherwise than I have done? Is it my fault that, with desire and opportunity conspiring against me, I have sometimes been overmastered or betrayed by them, and broken a commandment which no man has always kept?. . . Well, Aaron’s excuse for himself has reminded us of a good many excuses as irrational and absurd as his which men make to this day. And we have seen and acknowledged that there is some element of truth in them; that what we call accident does play a certain part in our life and the lives of our fellows. But though, in the abstract, we cannot define this mysterious power, or determine exactly how far we are subject to it, in conduct and practice we have no great difficulty in dealing with it. We make allowance for our servants; we admit that even the most careful must meet with an accident sometimes, and that there are times even when a small series of such accidents are almost certain to tread on each other’s heels. Nevertheless, if, after due trial, we find that a servant has contracted a constant and incorrigible habit of breaking whatever is breakable, we promptly dismiss her as too unfortunate for us, or as abnormally clumsy, or as wilfully negligent. We make allowance, too, for the accidents of commerce; we confess that now and then a man may fail honourably because he fails through no fault of his own. But if we meet with a man who has failed in almost everything he has undertaken, and who has spent half his time in the Court of Insolvency and its purlieus, we are in no hurry to associate ourselves with him or to assist him; nay, unless he can bring surprisingly good evidence to the contrary, we set him down as a lazy vagabond or an unscrupulous rogue. Just so we make, or ought to make, allowance for a man who is “overtaken by a sin.” And for ourselves, my brethren, let us have done with this poor subterfuge, which we know to be, for us at least, a mere refuge of lies even as we run into it. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Excuses for sin
Here is a man all gross and sensual, a man still young who has already lost the freshness, glory, and purity of youth. Suppose you question him about his life. You expect him to be ashamed, repentant. There is not a sign of anything like that! He says: “I am the victim of circumstances. What a corrupt, licentious, profane age this is in which we live! When I was in college I got into a bad set. When I went into business I was surrounded by bad influences. When I grew rich, men flattered me. When I grew poor, men bullied me. The world has made me what I am, this fiery, passionate, wicked world. I had in my hands the gold of my boyhood which God gave me. Then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” Another man is not a profligate, but is a miser, or a mere business machine. “What can you ask of me?” he says; “this is a mercantile community. The business man who does not attend to his business goes to the wall. I am what this intense commercial life has made me. I put my life in there, and it came out this.” And then he gazes fondly at his golden calf, and his knees bend under him with the old long habit of worshipping it, and he loves it still, even while he abuses and disowns it. And so with the woman of society. “The fire made me this,” she says of her frivolity and pride. And so of the politician and his selfishness and partisanship. “I put my principles into the furnace, and this came out.” And so of the bigot and his bigotry, the one-sided Conservative with his stubborn resistance to all progress, the one-sided Radical with his ruthless iconoclasm. So of all partial and fanatical men. “The furnace made us,” they are ready to declare. Remember that the subtlety and attractiveness of this excuse, this plausible attributing of power to inanimate things and exterior conditions to create what only man can make, extends not only to the results which we see coming forth in ourselves; it covers also the fortunes of those for whom we are responsible. The father says of his profligate son, for whom he has never done one wise or vigorous thing to make a noble and pure-minded man: “I cannot tell how it has come. It has not been my fault. I put him into the world, and this came out.” The father whose faith has been mean and selfish says the same of his boy who is a sceptic. Everywhere there is this cowardly casting off of responsibilities upon the dead circumstances around us. It is a very hard treatment of the poor, dumb, helpless world which cannot answer to defend itself. It takes us as we give ourselves to it. It is our minister fulfilling our commissions for us upon our own souls. If we say to it, “Make us noble,” it does make us noble. If we say to it, “Make us mean,” it does make us mean. And then we take the nobility and say, “Behold, how noble I have made myself.” And we take the meanness and say, “See how mean the world has made me.”. . . The only hope for any of us is in a perfectly honest manliness to claim our sins. “I did it, I did it,” let me say of all my wickedness. Let me refuse to listen for one moment to any voice which would make my sins less mine. It is the only honest and the only hopeful way, the only way to know and be ourselves. When we have done that, then we are ready for the gospel, ready for all that Christ wants to show us that we may become, and for all the powerful grace by which He wants to make us be it perfectly. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Who is on the Lord’s side?
Who is on the Lord’s side
I. The conflict, and which is the Lord’s side. The commands of God versus self-pleasing. Holiness and right, against sin and oppression.
II. The Lord’s friends, and what they must do.
1. They must own their allegiance openly (Exodus 32:29).
2. They should come out and rally to the standard. We do this by open union with the Church, by boldly rebuking sin, by testifying for truth, by not conforming to the world, and by conforming to Christ our Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5).
3. They must be willing to be in a minority.
4. They must become aggressive (Exodus 32:27).
5. Their zeal must overcome nature’s ties (Deuteronomy 33:9).
6. They must do what they are bidden (Exodus 32:28).
III. The Lord’s host and its encouragements.
1. Their cause is that of right and truth.
2. It is God’s cause.
3. Christ Himself is our Captain.
4. The angels are with us.
5. Thousands of the best of men have been on this side (Hebrews 12:1).
6. It is the side of conscience and of a clean heart.
7. It is that side of the warfare which ends in heaven and victory.
IV. The question of the text, and proposals for enlistment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Who is on the Lord’s side?
I. This is a divine question. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus,” etc.
II. A spiritual question. Are we new men in Christ Jesus by the new birth?
III. A crisis question. Truth cannot be divided; conduct cannot have two hearts.
IV. A vital question. Treason is in God’s government, what it is everywhere, a capital crime.
V. A determinate question. Ithuriel’s spear disclosed whatever it touched. This inquiry settles fixedly the state of each man for the eternity he is to enter.
VI. An experimental question.
1. There are only two sides ever to be found.
2. There is great comfort in being on the right side.
3. It is unsatisfactory, profitless, and perilous to be upon the wrong side. The soul will rest nowhere there. There will come no possible advantage from rebellion; danger and destruction are directly in the path of one who lifts himself against God.
