Wilderness Lessons.

R. Beacon.

1. 1884 125.

Up to Sinai it was a question not of what man was, but of God. Man, that is, Israel, was as much a sinner before the law as after it was given; but, there being no law, God was free to manifest His grace without hindrance. See it first in the Passover where the guilty are sheltered from judgment. This efficacy of the sprinkled blood never left them, carried them through the Red Sea, fed them and gave water in the wilderness. Even when the people murmured, there was no word of reproach from Jehovah, and on the second occasion, after they had left Sinai and were come to Rephidim, when they were ready to stone Moses, no judgment overtakes them, on the contrary there is abundance of water. God was not imputing their sins unto them. They were yet solely under the shelter of the sprinkled blood: God looked at that, and passed over. Such were His ways up to Sinai. There, and still for the purposes of grace, God proposed law to Israel, and obedience as the ground of their possession of Canaan. But Canaan was already promised, and possession could in no wise be conditional upon their obedience. The promise was made four hundred and thirty years before law came in (Gal. 3:17) and could not be disallowed. Why then was law given? To bring out evils which lay hidden in nature, and to display the resources of grace which rose above the evil and put it away. But the evil which broke out under law was necessarily judged, else law would have been dishonoured. Judgment was not needed for the display of grace. Hence before Sinai we see nothing but unmingled grace in God's dealings with Israel. Afterwards, whatever the yearnings of grace over them, judgment through law was a necessity.

In proposing law to Israel God would enlarge the sphere of His grace: for not only would law provoke the evil which already existed in man, but became both the occasion and the cause of transgression. It added transgression to sin. "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Therefore we have two series of teachings in Israel's journeyings from Sinai to Canaan. The old nature is incurable, neither mercy nor judgment can change it; and also the wisdom and the riches of grace which brought in and applied the suited remedy for every phase of evil. So if sin be ineradicable, grace accomplishes a wonderful triumph, for at the close of their journey when the atoning efficacy of the sprinkled blood is fully, though typically, manifested, then the enemy is compelled to say "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob." At the first Jacob had to bar his door and sprinkle blood on the door-post lest the Avenger should enter; now of this same people Balaam is made to express Jehovah's delight in them; "How goodly are thy tents O Jacob, and thy tabernacles O Israel." This delight in them is the result of the finished work of Christ, not because of their ways.

But one way of learning the riches of grace is to look at the sin which brought it out. For however aggravated the sins of Israel were in character, grace while leaving room for law, was greater than the sin.

I purpose looking briefly at a few of the leading events from Sinai to the Jordan. Every preparation was completed on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year; the cloud rises from the tabernacle, and Israel begin their journey. But now under law, they have refused to take possession of the land as the gift of grace, they presume to possess it as the reward of obedience. What is to be expected from those who began the path of obedience with such a blot as to worship the golden calf, in which not only the common people joined, but all from Aaron downwards? No wonder that every event recorded of their journey is a record of sin and rebellion against God.

The order of marching is arranged, captains are appointed. The Levites as having to do with the Tabernacle are numbered by the principal families and the special duties of each are assigned. The observance of due order in all that pertains to His worship and service is of great importance: nor less in the church than with Israel. From twenty years old the men of other tribes were numbered for war; but the Levites must be thirty before they were I permitted to begin their service; they must at least be beyond the age when the rashness and impulsiveness of youth might influence them.

Though at the command of God they leave Sinai and under His protection and guidance, yet how different from the first steps of their journey when they had just passed through the Red Sea! Then they began with a song, the power of Jehovah was the theme of praise. It was He who had overthrown Pharaoh and his host, it was He who had triumphed gloriously. They were not better then than now; why not sing now? They were then simply objects of grace, they had not then uttered the rash vow. How changed their position! No song now. A man under law has no right to sing, only grace gives that privilege. Law genders bondage, never removes the fear of death. How can there be singing in the heart where the fear of death is?

At the Red Sea God was visibly for them without question of obedience. At Sinai the aspect of God towards them was changed. Law had been proposed to them and was accepted. They had engaged themselves to an obedience which they were incapable of rendering. Most true that grace was ever for them, but according to the letter of the law God must be apparently against them. And when believers now assert that they are under law as a rule of life they seem to forget that on law ground, God must be against them. The law was only a test to prove man, and now that the fullest proof of what he is has appeared, the test is removed, no longer necessary. To take it up now as a rule of life, a purpose never intended by God, is to take all its terrible responsibilities, without the sanction of God, yea contrary to His will. The law has served the purpose for which it was given, and is now laid aside. It was just before the final blow (the destruction of Jerusalem) which shattered the outward observances founded upon the law that Paul wrote to the saints who were mixed up with the old thing, "Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." The believer who voluntarily puts himself under law is worse than the over-confident Israelite boldly promising to do all the commandments; for it is now in presence of fullest grace, of the cross given because life could be had in no other way. Such an one under law hinders his own blessing, and settled peace is unknown to him. He can never sing in his heart making melody to God. The more conscientious he is in law-doing, the more will he fear the threatenings of law. And being God's law, it must be against every transgressor. Yet every believer is saved, and God is for him. God cannot be against and for at the same time. Taking law as the rule of a believer's life, puts him in a false position as to his own peace, and is impossible to one in Christ. "If righteousness come by law then Christ is dead in vain."

While looking at Israel under the trial of law what patience is seen in the dealings of God with their rebellious ways! The eternal counsel of grace underlies all. And what a picture of man appears in this eventful journey through the wilderness! On one side what perseverance of grace, on the other, what persistency of evil! But it is not Israel only, save historically, that is seen; for here are the moral lineaments of man, and the exhibition of nature in the most favoured position. Here is a mirror the faithful reflector of him who looks in it — man in the best position, with every advantage, and in result no Gentile so vile as the Israelite. In later years God said by the prophet, "what could have been done to my vineyard that I have not done" (Isa. 5:4)? It is a solemn but a needed lesson: man is morally ruined, and moral means are used to teach him. Yet not there in that journey is the total ruin learnt. The cross alone brought that out fully even as it alone declares the infinite love of God.

Yet God had a "silver line" of witnesses running through the tangled web of murmuring and rebellion. The people often went back into Egypt in their hearts. They remembered and lusted after Egypt's food but forgot Egypt's slavery. How could God bear with them when they had put themselves under law? A most significant fact shows how He could and did bear with them all through the wilderness. The two tables of the law, that law which they had broken, were put within the ark, and upon its lid of gold the blood of atonement was sprinkled. This blood ever met the eye of God. Did the law demand judgment upon the transgressor? There was the blood to meet its righteous demand. The blood-sprinkled mercy-seat covered all. The two tables, the gold and the blood, were together indicative of the mixed system of law-righteousness and grace.

God would be gracious, and under the auspices of Jehovah they began, and went on their journey. The ark of the covenant leading them, the ark that while it contained the law was sprinkled with blood, in itself a pledge that Israel must be brought through the wilderness, and it went first to find out a place of rest for the people; not the rest of Canaan, but a temporary halting place while they were still on journey. The cloud of Jehovah's presence rested upon the ark, and when it rose they went forward. Their following the ark is important but blessed teaching for saints now. There was no pathway through the desert for them, there was no guide through and out of it but the cloud of Jehovah's presence. Nor is there any path for us through this world but that which Jesus has marked; He has gone before and left the print of His footsteps behind that we may not miss the way.

Not exactly the same kind of faith in their following the ark as in saints now following the Lord for they had a visible emblem; we see nothing but we believe the more. Yet in Moses there was confidence in the protection of Jehovah's presence, for when the ark set forward he as representing Israel said, "Rise up, O Jehovah, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee," and when the ark rested he said, "Return, O Jehovah, unto the many thousands of Israel." This was to lead the whole congregation to remember Him who, though hidden in the cloud, was their Guide and Protector notwithstanding their sin. But save in very few, where was the response of gratitude, where the promised obedience, for all this care and watchful guard?

Notwithstanding this wonderful presence they had only gone a three days' journey when they murmur. Jehovah's anger is kindled and fire consumes the uttermost parts of the camp. They had murmured more than once before they reached Sinai, but there was no consuming fire then. There was no answer, but blessing, and Moses is commanded to smite the rock and the water flows. Now they complain and fire immediately breaks out on the borders of their encampment. Why such a difference from the scene at Horeb? They are feeling the consequences of being under law. All is indeed changed and God is demanding the payment of their vows, their promised obedience. But what could be expected from people who had only a few days before worshipped a calf? Three thousand fell then; fire consumes the borders of the camp now, and still they are not changed. How invincible the lusts of men! They are no sooner delivered from the fire than they weep at the recollection of the "cucumbers and the melons, the leeks, and the onions and the garlick;" and worse still they say, "Our soul is died away, there is nothing at all beside this manna before our eyes." But the Word lets us into the secret of their weeping. There was a mixed multitude among them which fell a lusting, and then the children of Israel followed in the same sin and weeping said, "who shall give us flesh to eat?" It was not for water, nor for bread, but for "flesh;" that is, something to gratify the lusting of the heart in common with the mixed multitude. When the heart longs for Egyptian food, the manna from heaven is sure to be despised; and intimacy or even companionship with the world soon brings saints down to the world's level.

One of the first lessons given as to saints is that "evil communications corrupt good manners." To complain of God's dealings with us is what we are prone to; but lusting after Egypt's food is the sure consequence of mingling with the world. The children of Israel followed the example of the mixed multitude (Num. 11:4); and no christian mixes with the world without going down to their level and partaking of their lusts.

2. 1884 161.

The trials of saints, as they come from God, are generally if not always intimately connected with the position grace gives. God in His sovereignty calls His saints to fill various places of service, some to rule and authority, some to teaching or preaching, others may only know the place of suffering and weeping; but all are for the carrying out of one great purpose (I speak of saints) the accomplishment of one will, a whole in which each saint however humble has his part. God has a niche in His temple for each, a place assigned by grace. It is there each is tested. But if grace appoints the place, it is always there to maintain saints in it. Often the trial is allowed through our want of faith to hide the grace, and then we complain and murmur. "But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." He always provides the needed grace. —

There are other trials which have their root in unfaithfulness. God permits such, but does not directly send them, and surely controls and guides to a gracious result, for His mercy endureth for over. Such trials become rods in His chastening hand; but when God sends trial to a faithful saint it is for the purpose of proving faith, which is more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, and of giving further lessons in the school of faith. The fruitful branch is purged that it may bring forth more fruit. More fruit is God's object. Hidden things may be in the heart of the faithful unknown and therefore unjudged. The trial is sent to disclose the hidden thing that it may be purged away. Not all trials are chastisements. We should gravely err if we judged every suffering saint to be under discipline through failure. Where there is faithfulness we often see what appears to be heaviest trials, but in truth it is for the display of the sustaining power of grace that others may see and learn.

Evidently such is the lesson taught as in Gen. 22. Faith was never put to a severer test whether we look at the affection of the father or the obedience of the saint. God did tempt Abraham — sent him a trial — not because of previous failure, but, as being the father of the faithful he is to stand forth prominently as an example to saints of both dispensations, that he might be a witness of that faith which rises above death: a sort of pledge of the revival of Israel from the dust of death, of the fulfilment of the promises of which Abraham was the depository; and equally a witness of the faith of the church of God now, which in a deeper sense is in its most blessed character, a resurrection faith. Death has nothing to say to faith save as being overcome. The natural man lives in the region of death. Faith enters this region and the scene is changed. Christ has overcome the power of death, and faith in Him gives us to share in His victory. I speak, not of practice where we so often allow the enemy to get an advantage over us, but of our standing as victors in Christ. We see the ravages of death around us, but as a penalty we are beyond its reach. The believer and the natural man are in two distinct spheres which are outside each other. The one bears the stamp of death, the other that of eternal life. No example in the Old Testament more shows the power of faith over death than that of Abraham. But this is true Christian faith.

