For you will not leave in a hurry, and you will not have to take flight; for the LORD goes before you, and the God of Israel is your rear guard.
I. THAT ENTRANCE ON THE NEW PATH SHOULD BE AN ACT OF OBEDIENCE AS WELL AS WISDOM. It was an eminently wise thing on the part of the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. Whatever interests, pecuniary or social, they may have formed in exile, their true heritage was in the land of their fathers; the politic in their policy remained, but the wise in their wisdom left. This, however, was not the only or the main inducement. They were called to return as an act of obedience. The Lord their God summoned them. It was a Divine voice that arid, "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence." Our true interest demands that we should leave "the City of Destruction" and seek "another which is an heavenly." Only a false prudence detains; wisdom, deep and true, urges to depart. But this is not the only consideration. God our Divine Father, Jesus Christ our righteous Lord, commands us. He calls us to leave the kingdom of unrighteousness and to enter the path of holy service. To linger is to be guiltily disobedient; to set forth is to do the will of God.
II. THAT ENTRANCE ON CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE SHOULD BE AN ACT OF DELIBERATE CONVICTION. "Ye shall not go out with haste." There should, indeed, be no delay; but, on the other hand, there should be no hurry. More than once Jesus Christ checked the advances of disciples who were acting on impulse rather than conviction (Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 14:28-33). Do not take the greatest step which can possibly be taken without earnest thought, deep deliberation, repeated prayer.
III. THAT CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE, ESPECIALLY THE DIRECT SERVICE OF GOD, SHOULD BE CHARACTERIZED BY PURITY. "Touch no unclean thing;... be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." The Israelites were not to soil their hands with any forbidden or ill-acquired treasures; and the Levites were to take peculiar care that their hands were clean, for they would bear the sacred vessels of the temple. All Christian men must see to it that their hearts are uncorrupted and their hands undefiled by the many evils which are in the world. Anything like covetousness, envy, unchastity, intemperance, vindictiveness, makes service unworthy, and Divine worship unacceptable. By watchfulness and prayer let the ministers of Christ, more especially, cleanse their hearts and their hands.
IV. THAT THE GUARDIANSHIP OF GOD MAY BE COUNTED UPON ALL THE WAY. "The Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward;" i.e. there shall be a complete defence from danger; though enemies should threaten you before and behind, you shall find an ample security in God. We find ourselves assailed by spiritual perils coming from opposite quarters: we are tempted by fanaticism on the one side and by indifference on the other; by pietism and secularism; by presumption and distrust; by undue asceticism and laxity; by superstition and scepticism; but if we are obedient and reverent in spirit, our God will be a shield against every foe. - C.
For ye shall not go out with haste.
( M. Henry.)
I. THE ESSENTIALLY SYMBOLIC CHARACTER OF THE CAPTIVITIES AND DELIVERANCES OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. The history of Israel is the Divine key to the history of man. Through all the confusion of human society, its wars, its movements, its industries, its woes, that history, rightly read, will guide us. There is no crisis, no confusion, no sad experience of society, of which we have not the pattern and the explanation in the Word of God. The history of their captivities is the history of man's captivity. There were two great captivities and two great deliverances. The people were born in the one captivity — it was the dark accident of nature; the other they earned by sin. These represent our natural bondage, and the self-earned serfdom of the soul. There is one Deliverer and one deliverance from both. The method of His deliverance was the same out of both captivities; a glorious manifestation of the might of the redeeming arm of God. But at first sight there is a contrast here as well as a likeness. Taking a superficial view of the Exodus, we should say that they did go out with haste and go forth by flight; and this visible contrast was before the prophet's mind when he wrote the words of our text (Deuteronomy 16:3; Exodus 12:31-39). But from Babylon they went forth in orderly array, with the king's good-will, by his royal command (Ezra 1). Yet under the surface the grand features were identical. In neither case did they steal away. They went because God would have them go; the Angel of His presence guided them, and His shattering judgments were on all who sought to withstand their march to their promised land. If the contrast occurred to the prophet as he wrote the first clause, surely the likeness stands out in the last, "The Lord shall go before you, and the God of Israel shall be your rereward" (Exodus 13:21, 22; Exodus 14:19, 20).
II. WE HAVE THE IMAGE HERE OF THE GREAT DELIVERANCE WHICH IS FREELY OFFERED IN THE GOSPEL, wrought for us by His redeeming hand who "rules in righteousness, mighty to save."