4. Any one can know which side he is on, if he truly desires it. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
On which side are you?
1. It is “a decision upon the most sublime and important theme which can ever come under a man’s notice. God and Satan, truth and falsehood, holiness and sin.
2. This decision, so important and weighty, should be made as early as possible. When Agesilaus came to the borders of Macedon he sent the laconic message, “As friends or as enemies?” The answer was, “We must stop awhile, and take advice.” His reply was, “While you advise, we march.” Wait not. Every hour renders it more likely that you will make a foolish choice.
3. This is a decision of the greatest importance, for it will influence every subsequent decision throughout life. True religion gives a tincture to everything with which the man comes in contact.
4. As to this decision there ought to be no possible difficulty. A man should decide for God, since He is his Creator, Redeemer, Preserver.
5. This decision involves but one alternative. There is no synagogue of the undecided on earth, and no purgatory of middle men in the unseen world.
II. The avowal. “Let him come unto me.” “For God--to me.”
1. A coming out from amongst the idolaters. Do not conceal your religion.
2. They were to come to the leader. Follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.
3. Those who were to come to Moses were, of course, to come to one another. Do not birds of a feather flock together? If God has made you birds of paradise, hasten to fly like doves to your windows.
1. Obey God’s will
2. Serve God actively and energetically.
3. Do this at all hazards and costs. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Only two sides
1. To be on the Lord’s side is, in the first place, to put your whole weight on Christ Jesus as your personal Saviour.
2. To be on the Lord’s side is publicly to profess Him.
3. To be on the Lord’s side you must consecrate your life to Him.
4. Reasons for being on the Lord’s side.
We would enforce upon you the importance of coming to a determinate and decided judgment on the great business of religion. Examine its claims: if they be spurious or unfounded, then reject them; but if they be true, if they agree with certain powers and feelings of your mind, then give to religion the attention its importance demands. Do not play with so keen a weapon; do not trifle on the most solemn of all subjects. Decision of character is a highly valuable quality of mind. It gives to its possessor great advantages over others in the ordinary affairs of life. This quality of mind is needed in proportion to the difficulties which obstruct the attainment of any end.
I. We address ourselves to those who vacillate between God and the world, between religion and irreligion. There is a class, and a numerous class of men, especially in our own enlightened country, who may be considered in this condition.
II. To those who entertain a scriptural hope of salvation, but have not made a public avowal of their faith. This backwardness to associate with the professing people of God results from various causes. In some it is the effect of mistaken views of what is required in order to the fellowship of the Church. In other men, this backwardness publicly to acknowledge the Saviour is the effect of a very lax and unscriptural view of what religion requires. They suppose that if their hearts are right with God it is not at all necessary that they should make a public profession.
III. The language of Moses is applicable to those who have made a profession of religion. That many Christians are open to a charge of compromising their principles cannot be doubted by any who are conversant with the transactions of daily life. (S. Summers.)
Duty of being on the Lord’s side
I. What is implied by being on the Lord’s side.
1. On the side of His truth.
2. On the side of His character.
3. On the side of His gospel.
4. On the side of His law.
5. On the side of His honour.
II. Why we ought all to be on the Lord’s side.
1. The first reason which I shall offer why we ought all to be on the Lord’s side is, that it is the side of truth and righteousness.
2. As another reason why you ought to be on the Lord’s side, let me beseech you to consider seriously on what side you are if you are not on His.
3. Consider, further, why you ought to be on the Lord’s side, how much the Lord has done for you.
4. Another reason why we ought to be on the Lord’s side is, that it is the side of happiness.
5. Further: let me entreat those who are not yet on the Lord’s side to consider that they have not one reasonable plea for being on the side of Satan. (Preacher’s Treasury.)
Decision of character
I. The text clearly implies a solemn fact, that there is a side in antagonism to the Lord’s--that there are interests, that there are opinions, that there are principles, that there are lives that are in diametrical opposition to the side of God, and truth, and of righteousness. No reflective mind can survey our humanity without coming to this conviction: Surely all this unrighteousness, all this living for self, all this oppression, this worldliness, cannot be on the side of God’s moral government. There are questions of science, and of politics, and of literature on which a man may assume a neutral position; but in the great matter of your salvation, God’s claim to your love, there is and there can be no neutrality. It is not a matter optional with you whether you repent or not, whether you believe or not, whether you are the follower and disciple of Christ or not. It is not a matter to you of utter indifference whether or not you are known in this world to be a child of God and an heir of glory.
II. What is it truly to be on the Lord’s side ?
1. Let me remark, simply and emphatically, that to be on the Lord’s side is to love Him. Love and hate to one and the selfsame being are emotions not only incongruous, but impossible in the human breast. There are no two properties in chemistry more opposite to each other in their nature and in their operations than are these two emotions--love and hate.
2. To be on the Lord’s side is to be on the side of His truth. The truth of God, next to His beloved Son, is the most precious thing that He possesses. Declare yourself on the side of the gospel and on the side of God’s truth; let there be no compromise; let there be no doubt whatever as to the firmness and sincerity with which you hold it.
3. To be on the Lord’s side is, then, to be on the side of the Lord’s people. If you are on the side of the Lord, you will not be ashamed of the Lord’s people. You may find many of them in lowly life, you may find many of them battling and struggling with its difficulties, you may find many of them unlearned and ignorant as touching the lore of this world.
4. But to be on the side of holiness it is essential to be on the side of the Lord. The Lord’s side is holiness in conflict with sin, righteousness in antagonism with unholiness.
III. “Who is on the Lord’s side?” There are many considerations with which one might enforce the challenge, and press it upon your personal and solemn consideration. Let these suffice--
1. It is the only right side.
2. I remark, in addition to this, that it is the only winning side. (C. Winslow.)
Who is on the Lord’s side?
I. The text implies an opposition.
II. The text advocates a duty. It is the duty of being on the Lord’s side.
1. To be on the Lord’s side is to acknowledge Him as the only Lord.
2. To be on the Lord’s side is to render from the heart actually to Him emotions of reverence, of admiration, and of gratitude, which are permanent and supreme.