We take an instance of faith under trial from the New Testament; not the victory of faith over death, but over circumstances. The thorn in the flesh was a heavy trial to Paul. It was not sent because of failure, but because of the abundance of his revelation. There was danger lest the flesh should boast, and God gives him a thorn. He prayed thrice for its removal. God tells him that His grace is sufficient, there is no need to remove it, and moreover his infirmity was but an occasion for the power of Christ — to rest upon him. Then he glories in that which he had prayed God to take away. Christ was exalted and Paul was content. Here is the "more fruit," God's object in sending the thorn: no failure and needed chastening here, but a lesson of grace to an honoured servant of Christ.

Scripture gives instances of saints who in their time were as prominent as was Paul in his, but who failed. If Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, Moses was also of Israel in his day. Each had trials specially connected with his position. Some doubted the apostleship of Paul, as Israel before had doubted Moses. In the chapter before us (Num. 11) Moses is exceedingly tried, but his failure under the trial is equally plain. Why does Scripture lay bare the failings of the highest and most honoured servants? That we may learn.

In this instance this great and honoured man does not rise to the height of the position God gave him. He was the leader of the people to the promised land; but instead of a joyful expectant nation hasting to Canaan he hears them weeping for the things of Egypt, and despising the manna. The circumstances are too much for him. Paul prayed about his thorn and God raised him above it. Moses seems to reproach God for laying such a burden upon him. No doubt he was exceedingly tried when he heard the people weeping, but trials which lead to murmuring do not produce the effect God would have. The repose of faith cannot be with a fretful spirit. "The anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, Moses also was displeased." Was his displeasure righteous in character? was it because of their sin against Jehovah, or of his own disappointment in them? His very despondent language is not the expression of trust in God. Nay he forgot that Jehovah was leading the people, and went before them to find a resting place; for he says "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if Thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand if I have found favour in Thy sight and let me not see my wretchedness." Strange words from the meek man Moses. The secret root lay in the word I, "I am not able." No doubt he was not able; but he speaks as if God had appointed him to bear the people alone; and his words to God betray his forgetfulness of the fact that, honoured as he was, he was only a servant. He had not begotten them, nor was he their nursing father, nor to find flesh for them. Forgetting that God had promised all that Israel needed in the wilderness, and this in answer to his own prayer (Ex. 33:12-17), he is overwhelmed with the feeling of his utter incompetency, and would take it as a favour if God killed him out of hand, so that he might not see his wretchedness. If he had remembered that it was God's prerogative to provide, he would not have so spoken, nor have been so wretched. Something of the spirit that broke out in Moses we detect now in the words "my people," "my flock," as used by some of the Lord's servants now in this present day, and who perhaps feel the same "wretchedness" when "their people" are disobedient. They are shepherds truly and must give account how they feed (not "their" flock but) the flock of God. They forget the Great Shepherd as Moses forgot Jehovah.

How full of grace the way of God with him. If the dignity of his position is touched by others being associated with him, is it not a very gentle rebuke for his want of faith in the resources of God? Also God meets him oil his own ground; he said he was not able, and seventy others are appointed to assist him. The gentle rebuke is seen again in the word of God to him, "I will take of the Spirit that is upon thee and will put it upon them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone." The effect is that they prophesy and did not cease. Proof this that God had endowed him with sufficient wisdom, but it was obscured by the thought of self, and he did not seek power from God. "That thou bear it not thyself alone" is the way God brings before him the root of his failure. Not that he had to bear it, but that he thought so, or at least he forgot that both he and Israel were borne of God through the wilderness as with the tenderness of a nursing father.

Seventy gives no equal number for each tribe. Composed of two factors seven and ten, the first is used to denote perfection, or completeness in spiritual things, outside providential administration. No such completeness is denoted by "ten." The perfection of earthly government is connected with the number twelve; and when the millennial age is come all that seven and twelve signify will be manifest in the perfection of spiritual power and of earthly administration. That perfection is reserved for the Son of man.

Does not this number contain the latent idea of imperfection? That is, was it not intended to convey it — as belonging to a system that had only a limited time to remain, and, when the whole nation is taken up again, to give place to the authority of Him who has the seven Spirits of God, and whose apostles, they who followed Him as the rejected Man on the earth, shall sit upon the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel? But of this we are sure that the number "seventy" is not confined to its mere historical significance. For we do not read that the seventy elders took any part in bearing the burden of the people; they disappear, and Moses alone is the channel of communication between Jehovah and the people. Aaron was sometimes joined with him, but Moses ordinarily the more prominent. It follows that there is an intimation of something future; and that it could not be in any case a display of divine wisdom to meet an unforeseen contingency. It is however a brief glance. The present purpose was a rebuke to Moses; this given, the chosen elders disappear.

Moses forgot the power of God, and looking at himself saw only weakness. It is something to know we are weak, but why not look to God? Was this the first time that he had looked to other than God? All are prone to look to self or to man. If in a work God gives us to do, self in the form of diffidence often appears, and as often when not sent, self is very bold. Before God sent him to deliver Israel, Moses is bold and slays an Egyptian, thinking that Israel would know that they were to be delivered by his hand (Acts 7:25). The consequence was, Moses had to flee. Forty years after, God appears in the burning bush. The boldness of nature is gone and in its place is the diffidence of nature. Diffidence has a very amiable appearance sometimes, but it is sin when it prevents obedience. Here was want of faith in the power of God, the same thing we see in Num. 11. But a similar want of trust in God led him to yield to Jethro's advice (Ex. 18:18 etc.). Not by Jehovah's command but by Jethro's counsel he made subordinate judges. Swayed by his father-in-law he left the place of confidence in God, and deputed his own work to others. A still graver feature of this form of self appears in Num. 10:31. He had put others in his own place, now he puts man in God's place; he invites Hobab to remain, "for thou mayest be to us instead of eyes." What need of Hobab's eyes, if Jehovah is there? This is preferring human wisdom to God's leadings. This is not of faith. When a time of difficulty comes instead of quiet trust in God, as when he said "stand still and see the salvation of God" he breaks out in complaint against God. "And if Thou deal Thus with me." How unbelief grows even in a believer when the root is unjudged. At the first a false humility, then deputing to others the work God had given him, next seeking guidance from man, at length despondent and in "wretchedness" asking to be taken out of it altogether.

Jethro told him it was too much for him, and he believes it, and tells God he is not able. It is in effect saying God had put the wrong man to lead Israel. Is not this very near charging God with folly? See what comes of listening to man in the things of God, Jethro would relieve Moses of part of his burden, and no doubt he meant kindly, but he was interfering with God's order. Moses yielded then, and now breaks down entirely, and this great and honoured servant of God, having lost confidence, is as other men; he would like to find a refuge in death from his "wretchedness." So also did Elijah many years after, a servant nearly as prominent in the land as was Moses in the wilderness. But each was tried through the wickedness of the people, and their trust in God was tried in accordance with the relation each bore to Israel. No other could have had their trial which was peculiar to their position. And God used their special circumstances as a trial of faith. In their failure there is a common feature, they both wish for death (1 Kings 19:4). For both forgot the power of God. And "I" is prominent in each. I am not able, said Moses; and, I only am left, said Elijah. To each the power of God is displayed; to Moses in the miraculous supply of quails; to Elijah, in the tempest, the earthquake, and the fire. He who knew the heavy strain that was put upon them, was very gentle to them.

Many a saint tried with much sorrow longs to be away. It is a blessed thing to long to be with Christ. It is far better to depart and be with Christ. But that is the question; is it to be with Christ or away from the world? If only the latter it is different from the prayer of the Lord on our behalf, "I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil." To long to he out of the world merely because we are weary is not submission to His will. It was weariness that made Moses wretched and say, "kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand," and that made Elijah say, "It is enough, take my life, I am not better than my fathers." That is, notwithstanding his mission as a prophet, he was in no better condition than those who went before him.

This losing sight of the power of God comes out still more when Moses is commanded to say to the people that they shall have flesh for a whole month. He is astonished, and dares even to challenge the power of God, The people are six hundred thousand footmen, and Thou hast said that they may eat a whole month. Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them to suffice them? or shall the fish of the sea be gathered together for them to suffice them?" Such doubt, in one who had seen the Red Sea divided, and the people pass through dry-shod, who had seen water gush from the dry rock, and bread rained upon them from heaven, would be incredible did we not know that the integrity of faith can only be maintained when all other dependence than that on God is cast aside. The challenging God's power here is just the result of following Jethro's counsel, and is a very natural sequence to inviting Hobab to be eyes for them through the wilderness. Some one has said that faith is omnipotent, and in the sense that all things are possible to faith, it is true; on the other hand, let but the slightest taint of flesh touch it, and the man of faith becomes as Samson when his Nazarite locks were cut off. Nothing so strong as faith, nothing so weak as a man who has lost faith. It was a far more solemn thing to doubt the power of God than his previous reproaches, to which he had given way through his "wretchedness." And a more direct rebuke comes from God. "Is Jehovah's hand waxed short?" What a reminder is here of previous wonders and mighty signs and deliverances, and how it must have overwhelmed the soul of Moses as the past history of the people flashed upon him. But it is accompanied with grace. The self, the despondency, and the unbelief, all disappear in presence of that mighty word of grace, "Thou shalt see now whether My word shall come to pass unto thee or not." And the grace is in this, that God makes the miracle to have a special bearing upon him. "Thou shalt see," but he waits not to see before he believes. The word brings him back to his true place before God. The word came for his sake, and it accomplishes that for which it was given. We hear no more desponding words, and doubts of God's ability to supply flesh for the people: he immediately goes to them and tells them the words of Jehovah with all the authority of restored faith.

How sweet it was to him, when confidence is again restored, to dwell upon the condescension of God in making His word come to pass, as He says, "Unto thee." Were the people unthought of? Was it not to provide for them? Yea, verily, but to bring Moses to judge his doubts, and to bring him before the people as the faithful servant was of greater moment even than feeding the thousands of Israel. And so God says, "Thou shalt see whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not." He had gone down very far in the depths of unbelief, but God had gone down after him and brought him up out of the mire of doubt and set him again upon faith as a rock. But he has learnt a new lesson, as well as re-learnt the old one of faith. And the new lesson is brokenness of spirit: he is humble and would have all the Lord's people prophets like himself. Not now "I" a leader, but one of the led. If the thought had not been in his heart that he himself was Israel's nursing father, and had to bear them in his bosom, he would not have uttered such unseemly language to God when he found he was unable. God was the nursing Father, and Moses judges himself and bows; God makes it manifest to him that He has resources outside the flocks and the herds, yea, other than the fish of the sea, and that He alone is able to bear the burden of this people. It is made manifest unto Moses — "unto thee." That Moses had truly bowed to the rebuke of God's grace, is plain from his words to Joshua who, jealous for the honour of his master, would have Eldad and Medad silenced. God had taken of his spirit and had put it upon them, but it evokes no feeling of jealousy in the breast of Moses. "Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all Jehovah's people were prophets, and that Jehovah would put His Spirit upon them." That great "I" just before so prominent is gone, and remembering the word of God that He would take of the Spirit that was upon himself and put it upon the seventy, be desires the Spirit of Jehovah to rest upon all the people. Not a few to be nearly equal to himself, but all Israel to be prophets endowed with the Spirit of Jehovah. Where would then be the leadership and prominency of Moses? He would only be as one of them. This is the spirit of his prayer, this makes manifest that the lesson of grace was not in vain to him. True faith and self-abasement always go hand in hand.

What holy teaching for the church of God! A page from the history of the secret life of Moses which God alone had read. No ear but His heard the desponding cry of His servant. Israel knew nothing of it. The process was a secret between God and Moses, and gone through in His presence. Moses learnt there something that the law could not teach, the grace of God in spite of his failure. The power of faith in the end overcoming his fear and distress, is beyond those who take their stand on law-doing. Therefore all is hidden from the people who could not have entered into it. But it is written for the admonition of the saints of this dispensation that we may watch against the first risings of unbelief, which if unjudged works like leaven, unseen it may be, till some trial brings it out bare before us. What a mercy then to find that we can take all to God. What grace that even if filled with murmurs, God listens and answers our hearts' need, not dealing with us according to our foolish words. Moses went into the presence of God murmuring, grieving, and doubting, but he comes out believing, and his burden removed, and carries the message of Jehovah direct to the people. This failure of Moses in patience and trust is one of God's lessons of faith as we journey through the wilderness. As our Lord said, "Watch and pray," there is no one however exalted in service can cease to watch and to pray without suffering loss.

