<< Exodus 19:4, 5 : Obedience, our Duty and Wisdom >>

moses-forbids-the-people-to-follow-him Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my  voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine. Exodus xix. 4, 5.

WHEN we seriously understand that the Israelitish journey is in reality a sacred picture of the journey of the soul by regeneration to heaven, we have got the key to an immense variety of most important and most beautiful truths. We have arrived at a stage in the journey through the Wilderness that brings this truth home to the thoughtful mind, and that will prepare us to appreciate it in some respects which otherwise would have escaped our notice. The Israelites had made their way step by step, overcoming the difficulties of the journey and mastering the opposition that had been brought against them, to the very foot of Mount Horeb,--the place you will remember from which Moses set out in order to accomplish his mission, and thus to lead the people from their Egyptian bondage. So far a circle of operations has been completed. The Lord had appeared, by an angel, to Moses; Moses, having made his way into Egypt, had delivered himself of His mission, had exercised the authority by which he had proclaimed the Israelites were to be set free, and had actually led them out to freedom. Then he had returned with them to the Mount of God safe and sound, to reflect, as it were, on all the proceedings through which they had gone, and to devote themselves anew to the Lord. It is at this period that these divine words were uttered. The Lord says, Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, you have further seen how I have led you; how I bare you on eagles wings, and brought you unto myself. Now, therefore--and here is the divine result to which the Lord draws their attention,--Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people, for all the earth is mine.

The first reflection which we would fain impress upon the minds of all is, that these wonderful things were manifestly done in order to induce the Israelites to be obedient to the Lord, and to prepare them for the ten commandments.

One of the most serious and fatal errors that have afflicted the Christian Church, is to imagine, that there are any means whatever, under the name of any religion whatsoever, that can dispense with obedience to the divine commandments either on earth or in heaven. We say that there are not ANY SUCH MEANS.

You will find according to the Divine Word, as indeed we may see from the very nature of things, that obedience to the divine commandments is the one essential of real improvement and happiness from first to last.

Every one confesses that in Paradise man had to obey. Those who suppose that religion ever since that period has been a sort of machinery by which forgiveness can be obtained without obedience, still profess that in Paradise God laid down the law to man, and said that on the day he disobeyed he would surely die; but if he obeyed, he would live and eat of the Tree of Life and be happy for ever. They suppose, however, that obedience as an essential to salvation then ceased.

But instead of the law of obedience being confined to this period of man s existence and ceasing with our first parents, what do we find immediately followed? When Cain had offended again in a deeper sin than that of Adam, the Divine Words to him were, If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.--Gen. iv, 7. Precisely the very law that was first given. If thou doest well shalt thou not be accepted? whatever thy father may have done, whatever may have been thy condition up to this time, if thou doest well shalt thou not be accepted, and this divine law is always and everywhere proclaimed. Whenever a prophet spake, this was the burden of his speech,--Obey the Lord thy God: do His commandments, and it shall be well with thee. O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever. Deut. v. 29. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us.--Deut. vi. 24, 25.

In the New Testament, at the time when it is supposed by many there was a new system of religion given, as to obedience, as well as in regard to hope and redemption, and that the Lord Jesus came to set aside this law of the divine commandments, the very first address the Lord Jesus gave in His Sermon on the Mount, states and enforces the same essential law of obedience.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill. Whosoever therefore and shall teach men so, he shell be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whosoever shall do and teach them, the some shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.--Matt v. 3, 8, 19, 20. This truth is reiterated by the Savior again and again: Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?--Luke vi.46. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.--Matt. vii. 21. It is the same throughout the Apostolic teaching. Paul says, Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of Good--1 Cor. vii. 19.

The divine Book of the Revelation is equally clear in its teachings. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life; and may enter in through the gates into the city. This obedience to divine law is in the very nature of things indispensable. There could not be a heaven without obedience to every part of the sacred law of the divine commandments It would be totally impossible. It would be just like attempting to make white out of black and blue. The thing could not be done Therefore when the Lord had brought Israel up to this point of their deliverance, and they were free, He proceeds to remind them, that all this has been done to enable them to keep His commandments. That they might be brought into a state, in which the divine commands might be made lovingly, thoroughly, the laws of their affections and their lives--Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then, ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine.

How completely diverse is the whole of this from what is commonly called the scheme of salvation--and very properly called a scheme--a plan of salvation. It is not the divine outgoing of infinite wisdom and the Lords lesson of salvation, but it is A SCHEME, a thing of human ingenuity--a sort of spiritual quibble, which tends to divert those who adopt it from all real progress in goodness and truth.