3. To be on the Lord’s side is to abandon and repudiate all refuges which are false, in connection with the great principle of acceptance before Him, and to rest entirely and implicitly upon the one method which He has been pleased to propound, and which is found in the expiation and in the imputed righteousness of His Son.
4. To be on the Lord’s side is to become practically conformed to His commandments.
5. To be on the Lord’s side is to be diligent in the advancement of His glory. Again: you are to observe what are the inducements to be on the Lord’s side.
1. You should be on the Lord’s side because He possesses an unimpeachable and absolute right to you.
III. The text demands a declaration. “Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me.” God will not have His servants to live in secret and in retirement; they are to proclaim and publish the fact that they are for Him.
1. This declaration should be made by verbal announcement in the intercourse of social life: “With the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
2. This declaration is also to be made by union with the people of God in the Church of His Son.
3. This declaration also is to be made by active and devoted diligence in promoting the cause of God among the apostate and the rebellious of your race. (J. Parsons.)
The Lord’s side
I. What is implied in being “on the Lord’s side.” It implies--
1. A decided renunciation of the cause of sin.
2. Believingly to choose God as our portion.
3. Cheerful obedience to His commands.
4. An undaunted profession of His religion.
5. A consecration of all we possess to His honour and glory.
II. The advantages arising from being on the Lord’s side.
1. It is the most honourable side.
2. It is the most happy side.
3. It is the most useful side.
4. It is the most safe side.
1. Congratulate those on the Lord’s side. Exhort them to steadfastness and perseverance.
2. Invite poor ruined sinners to throw down their weapons and sue for mercy.
3. Plead with the miserable backslider, that he may return to the Shepherd and Bishop of his soul. “I will heal his backslidings,” etc., “saith the Lord.” (J. Burns, D. D.)
On decision in religion
I. There are two great interests in the world--God and Satan. No neutrality.
II. Some are undecided about serving God. They wish to become Christians, and yet will not give up their beloved sins. They have too much knowledge to enjoy the world, and too great a love of the world to enjoy religion; and thus they halt between two opinions.
III. All ought to decide for God.
IV. The sin and danger of remaining undecided. It is base ingratitude and the most presumptuous rebellion.
V. We press immediate decision. It is your duty to God, to yourself, and to the Church of Christ; it is your privilege, and will be both to your honour and advantage.
VI. The way to show your decision. (Evangelical Preacher.)
The right position
I. Great dancer of delusion here.
1. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you have been baptized and confirmed. You may have broken the covenant and trampled upon its mercies.
2. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you attend the Holy Communion. It cannot make a saint of a hypocrite.
3. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you take pleasure in religious services. Herod heard John gladly, but would not abandon his vicious course of life.
4. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you are conscious of no hostility to Him. Few men, however depraved and guilty, really believe themselves the enemies of Christ. Nothing special has occurred to call forth their opposition.
5. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you meditate with delight upon His character. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that it cannot help admiring a high degree of virtue. No doubt the conscience of hell itself is with God.
6. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you faultlessly perform all your social duties. The young ruler.
7. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you sometimes experience slight compunctions for sin. Felix, Agrippa.
8. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you cherish in your heart an ardent desire of salvation. Who has not had such desires? Who would not die the death of the righteous?
9. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you show a commendable zeal in the propagation of your religious opinions. The Jesuit is more zealous than you. So are the Hindoo, Mussulman, Mormon.
10. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because you are successful in your efforts to promote Christianity around you. Have you ever equalled the success of the Arabian impostor or of the profligate saints of Utah?
11. Think not that you are on the Lord’s side because your fair exterior makes others regard you as a true servant of God.
II. What is it, then, to be on the Lord’s side, and how are you to ascertain your true position? What is implied in loyalty to God and an alliance with Jesus Christ? It implies baptism, for this is the entrance into the Christian covenant. It implies confirmation, for this is the public recognition and ratification of that sacred compact with the Lord. It implies Holy Communion, for this is the formal and frequent repetition of the believer’s oath of allegiance to his King, the Captain of his salvation. But it implies much more, which is involved in all these, and without which all these can make no man a thorough Christian. If you are on the Lord’s side, you are for His Church, against all schism; for His truth, against all heresy; for the faith of His saints, against all human theories and speculations. (J. Cross, D.D.)
The Lord’s side
I. In outward profession they are on the Lord’s side who have become partakers of the peculiar ordinances which the Saviour has established for His Church. These ordinances He has made imperative.
II. There is another standard which looks far beyond all outward professions in a determination of this question. There is a character which the power of man cannot feign, and which accurately marks those who have enlisted themselves under the banner of the King of saints. These evidences are to be presented, not as the marks by which we may form an opinion of others, but as the testimony by which we may examine ourselves.
1. They who are on the Lord’s side have been converted by the power of the Holy Ghost from their natural state of blindness and enmity to God.
2. They who are on the Lord’s side in this division of the world make it their object to live by faith in His promises and power, and as pilgrims on the earth, to become prepared for a better country--that is, an heavenly.
3. They who are on the Lord’s side experience a daily conflict with the principles of sin. While men are unconverted, this contest is unknown.
4. They who are on the Lord’s side are going on from grace to grace. The mind of Christ is forming within them. (S. H. Tyng, D.D.)
The challenge of Moses
I. The truths which the text teaches.
1. That there are two great interests in the world--a good one and a bad one--God, the great eternal, on the one side, and Satan, the prince of darkness, on the other. I should not say too much, I presume, if I venture to affirm all belong to God by right. But Satan has usurped a dominion. All are on one side or the other.
2. Some are undecided about serving God. Not from the want of conviction; their consciences speak for God, but their wills rebel.
II. that it is or the utmost importance for us to ascertain to which class we belong. What is implied in being on the Lord’s side?
1. Enlightenment of mind. It is necessary for us to see both the error and danger there is in being on the side of Satan and sin, and to discover the excellency and superiority of Christ’s cause and gospel.