3. 1885 193.

The result for Moses after the trial, though found wanting during the time, is blessing. He did not despise the manna, but there was righteous judgment for those that did despise it, longing for Egypt's food. Moses, though desponding and unbelieving, carried his trouble to God and was delivered. With the people it was very different; they simply lusted after flesh, and God in His displeasure gave them their desire. Solemn indeed the condition when the granting of our requests becomes a judgment. There was abundance given till they loathed it, "Because that ye have despised Jehovah who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?" This loathing was not the mere natural effect of surfeiting, it had a feature which marked it as a special judgment. Nor was that all: direct and immediate wrath fell upon them. There was no delay, for "while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of Jehovah was kindled against the people, and Jehovah smote the people with a very great plague." There was both the plague and the wrath.

This is God's righteous way of dealing with people under law. Later on in their history there was more forbearance shown them; but forbearance at this particular time would have compromised the righteousness of God. There was a divine necessity for immediate judgment. The ways of grace had been largely displayed. If they choose law, they must learn God's ways as a Righteous Governor. And where grace is despised, judgment is always heavier.

Saints now may fall into something analogous to Israel's sin. When the heart is drawn away from Christ, and becomes dissatisfied with the portion of grace, that which drew the heart aside soon becomes naught but a disappointment and a loathing. When the pleasant things of this life, its riches, honours, or even its quiet ease become an object of desire, not subject to the will of God, their Egypt character is practically forgotten and in heart like Israel saints go back into Egypt. In such a condition of soul Christ is displaced as the object of our affections; the love of the things of the world grows in the heart which necessarily brings upon the soul chastisement from the Father. A not uncommon form of chastening is disappointment in the things once coveted, then acquired, and afterwards loathed. Disappointments like this are found among men, but with them it is simply the reaction of nature. With saints God uses these disappointments to wean them from the love of the world and draw them nearer to Himself. He gives the consciousness that fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ is practically lost. Next He creates a longing in the soul for a renewal of intercourse, and then He leads again to the green pastures and still waters, and the dross character of Egypt's fare appears. Many saints have to go through such disappointments.

We have had a glimpse of the inner life of Moses, and we have seen the gracious way in which God dealt with his native unbelief, so that after the process he appears again as the faithful servant and special messenger of Jehovah to the people. Circumstances, though no excuse, hid from Moses for a moment the power of God to meet all need. The time for faith without sight was not yet come, and God in accordance with His dispensational dealings, says "thou shalt see." The superior blessedness of believing without seeing is the privilege of saints now. The characteristic of faith under the law was to see and believe. Moses did believe before he saw, but he waited to see as the confirmation of his faith. Not so with us. We truly wait to see, not confirmation while here below of the absolute certainty of God's promises, but their fulfilment in the glory when the church in heaven and Israel on the earth shall prove how true the word of God is. Yea, fulfilment will unveil more unto our eyes than we can now discern in the fullest promise.

Here in Num. 12 we have two different lessons to which we will do well to take heed. The one is to beware of spiritual pride, and to bow to God's will in the order of His house; the other, God's intervention on behalf of His despised servant. "And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married." Moses rejected by Israel (Acts 7:27) and in exile marrying a Gentile was the foreshadowing of the rejection of One greater than he, of One who during the time of His rejection calls His bride from among the Gentiles. It was only a shadow, and the substance was needed to learn its import. The True Light dissolves all shadows. But this marriage affords a specious opportunity for disputing the position of Moses whose meekness, so marked in wishing that all the Lord's people were prophets, does not shelter him from envy and depreciation. Indeed it not infrequently happens that the most meek are the most exposed to the shafts of envy, to the disparaging statements of those who are greatly inferior. And we have an instance here that not even the tie of kindred prevented Miriam and Aaron from speaking against their brother. The pretence is his marriage with the Ethiopian woman. It was only a peg whereon to hang their jealousy. The Pharisees showed a kindred spirit when, in their envy of the Lord and hatred of His grace, they objected to His eating with publicans and sinners. And this spirit is as insidious, as various in its aspects. The Pharisaic brethren in Jerusalem were not free from its influence when they charged Peter with going to men uncircumcised and eating with them.

Miriam and Aaron soon show their real thought, and present themselves as of equal importance with Moses. Not his marriage but his position offends them. "Hath Jehovah indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath He not spoken also by us?" Whatever the pretext envy may use, how soon it unmasks itself and discovers its naked deformity! If these two gave vent to their jealous feeling in the hearing of the people, they must have fallen immediately in the estimation of every discerning Israelite. But there is a far more solemn thing than losing the esteem of man. "And Jehovah heard it." They were not thinking of Jehovah, but of themselves; pride and jealousy swayed them; and when the heart is under the influence of such feelings, it easily finds an excuse for speaking against God's servants. All that is unkind and untrue is unscrupulously used, all that is brotherly is forgotten, under cover of a pretended zeal for God and His truth. But the Lord will soon bring every secret thing into the light, and the hidden, and perhaps in many an instance the unsuspected, spring will appear. Then each will receive according to the things done in the body.

The prominency given to Moses when God miraculously confirmed His word by him in providing flesh for the people seems that which so particularly stirred up the envy of Miriam and Aaron. But such an outbreak was the result of feelings which had been permitted to grow and take form in their heart. It is well to remember that, if we allow and do not judge the root, God will make the fruit manifest, and to our shame. It is evident that the indulgence of evil in their hearts had rendered them both incapable of estimating the true position of Moses. His despondency at the beginning might have been known to them; but they knew not the secret dealing of God with him. And when he with renewed faith in the power of God went to the people with the words of Jehovah, the great change from unbelief to faith, from despondency to confidence, may have surprised them. The immediate confirmation of the word spoken by Moses in the wrath that fell upon the people only helped to bring out the unholy feeling of jealousy. Why should he be so distinguished? Is he the only one to whom Jehovah gives His word for the people? why should he be so pre-eminent? "hath He not spoken by us also?"

God confirms Moses in his place, and asserts His own sovereignty as to whom He speaks and the manner of communication. He assigns to each his place in His house. Aaron would intrude into the office God had given to Moses. There was not merely envy and pride, but the spirit of disobedience against God. Therefore the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Aaron and Miriam.

It was a solemn moment when Jehovah said "Come out, ye three, unto the tabernacle of the congregation." The tabernacle received that name when Moses set it up outside the camp as a witness against an idolatrous people, and against Aaron and his calf (Ex. xxxiii). The question then was between Jehovah and the people. Moses acts at once, in separation, apart from the established order. All that sought the Lord resorted to it. And Moses was most prominent, for it was then no personal slight. The majesty and truth of God were assailed. In meekness he leaves that in the hand of God. What a lesson here for the servants of the Lord in the face of depreciation, or even calumny! And Moses is held up by the word as a pattern. What a testimony the Spirit gives of this man! "Now the man Moses was very meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." Yet afterwards he failed in meekness (Num. 20:10). There was but one perfect Man the earth ever saw, who never failed, who with divine truth could say of Himself, "I am meek and lowly in heart." Moses was only a man, and to have asserted his own meekness would have proved the contrary. If we may so say, he asserted his meekness by saying nothing. But the Holy Spirit declares it: none so meek as he. Enough for him that Jehovah heard the injurious words of Miriam and Aaron. The question now apparently is between Moses on the one side, and Miriam and Aaron on the other. He who was prompt to act and be foremost in separation, when the question was between Jehovah and idolatry, is now meek and silent in the presence of his depreciators. But as he formerly stood for God, now God appears for him. God takes the matter up as His own, and calls the three unto the tabernacle of the congregation, and the two guilty ones are made to know that it is not so much against Moses as against God they have spoken. And mark how God puts honour upon His faithful and meek servant. Moses on the former occasion stood boldly for the honour of God; now God appears for him and puts honour upon him. None has such intimacy with God as he. "If there be a prophet among you, I Jehovah will make myself known unto him in a vision and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak month to mouth even apparently [visibly] and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of Jehovah shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"

Miriam is smitten with leprosy and only restored at the intercession of the man she had depreciated. And Aaron also has to bow and acknowledge the superior place of Moses. "Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned." "Moses cried unto Jehovah saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee," and an immediate proof of his intimacy with God is given. After the necessary seclusion of seven days Miriam was brought in again. And thus Moses necessarily stands higher than he did before. God knows how to bring down pride, and provide for the honour of His servants when they are meek; and not less in this day than when Moses lived. Only let not servants attempt to vindicate themselves. The right way and the right time are known to God alone. Till then "in patience possess ye your souls."

The whole congregation feel the consequences of Miriam's position; while she is shut up, the people journey not. She was one of the leaders. "I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam" (Micah 6:4). It was "Miriam the prophetess" (Ex. 15:20) who led the dance with timbrel and song when Jehovah triumphed over the Egyptian foe. But the more prominent, the more responsible; and the more marked is the judgment. This is a principle not peculiar to the dispensation of the law, it is ever seen in God's government. In God's first recorded act of government in the garden, it is most evident. Eve, seduced by the serpent, seduces Adam. Though Eve was the first transgressor, God begins with the man as the more responsible. He points to the woman, and she to the serpent, as the true culprit; but God comes back to the man and finishes with him. And it is to the man that death is pronounced; the woman was included surely, but the solemn word that he should return to dust after a life of sorrow and toil was spoken to him. And I gather that Miriam seduced Aaron as Eve did Adam. Miriam takes the lead in the sin. It was "Miriam and Aaron" that spake against Moses. But when God calls them, it is "Aaron and Miriam" (ver. 5). The word of God is as precise in the order of words as in their choice. The woman is prominent; it is one mark of sin that it always interferes with God's order of things, and where God as Creator enjoined subjection, there to assume the command. Had Aaron maintained his place, he would not have followed his sister in sin against God. But God puts her in her place; and in judgment Aaron, as the more responsible person who should have rebuked his sister, stands first. He is the guiltier before God.

If so, why is it that Miriam, not he, is smitten with leprosy? Is not God showing here — as in other instances — that the woman represents the position, the result of sin, while in the man we see the unfaithfulness which led to the position? Aaron spiritually was as much a leper as Miriam, but she in the wisdom of God becomes the public witness of His judgment. If Aaron had been a leper, the whole service of the sanctuary would have been interrupted. God in judgment remembers mercy. Moses appears in his highest official character — as mediator. Aaron intercedes for Miriam with Moses. But it is Moses who stands between them and God. So it will be again. The prophet like unto Moses will appear. The leaders of the people have spoken against the MEDIATOR of the new covenant, and again the leaders will have to bow to His supremacy, and the typical Moses is only foreshadowing what the Lord will yet do when He brings in the new earthly covenant for Israel. He will stand between God and the guilty leprous people, and in the due time they all shall be healed.

Another consequence of the leprosy of Miriam is that the native energy of God in leading the people through the wilderness is suspended. God would show the people that it was no ordinary failure, nor was she an ordinary person. Such a sin as hers could only have been by one in her position. Neither she nor Aaron were novices, but they fell into the condemnation of the devil (1 Tim. 3:6). God resented their speaking against His servant; in no other case do we read of God's challenge, "Were ye not afraid?" When a "leader" sins, the consequences for the congregation or for the assembly are far greater than if another fail. The influence of leaders in the assembly of God is a solemn reality, and their position is a weighty factor in the discipline which failure inevitably brings. The body suffers if the least member is injured, much more if it be an important member. Individual members of the church of God may not through a leader's failure lose communion with God, nor cease to grow in grace and in knowledge, even while bearing the common shame on their heart and humbled on account of it. But the assembly as a whole is hindered in the path of public testimony for Christ; and there cannot be greater hindrances to corporate testimony than the spirit that actuated Miriam and Aaron, a spirit that has dared to intrude into the church of God, the church which is called the pillar and ground of the truth. The world may well say — the witnesses are not agreed: of what value is their testimony (John 17:21)? As a witness for Christ the church of God is like Miriam shut up as a leper. Will the leprosy be healed? Yes, I am fully persuaded that God will bring the simple and faithful into closer intimacy with Himself, and that, by a deeper feeling of dependence upon Him. Thus, though it be a narrowed sphere, and more manifest weakness, grace will produce a brighter and a clearer testimony.

