Then the Angel of God, who had gone before the camp of Israel, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from before them and stood behind them,
I. GOD'S ATTRIBUTES have this double aspect. Not one of his attributes but has a bright side turned to the believer, and a dark side to the wicked. This is true even of such attributes as holiness and justice, from which the believer, as a sinner, might seem to have most to fear. "Faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). So God's omnipotence, which is hostile to the transgressor, is pledged to defend, bless, and save the saint (1 Peter 1:5; Jude 1:24). God's eternity, in like manner, is given to the believer for a dwelling-place (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 90:1), but how terrible an aspect it has to the evil-doer! The dark side of love is wrath. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). But on the other hand, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).
II. GOD'S LAWS have this double aspect.
1. Physical laws. The constitution of nature is favourable to virtue, hostile to vice (See Butler's Analogy).
2. Moral law, for this, while awarding life to the obedient, is a ministry of condemnation to the sinner.
3. Mental and spiritual laws. Take e.g. the law of habit. "The law of habit, which applies alike to all our physical, mental, and moral actions, must be regarded in its design as a truly benevolent one. But the law of habit, when the soul yields to sin, works death to the sinner: - like the pillar of cloud which made day to Israel, and was darkness to the Egyptians, so the law, which is bright to the well-doer, sheds night upon the path of the sinner, until he is plunged into the sea of death" (Theodore D. Woolsey).
III. GOD'S WORD has this double aspect. To the prayerful, believing, docile mind, it is a source of unfailing light. It is a lamp to the feet and a light to the path (Psalm 119:105). But to the proud, the unbelieving, and the presumptuous, it is only darkness. These can see nothing in it but difficulties, incredibilities, contradictions, moral monstrosities. It is full of stumbling-blocks. The more they read it, the more are they blinded by it. They read only to discover some new fault or error.
IV. GOD'S VERY GOSPEL has this double aspect. "The preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18-24). It repels the one class, and attracts the other. To the one, it is a savour of life; to the other, a savour of death (2 Corinthians 2:16). - J.O.
1. A family is visited by dreadful calamity; is reduced from a state of ease and affluence to comparative want. The members of this family are of very different characters; some of them sincere believers, devout worshippers, faithful servants of God; ever considering their talents, as lent for God's use. Other members of the family are the reverse of all this; sensual, worldly, regardless of spiritual things; caring for nothing, but that "to-morrow may be as this day, and much more abundant." Observe, now, how differently these members of the same family will be affected by what has befallen them: how the calamity will wear a bright side to some, and a dark side to others. Trouble of another kind overtakes the same family; a friend, a relation, upon whom the comfort of their life depended, is suddenly removed by the stroke of death. Some acknowledge the providential hand of God, inflicting a wound, but supplying a gracious remedy; they are drawn the more closely to their sure, unchangeable Friend. But who are they, that are sitting down gloomy and disconsolate and "refusing to be comforted"? They are the godless members of this family, whose all is in the world, in the creature. And thus, while some are utterly discomfited by this loss, others can find it to be their gain.
Between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel.1. God in Christ moveth Himself in His hand or work where the Church doth most need help. Before and behind Israel is He.
2. God by Christ the Angel of His Covenant hath given and doth give all help to His Church (ver. 19).
3. God sets His posture for help between cruel persecutors and His Church.
4. The very same means God makes to darken His enemies which enlighten His people. So the gospel.
5. This interposition of God keeps the wicked world from destroying His Church (ver. 20).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
I. WE OFTEN NEED TO BE DEEPLY IMPRESSED WITH THE MEMORY OF PAST BLESSINGS.
II. WE NEED THE PILLAR OF CLOUD BEHIND US FOR OUR PROTECTION FROM THE EVIL CONSEQUENCES OF THE PAST. Wonderful sight! the angel of the Lord breaking camp and going to their rear! that beautiful meteor, the guiding cloud, sailing back over their six hundred thousand fighting men, powerless as their infants, while Egypt was pouring out its swarming myriads to swallow them up. So, my soul! thy sins and the hosts of hell are ready this day to destroy thee; but the angel of the covenant has not forsaken thee; faith can see Him, as plainly as Israel beheld Him going to their rear to stand between them and danger; are not His promises a pillar of cloud to you, and do they not stand between you and the past, saying, "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins"?
III. THIS REARWARD ANGEL AND THIS PILLAR OF CLOUD SEEM TO BID ME TO SAY TO BELIEVERS, IT SHALL BE WELL WITH YOU. For these two things are true concerning all who believe in Jesus. First, you have not seen your best days; and, secondly, you never will. Never through eternity, will you arrive at that summit of bliss from which you will anticipate declension. Onward and upward is to be your way.
(N. Adams, D. D.)