2. It is believingly to choose Christ for our portion.
3. It includes obedience to His truth. If we are on the Lord’s side, we shall delight in His law.
4. It includes a determination of mind to sacrifice everything for Him.
III. Point out some of the advantages of being on the Lord’s side.
1. It is the most honourable side. It is not the side of the despot or tyrant, but it is the cause and service of the God of love. It is not the service of sin, but of purity.
2. It is the strongest side. And it is astonishing to see how fond some persons are of being on the strongest side.
3. It is the most happy side. This cannot be confuted. For while there is no peace for the wicked, the Christian hath peace with God--an inward tranquillity, to which the world are strangers; the retrospect, and their present experience as well as their future prospects, are fraught with happiness and joy.
4. It is the most useful side. Sin injures others as well as ourselves.
5. It is the most safe side. In fact, no other state is safe.
1. The important question,”Who is on the Lord’s side?” We congratulate those who are, and would say to them, “Be steadfast, unmovable” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
2. The sin and danger of remaining undecided. It deprives you of present happiness, and, if grace prevent not, it will shut you out of heaven at last.
3. That the way to show your decision is to come out from the world and be separate. (W. Rose.)
Holding up the colours
I remember a story of the Crimean war, of that terrible day at Inkerman in which our little wasted and dispirited army was suddenly overwhelmed, in the mist and in the darkness of a thick November morning, by vast masses of Russians. The men had to fight their way out as best they could. There was one little company surrounded and hemmed in on every side by the enemy, but there were a few gallant and brave men in their midst fighting their way through hosts of foes that hedged them in on every side. There was a voice heard by a spectator at a distance, “Hold up the colours”; and still as they pressed on, and still as one and another fell, and still as that little company became smaller, still the cry went up, “Hold up the colours.” Holding up the colours, they fought their way through to life and liberty and victory. Oh, it is a lesson to us; whatever else we do, hold up the colours. Let men know what we are; let them know that we are Christ’s. On our colours is engraven, “Christ and His salvation.” Hold fast the colours--there is no fear of the victory. (G. Rogers.)
Are we on the Lord’s side?
“We trust the Lord is on our side, Mr. Lincoln,” said the speaker of a delegation of Christian people to that good man, during one of the darkest days of the American Civil War. “I do not regard that as so essential as something else,” replied Mr. Lincoln. The worthy visitors looked horror-struck, until the President added: “I am most concerned to know that we are on the Lord’s side.” The right side is not my side or your side. The Lord’s side is the place to which every one of us should rally. His banner has right, truth, love, and holiness written on it. Be sure yon stand up for God’s banner, even if you stand alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The choice to be made
Guizot, in his life of St. Louis of France, says that the latter had many vassals who were also vassals of the King of England, and that many subtle and difficult questions arose as to the extent of the service which they owed to these kings. At length the French king commanded all those nobles who held lands in English territory to appear before him, and then he said to them: “As it is impossible for any man living in my kingdom and having possessions in England rightly to serve two masters, you must either attach yourselves altogether to me or inseparably to the King of England.” After saying this, he gave them a certain day by which to make their choice.
Out and out for Christ
An Irish gentleman, pointing to a young man, once said: “Is he an O. O.?” “What do you mean by O. O.?” “I mean,” was the reply, “is he out and out for Christ?” This is what all ought to be who bear Christ’s name. When all who belong to the Lord,” one says, “are willing to speak for Him, willing to work for Him, willing to die for Him, then Christianity will advance, and we shall see the work of the Lord prosper.”
Slay every man his brother.
I. the actors in this idolatrous scene.
1. Their historical character.
2. The recent experiences through which they had passed.
3. In view of these facts what a revelation of human nature we have here!
II. The punishment.
1. The opportunity to repent before the punishment was meted out (Exodus 32:26).
2. The fidelity of the sons of Levi.
3. The terrible slaughter (Exodus 32:27-28).
4. The condition of forgiveness (Exodus 32:29-30).
5. The tender-hearted intercessor (Exodus 32:31-32).
6. The result of the intercession (Exodus 32:33-35).
1. The plausible grounds on which men justify themselves in following their inclinations.
2. The ease with which some leaders will fall in with a popular cry.
3. False leaders will lie to justify themselves.
4. What a power for good or evil is a great popular enthusiasm!
5. The contrast between the religion of man and the religion of God.
6. Sin is no less odious in God’s sight because it is committed in the name of religion. God is ever ready to forgive the truly penitent. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Penalty a veiled blessing
When a thunderstorm is in progress, and torrents of rain are falling, one might wonder why God allowed such a seemingly evil thing to happen. But the farmer, who has been watching for weeks for some sign of rain, knows that this sudden storm and downpour is a blessing in disguise. So the penalties by which God preserved the Israelites from complete self-destruction were veiled blessings. Frowning fortresses, heavy artillery, and iron-clad ships are sometimes God’s best instruments in His sharp surgery of the nations. It is hard to see how the visitation of a penalty is often an act of mercy; but when Moses for his sin was denied an entrance into the Holy Land, was it, after all, a great hardship that he was taken into God’s Paradise instead? (S. S. Times.)
Consecrate yourselves to-day to the Lord.
Immediate devotedness to God
I. The nature of this consecration.
1. We must recognize the claims of Jehovah.
2. We must concur as to the manner of our consecration.
3. We must be deeply anxious respecting this consecration.
4. We must earnestly and believingly give ourselves up to the Lord.
5. This act of consecration must be entire and for ever.
6. This act must be our own individual act.
7. This act must be effected and sustained by Divine grace.
8. This act must be immediate. “To-day” we have life, means, promises. To-morrow all may be lost, and for ever. Now, let us urge you to this immediate consecration--
II. By several important considerations and motives.
1. It is rational.
2. It is improving.
3. It is felicitous.
4. It is consolatory.
5. It is saving.
1. Let me urge the text on all classes--the young especially.
2. Let me urge all now.
3. I urge by a countless number of considerations.
By the majesty and glory of the God who seeks your salvation, and not death. By the Spirit within you. By the flight of time. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Consecrate yourselves to the Lord
If you say you are on the Lord’s side, prove it. If you are His in one thing, be His in all things. There are a great many who call themselves on the Lord’s side when they want daily bread or daily protection, who hesitate to stand out against brother and neighbour when the time of trying division for conscience’ sake comes. The reason why so many of us accomplish so little for the Lord is, that we are only partially consecrated to the Lord. We are His for Sunday and Wednesday evenings; or for Him in one line or another of thought or conduct; or for Him in all lines but one. Mr. Moody has said that “the world has yet to see the power of one man wholly consecrated to God.” Uncle Johnny Vassar, or David Livingstone, or Martin Luther, or some such man as that, gives us a glimpse of the possibilities of one who is consecrated to the Lord. What a pity that such illustrations are so exceptional! “Consecrate yourselves to-day to the Lord, that He may bestow upon you a blessing!” (H. C. Trumbull.)