We are bold to say, the Lord came not to give us any plans instead of the obedience we owe him, but to bring us to such a stage of regenerate life, that His commandments would be the very joy of our hearts, and to break them our greatest sorrow. To a truly heavenly minded man it is a peculiar pleasure to have the happiness of doing the divine laws, because it flows from love itself, and from goodness itself. This is the great object of the lesson before us. But, perhaps, some one will say, do you imagine that a person who has been living in sin all his life, but who repents and is converted, can all at once step out of his former condition into a state of perfect obedience to the Lord Jesus, his Lord? Certainly not. That is not the requirement of the King of Heaven. The person who has been brought out of sin and wickedness in the first state of his regenerate life, striving to quit all evil, is just like the Israelites when they were willing to quit their house of bondage, and go out in haste. But such persons are. always very feeble, ready to fall, liable to be brought into a state of jeopardy and danger again. But the Lord looks upon them as they are, His tender mercies are over all His works. He takes them under His guidance. He breaks down their dangers for them. He says, See what I did to the Egyptians. A young convert is not left to fight his own way out of sin, the Lord fights it for him. If a man had to struggle altogether alone against his own passions and lusts, just as they are, he might as wisely expect to be delivered and brought into an angelic state, as a man might expect on the shores of a rough sea to quell the waves by saying, Thus far shall ye go, and no farther. Such power belongs not to man, it belongs only to the Omnipotent. But then the law of the Omnipotent is that of the God of love, who desires every one of His children to become an angel. He is infinitely watchful in His glorious character of Jehovah Jesus the Savior. You will remember He took a new name when He appeared to the Israelites; He says, I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob by the name of God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them. But this name Jehovah, HE WHO WILL BE, reveals to you the Omnipotent, the Divine Love--our Friend, our Savior, our Redeemer. He can control our passions, He can remedy our evils, He can deliver us from sin, He can redeem us--and He does. And when we come to the Red Sea of difficulty He breaks through for us. He carries before His children the pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day.

And then, He says, before they encounter anything else, Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians. I struck down their power. I helped you to overcome those great forces. I bare you on eagles wings and brought you unto myself. Do not forget I shall be with you in all your troubles, and shall be with you even until you arrive in heaven. This is the first lesson that the Divine Love gives in our text. A men call overcome by divine help the evils that would break him down, by remembering what the Lord has done already, and relying on Him for the future.

The next thing that the Lord tells men to remember is, how He bare them on eagles wings.

And, here, in passing, allow me to point out what is a constant and distinguishing mark of the Divine Word. There is always so much exact truth in the letter, that it affords a firm basis for a man to have confidence that it is the truth of the eternal God, given to immortal man. All, therefore, should beware of undervaluing the letter of the Word. It is the lowest step of the divine ladder, but it is divine. If divine truths were not brought so low that a child could understand them, and that the exactest scientific inquiry might be satisfied of their literal correctness, there would he no satisfactory basis on which we could rest in making our progress upwards. But, there is always so much of variation from literal truth, even in the letter, as to teach us that the letter is not the whole of the Word of God, but that there is something higher and inner. You know it was not literally true that the Lord brought them out of Egypt on eagles wings, and therefore, the statement (as we have intimated is the case throughout the letter of the Word) here teaches us, that the Lords words have a higher meaning. There are spirit and life in them, as well as letter.

The Word of God in this respect is precisely like the person of man. A man is, generally speaking, covered with clothing, but his face and hands are exposed, so as to enable us to see that the clothes are not the man. Even the body itself, although it is usually accounted a clothing for the soul, yet in the features of the face, the soul itself is, as at were, disclosed, showing us that there is something still nobler and grander within. We are told in our text that the Lord bare the people of Israel on eagles wings, and elsewhere there is a reiteration of the same statement, in order to shew us, that in our regenerate life, which the journey of the Israelites represented, we are not only brought step by step, following the Lord in our daily thoughts and works, but we are taught to think of things far more elevated and divine, for this is what is represented by eagles wings.