2. This leads me to speak upon the different impressions made upon different persons by the means of grace, by the doctrines, and promises, and precepts of the gospel. The humble, faithful servant of God, derives light and life from every portion of Divine revelation. Very contrary to this are the views and feelings of the blinded sinner; nay, of the careless, lukewarm, outward believer. The same doctrines, which afford so much satisfaction and peace to the godly wear to him a different aspect; "there is no beauty in them that he should desire them"; no power derived from them even to affect, much less to change, the heart. The same promises also appeal to him without any encouraging, life-giving effect. And the same holy precepts, instead of being loved and honoured, are a trouble to his soul: conscience whispers, that he ought to obey them; and the law of God, instead of being his guide, stands in opposition to him, and fills him with fear. "The light that is in him is darkness"; that which is a light to others, and should be a light to him, is perverted into darkness; and then, "how great is that darkness!"
(J. Slade, M. A.)
I. In considering the subject of the Lord's abiding with His people, I shall first call attention to THE DIVINE PRESENCE MYSTERIOUSLY REMOVED. "The angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed."
1. The symbol of God's presence removed from where it had usually been. So has it been with us at times: we have walked day after day in the light of God's countenance, we have enjoyed sweet fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord, and on a sudden we have missed His glorious manifestation.
2. Moreover, they missed the light from where they hoped it would always be. Sometimes you also may imagine that God's promise is failing you; even the word of God which you had laid hold upon may appear to you to be contradicted by your circumstances. Then your heart sinks to the depths, for "if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?"
3. The pillar of fire also removed from where it seemed more than ever to be needed. Even thus is it with you, who once walked in the light of God's countenance; you perhaps have fallen into temporal trouble, and at the same moment the heavenly light has departed from your soul. Now, it is bad to be in the dark on the king's highway; but it is worse to be in the dark when you are out on the open common, and do not know your road. It is well to have a guide when the road is easy; but you must have one when you are coming upon precipitous and dangerous places. Then let him trust; but he will need all the faith of which he can be master. Oh, my Lord, if ever Thou dost leave me, forsake me not in the day of trouble.. Yet what have I said? It is a day of trouble when Thou art gone, whatever my condition may be.
4. Thus it did seem a mysterious thing that the Covenant Angel should no longer direct the marchings of the host of God, and I dare say that some of them began to account for it by a reason which their fears would suggest. I should not wonder that, if they had been asked why the blazing pillar was no longer in the van, they would have replied, "Because of our murmurings against the Lord and His servant Moses. God will not go before us because of our sins." This, however, would have been a mistake. There was not a touch of the rod about this withdrawing of His presence from the van, not even a trace of anger; it was all done in lovingkindness. So you must not always conclude that the loss of conscious joy is necessarily a punishment for sin. Darkness of soul is not always the fruit of Divine anger, though it is often so. Sometimes it is sent for a test of faith, for the excitement of desire, and for the increase of our sympathy with others who walk in darkness. There are a thousand precious uses in this adversity. Yet it is a mysterious thing when the light of the future fades, and we seem to be without a guide.
II. Now all this while THE DIVINE PRESENCE WAS GRACIOUSLY NEAR.
1. The Angel of the Lord had removed, but it is added, He "removed and went behind them," and He was just as close to them when He was in the rear, as when He led the van. He might not seem to be their guide, but He had all the more evidently become their guard. He might not for the moment be their Sun before, but then He had become their Shield behind. "The glory of the Lord was their rereward." Oh, soul, the Lord may be very near thee, and yet He may be behind thee, so that thine outlook for the future may not be filled with the vision of His glory.
2. Note in the text that it is said the pillar went, and "stood behind them." I like that, for it is a settled, permanent matter. The Lord had removed, but He was not removing still. Even thus the Lord remaineth with the dear child of God. Thou canst not see anything before thee to make thee glad, but the living God stands behind thee to ward off the adversary. He cannot forsake thee.
3. What is more, these people hart God so near that they could see Him if they did but look back. See how the Lord has helped you hitherto.
4. A thoughtful person would conclude the Lord to be all the more evidently near because of the change of His position. When a symbol of mercy comes to be usual and fixed, we may be tempted to think that it remains as a matter of routine. If the rainbow wore always visible it might not be so assuring a token of the covenant. Hence the Lord often changes His hand, and blesses His people in another way, to let them see that He is thinking of them.
III. THE DIVINE PRESENCE WISELY REVEALED. That the symbol of God's presence should be withdrawn from the front and become visible behind, was a wise thing.
1. Observe, there was no fiery pillar of cloud before them, and that was wise; for the going down into the Red Sea was intended to be an act of lofty faith. The more of the visible the less is faith visible.
2. Moreover, let us mark that the cloudy pillar was taken away from the front because the Lord meant them simply to accept His word as their best guidance.