If Thou wilt forgive their sin.
Moses interceding for the people
It was a very happy thing for Israel that they had an intercessor. It is not that God needs it. God does not need the intercession of Jesus Christ--Christ told us so. “I say not that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father Himself loveth you.” And we believe that as the death of Jesus Christ availed for the believers in the Old Testament so did His intercession--that there was an anticipation of the intercession of Christ when Abraham interceded, or Moses.
I. And first let me give you three reasons why intercession is a very high duty.
1. It is a power given to every man to wield--a power of love, a mighty instrument for which we are responsible.
2. St. Paul puts it very prominently. You will remember that, writing to Timothy, he says, “I exhort that first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions, giving of thanks be made for all men.” What would we give for love that does not speak in prayer?
3. And you are never so exactly a copy of Christ as when you are praying for a fellow-creature.
II. The privilege of it is exceeding great. Let me mention one or two of the privileges.
1. It is such a beautiful way of giving expression to love.
2. It revives the spirit of prayer in ourselves.
III. Let me give you one or two words of practical advice respecting intercessory prayer.
1. Like other prayer, it must have intensity.
2. It should be accompanied with thanksgiving.
3. Let me also suggest to you that without which no duty is ever well performed--your method with your intercessory prayer.
Of course it must be left to every one’s own judgment how to do it. Only, have method, and have a period of the day, one of your stated prayers, which shall be, if not entirely, yet to a great extent, given to intercession. The method will be helpful, and it will give strength to the action, for what we do with design and plan we do always better than that which is left to the feelings of the moment. And amongst the arrangements of prayer it will be well to settle with yourselves when, and where, and how much shall be given to intercession. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The forlorn hope
Moses was one of those who had greatness forced upon him, not being capable of pursuing it--the meekest and most retiring of men by nature, while appointed the leader of a rebellious multitude. Immovable as a rock, courageous as David, where the honour of God was concerned, his own honour, in the ordinary sense, was not his care, and for it he seemed to have no sensibility. Happy those who learn to forget themselves, and to have God only in their eye! And shall not God acknowledge and recompense the grace which, flowing from Himself, turns its streams to Him again? Is it not fit that He should distinguish those who withhold nothing from Him; who achieve no honour that they do not cast forthwith at His feet?
2. Look at another attribute of a heaven-formed character. Where among us are the men that have the gift of intercessory prayer in any measure like the Lord’s servant Moses? Who are they, in a day of general defection and rebuke, that, like Moses, uncontaminated with the sins, unseduced by the errors of their generation, find it their part to ascend alone into the mount, if peradventure they may make an atonement?
3. It has been conjectured by some that Moses here uses the language of desperation, and invokes upon himself the irremediable sentence of final perdition. But when we consider all that this includes in it, of eternal separation from the Fountain of happiness, of alienation matured into enmity, of abandoned association with the cursed and blaspheming spirits of the infernal world, it is impossible that so revolting a wish entered his soul, or that his heavenly spirit, held in the bonds of unchanging love, was violated by the intrusion of so cruel and abhorred a sentiment. It is probable he refers to the declaration made above, that in rejecting Israel God would make of him a great nation. This interpretation is quite natural, for how could his heart sustain the alternative? Could he, so true, so loyal an Israelite, separate his lot from that of Israel? Could he, bereft and bespoiled of the fruit of years of anxious toil, and of faith founded on inviolable promises, accept of this as an indemnification for his loss, or consent to console himself with new projects of happiness, or erect his name and found his greatness on the ruins of forgotten Israel? No; rather let the grave yield him a refuge from such parricidal honours. Life had cost him already too many pangs to leave him energy to commence it anew. It was enough now to be allowed to share the common desolation, and having sustained for a moment the dreaded consummation of his woes, that his life and hopes should be extinguished together. Faithful Moses! Thy interests as well as thy wishes were safe, left for decision at the righteous tribunal of the heart-searching God. ( H. Grey, D. D.)
The training of the missionary spirit
I. The Church contemplative.. Consider the communion of Moses on the mountain with God. No wonder that Moses should delay to come down. When the sublime truths of the Godhead find a lodgment and settled home in our hearts, so that we can treat them as the familiar things of our faith, and not as passing imaginations, we have great confidence towards God. Selfishness is purged out from us, and with selfishness goes fear. The pure in heart see the Holy One; the unselfish see the Eternal Son.
II. The Church militant. The spiritual life is vast and varied; quietism alone cannot express it, even though it be the fellowship of God’s own peace. The change which is wrought in Moses is immediate and startling. He who, alone with God, can venture on remonstrances with God, in the assurance that his pleadings will be accepted; when he sees the turbulent levity of the people, and hears their licentious singing, is transported with indignation. The degradation of idolatry is illustrated in Israel’s transgression.
1. It is, first, a revelation of the profound unbelief of the people. Moses was unto them instead of God. “Speak thou with us, and we will hear,” they had said, amid the lightnings of Sinai; “but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Here was their first declining, and from this point the descent was facile. Moses instead of God, and a calf instead of Moses.
2. Next, the fatuity of the people is exposed. Ignominious as is their worship, still more ignominious is Aaron’s stupid account of it.
3. And then there is the people’s permanent demoralization. They are unconvicted by the remonstrances of Moses, unmoved by his earnestness; fear and the darkness of night alone could quiet them. “Even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting.” How different is the sight of sin from our hearing of it: sin as it affects God seems so easily condoned; sin, when it affects ourselves, appears so heinous.