The Holy Spirit (ver. 3) bears testimony to the meekness of Moses, in ver. 7 to his faithfulness, and this last is Jehovah's word to Aaron and Miriam. It is a wonderful testimony. Was he faithful when he doubted God's power? But that was not a public failure. It was the secret exercise of a soul that had not yet learnt the all-sufficiency of God for every emergency, and when he appeared before the congregation, every trace of the conflict was gone. God had given him victory. His failure here was not public and official. God says, "faithful in all my house." It is the public testimony that is meant, as "my house" shows. Up to that time Moses by no outward act had been unfaithful. And how did this commendation of Moses fall upon the ear of Aaron? Was it not a rebuke? If there was ever a time when Aaron recalled with shame the memory of his unfaithfulness in the matter of the calf, it must have been when God commended the faithfulness of Moses. God intended Aaron to feel it, for he when speaking against Moses had forgotten it. If we remember oar failures, God will forget them; but if we forget, God will bring them painfully to our remembrance.

In a later day Moses forgot both meekness and faithfulness, when he and Aaron together failed (Num. 20), "because ye believed me not to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel." This was a great public failure, yet in a still later day the Holy Ghost again records that Moses was faithful in all His house (Heb. 3:5). And why in Numbers is it "mine house" and in Hebrews "his house"? Why the change from my, to his? Because the Son was come, and the old "house" is no longer owned. The foundation of the new "house" (Eph. 2:19–22) was laid, and Christ as Son over His own house is not a servant but Lord. And He alone is the Faithful, and His house has put out of sight the old house in which, notwithstanding his eminence, Moses was only a servant. But is it not wonderful, that though Moses failed so that he was not permitted to enter Canaan, yet centuries after the testimony of the Spirit concerning the man is "faithful in all his house?" Such is the reckoning of grace.

IV. 1885 209.

In Numbers 13 – 15 Israel is brought to the border the promised land. Up to this point they have seen of wonderful things. The Red Sea divided for them, quails miraculously brought, manna rained down from heaven, water from the smitten rock, in short nothing but mercy and goodness marked God's dealings with them. Though they murmured, God gave them all they needed. They should know that He was Jehovah their God by His goodness. After the giving of the law when judgment necessarily came in, still mercy was the prominent feature. God prepared the way as before, led them, and gave them victory. There could be no obstacle to His power, and, if led by Him, no need for the exercise of their own prudence and wisdom.

At this point (Num. 13) they seem to think it right to judge for themselves, they would be independent of God. On former occasions it was the outbreak of nature discontented with the way and longing for the things of Egypt. Here on the border of the land there is no cry for bread or for water, but human prudence interfering with the path of faith. Prudence surely has its sphere; but when the word of God is given, human prudence and wisdom is sin. Had not God said He would drive out the Canaanites? What need to search? Moses said "Be of good courage." Good courage would not have gone to spy out the land, but would have acted at once upon the word of God. Vain the exhortation to be courageous when there is no faith in the promise; and the sequel proved there was no good courage. "Bring of the fruit of the land." Why? Had not God said it was good; they wanted to see for themselves: — was the land as good as God said? Yea, it was marvellous; two men were required to bring back a branch with one cluster of grapes. The searchers that brought back an evil report are compelled to say, "surely it floweth with milk and honey." But there was an insurmountable obstacle to their possessing it: they of the land were strong, the cities walled and great, and the children of Anak were there!

The evil report was not that the spies lied in saying the people were strong and the cities were great (all these would but make more manifest the power of God), but because in effect it was denying God's power and His right to give the land to whomsoever He pleased. For unbelief the land belonged to giants, and they themselves were only grasshoppers: what could they do?

We may ask, if the searching of the land was not of faith, why did God say, "Send thou men that they may search the land of Canaan?" Was He about to cease from going before them, to leave them to their own resources? Nay, God remained the same, His power and faithfulness to His own word were unchanged. Why then did God tell Moses to send spies? What was the occasion for this seeming change in His manner with them? Deut. 1:21 furnishes the answer. There we find the word of Jehovah God, "Go up and possess it," not search it. The people say they will send men to spy out the land. This is disobedience. Moses is pleased with their proposal. Was it of faith to be pleased? Why listen to the people when God had said, "go up and possess it?" It is at least weak to encourage others in a faithless path. Nevertheless God heard their words and proves the people. Now He gives the command, "Send thou men."

This is not the only instance where God allows man to have his way, fulfilling His own purpose all the same. In Balaam's case God first commanded him not to go to Balak. Balaam betrayed his own will in still seeking God's sanction. Then God said, Go. Yet He met him in the way and would have slain him, only that the ass saw more than the man. Wilfulness sometimes appears in the people of God; hindrance of blessing is the sure result. Moses, the honoured servant of God, apparently forgets both the promise and the command, yielding to the faithless people. How often saints overlook the path of faith and give way to circumstances, even to the being pleased with what is not according to the word of God!

Israel did not trust in Him who gave the promise, and they fell under the fear of man. They should I have remembered that giants and walled cities were but grasshoppers before the word of God. Unbelief reverses the word, and they become the grasshoppers. Faith is powerful to the pulling down of the strong holds of sin and Satan; unbelief builds them up. In righteous judgment God allows them to be what they in unbelief said they were, "We are in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." Even so, what a bright opportunity for the confidence of faith! And how many such like opportunities saints now lose through fear of man! A victory is brought within our reach; we fail, and the opportunity is gone forever. We fail, not in the fight, but in faith to meet the foe. So with Israel, they think not of the fruitful land flowing with milk and honey, but of the walled cities; not of the grapes of Eshcol but of the sons of Anak; not of the promise of God but of the power of the enemy.

Possession of the land was from the beginning the hope set before them. Caleb and Joshua cleave to it, and seek to bring the people to a right mind. They endeavour to stem the torrent of unbelief, and count upon the presence of God. "Jehovah is with us: fear them not." Faith, when prominent as a witness for the truth of God's word, in every case as here, meets with the murderous enmity of the world. "All the congregation bade stone them with stones."

If Moses erred in being pleased with the proposal to send spies, it did not touch the root of his faith, or lessen his concern for the honour of Jehovah; it was a momentary forgetfulness. And God gives him the occasion to prove that his care for Jehovah's word is greater than any desire for his own glory. "How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me for all the signs which I have showed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence and disinherit them and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they."

Moses' first thought is, What will the Egyptians say? what the inhabitants of this land? It is Jehovah's word and honour that fills his heart; and to keep Jehovah's name from being dishonoured by the people of Israel, he prays that Israel be forgiven. That was God's way with them "from Egypt even until now."

In presence of such deep sin and the threatening of God to disinherit them, how instructive to have given to us the true ground of appeal for mercy and forgiveness. Not our need, great as it may be, not even repentance heartfelt and true, but the glory of God, the honour of His name, the written pledge of His faithfulness to those who are under The Blood. For this He puts away the sins and failures of His own people. When we pray, after making known our requests and praying for a Father's forgiveness, do we fully enter into the meaning of "for the sake" or "in the name of Jesus Christ?" Is it merely in our minds a concluding formula? Yet God our Father hears it in its full and blessed import, and answers our prayers according to Him. Otherwise no answer could righteously be given. So in the pleading of Moses who, utterly forgetful of self, of the glory of being the father of a greater nation, urges the honour of Jehovah's Name as a reason why the people should be forgiven; for the nations would say that Jehovah was not able to bring the people into the land. God hears the prayer and passes over the people's sin. Wonderful combination here! God maintains the honour of His Name, and shows mercy to Israel, vindicating His righteousness in judgment. This is the glory which shall fill the earth. Israel is now driven from it, and the ungodly shall never enter it. But mercy is in store for the remnant — the little ones; they shall possess it and become a nation. God is here, and will then show Himself a Righteous Governor. The men who brought up an evil report of it should never see the land; they died by the plague before Jehovah (Num. 14:37). The earth is not yet filled with His glory, but the Psalmist in view of it says, "Praise waiteth for Thee, O God."

But here we see again the consequence of having put themselves under law. They must turn again to the wilderness, and their carcases should fall in it. They despised their hope, and it is taken away. Not one above twenty should enter the land, save Caleb and Joshua. The little ones, for whom they pretended to care, God would bring in. In forty years that generation should be wasted in the wilderness, and thus should they know God's breach of promise. They had charged God with bringing them unto the land to die by the sword (ver. 3), and their fearful words come home to them in retributive judgment. "Ye shall know my breach of promise."

How incapable is man of submitting to God! When brought to the land he would not enter by faith, but would ascertain by the light of human wisdom the possibility of possession; not by faith but by sight. The land was promised; but faith, not works, responds to promise. The same rebelliousness of nature appears when commanded to turn again to the wilderness; for then they essayed to take possession. So said Stephen in a later day, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye." True faith produces obedience, fleshly confidence is ever opposed to God's ways. The result of their presumption is most disastrous. So confident were they in their own powers that they went without the ark, and contrary to God's command. Yet they pleaded the promise (ver. 40). Too late, man is always ready to plead the word as a sanction for his disobedience; that is, having determined his course, he seeks to make it appear to be the will of God. Are we exposed to the danger of undertaking any thing without God, or questioning His known will? Let us take heed; for in presence of the world's opposition to Christ, we — unaccompanied by the ark — shall find ourselves to be only grasshoppers and the enemy to be a giant.

Their sin serves to bring out in brightest prominence the faithfulness of God to His word of promise. Israel's sin cannot nullify the purposes of grace. Righteous judgment may cause delay, but the promise unconditionally given must be performed. The forty years in the wilderness was a necessary and righteous judgment. But up to the end, mercy will ever rejoice over judgment, and the promise is reaffirmed. "When ye be come into the land." Oh! how blessedly does this same unchangeableness of purpose shine for us, how much fuller, yea, with an eternal meaning! "I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish." With failure and unbelief marking our path, though we have better promises, more God-dishonouring than them, how much brighter shines the grace of our Lord! "Nothing shall take you out of my hand." Here is not only the assurance of final triumph — more than conquerors through Him — but the power for daily victory over self and the world.

The being brought to the land was their special testing, and more momentous than their former trial at Sinai. There it was the corruption of the flesh. They feasted in honour of their idol and then rose up to play. They imitate the idolatrous revelry of the Egyptians even in this less guilty and more honest than Aaron. The people boldly said, "These be thy gods, O Israel, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt," but Aaron sought to join Jehovah's name to their idol. When he saw it, he built an altar before it and proclaimed, "Tomorrow is a feast unto Jehovah."

Here at the border of the land, there is nothing riotous, or outwardly unseemly; no idol, no feasting and playing. On the contrary the respectable world which condemns the obscenities of idolatry, approves the wisdom which guided Israel then. Was it not praiseworthy prudence before entering a hostile country to ascertain the probabilities of victory, and the enemy's power of resistance? The sin here is independency of God. They would test the fruitfulness of the land and the strength of the inhabitants. Little did they think that God was testing them, not merely by law — that had been done — but after He had proclaimed Himself "merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth." Hebrews 3 refers to this very time; it is the day of temptation, "When your fathers tempted me"; and the Holy Spirit employs another word — provocation — to show the exceeding iniquity of their sin. They saw His works forty years and were continually provoking Him. But Heb. 3 has special reference to this time. "So I sware in my wrath they shall not enter into my rest" (cf. Num. 14:23; Heb. 3:8-11). This despising of the land was the provocation.