Birds in the economy of nature, and in the correspondences of the Holy Word, are the symbols of THOUGHTS, because these are like mental birds, they are spiritual powers which can rise up to far loftier flights than the other parts of mans nature. By them man can see widely around. In the Sacred Scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament, you will find frequent references to this correspondence of birds. In Deut. xxxii. 11, 12, we read, As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. Precisely in the same way, it is said, concerning the soul, in the 103rd Psalm, Thy youth is renewed like the eagles, and in Isaiah xl. it is said, They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. And when the Lord describes the character of religion, He says, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. In the same way, in the last portion of the Book of the Revelation, we read, that St John saw one standing in the sun, who said to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God.

It is said, then, the Lord bare them along on the wings of eagles, to teach us, that, in our regeneration, He desires that we should enter into grand things of thought. The eagle is a bird of noble flight; it is not like the sparrow or the owl, to which man in some other states of his spiritual life is compared, as for instance, in the Psalms; but it is a bird of grand plumage, of magnificent flight, that can go towards the sun far more loftily than many other birds, and such mental eagles does the Lord desire all His children to be. He wishes them not only to be obedient, walking in the divine way, but TO THINK, to have magnificent ideas, to dwell upon what He, the Lord Himself, is; what His wisdom is, what the glorious arrangements of the angelic states are. This is to mount up with wings as eagles.

There are some people who shrink from daring to think, who imagine that to think of the future, to conceive what the higher and inner features and truths of religion are, and ought to be, mill be going against the Divine Will.

Why, it is the very purpose of the Divine Will; the Lord wishes His people to think, He endeavors to provoke them to do so, to stir them up as it is very beautifully said in the passage which we have referred to in Deut. xxxii. 32. He is Himself like a divine eagle, stretching out its wings, and inviting His servants to follow. He displays resplendent truths, and excites us to perceive and receive them. He says, As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.

He comes, and, like a divine eagle, stirs up the nest of human thought, when, by permitting some perplexity, He stimulates us to think, He stirs up the appetite. for healthy intellectual progress. This divine eagle flutters over her young with unutterable tenderness, spreadeth abroad her wings, unfolds truth in its higher, grander proportions, and allures and expands the rising intellect, aiding it in its flight, until it enjoys visions of divine light once quite undreamt of. So the Lord alone does lead him, and there is no strange god with him.

The Divine Teacher comes when we find a difficulty in some part of the Word, a difficulty in religious states, a difficulty in understanding some act of the divine providence. These are the very things by which the Lord undertakes: to stir us up. He acts precisely in relation to the soul as He does to the body. He could give to every man the power of having plenty without work; He could make it an easy thing for every person to recline on a bank of roses, with luscious fruits descending into his mouth, and enabling him to exist and subsist, with nothing to do, but simply to indulge in sensual life. But that is not the purpose of the Divine Being. He intends to make us men and women. He intends us to exist in grand ideas, and in the performance of glorious uses. Suppose this had been a world in which there was naturally nothing to do, in which spiritually there was nothing to do; no trouble of thinking about anything; no trouble about learning anything; no trouble in overcoming difficulties; it would not be a world which would make men of us, it would simply make us great masses of self-indulgence, without having those exalted powers which are God-like. Therefore, the Lord induces us to become like Him, loving, wise, active, useful, grand; happy in the general happiness, grand by the contemplation of His sublime wonders glorious beings, that we may mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and never faint.

That is the lesson which He reminds us of in our text. I bare you on eagles wings, and brought you mite myself.

And, now, what is to be done? Are we not to obey, because we have been made grandly wise? Are we not to carry out the Divine Will, because our sins have been encountered as the Egyptians were, and our fetters have been broken like those of the Israelites? Assuredly we are. Hence the Lord says, If you will obey me, and if you will keep my covenant, you shall live in sweet communion with me. Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant,--Keep His covenant, what a beautiful expression! It is, as it were, God and man taking hold of hands. This word covenant is expressive, as we find it in our own language. It is made out of two French words, Con, and venant, coming together, and it represents the Lord coming to us, and our going to him. And this enables us to walk by the divine help. These two things teach us outward obedience, end inward conjunction. If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. You shall become so full of love, of goodness, of wisdom, of every excellence, that no class of men, no nation, no people, no power can for a moment be represented as equal to that which would grow out of such Christian heavenly minds. One of our poets has said, and we all feel it to be the truth-- An honest man's the noblest work of God.

But one who is interiorly honest, one who is thoughtfully loving, who is honest to God by loving Him with all his heart, is not only a peculiar treasure to the Lord, but is the treasure of treasures to himself; he has heaven itself within him, he has the true essence of all happiness on earth.

Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)

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