III. The Church sacrificial. The next day displays a new composure in Moses. A graver, wiser man, his conflicting emotions steadied under the constraint of a solemn purpose. He goes to commune with the Lord. The words declare his sense of the wickedness of the people, his feeling that nothing can be said to abate the heinousness of their transgressions. Submission is the only offering which their intercessor can present, and out of the submission comes a trembling hope. There is here the utmost tenderness of a human heart; there is also an absolute resignation to the will of God. They are truly sacrificial words, sacrificial in the self-devotion they bespeak, sacrificial in the force of their appeal to heaven. Some sort of premonition that his sacrificial purpose would not be ratified by God appears in Moses’ language. It does not mar the sincerity of his self-offering, but the words halt upon his lips in which a simple faith that he could be in the room of Israel would have been expressed. “If Thou wilt forgive their sins--; and if not”--what? Not, blot me, instead, out of Thy book which Thou hast written!--but, “blot me--that is blot me with my people--let me share their forfeiture; I ask no destiny but theirs.” It seems to me that one of the hardest lessons which saintly souls have to learn to-day is that they cannot sacrifice themselves for the sins of the world. It is hard, because the sympathy which impels them is so pure and deep; it has so much of the spirit of Christ in it. To the sacrificial Church God is able to reveal the true atonement, to makes us preachers of Him, in whom, “according to the riches of His grace,” the world may have “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
IV. The mystery of the Divine sacrifice. “He that is willing,” says Christ, “to lose his life for My sake shall find it.” Moses was accepted for the people in a deeper sense than he had thought of. He was reinstated in his post as leader, his passion of self-devotedness transformed into faith and patience. The qualified blessing of “an angel to go before him” was changed--as Moses, in his pleading for the people, revealed his undaunted confidence in God’s fidelity, and his quenchless affection for the people--into a larger promise: “My presence shall go with thee; and I will give thee rest.” And when, emboldened by all the love from God, he goes on to ask for more, there is more vouchsafed him. The Lord declared that He would make all His goodness pass before His servant; and intimated to him that beyond even this was a deep, unutterable secret, which none might rend, but of which, if we could but rend it, we should see the burden to be grace. To such surpassing heights of human efficiency do those attain who are willing to give themselves away. The reward of the Church sacrificial will be victory over the powers of evil. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
The prayer of Moses
I. We are to inquire to what book moses refers in the text. He says to God, “Blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” I would observe that Moses could not mean the book of God’s remembrance. The prophet Malachi speaks of such a book. Moses must have known that there was not only a moral, but a natural impossibility of God’s blotting his name out of the book of His remembrance. God cannot cease to remember any more than He can cease to exist. And there is another book of God, often mentioned in Scripture, which is called the book of life, and contains the names of all whom He designs to save from the wrath to come, and admit to heaven. It plainly appears by God’s answer to Moses, that this is the book he meant.
II. What was the import of his request, when he said to God, “Yet now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” Here are two things requested, and both conditionally. Moses prays, if it were consistent with the will of God, that He would pardon the sin of His people in making the golden calf. “Now if Thou wilt, forgive their sin.” He prayed for the exercise of pardoning mercy towards the people conditionally, because God had seemed to intimate that He intended to destroy them, by saying, “Let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them.” Moses had reason to fear that God would, at all events, withhold His pardoning mercy. And therefore to render his intercession more prevalent, and to express his most ardent desire for their forgiveness, he prays again conditionally: “And if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” This was implicitly saying, “O Lord, since Thou hast proposed to spare me and destroy Thy people, I pray that Thou wouldest rather blot me out of the book of life, and spare them. If Thy glory require that either they or I must be destroyed, I pray Thee spare them and destroy me. Their salvation is unspeakably more important than mine; and I am willing to give up my salvation, if it might be a means, or occasion, of preventing their final ruin.”
III. Whether this petition of Moses, taken in the sense in which it has been explained, is a proper one.
1. It appears to have been perfectly acceptable to God. He did not rebuke him for a rash request, but, on the other hand, plainly intimated that He was highly pleased with his noble, disinterested desire. And since God did not condemn it, we may safely conclude that it was highly acceptable in His sight.
2. It was perfectly agreeable to the dictates of reason and conscience, that Moses should have been willing to give up all his own personal interests, to promote the glory of God and the future and eternal good of his nation. He supposed that the glory of God was greatly concerned in the preservation of His people from deserved destruction; and he plead this as the most powerful argument to move God to forgive and spare them.
3. The petition of Moses was agreeable to the very law of love. God requires all men to love Him with all their heart, and their neighbour as themselves.
4. The request of Moses was perfectly agreeable to the spirit which Christ uniformly expressed through the whole course of His life on earth. He always gave up a less good of His own for a greater good of others.
5. That the prayer of Moses was proper, because it was agreeable to the prayers and practice of other good men. Paul said, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved.” Yea, he did solemnly declare, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
1. If the prayer of Moses in the text was proper and acceptable to God, then true love to God and man is, strictly speaking, disinterested love. Moses expressed a love which was not only without interest but contrary to interest.
2. If the conditional prayer of Moses was proper, then it is impossible to carry the duty of disinterested benevolence too far.
3. If the prayer of Moses was proper, then none ought to be willing to be lost, only conditionally.
4. If the prayer of Moses was proper and sincere, then those who possess his spirit are the best friends of sinners.
5. If the prayer of Moses was proper and sincere, then none can pray sincerely for any good without being willing to do whatever is necessary on their part to obtain it.
6. If the conditional prayer of Moses was proper and acceptable to God, then the prayers of the people of God are always heard and answered. It is their wisdom as well as their duty always to pray conditionally and submissively; for then they may be assured that their prayers will be graciously answered.