1. The reason of our protracted discipline. God will not have us "Go out with haste, nor go forth by flight." I dare say there are few Christians of any earnestness who do not look back to some past season in their experience, and say, Would God that I had then been taken home. The soul was then full of a Divine serenity, with the clear heaven of God's love above it, and a clear assurance that the Rock was beneath it. It seemed to be attuned to heavenly fellowship. But it had been a young and immature deliverance, had God caught you then in the first freshness of your joy and hope to His home in heaven; not by the short, straight way, but by the long, weary, desert path God led His pilgrims; a band of trained veterans they entered at length into Canaan; able to hold it, and to hold to the national unity, through the stormy, struggling ages in which, but for their desert nurture and discipline, they must have been shattered to fragments, and lost to history for ever. It is this experience which at sore cost of pain God is laying up within us.
2. The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rereward. The Lord has gone before us. It is this which makes our progress a triumph. He has gone before us(1) In bearing to the uttermost the penalty of sin.(2) In breaking the power of evil (John 14:27; John 16:33).(3) In the way of the wilderness, through life's protracted discipline, to glory (Hebrews 5:7-9). And the God of Israel shall be your rereward. He shall gather up the stragglers of the host. This promise seems to run parallel with Isaiah 40:10, 11. It shall be no crush or throng in which the weak ones shall be down-trodden, and the halting left hopelessly in the rear. The Lord has special tenderness for the timid, the trembling, the fainting; He is behind them to guard them from every pursuing foe. If you have faith but as a grain of mustard seed, fear not.
(J. B. Brown, B.A.)
For the Lord will go before you
I. Consider THE WHOLE CHURCH OF GOD AS AN ARMY. Remember that a large part of the army are standing this day upon the hills of glory; having overcome and triumphed. As for the rear, it stretches far into the future; some portions are as yet uncreated. Now, cast your eyes forward to the front of the great army of God's elect, and you see this great truth coming up with great brilliance before you: "Jehovah shall go before you." Is not this true? Have you never heard of the eternal counsel and the everlasting covenant? Did that not go before the Church?. Has Jehovah not gone before His Church in act and deed? Perilous has been the journey of the Church from the day when first it left Paradise even until now. Why need I go through all the pages of the history of the Church of God in the days of the old dispensation? Hath it not been true from the days of John the Baptist until now? How can ye account for the glorious triumphs of the Church if ye deny the fact that God has gone before her! God had gone beforehand with his Church, and provided stores of grace for stores of trouble, shelter and mercy for tempests and persecution, abundance of strength for a superfluity of trial. "And the God of Israel shall be the rereward." The original Hebrew is, "God of Israel shall gather you up." Armies in the time of war diminish by reason of stragglers, some of whom desert, and others of whom are overcome by fatigue; but the army of God is "gathered up;" none desert from it if they be real soldiers of the Cross, and none drop down upon the road. The Church of Christ has been frequently attacked in the rear. It often happens that the enemy, tired of opposing the onward march by open persecution, attempts to malign the Church concerning something that has either been taught, or revealed, or done in past ages. Now, the God of Israel is our rereward. I am never at trouble about the attacks of infidels or heretics, however vigorously they may assault the doctrines of the Gospel. If they look to be resisted by mere reason, they look in vain. If they must attack the rear let them fight with Jehovah Himself. But I am thinking that perhaps the later trials of the Church may represent the rereward. There are to come, perhaps, to the Church, fiercer persecutions than she has ever known. But however fierce those troubles shall be, God, who has gone before His Church in olden times, will gather up the rear, and she who has been Ecclesia victrix — the Church, the conqueror, will still be the same, and her rear shall constitute at last a part of the Church triumphant, even as already glorified. Can you now conceive the last great day when Jehovah, the rereward, shall gather up His people?
II. AS IT RESPECTS US, AS INDIVIDUAL BELIEVERS. Two troubles present themselves, the future and the past. Remember, you are not a child of chance.
1. Stop and realize the idea that God has gone before, mapping the way.(1) God has gone before you in the decree of His predestination.(2) In the actual preparations of His providence.(3) In the incarnation of Christ. As to our future troubles Jesus Christ has borne them all before. As for temptation, He "has been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin." As for trials and sorrows, He has felt all we can possibly feel, and infinitely more. As for our difficulties, Christ has trodden the road before. We may rest quite sure that we shall not go anywhere where Christ has not gone.(4) There is this reflection also, that, inasmuch as Christ has gone before us, He has done something in that going before, for He has conquered every foe that lies in his way.