But there is more here than the longsuffering of God, or the making bare man's heart, which refuses God's blessings as such, and seeks to obtain them by its own judgment and strength. Man does not submit to be simply a receiver. The fact is, it was not God's purpose to bring them into the land then. The lessons of the wilderness were but beginning, many more were to come. In this, and the following, God had before Him the varied results and efficacy of the work of Christ in its application to the need of saints now passing through this wilderness world. And man had to be in a condition where grace in all its fulness could be displayed, and that to the glory of God, when on man's part every thing was forfeited. Israel, driven from the land after having seen it and tasted its fruit, were worse than ever before. They were twice lost, twice ruined; and the first at Sinai not nearly so complete as now. They were not sent to forty years' wandering only for worshipping the calf. God then proclaimed His Name, though even then as One who would by no means clear the guilty. As a prophetic declaration having in view the spared remnant and the guilty unrepentant nation, we apprehend, in measure, its meaning; but as the principle of salvation where all are guilty and lost, impossible of application. For it is the guilty that are cleared, and the lost are saved. Here at the border of the land, where ruin is absolute, there is no word of not clearing the guilty, but "when ye be come into the land." Thus does mercy triumph over judgment, and grace over law.

What then of those who say that though saved by grace we are under law as a rule of life? Nay, to accept law in any sense is to deny the Spirit's power and guidance; for accepting the law implies my power to keep it — grace, that nothing keeps me but the power of God. We read the lesson of what our power is in Israel acknowledging the goodness of the land but despairing to possess it. They lost, for the time, the land. And Christians who put themselves under law as a rule of life lose the enjoyment of peace and blessing which are known only through grace.

It was so with Israel at that moment. Law was then not set aside, yet here is an instance, among many, where the grace which was afterwards to be revealed, rises above the provocation, and shines with prophetic light. There are further lessons of how God can meet special sins, where man's nature is more fully displayed. We always find in each page of the people's journeying that the persistency of sin is met by grace still more persistent. Christ also as the Object of faith was to be set forth in more striking and wondrous types, in grace and wisdom assuming that form and aspect suited to meet each phase of sin as it broke out. And the phases of sin we see in the wilderness could not have been in the land. We are in the wilderness and liable to the same sins. The lessons there taught are more for us than for them. Had grace then led them in, we should have lost some of the richest manifestations of Christ as Priest and Intercessor. Not only was the wilderness the necessary scene for the peculiar evil of man, and for the grace to meet it, but our time also. And the forty years of judgment for them became forty years of teaching for us. Again, had they been detained in the wilderness but not through their own sin, grace would not have appeared so sovereign, nor man so hopelessly evil. Truly in all the Lord Jesus was the One before the mind of God, and all is made subservient to His glory. What immense favour to know Him in all this fulness of grace! But the wilderness, not the land, was the right place for its display.

5. 1885 225.

Israel driven away from the land in judgment was the last thing needed in the preparation of the platform whereon God would reveal wonders of grace beyond all seen before. Abundant proof is now given that nothing less than sovereign grace and mercy could ever bring them into the land. Such murmuring, such base ingratitude to Him who provided for all their need, their quasi-refusal to take the land as God's gift, their attempt to possess it as the result of their own valour, and their consequent defeat, all these are the circumstances in which they begin their wanderings. But here it is we learn the hitherto untold riches of grace as displayed in the varied presentation of Christ, the Sacrifice, the Priest and Intercessor. Also the resources of mercy which constantly interposed, and which though mingled with judgment — showing mercy to thousands and by no means clearing the guilty — ever took the form most adapted to their sin and need, proclaimed then, and now to us, how infinite the resources of grace, how marvellous the wisdom of God, how exceedingly great His long-suffering, how unchangeable His purpose. The shining forth of all these in the wilderness is magnificent.

Yet how brighter and simpler all these shine in the plain language of the New Testament where not by type and shadow but in the unmistakable words of our Lord the same grace, wisdom, and purpose of God are declared! "And 1 give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of my hand. My Father who gave them me is greater than all, and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one" (John 10:28-30). And the apostle, looking at the purpose and power of God, exclaims, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." How slow we are to enter into this blessed position so as to realise it practically! And does not grace still brighter shine, in that, while failing to apprehend its fulness, it still continues, its fulness not abated. Is not this the glory of grace? Unappreciated yet abounding!

In Numbers 15. God assures the people that He will bring them into the land of their habitation. This is significant; not merely into the land, but into the land of their habitation. This implies establishment in permanency. God is looking onward to their bright future; not as in the land on trial followed by certain failure, from which sin could and did expel them, but when the land should be their permanent habitation, when, all trial past, the still greater provocation of rejecting the Christ forgiven, clean water sprinkled upon them, a new heart given, and each one sitting under his own vine and under his own fig-tree, then, and not before will they fully realise "the land of your habitation which I give unto you."

The ordinances of offerings which follow are for the land. There and then not only burnt-offerings, fulfilling a vow, free-will offerings, which are connected with public worship, but also in their daily life, eating the bread of the land they were to offer a heave-offering to Jehovah. The heave-offering was to be eaten by the priest's family at home, the daughters equally with the sons could eat of it (Num. 18:11). Here the whole congregation are to eat of it. They will be a kingdom of priests. In their public worship they were also to offer wine as a drink-offering — typical of the spiritual joys of the church now, but in its higher aspect fulfilled when the Lord drinks it new with His disciples in the kingdom of His Father — here as fulfilled in the land clearly an emblem of the joys and gladness of the renewed earth rejoicing under the reign of Christ, their own Messiah and King. For then the oil — power of the Holy Spirit — will sanctify even earthly joy and make it acceptable to God.

Was it so during their first tenure of the land? Burnt-offerings, free-will offerings and drink-offerings were commanded, but there is no record of the offering of wine. Even at the dedication of the temple by Solomon, when gladness and fulness of blessing seemed greatest, there is no mention of wine being offered. On the contrary, Solomon's prayer and Jehovah's answer look onward prophetically to their being east out from the land: mercy is invoked and on repentance Jehovah will restore. So that with all the glory then displayed the land was not yet "the land of their habitation." Wine was brought with corn and oil for the priests in Hezekiah's time, but not said for offering (2 Chron. 31:4-5, 6). The wine is reserved for the time of future blessing when the curse is removed from the earth which must be delivered from the bondage of Satan ere wine can be by Israel poured out an acceptable offering to God. Then at that time the, burnt-offering — pointing to Christ, and the oil — signifying the power of the Holy Spirit, and the wine hallowed by the burnt-offering and the oil shall together be presented to make "a sweet savour unto Jehovah."

If in the millennial kingdom of the Son of man, Israel restored and the earth blessed can with the wine of their joy present a sweet savour to God, how much sweeter will be the wine of our joy when we in risen bodies drink the new wine with Christ in the Father's kingdom! Pre-eminently this is the wine that "cheereth God and man" (Judges 9:13). It is Christ in matchless grace bringing us to share in His joys and glory, fruit of His redemption.

The ordinances for the congregation, and for the individual will only have their true fulfilment in the land. Doubtless the responsibility of observing them lay upon all the people from the first, but were they ever in such a state before God as is implied in these ordinances? Whether in the wilderness, or in the land, rebellion and idolatry mark their history. The bright spots here and there are but exceptions to their downward course. But when the whole twelve tribes are restored, then sin will be the exception. All will be taught of God; no need for one to teach his neighbour, saying, "Know the Lord." This knowledge will not be confined to Israel, though they will be far in advance of any other nation in that day. And with them no sudden miraculous transition from ignorance to perfect knowledge. They will grow in the knowledge of Jehovah, as saints now are exhorted to grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel will recognise their Messiah in the person of Jesus. They will learn that He is Jehovah the King of glory, Jehovah of hosts. Saul of Tarsus learnt that Jesus was Jehovah. Israel will be the converse of this; they will learn that Jesus — whom they rejected — is Jehovah. But they will be brought to the land at least in partial ignorance. This ordinance provides for that condition. Isa. 65:20 gives further light; for while God provides for mere ignorance according to His mercy, the wilful sinner is immediately judged. "There shall be no more thence an infant of days nor an old man that hath not filled his days; for the child shall die a hundred years old, but the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed." In that millennial day death will only overtake the presumptuous sinner. The child shall die a hundred years old, i.e. none shall die young, but the sinner dying under the immediate judgment of God, even though a hundred years old, would be but a child compared with the longevity of the righteous; "for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands."

Judging from the difference in the atonement to be made by the priest, the ignorance of the congregation is a more serious thing than ignorance in the individual. Sin is ever defiling, and interrupts communion. For the congregation there must be burnt-offering — Christ always a sweet savour-the foundation upon which alone communion can be restored. This restoration to communion is indicated by the meat-offering and the drink-offering. There must also be confession of the failure, though it be caused by ignorance, and so we have the sin-offering. For the individual only the sin-offering is appointed, his own confession of sin through ignorance. The other offerings are equally needed for the restoration of one soul, as for a congregation; but they are implied in the restoration of the individual to his place in the congregation, where he takes the place of being accepted through the efficacy of the burnt-offering, and enjoys again the communion — meat-offering, etc. — which the congregation had not lost.

The presumptuous sinner cannot plead ignorance; his sin is the violation of a well-known command. These two sins are the only ones here looked at for the land. The general character of the restored nation, as we have seen, is that all shall know the Lord (comp, Jer. 24:7; Ezek. 35:12). If any man notwithstanding knowledge commit sin, then immediate judgment follows. Thus it is distinguished from mere ignorance. To despise the word of Jehovah is presumptuous, it is sin apart from the nature of the thing done. An instance is given, for God teaches us both by example and precept. The children of Israel found a man that gathered sticks on the sabbath day, and he is put in ward until Jehovah declares His judgment upon him. All the congregation stone him. The same was done to another who had blasphemed the Name (of Jehovah). In the one case the act was sin because it had been forbidden. The other was sin even if there had been no command. The seemingly trivial character of the presumptuous sin recorded in Num. 15 is to show the absolute and perfect obedience to be rendered by Israel in that day, and the swift judgment is also in keeping with Isa. 65. As compared with Lev. 24 human judgment would see great disparity between the two, and while meting out the heaviest penalty to the blasphemer would look upon the gathering of sticks on the sabbath as of trifling import. But in divine things human judgment is always wrong. Each was equal to the other in guilt, despising the authority of God. If we saw nothing more than that the penalty in each case was death, this is sufficient warrant to pronounce them equally guilty, for God is righteous in judgment. But in truth their sin was essentially the same: both were presumptuous sinners; for He who said, "Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain," said also, "Remember the sabbath to keep it holy." Neither of these sinners could plead ignorance. Each violated the divine majesty, if not a well-known command.

We learn that, while death is meted to the presumptuous sinner, ignorance does not make sin to be no sin: atonement must be made for it.

But another case is provided for, and a far more common one — forgetfulness. It is closely allied to presumptuous sin as implying previous knowledge; the difference being that the presumptuous sinner did not forget but was consciously disobedient. How prevalent is this forgetfulness now among saints who would shrink from everything like presumptuous sin! Where there are inordinate desires for earthly things, heavenly things are forgotten. Any object before the soul other than Christ is a practical denial of our separation from the world. With Israel God established an ordinance that all might remember, and He gave an outward and visible sign. "Speak unto the children of Israel and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of their borders a ribband of blue; and it shall be unto you for a fringe that ye may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes after which ye use to go a whoring; that ye may remember and do all my commandments and be holy unto your God. I am the Lord your God which brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord your God." This ordinance was not deferred till they were come into the land. The former ordinances begin with "when ye be come into the land;" this is now omitted. It is an ordinance suited to their pilgrim character, journeying through the wilderness; and therefore has a very special application to Christians passing through the world. For the Israelite whether in the tent or in the field the riband of blue would always be present. It was a perpetual monitor. How simple the thing, but how momentous the connection! Not merely a memento of the law, but leading their thoughts to God, who not only gave a law but first of all delivered them from Egyptian bondage, and brought them out of that land that He might be their God. God would be their God. Even then He was seeking worshippers: although it was a carnal worship, a mere shadow of what was then still future when the Father would seek worshippers who would worship God in spirit and in truth. Then it was to bring back by means of Israel the forgotten name of God into the world which Satan had filled with idolatry, himself the god of this world worshipped in every idol. Satan had grasped every nation upon the earth; God would have one nation for Himself, and He put forth His power and took them out of Egypt to be their God. "I am Jehovah your God." What a spring is here for obedience, what an appeal to their gratitude! Here is the mercy that delivered, their obligation to obedience, the holiness and separation from all evil, God's authority, and His purpose to be their God, all tied together with a riband of blue.*

[* How paltry and beneath, yea opposed to, God's word, is the modern invention of the Blue-ribbon Society! There worldly professors are put under a sort of vow of abstinence from intoxicating drinks to Christ! How dare they profane His name without His word and against it? And how dare Christians lend themselves to such unhallowed unions under the delusion of honouring Him?]