7. If the conditional prayer of Moses was acceptable to God, then the prayers of sinners are always sinful and unacceptable to God. They are not willing to be denied on account of God’s glory. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The broken sentence
I. The problem with which he had to deal.
1. Their idolatry. The great lawgiver and leader, acting on their request, thereupon withdrew himself into the Divine pavilion, and was “absent for about six weeks. At first, without doubt, the people were well content. Better to be temporarily deprived of their leader, than be exposed to those terrible thunderings. But, after a while, they became uneasy and restless. From one to another the word passed, “Where is he? He did not take food enough with him to sustain him for so long.” And then turning to Aaron, the man of words, sure that neither he nor twenty like him could fill the gap which the loss of Moses had caused, they cried, “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us.” We may notice, as we pass, the essential nature of idolatry. For in this marvellous chapter we have its entire history, from the first cry of the soul, which betrays a mighty yearning for an idol, to the draining of the last bitter dregs, with which, when ground to powder, the idolater has to drink its very dust. It is an attempt on the part of the human spirit which shrinks from the effort of communion with the unseen and spiritual, to associate God with what it can own and handle, so as to have a constant and evident token of the presence and favour of God. This was the case of Israel. It was only three months since they had stood by the Red Sea, and seen its waters roll in pride over the hosts of Pharaoh. Every day since then God’s love had followed them. But notwithstanding all, they had been carried away before that imperious craving of the human heart which cries out for a sensible image of its worship. Their idolatry, then, was a violation, not of the First, but of the Second, Commandment. They did not propose to renounce Jehovah--that was left for the days of Ahab; but they desired to worship Jehovah under the form of a calf, and in distinct violation of the emphatic prohibition which said, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or the likeness of any form that is in heaven above, or the earth beneath; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them.” This was the sin also of Jeroboam.
2. Their degradation. There can be no doubt that the worship of the calf was accompanied with the licentious orgies which were a recognized part of Egyptian idolatry. As much as this is implied in the narrative. “The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” It is an awful thing when a single man throws the reins on the neck of inordinate desire, but how passing terrible it must have been when a whole nation did it.
3. The claims of God. There was every reason to believe that God would exact the full amount of penalty, not because He was vindictive, but because the maintenance of His authority seemed to demand it. How could God maintain His character with His own people without imperilling it with the Egyptians? If He spared the people they would begin to think that neither His threats nor His promises were worth their heed. And if He destroyed them, His glory would be dimmed, and He might seem to have become unmindful of the oath which He swore by Himself to His servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. It would almost seem as if this proposal was like the suggestion made to Abraham that he should offer up his only son Isaac. In each case God tried or tested His servant. But there is this great difference between the temptations of the devil and of God. The former seeks to bring out all the evil, and to make it permanent, as the streams of lava poured from the heart of a volcano; the latter seeks to bring out all the good, and to make it ours; for moral qualities never become ours till we have put them into practice.
II. The emotions with which his soul was stirred. In the mount he acted as intercessor. It was not against the people, but against their sin, that his anger flamed out. “Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” Those splintered bits leaping from crag to crag are an apt symbol of man’s inability to keep intact the holy law of God. When he reached the camp he seems to have strode into the astonished throng and broke up their revelry, overturned their calf, ordering it to be destroyed, and the fragments mingled with the water they drank. But as it would seem that this did not avail to stay the inveterate evil, he was compelled to use more drastic measures, and by the sword of Levi to extinguish the evil with the life-blood of three thousand men. Then when the next day came, when the camp was filled with mourning over those new-made graves, when the awful reaction had set in on the people and himself, the tide seems to have turned. His indignation was succeeded by bitter sorrow and pity. “Ye have sinned a great sin, and now I will go up unto the Lord, peradventure I shall make atonement for your sin”; but he did not tell them the purpose which was in his heart, nor the price which he was purposing to pay.
III. The offer that he made. He went quietly and thoughtfully back to the presence-chamber of God, as the people stood beholding. “Peradventure,” he had said. He was not sure. He felt that the sin was very great. He could not see how God could go back from His solemn threatenings. He was convinced that if the merited judgments were averted, it must be in consequence of an atonement. Yet, what atonement could there be? Animals could not avail, though they were offered in hecatombs. There was only one thing he could suggest--he could offer himself. And it was this which made him say, “Peradventure.” He could not be sure that the ransom price would be large enough. It may be asked how came he to think of atonement? But we must remember that probably there had already been much talk between God and himself about the sacrifices which the people were to offer. And Moses confessed his people’s sin to God, and added: “Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin--“ He would not finish that sentence. He could not trust himself to depict the blessed consequences that would ensue, if only God would forgive. But the dark fear oppressed him that free pardon was too much to expect. Ah! how little did he realize the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Of course, the offer was not accepted. No one can atone for his own sin, much less for the sins of others. Yet the people were spared. The passing by of their transgression was rendered possible by the propitiation which was to be offered in the course of the ages on the cross (Romans 3:25). (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Moses intercedes for Israel
I. The sin of Israel. This was a dreadful compound of ingratitude, folly, and impiety. Its greatness will be easily imagined from the indignation which both God and Moses expressed against it.
II. The intercession of Moses.
1. He reminds God of His relation to them.
2. He reminds Him also of His promise to their fathers.
3. He expresses his concern respecting God’s honour among the heathen.
4. He humbly confesses the greatness of their sin.
5. He wishes to be punished in their stead.
III. The reply of God. He remits their punishment. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The godliness of Moses
The indication of an impetuous, fiery spirit in Moses, only reveals the beauty of the meek patience which marked his life.
I. In the story of the golden calf we see--
1. Man’s natural tendency to worship.
2. The Israelites employing the very tokens of their deliverance to build a god for themselves. The very gifts of heaven--wealth, intellect, power--men turn into idols.
2. In worshipping a golden calf the Israelites utterly degraded themselves.
II. The godliness of Moses manifested itself in self-sacrificing sympathy. Fronting death and its mystery, he stood sublimely willing even to be cut off from God if the sin of the people might thereby be forgiven.
1. His revulsion from their sin mingled with his own love for the people. The holiest men ever feel most deeply the sin of their fellows--they see its seeds in themselves; they find its shadow falling across their heaven.