2. I hear one say, "The future seldom troubles me; it is the past — what I have done and what I have not done — the years that are gone — how I have sinned, and how I have not served my Master as I ought. The God of Israel shall be your rereward. Notice the different titles. The first is "Jehovah" — "Jehovah will go before you." That is the I AM, full of omniscience and omnipotence. The second is "God of Israel," that is to say, the God of the Covenant. We want the God of the Covenant behind, because it is not in the capacity of the I AM, the omnipotent, that we require Him. Let me always think, that I have God behind me as well as before me. Let not the memories of the past, though they cause me grief, cause me despair.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. There are perils that come up from behind. The deadliest foes are those that attack us in the rear. The traveller may be overtaken by pestilence and death, that lay all unsuspected in the very places he passed in laughter and in song. Man never gets away from his past.(1) Perils come upon us from the mistakes of the past. Mistakes may be innocent enough, but unfortunately for us, Nature punishes blunders as though they were crimes. Fire burns just the same, whether it be kindled innocently or of malice. Water drowns irrespective of the way people get in. Accident or crime, it is all the same to Nature. An indiscretion may ruin your health, bring your business to the dust, and wreck the peace of your home, just aa surely as deliberate sin. Sheer inexperience is responsible for many a disaster. And every blunder of to-day sends forward an enemy to imperil the life of to-morrow. Further complications arise from the fact that much of our life is bound up with the lives of others. The follies as well as the sins of the fathers are visited to the third or fourth generation.(2) Perils come upon us from the sins of the past. "It's the eleventh commandment I'm most afraid of," hiccoughed a drunken man to an evangelist one day. "And what is that? asked the seeker of souls. "Be sure your sin will find you out." And if sheer mistakes survive and pursue, how much more our sins. There is no greater delusion than to imagine that sin can be committed, covered up, forgotten, and done with. Sin breeds. And its progeny slays the transgressor. The sowing of wild oats is followed by the inevitable harvest. An evil deed once done can never be undone: not even by the grace of God. And in it there may lurk an enemy that years after may rise up and strike his deadly weapon in your back. Old age may find you full of the sins of your youth. Sins long left behind may live on in your memory. Man never forgets, A chance word, an unconscious look, an innocent gesture may strike a slumbering chord, and the whole scene lives as vividly as ever. Neither remorse nor repentance can blot out the horrid thing from before your eyes. It will startle you in the very holy of holies, and disturb your very communion with God. If unpardoned it will fill your old age with terror, and your dying moments with the horrors of hell. The most terrible temptations lurk in the memory of past transgression, even after the sin is forsaken and forgiven. I have known a saint turned eighty lament with tears that, while he was forgetting the hymns which had been his delight for sixty years, the lewd songs of his teens came back upon him with overwhelming vividness and force. He couldn't pray, but some rollicking, filthy chorus would insist on being sung. It is from behind that the devil strikes home, and strikes hard. Look at the consequences of sin if you would realize the terrible forces that come up from behind. The devil persuaded you there would be no consequences. It was a passing pleasure. You were all right in the morning, and thought it was all over. It is never over. That was only the beginning. Drink, gambling, lust, passion, and greed, have followed stealthily for years, and sprung upon men unawares. The terrible results of sin may pursue you in your body. A man who never but once went into the house of the woman of whom Solomon says such terrible things, for nearly half a century went through the world crooked and in pain. The most awful thing I know that can come to a man out of his past, is to see his own sin working ruin in the soul of another. What a host follows hard after us! All the way is crowded with malignant and vicious enemies that seek to destroy us. And nearly all, if not every one of them, our own creation. They are the offspring of our folly, our sin, our shame.
2. There are perils ahead. Happily no man can see very far ahead.
II. THE GOOD MAN'S PATH IS ALSO BESET WITH GOD. The Lord is in the rear to protect, and in the van to guide.
1. God stands between us and our past.(1) To forgive its sin.(2) To cut off our retreat. The old Egyptian life had a strange fascination over the delivered people. The backsliding tendency is in us all. But the Rearguard is between us and Egypt. He will prevent our retreat, and by a sharp command urge us forward to the land of grapes. We need to be saved from ourselves, and He will so completely deliver us that the last longing for Egypt shall die, and all our desire shall be for the Canaan of perfect love.(3) To de-fend against its assaults. Our worst enemies are at our backs, where we are most helpless The devil strikes from behind. But be not afraid, God is in the rear.(4) To make our enemies His slaves. The forces of hell as well as the hosts of heaven are under His control.
2. God goes before us in all the way of the future. We don't know the way, but He does — every inch of it. For he prepared and appointed it. And more than that. He has trodden and tested it before our feet touch it. He knows. That is enough. He leads. I follow. We tread the same path. We share the same road. Why should I fear? He goes before us in all our service for Him. Philip found the eunuch already prepared for his message. And Ananias found Saul waiting to receive his ministrations. So as we go to our service we shall find the Lord has been there before us preparing our way. The Divine movement is always forward. God is behind, but He never turns back. He goes before, and the whole host moves forward. Our only safety is in progress.
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