Did any Israelite wear this riband? It is never again alluded to. This ordinance given without any reference to the land shows that God is looking onward to His church, which alone is called to that place of entire separation from the world taught by this symbol. It was after Christ was rejected that He said, "they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." The riband to Israel was a call to personal godliness, while being used as God's instrument of vengeance upon the world's iniquity. It is different for the church now, which is not called to execute God's judgment upon the world, but which is called as a corporate body to be separate not only from its evil, but from its interest and well-being so called. The world is already condemned; it is folly to seek the temporal well-being of a criminal condemned to be hanged. Our riband of blue calls to a separation as complete and absolute as this. The world was not crucified to Israel, nor they to the world. Both are true for us. The ordinance as given to Israel made them responsible, but as a nation they failed as in the sign so in its import. The colour connected it with the blue covering of the ark, that which specially connected it with heaven. At least it has that significance for us. We have not a material blue riband on our garment, but the heavenly colour before our hearts. To them the blue riband was a means of remembrance; what are the means for us? We have not merely a means, but the power of remembrance, even the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. "But the Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). His words, all that He said, tell us of our deliverance from the world, of our standing before God, of His great salvation, of His coming again, of our responsibility to bear fruit, of our place in the coming glory, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Himself: these and more the Spirit keeps before our hearts; and we look back on the cross and see there the foundation of all, present grace and future glory. We bow in worship before God. The Father sought us for this self-same purpose, that He might be our God. It is the Spirit Himself recalling heaven who is our riband of blue.

Such is our proneness to forget, that even if there were no world soliciting our affections, if we never came in contact with worldly men and things we should still need the power of remembering what we are delivered from, oar heavenly destination, and what we should be meanwhile. The riband was only a means; the Spirit is both means and power.

Note, that presumptuous sin is not here in connection with the congregation. If the "congregation" be a symbol of the church, the body of true believers, we see the reason, for presumptuous sin entailing death would be the cutting off of the church. The "body" can never be cut off. The church of God will be, must be, maintained as such according to the counsels of grace. Faith even now knows that as to our position we are in the heavenlies in Christ. The epistle to the Ephesians declares it; there the church is brought "into the land" — no cutting off there.

Still the church is actually here in the wilderness and liable to sins of ignorance. The being brought to the land does not mean that the church while here is perfect in knowledge. We have not yet attained to fulness of stature; but the whole body grows, according as it is said, "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." So even the babes have an unction from the Holy One and thus are endowed with a capacity to know all things. Many things may be done through ignorance by the church here below. Failure is not thereby excused, but grace provides for it.

Applying "congregation" to local assembly, not only may it be guilty of ignorance, but of presumption, and then comes under the same discipline as an individual. Strange and evil doctrines, looseness of life and conduct, surround us: a liberality dishonouring to the Lord, as disguising itself under the mask of Christian brotherhood, is one of the greatest snares of the present day, its popularity making it still more dangerous. Not only individuals but assemblies may be drawn aside. Any thing that touches in the least the glory of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, answering to Lev. 24, or wilful and allowed disobedience in any one of their number to godly practice, answering to Num. 15, makes any such assembly cease to be an assembly of God. Such assemblies must be dissolved. It is past being cleansed by the cutting out of a leprous stone. The whole is tainted. The "death" in the Old Testament is excision, or disowning according to N.T. Presumptuous sin must be dealt with according to the principles of the word.

A local assembly may in ignorance be connected more or less close with another which has failed to judge the evil it knows. But ignorance does not condone sin. If through ignorance an individual becomes a partaker of other men's sins, there remains for him the sin-offering; or if an assembly, grace has still provided though in a more impressive way, beginning with the burnt-offering — confessing Christ in His unassailable purity and holiness, and as such a sacrifice for sins; i.e. the utter and public repudiation of all intercommunion with any assembly which has not so cleared itself.

At no time in the history of the church of God has there been more need than at the present for saints taking heed to these things. Let us beware of presumptuous sin. Nor can we plead ignorance, for the word of God is full and complete. Nor ought we to forget; for the Comforter is here to bring all things of Christ to our remembrance.

6. 1885 241.

There is more than one use of the word "flesh" in Scripture. It is used for "men" as "All flesh [=all men] shall see the salvation of God;" also declaring the Lord's assumption of humanity "the Word became flesh." Again, it expresses the fact that our knowledge of Christ is not after a human sort, "though we have known Christ after the flesh [as a man here below], yet now henceforth know we Him no more." Our peculiar knowledge of Him by faith, is as the risen Lord, the Son of God. The most frequent use in the New Testament is to predicate the fallen nature of man either as a condition in which the unregenerate are, or as a principle which believers are called to judge. Of those who are born again it is said "ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit." (Rom. 8:9.)

Whether we look at man as having natural instincts, or intellectual qualities his whole nature in a moral point of view is called "flesh." "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as others" (Eph. 2:3). Here the desires of the flesh as distinguished from the mind refer to natural interests, and the desires of the mind to his mental, as distinguished from the brute creation. It takes in all the natural man craves for, his desires — tastes as well as lusts. Whatever the object, all are classed as "the lusts of the flesh;" that is, it is the nature of man to desire these things. For the mind is not independent of the flesh, but as the mind excites the flesh, so does the flesh give tone to the mind. That is, the higher and the lower qualities of nature influence each other, and both are "the flesh."

"The flesh" can assume a religious aspect, but where there is profession without faith, every desire of the mind is of "the lusts of the flesh." It may be decent and respectable, yea most commendable in the judgment of the world; but it is not of Christ and therefore sin. A believer may yield to his flesh, seeking pre-eminence in the church, and desiring the praise of men. This is a far more serious thing in him than in a man of the world. It is the "flesh" (which the believer has power to judge) intruding into the holy things of God, taking advantage of the position given through faith, to acquire a place for its own exaltation.

Simon Magus is an instance of a would-be professor in the grossest form. Diotrephes, who may have been a believer, is a far more common case. The former is repeated when a position in the church is obtained by money; the latter, where human systems as unscriptural are disallowed, and "flesh," presuming on the absence of human arrangement, assumes a position and seeks prominency. It is an aspect of the flesh most offensive to God, and has its sphere in the assembly of God. Nothing in the world brings heavier and swifter judgment.

Is it not sometimes the case, that a brother with no power for edification occupies the time and attention of the assembly, his mind submerged in the idea of his own ability? We gladly receive the truth, "One is your Master, Christ; and all ye are brethren" (Matt. 23:8). But to make our common brotherhood a reason for ignoring God's order is to lose its blessedness and to be disobedient to the Master. There are functes in the church and the Master appoints to them as He pleases. "He gave some, apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists, and some pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11). In the church of God there are special places of service. "Are all apostles" (1 Cor. 12:29)? Any one supposing that, because he is a "brother," he is at liberty to assume any function in the assembly, gravely errs. No "brother" nor yet the assembly has a right to assume the call to any place of teaching within the church or of evangelising without. The assembly has to say to orthodoxy and godliness; but there it is a question of discipline and may result in the excluding of an unruly member. Teaching (or talking) in the assembly may be very unprofitable; but when the general purport is godly, it is a solemn thing to bid a brother be silent, lest we should be touching the prerogative of the Master of assemblies. The instant and real remedy is united prayer that the Lord would interpose and remove the cause of all such interruptions to peace and worship, and rebuke pretentious flesh in any. There is a cause for all such manifestations of "flesh," which may not be in the one individual, but in the assembly as a whole; coldness of heart, worldliness creeping in, and the tone of the assembly low. In such a condition the complaint is heard, "No power in the meetings." The lack of power in the whole, and the flesh active in one or two, are but the effects of evil permitted and unjudged. This confessed, the Spirit will enable each gathered saint to realise the Lord's presence. But the fault may be and often is in the complainers who are out of communion when healthy souls enjoy the Lord's presence. In any case complaining is not of faith; and it cannot remedy faults even where they may be real.

The "flesh" is always offensive to God, and is never so evil as when obtruding in the holy things of God; it turns the grace of God into lasciviousness, takes pride in the lessons of humility, and makes the favours of God an occasion of judgment. An instance is given in Num. 16. God had given an outward sign that they might remember, and do His commandments and be holy unto their God. But the intent for which the riband was appointed was lost in the mere sign. God said, Be ye holy. Korah and his company appear as with the riband, and at once say, We are holy. They include the congregation; but this is only to hide their presumption. The means grace gives for holiness are taken as being themselves holiness — the invariable mistake that flesh makes, which now constantly meets our eye. God has sent His word that sinners may be saved; sinners hear the word, (i.e. in the common language of the day, go to "a place of worship,") and forthwith profess and call themselves Christians. Alas! for the soul thus self-deceived. The flesh, which made Korah and his company call themselves holy, made also them aspire to the priesthood. If they were "holy," they were as well fitted as Aaron for the office. "Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them; and Jehovah is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of Jehovah?" This charge against Moses and Aaron is really against God. For He had lifted Moses and Aaron to the places of leader and of high priest. Indeed, as to who should draw near as priest was no question of holiness, in the sense of piety, but of God's sovereign choice. Aaron was the holy (=the separated) one for the office. All beside were thus forbidden to draw near. Korah aimed at the priesthood, Moses rebukes him and his followers. It was Jehovah who had appointed Aaron; otherwise, "what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?" The sin of Korah is even greater than that of Aaron when he made the calf, and was bringing the Name of Jehovah down to the level of idolatry. He sanctioned the people's worship of the calf and would cover his guilty connivance by calling it a feast to Jehovah. Alas! his imitators have been found. Some of the earliest sins of Christendom are that the people were permitted to follow the heathenish rites of idolatry to which they had been accustomed, and christian names given to them. The remains of their idolatrous practices may be seen even now, though the indecencies are gone.

Korah in calling the "flesh" holy, would seek to bring it into the sanctuary. It is not idolatry here, but "flesh" seeking to administer the things of Christ. For what is the service of the tabernacle, what the sacrifices, the incense, yea all within the consecrated place, if not types of the coming Christ? Korah's sin brings down a heavier judgment than the worship of the calf. God was more jealous for the honour of Christ — though it be but dealing with shadows and symbols — than for His own Name of Jehovah when Aaron joined it with idolatry.

This rebellion originated with the Levites; at least a Levite was the leader, and the Levites more guilty than the others. They persuade two hundred and fifty princes, who do not appear to belong to the tribe of Levi, to join them in the priestly function. Why not, if all the congregation are "holy?" Moses rebukes their presumption and warns them. "Even tomorrow Jehovah will show who are His and who is holy." And each man takes his censer and dares to meet the judgment of God. Aaron must be there also, that his position as given of God may be publicly confirmed. Solemn was the judgment: they were consumed in a moment by fire.

Korah had his own special aim in the rebellion, though the instigator of it in others. In Dathan and Abiram we see the secular, as in the rebellious Levite the religious, aspect. Accordingly the words of Korah are rather against Aaron, while Dathan and Abiram speak against Moses. Both together typify the uprising of the world against Christ as Priest and King. Even now the prominent sin of Christendom is opposition to the priesthood of Christ, as seen in man pretending to be the channel of communication between God and the soul. All believers are priests for offering sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, yea as intercessors by prayer for the conversion and restoration of any. But there are those who pretend to forgive sins, as it were offering the blood over again. Such are repeating the sin of Korah, a Levite or minister, arrogating to himself the power which belongs to the High Priest alone, i.e. to Christ Himself. And, Korah-like, these always seek the aid of the secular power. The hour is coming when the religious and the secular power will unite in bolder opposition to the rights of Christ, to be followed by unsparing judgment (as in the wilderness upon Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and all that appertained to them.)

The words of Dathan and Abiram are in keeping with their position. They say nothing about the congregation being holy, but that Moses had not fulfilled his promise. It was a charge against God.