2. He felt the promise of his people’s future. In them lay the germ of the world’s history; through them might be unfolded the glory of Jehovah before the face of all nations. Gathering these feelings together, we understand his prayers. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
“Blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book
”:--There are various ways in which this passage may be understood. You may take it quite literally, and say that Moses really would sacrifice himself for a time, or fatally, but not sacrifice himself for ever. Christ made Himself a curse, but not for ever. If it would be possible to make myself a curse for a season for others, I should be within the pattern of Christ--for He made Himself for a season a curse. But I should transgress the boundary, I should go out into a sinful extravagance, if I wished to be accursed for ever--for after all I am not to love another soul more than mine--that is never commanded. And there is to be high measure of right self-love, because the love of a fellow-creature is to be proportioned to the self-love, and if I have no great self-love, I cannot have love to a fellow-creature. Therefore, I must love myself greatly--in the right way. How, then, are we to understand it? When Moses prayed that God would blot his name out of the book, it may have been out of the register of those who were to inhabit the earthly Canaan--that he would give up all the enjoyments of the land flowing with milk and honey, all the promised blessings of Palestine, for the sake of the forgiveness of the guilty Israelites. And if that was it--for securing their eternal happiness he was willing to give up all happiness here, I suppose he would not have been sinful. And I suppose our earnestness should go to that point--that I would give up all earthly happiness so that my child, my friend, my enemy, might be saved. Or, again, it may simply be the language of intensity--the expression of exceeding feeling. But, whichever it be--if you would intercede, it must not be in a light way, it must not be in commonplaces, it must not be superficial and cold. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Intercession for others
Never think lightly of this matter of intercession. There is a very light way in which people say, “Pray for me,” and a very light way in which people answer, “Yes, I will.” Be careful as to asking the favour, or promising to grant it. You may find it a good rule to promise, indeed, whenever you are asked by any one to pray for them, but to promise with this limitation--“I will do it once, I will do it the next time that I am on my knees before God, I will remember to pray for you.” That you will be able to do. But to undertake always to pray for all who ask it is a burden of the conscience--a thing impossible. You will have those for whom, doubtless, you do pray continually, and many; but as respects the ordinary request that you will pray, I would suggest to you not to withhold the promise, but with the limitation that you will pray once. For it is a blessed thing to have intercessors. And how blessed a thing it is God seems to teach us in that He has revealed to us that we have the Holy Ghost an intercessor, and the Lord Jesus Christ an intercessor. We have an intercessor always within us, and one always above us. “The Spirit maketh intercession for us [and in us] with groanings which cannot be uttered.” And here is the comfort--that “He that searcheth the heart,” God in heaven, “knows the mind of the Spirit” in the man. The Holy Ghost in the man asks everything that is according to the will of God. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Amongst the many touching and interesting incidents that occurred in Stanley’s last journey, there are but few to equal the following:--Stanley had much trouble with his men on account of their current propensity to steal, the results of which brought upon the expedition much actual disaster. At last he doomed the next man caught stealing to death. His grief and distress were unbounded when the next thief was found to be Uledi, the bravest, truest, noblest of his dusky followers. Uledi had saved a hundred lives, his own among the number. He had performed acts of the most brilliant daring, always successful, always faithful, always kind. Must Uledi die? He called all his men around him in a council. He explained to them the gravity of Uledi’s crime. He reminded them of his stern decree, but said he was not hard enough to enforce it against Uledi. His arm was not strong enough to kill Uledi; some other punishment, and a hard one, must be meted out. What should it be? The council must decide. They took a vote. Uledi must be flogged. When the decision was reached, Stanley standing, Uledi crouching at his feet, and the solemn circle drawn closely around them, one man whose life Uledi had saved under circumstances of frightful peril, stood forth and said: “Give me half the blows, master.” Then another said, in the faintest accent, while tears fell from his eyes, “Will the master give his slave leave to speak?” “Yes,” said Stanley. The Arab came forward and knelt by Uledi’s side. His words came slowly, and now and then a sob broke them. “The master is wise,” he said. “He knows all that has been, for he writes them in a book. Let your slave fetch the book, master, and turn its leaves. Maybe there is something that tells how Uledi saved Zaidi from the white waters of the cataract; how he saved many men--how many I forget--Bin Ali, Mabruki, Koni Kusi, others too; how he is worthier than any three of us; how he always listens when the master speaks, and flies forth at his word. Look, master, at the book. Then, if the blows must be struck, Shumari will take half and I the other half.” Saywa’s speech deserves to live for ever. Stanley threw away his whip. “Uledi is free,” he said. “Shumari and Saywa are pardoned.”
An extraordinary act of devotion is described in the “Spirit of Missions,” as it was related by Bishop Boone, while on a visit to this country. He said: “I had a very valuable Chinese servant in my employ, upon whom I leaned with implicit confidence, and one day he came to me and said: ‘I shall be obliged to ask you to find some one to take my place, as in the course of a few weeks I am to be executed in place of a rich gentleman, who is to pay me very liberally for becoming his substitute’--such a mode of exchange, as the reader may know, being in accordance with the law of the empire. I then inquired what possible inducement there could be for him to forfeit his life for any amount of money, when he replied: ‘I have an aged father and mother, who are very poor, and unable to work, and the money that I am to receive will make them comfortable as long as they live. I think, therefore, it is my duty to give up my life for the sake of accomplishing this.’”
Pardoned, yet punished
The Lord may grant pardon, and yet there is a sense in which He will still “plague the people” for their sin. The drunkard may give up his sin and become a Christian, and yet come to a premature grave because of his former evil course. The man who has squandered vast estates in evil.doing may repent, but his repentance will not bring back that which he has lost. The boy who spends foolishly the time in which he should be gaining knowledge and virtue will feel the effects of that misspent time all his life. Some opportunities which me have carelessly allowed to slip by unimproved will never come again to us to all eternity. In that sense each of us must bear his own iniquity. (S. S. Times.)
An example of intercession
Said a servant to President Bacchus, “The physician said, sir, that you cannot live to exceed half an hour.” “Is it so? Then take me out of my bed, and place me upon my knees; let me spend that time in calling upon God for the salvation of the world.” It was done. He died upon his knees, praying for the salvation of sinners.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 32". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24