3. Moreover, God was teaching them another lesson, namely, that He may be near His people when He does not give them the usual tokens of His presence.
4. The host of Israel did not require any guide in front when they came to the sea. "How is that?" say you. There were no two ways to choose from: they could not miss the way, for they must needs march through the sea. So when men come into deep trouble, and cannot get out of it, they scarcely need a guide; for their own plain path is submission and patience.
5. What they did want was the pillar of cloud behind them, and that is where they had it. What was that cloud behind them for? Well, it was there for several reasons: the first was to shut out the sight of their enemies from them. The cloudy pillar went behind for another reason, namely, that the Egyptians might not see them. Their enemies were made to stumble, and were compelled to come to a dead stand. Be calm, O child of God; for the Covenant Angel is dealing with your adversaries, and His time is generally the night.
IV. That THE DIVINE PRESENCE WILL ONE DAY BE MORE GLORIOUSLY REVEALED. "The Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward." This is the condition into which the Lord brings His people when they depart from Babylon, and are no more conformed to this present evil world.
V. THIS DIVINE PRESENCE HAS A TWOFOLD ASPECT: that same glory which lit up the canvas city, and made it bright as the day, darkened all the camps of Egypt. They could see nothing, for the dark side of God was turned to them. Oh, is it not a dreadful thing that to some men the most terrible thing in the world would be God? If you could get away from God, how happy you would be! One of these days Jesus will tell you to depart. "Keep on as you were," says He, "you were always departing from God; keep on departing. Depart from Me ye cursed!" That will be the consummation of your life.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THE SURENESS OF GOD'S INTERPOSITION WHEN HE IS NEEDED, IN THE WAY HIS WISDOM CHOOSES (ver. 19). When we are called to difficult duty, God will keep His promise to be with us, and always His help will be found stationed at the exposed point.
III. THE PRACTICAL BEARING OF A COURAGEOUS FAITH (ver. 21). We may never be put before an actual ocean tossing with billows under difficult stress of demand like this; but we shall often be placed where mere obedience is commanded, and where God's covenant is all that ensures success. "Doing duty belongs to us; achieving deliverance belongs to God." Then it is that an unbroken faith "laughs at impossibility," and says, "It shall be done!"
IV. THE PERFECT SAFETY OF A BELIEVER'S EXPOSURE, UPON A PROMISE OF THE LIVING GOD (ver. 22). One of Aristotle's sayings may well be quoted here. He says: "Every how rests upon a that." That is, if God has declared that a difficult duty is to be done, He may be trusted to show how it is to be done. He will never ask us into straits of obedience without providing for our preservation. And when once a path of service is lying out before us, it does not matter at all how dangerous it appears; we shall go through it without harm. So our safety is in the exposure when God is our companion. His love will hold the sea-walls steady, and the seawalls will keep back Pharaoh. Some solicitous friends once warned Whitefield to spare himself in such extraordinary efforts; he only answered with words that long ago went into history "I am immortal till my work is done!"
V. THE FORGETFULNESS AND INCORRIGIBLENESS OF A DARING UNBELIEF (ver. 23).
VI. THE MERCY OF GOD, EXHIBITED IN THE FACT THAT THE WAY OF THE TRANSGRESSOR IS HARD (ver. 24). Up to the last moment there was a chance for that pursuing army to retreat by the way they came. So it was a manifest benevolence to them on the part of God to hinder them as much as possible. calls attention to the familiar fact that God always warns before He waits, and waits before He strikes, and strikes before He crushes, so as to give space for repentance. He threatens plagues so that we may avoid plagues; and indeed, remarks the golden-tongued orator, it is doubtful whether the prospect of hell has not availed as much as the promise of heaven in hindering the blasphemies of open sin. We may safely assert now that many a man has had occasion to thank God that his chariot-wheels drave heavily, so that he recognized the hindering hand of his Maker (ver. 25).
VII. Our last lesson is concerning THE SURE JUDGMENTS OF ALMIGHTY WRATH WHEN ONCE THE CUP OF INIQUITY IS FULL (ver. 26).
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
(H. C. Trumbull.)
S. S. Times.A tradition current in the west of Scotland tells that when one of the Covenanting preachers and his little band of hearers had been surprised on a hill-side by the military, the minister cried out, "Lord, throw Thy mantle over us, and protect us." And immediately out of the clear sky there fell a mist, which sundered and protected the pursued from the pursuers. And a Netherland tradition tells how a little army of Protestants was once saved from the king of Spain's troops by the flashing lights and noise as of an army sent by the Lord to throw confusion into the camp of the enemy. The teacher will recollect the story of the Christian woman, who calmly awaiting in her home the approach of the enemy, was, in answer to her prayer, saved from them by a circling wall of snow. The dividing pillar is a reality yet.
(S. S. Times.)
(J. A. Froude.)
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