Mark the perversity of men. All God's care to keep them in remembrance of Him is apparently lost. Their rebellion is a greater sin than any before; the riband was to remind them that Egypt was a land of bondage and that God had brought them out. They call it a land flowing with milk and honey; Egypt was as good as Canaan. They accuse Moses of deceit in not bringing them into the promised land, ignoring the facts that God had brought them to it, and that their own unbelief had shut them out. But Moses wished to be a prince! — the man who said, "Blot me out!" rather than that Israel should be consumed! What a terrible advance in evil! This is no sin of ignorance, and the riband precluded forgetfulness. Moses, they said, had been deceiving them; but now they were awake to his designs; "Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up." They were wilfully blind to the mercy that was leading them through the wilderness; and the mediator they hated.

Again, he whom they so falsely accused of self-seeking intercedes for the people. "O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin [evidently alluding to Korah, the prime mover] and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation?" God hears his cry, and the congregation are warned to separate themselves from the "tabernacle of Korah, Dathan and Abiram." What a scene now presents itself. There stand Korah and his company with their censers in proud presumption daring the judgment of God; in the door of their tents see Dathan and Abiram with their wives, their sons, and their little children. What a moment of expectation for the assembled thousands of Israel! One word more, not only a warning, a call to separate from the guilty leaders, but the sentence of death; nor common death, but a death unheard of before. "But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth and swallow them up with all that appertain unto them and they go down quick [alive] into the pit, then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord." Immediately the earth opens, they go down alive into the pit, they perish from among the congregation. And at the same time "there came out a fire from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense." Wickedly they had spoken against the Lord's anointed, defiantly they stood; suddenly and without remedy came their judgment.

"A new thing." This then was not a mere earthquake. Whatever may be the causes of earthquakes now, there was no natural cause for this; it was the direct act of God in marked and special judgment There is nothing so appalling as an earthquake; and this bears the mark that it came when men first openly in the person of Moses assailed the rights of Christ as King. It was repeated and more — when the rebellious citizens said, "We will not have this man to reign over us," and had crucified Him — with the same evidence of immediate divine power apart from physical causes. Only not then in judgment upon the guilty; it liberated the bodies of dead saints, and was God's testimony to the glory of the person of Christ, the true King (Matt. 27:51-52.)The Jew will yet lead the world in opposing the King.

If Dathan and Abiram typify the secular world, Korah no less presents the last phase of the religious world. And of all religious wickedness this is the worst. Balaam's, who wanted to curse Israel to obtain Balak's reward, is not so offensive. For though Balaam appeared long after Korah, yet in the three names by which Jude defines the religious history of the world, Korah comes last. In the Korah stage judgment overtakes: they "perished in the gainsaying of Core." The world's religion begins with Cain — bad works, not faith. Then comes the error of Balaam for reward, the riches, honour, and pomp of the world. Lastly, denying Christ as the sole High Priest, as God's High Priest, yet boasting of their holiness, like Korah (see Laodicea, Rev. 3:17). This is the climax: religious evil can go no farther, till Christendom be spued out of His mouth, and the corrupt whore be burnt with fire by the ten kings and the Beast. A brief interval follows in which is not the religious world commanding the power of the secular world as its slave, but the unity of idolatry, Judaism, and infidelity, as a whole embodied in the Anti-christ, the arch-rebel against Christ. Then he with the Beast, the antitypes of the leaders of the rebellion in the wilderness, will suddenly be destroyed; not by the earth, or even the pit, opening its mouth and swallowing them up. They will go down alive into the lake of fire.

7. 1885 257.

The invincibility of sin is wonderful. No greater proof than Israel, and no greater instance in the wilderness than immediately after the judgment upon Korah, Dathan and Abiram. They had seen Nadab and Abihu perish by fire from Jehovah; but here are two hundred and fifty princes, men of renown who are consumed in a moment. If those of the priest's family were consumed when bringing false fire to Jehovah, how much more those who were not of this family, nor even of the tribe of Levi! But that judgment was no new thing; the earth opening and swallowing them up was both new and unexpected. For though Moses warned them, saying, "if Jehovah maketh a new thing," those who stood round about Dathan and his company (who are said to appertain unto Korah, proving him to be the leader of the ecclesiastical party and the instigator of the secular) did not appear to believe it possible any more than those who actually perished. Hence the terror of the surrounding multitude. They fled at the cry of them that went down alive into the pit, saying, Lest the earth swallow us up also. But it wrought no change in them. How solemn the fact that all God does for man, short of the new birth, provokes sin, and becomes a cause of increasing judgment! The riband was given that they might be holy: but Korah's rebellion follows. The judgment upon Korah and his followers brings out in its turn from stiff-necked people the charge against Moses and Aaron. "Ye have killed the people of the Lord." Be it. goodness, be it severity, sin abounds and remains unsubdued. No other termination is possible than judgment. Mercy may spare the guilty, righteousness may condemn, there is no change till the guilty soul is born again or anew. Therefore because of the inveterateness of sin the Lord Jesus said, "Ye must be born again." What a proof that man is not merely sinful, but sin! he is that very thing. To be cleansed from sin is to be cleansed from himself, born of water and the Spirit.

If the riband was a call to holiness, the broad plates made of the censers of the presuming princes are for a sign, or warning, that no strangers not of the seed of Aaron come near to offer incense to Jehovah. Neither the call nor the warning do they heed; for on the morrow all the congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, that they had killed the people of Jehovah. The people would still, as in defiance of God, maintain the right of the princes to offer incense, and that Moses had slain righteous men. They were wilfully ignorant that Jehovah had by direct and immediate judgment destroyed them. Thus the congregation ignored the sin and in reality charged God with unrighteousness. It is a solemn thing to doubt God's mercy; but to say that God is unrighteous in His judgment is the climax of wickedness, and it brings upon them further judgment. Jehovah suddenly appears. While the people gather against Moses and Aaron, the cloud is seen to cover the tabernacle; God indicates His judgment upon the guilty that had perished; and the plague destroys fourteen thousand and seven hundred more of the people. What a gap in their numbers these judgments made!

But oh, what a God is ours! Truly we say, His ways of mercy rise superior to His righteous judgment. For while His goodness and His wrath (as we see here) have brought out still greater sin, God makes the greater sin an occasion for showing still greater mercy. And He, while providing for the then need of Israel, by it reveals to His church now a truth of the highest and most blessed import. For now appears most prominently the intercessory character and high function of priesthood, and a further display of the resources of grace. Long afterwards it was written, "but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound "; surely if not at that time written in God's Book, it is proved in His ways.

Moses had said that Jehovah would show who were holy and who were appointed to draw near; and so it had been by terrible judgment. Now the same is to be declared by His mercy and compassion. What more effectual way than when Aaron ran in among the plague-stricken people? His office had been confirmed to him by the direct acts of God: the sudden death of men who dared to dispute his sole title to it; and now by stepping in and preserving the people from death. The difference is that the former is outside the sphere of priesthood, it is God maintaining His own order in face of rebellious man. The priest stands still, and God takes vengeance. But on the occasion of the plague the priest is allowed, nay commanded, to intervene in mercy so as to stay the ravages of judicial death.

Here are three special judgments in two days, and the last because the people, who had witnessed the two preceding, repented not but in heart were committing the same sin that brought the judgment upon Korah and his company. Jehovah speaks to Moses, "Get you up from among the congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment." Moses knew there was wrath gone out from Jehovah, and his instructed heart knew the right way to avert it. He bids Aaron take the censer and fire from the altar and put incense thereon and go quickly unto the congregation and make an atonement. And Aaron stands between the dead and the living; and the plague is stayed.

"Make an atonement;" but not with fresh blood. This would have been to deny the all-sufficiency in atoning power of the precious blood already typified as accepted by God. In the Mosaic economy where nothing was perfect, there was blood offered every day, not as fresh blood superseding the blood first sprinkled upon the door post, as if laying again the foundation of redemption; but while in various ways showing special applications of the blood, these sacrifices of blood in a way referred back to the blood sprinkled upon the door post in Egypt as that whose efficacy was not forgotten. All other sacrifices had more or less the remembrance attached to them that redemption from Egypt was accomplished. The blood that was shed for individual failure could not set aside the blood outside the shut door for the eye of God alone; not to satisfy or remove the fears of an Israelite, but to meet the righteous requirements of a just and holy God. It is the passover which so strikingly gives the true thought of atonement, which to a certain point is expressed clearly when God said, "When I see the blood, I will pass over."* Afterwards the offerer saw the blood when he brought his sacrifice, that he might consciously realise in his soul the value of the blood (typically) once shed. I speak not of Israel's intelligence but — as I judge — of God's intention in the blood-sacrifices appointed to Israel, the figures of the communion with the blood which the apostle declares we now have when we take the cup. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16.)

[* Even on the day of atonement, though the blood was brought into the most holy place, there was repetition — year by year — as is pressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in contrast with the unity of Christ's sacrifice, so characteristic of the Christian's cleansing before God, not in water only, but in water and in blood.]

Fire is taken from the altar — this tells of divine judgment, for where there is sin, there must also be judgment. Never one sin committed but judgment followed, measured by the majesty and holiness of God. For the believer, it is, or rather was, borne by Christ. And the incense is the sweet savour of Himself which ascended up to God; it is the preciousness of Him who bore the judgment that God might righteously stay the power of death. Aaron putting incense on the fire is the intercessory act of the priest pleading the merits of the one sacrifice, as if he would put God in remembrance of it.

Aaron, standing between the dead and the living, staying the plague that it pass not over to the living, is a beautiful prophetic picture of the latter day, when Christ will intervene for the ancient people of God. When He as High Priest will arrest the arm of the Avenger, and the living remnant become a great nation, restored to favour and blessing through a greater than Aaron.

Precious teaching for us, conscious of many failures. For our failures deserve and would surely meet righteous judgment; but we are by faith sprinkled with blood, and the sweet incense of Christ is constant before God. Our High Priest ever burns the incense lit by His death, a sweet smelling savour to God. He is gone within the veil, into the holy place by His own blood; there He makes intercession for us, and does and must prevail. We are on the living side of the Priest, and the angel of death cannot pass. "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of My hand." (John 10)

There is no ground here for the error that a failing believer must begin again as though his pardon could be cancelled. "Make atonement" gives no sanction for a doctrine so contrary to the direct teaching of the word. True undoubtedly "without shedding of blood there is no remission." But Aaron here shed no blood: there was no atonement in that sense; there was the pleading before God of the value of the offering once made. It is so that "atonement" is made for believers now when they fail. It is the Advocate above, Jesus Christ the righteous, who by His presence there avails for us.

Intercession is the teaching here, and both the incense and Aaron are together a type of Christ; the former of His worth, the latter of His office. Aaron might run among the people: what would it have availed? There was no worth in him; the power that stayed the plague was (typically) in the incense. It needs both the incense and the priest to be a fitting type of Him who is both Offering and Priest.

But impressive as the scene is, beautiful as showing Christ the Conqueror of Death, it does not give the full victory. There is even in this the power that stays the ravages of death; but is there power to recover the captive already held in death's chains? Yea, the next picture of Christ shows Him as One who has life in Himself. He is the living Rod, once dead. If as Aaron standing between the dead and the living He appears as the High Priest, as the living Rod we see more the worth, the glory, of His person, who if He did once lie in the grave, it was that He might for ever roll away the stone. It is here that we see the fullest victory of Christ over death and the grave. He like Samson suffered Himself to be bound that He might break the cords, went into the prison-house of death, and then bursting through every barrier carried away the gates. Is not this to tell of His own personal might and glory, not of His official greatness and position as Priest? Oh! who so fitted and worthy to be Priest, to stand between dead and living as He who has life in Himself to give to whomsoever He will; who only went into the grave to prove He had power to come out; who laid down His life that He might take it again, thus breaking the power of death in the only effectual and triumphant way. Truly He went into the strong man's house and bound him, spoiling his goods; now He has the keys of Death and Hades. For the believer all bondage through fear of death is taken away. Before Christ came, it was a thing inevitable for saints to fear death and be in bondage through it. Is it right now that He has been in the grave and come out again? Surely if the sting of death is gone, so also must the victory of the grave. Rising from among the dead is the divine proof of His fitness to be our High Priest, "that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death … that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God." (See Heb. 7:25-28.)

Historically, the living rod is still more to confirm Aaron in the office of Priest; but is there one type or shadow which reaches no farther than the then circumstances? Nay, we know that all centres in Christ. The Bible would have been in vain to meet our need if Christ had not come. It would have found us, and left us, without hope, and in despair. But now we have not only the Book of God, but the Christ of God dead and risen. This is salvation.

The deeper truth lay concealed in the type, nor could it be revealed before the Antitype brought it forth when He rose from the dead. Not authority alone, as in Moses, could suffice, nor even intercession as in the priest, in the sense of preventing death. One was needed who could bring again from the dead, and who in His own person is the pledge of it. Such is the Christ of God, and so presented in the living rod. Then it was not possible to apprehend the fulness of teaching contained therein. The revelation of the Son was necessary, who not only shed His true light upon all around Him, but also cast a backward ray upon the old things and brought out from them a new beauty and truth which else had lain hidden in the shadow of their own types.

But if all the brightness was unseen by Israel in the wilderness, did they pay heed to what they did see? It was to them a confirmation of Aaron in His office; it was also, as bearing blossoms and almonds, the assurance of mercy; it was connected with the promise that God would quite take away their murmurings that they die not. This was the mercy side of the rod, and Israel soon gave proof that they did not apprehend it. But the rod had another aspect, for it was laid up for a token against the rebels (Num. 17:10). If it declares God's goodness, it also brings to mind their sin. This scripture is remarkably characteristic of the mingled dispensation of law and grace; the rod is a token against the rebels, yet God says He will take away their murmurings that they die not. The people saw the token, but not the grace of God. They knew not the full import of its being laid up in the ark. It was a standing proof that none but Aaron and his sons should come nigh; but it was also the pledge that God would quite take away their murmurings. There in the ark it had a place with the golden pot of manna and the two tables of the law, a wondrous combination of law, grace, and priesthood. And being there, though a token against the rebels, in connection with the manna it became a memorial to God of their deep need of mercy, and the necessity of priesthood, if judgment was to be in any way restrained. Moreover the lid of the ark which enclosed these three symbols of God's dealings with that people was sprinkled with blood: the blood covered all and was the assurance that grace would triumph over all; and no sin of theirs ever removed that memorial from His sight. Unbelief and hardness of heart deprived them of its full blessings; but the ark with its contents and blood-sprinkled lid was, and ever will be, in the remembrance of God.

"Laid up in the ark," it is Christ abiding for them. Hidden from their view now because they rejected Him, and while the Jew is under judgment for their wickedness, Christ is a token against them. Until the present work of gathering out His church from among the Gentiles be completed, so long is Christ in heaven on the Father's throne a token against the Jew. When the church is taken, then Christ will appear for them and the "token against" be gone for ever. He will come forth as the living fruitful Rod, and then they shall bear fruit to God. Then will their murmurings be quite taken away.

Meantime there is conscience of sins which opened their eyes to see the "token." The rod was there for a testimony, and Israel could not come near without remembering their sin and its judgment. They cry out, "Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish. Whosoever cometh anything near unto the tabernacle of Jehovah shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?" Shall we be consumed by fire or by the earth opening and swallowing us up after the manner we have seen? Blind unbelief! They were not forbidden access to God through the medium of the priest, but only to assume the function of priesthood which was peculiar to Aaron and his sons. They anticipated death if they came near. Their unbelieving misapprehension of God's judgment brings upon them loss of privilege. They connected death with their access to God, not with their sin.

The world says that a man is the hewer of his own fortunes; and there is a sense in which this is true. The christian knows from a higher source that what a man sows, this shall he also reap. They said that any one drawing near to the tabernacle would die, and the consequence is that their drawing near is forbidden. "Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come nigh the tabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin and die" (Num. 18:22). Their unbelief and mistrust of God is more serious for their standing before God than their previous presumption. They are brought down to the level of the stranger. "The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death." Henceforth Israel cannot come nearer than the stranger; that privilege is lost. It is the first step downward to that condition when, every other external privilege lost, the apostle says, "There is no difference." Before God there never was a real difference as to nature between man and man; between Israel and the nations, there was a dispensational difference, and a privilege conferred upon Israel. But sin annulled all that and deprived them of all out — ward advantage. They are now altogether as Gentiles; nothing but faith in Christ for the Jew as well as the Gentile. "But we believe that, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved even as they" (Acts 15:11).

The Rod, first dry, then bearing fruit, is the type of Christ in resurrection power, and reminds us of the grain of wheat that, having fallen into the ground and died, afterwards bears much fruit. Though not directly pointing to believers now, but to the risen Christ, it surely is not straining scripture to say that in it we have an image of death while unconnected in the dry rod, and no less when bearing buds, blossoms and almonds, the quickening power of God when we having life from God bring forth fruit unto Him. We are ordained to bring forth fruit, and abiding fruit (John 15:16). May it be our care to bring forth much fruit, that we may glorify the Father, and be true disciples of the Lord Jesus.

8. 1885 273.

As the necessity of priesthood becomes more evident, so fresh details are given to the priests and Levites, and as grace widens in its sphere, so do the requirements of holiness become more precise and stringent, and the position of the priests more defined. "And Jehovah said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary; and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood" (Num. 18). Had there been no sanctuary, there could not have been this iniquity, for it is the presence of man in the holy place ere He came Who by one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14). This perfection is not mere forgiveness, nor justification, but the whole question of sin met by Christ, so that iniquity is not imputed to us. Christ bore it all. This is foreshadowed in Ex. 28:36-38 (q.v.), where Aaron in his robes of beauty is the type of Christ now in the full exercise of His priesthood, Who alone could put away this iniquity from those who now draw near to God through Him. Here in Num. 18 is the condition of the priests of Israel who, before Christ came and had died to sin, bore their iniquity. Hence they could not pass the veil into the second tabernacle (Heb. 9:7). We enter in because we are purged.

The sanctuary was the symbolic expression of God's holiness. The priest, though strictly observing all the ordinances the ceremonies of law, could not draw near with a purged conscience. His nature was impure — a truth not then declared, but implied in the words now spoken to Aaron. Sins were known, not sin. Indeed the whole history of the wilderness is to prove that sin is man's fallen nature; the constantly recurring sacrifices show not only their intrinsic valuelessness but also the sin inherent in man's nature. This evil of sin being unknown, it was never condemned and therefore a purged conscience, was impossible; for it means the knowledge of good and evil, and the evil judged. An innocent conscience knows neither. Man was such that he could only acquire the knowledge of good when he had fallen under the power of evil, and under that power he could not judge the evil, and it soon ceased to be evil in his eyes. If unknown and unjudged, it was there in him; and the blood of bulls and of goats which might avail for the purifying of the flesh — an outward thing — could never purify the conscience. Such a priest drawing near, and performing his duty, did of necessity defile the sanctuary. For while the "vessels of the sanctuary, and the altar" are holy and express the purity of God, the priest is the representative of the children of Israel, and they were unclean. As unclean in himself and in his representative character, he was a defiling element among the holy things of the sanctuary, and must bear the iniquity of it. To meet his need (typically) sacrifices were offered for him, and blood offered even to purge the things of the sanctuary. The iniquity of the priesthood (not said of the priest) is, the office of priest was defiled by the same nature; for a priest should be holy, harmless, and undefiled. He was unpurged and represented a sinful people. Not his position as priest could purge him; rather it was the occasion of the iniquity, and made more prominent the necessity for ONE who could put away the defilement of nature, and also purge the conscience from all these dead works; for such is the word now applied by the Holy Spirit to all the ritual of the sanctuary (Heb. 9:14).

Christians as priests draw near, but there is more of contrast than of analogy between their position and ours. We stay not at the altar without but enter within the veil. And we have no iniquity of the sanctuary to bear; for, though as to nature no better than they, Christ has met our need; we have with Him died to sin; and the conscience is purged, we enter into the holiest of all. The type was theirs, the reality is ours; they had the patterns of heavenly things, we have the things themselves. This is the normal state of a believer, and is practically enjoyed when walking faithfully before God. But is there not a meaning for us conveyed in the words, "iniquity of the sanctuary," beyond the primary and special bearing on Aaron and his sons? Was it not intended by the Holy Ghost?

For what is our place? Within the veil. We groan under the burden of the flesh, but we mortify it. We deny its lusts; and sin has no more dominion over us, its iniquity is not imputed. Its power is annulled to faith, but there it is, the flesh is in us. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." But being "perfected for ever" by the one offering we are before God in all the acceptability of Christ; and to bear as priests the "iniquity of the sanctuary" would be a denial of the infinite efficacy of the death of Christ. How if not "perfected for ever" could we be at home within the veil in the presence of light?

Now when a saint forgets the holiness which becomes the house of God — which house are we — then he must bear the iniquity of the sanctuary; that is, his sin is not gauged by its own guilt, but by the position which grace has given. It may not be flagrant, but what is alas! far more common and so frequently unjudged, — love of the things of the world; a sad inconsistency with our place within the veil. Because he is a priest, that which would not be noticed in an unconverted man becomes, through his position, iniquity. In this sense he bears the iniquity of the sanctuary. A worldling not having that place cannot have that iniquity. Oh! let us while rejoicing in the privileges of grace remember the responsibilities of holiness, which is now measured by the position conferred, and by the call to complete separation from the world. How is this to be attained? Only by watching and praying, and having the heart filled with the Lord.

There is another contrast between us and the Levites who were joined to the priests and servants to them. They were not allowed to come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar. This was enforced by the penalty of death, and this not only upon the presuming Levite, but also upon the careless priest, "that neither they, nor ye also, die." In the church of God there is a distinction between priesthood and Levitical service, but not after the same pattern. In Israel the Levite was not a priest, in the church none but a priest can be a true Levite. The function of the church is prayer, thanksgiving and worship, of which the highest act is the Lord's supper, and every saint is there as a priest, and every act by the church is a priestly act; neither of these is Levitical service.

The Levites now as then are to minister to the priests, i.e. the church. Who are the Levites? Those who by teaching, exposition of the word, and pastoral work, by rebuke and admonition, warning against surrounding evil, watch over the saints and care for the flock of God. And as there were different orders of Levites in Israel, each with its assigned duties, so they also who had to serve tables (Acts 6:1–4) were doing true Levitical service. All, whether teachers, or simply caring for the wants of the poor, ministered to the saints of God. These servants are called of the Master, and take this service upon them not by constraint but willingly. "He gave gifts." The Lord distributes to each according to his ability. These are the true Levites, and were first priests — worshippers — before the call to any service. Teaching and preaching are not functions of the church, but of those whom the Master appoints. United prayer, thanksgiving, worship, are assuredly the privileges of all saints. The restricting of these privileges, the real and inalienable functions of the church, to the ministering servants of God, gave rise to the "clergy," a separate class within the church, by which the order given in Num. 18 is inverted. Then the Levites were joined to the priests to serve them; now the ministers i.e. the Levites, take precedence of the church the priests. Not like Paul who said, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." Levitical service in this day is placed higher than priesthood; unless it be with those who claim to be priests (not in the true New Testament meaning) to the exclusion of all others. God's order in the types or His teaching through them is unknown. This use of God's gift, to exalt self, has created a sphere where even the world intrudes: to be a "minister" is one of the world's prizes; ministry is a profession. How great the evil! yet the germ was small, and looked not so bad at the beginning. But a minister (or gifted man) now going to the Table to break bread, because of having a gift for teaching or preaching, and not because he is a priest led by the Spirit of God, would be as a Levite drawing near to the sanctuary to offer, the thing that all truth forbids.

This one great characteristic meeting of the church of God is to show the Lord's death in the breaking of bread. All other meetings, though right, necessary and even imperative, are only auxiliary to this. And I may add that the joy of the Lord's-day morning meeting, the blessedness of remembering the Lord in His death, is never so fully realised by those who habitually neglect the auxiliary meetings (lectures and readings notwithstanding, helpful as these are to our growing in the knowledge of Christ our Lord). The one object of this meeting for the gathered saints is the Lord's supper and not for exposition, or exhortation. After the remembrance of the Lord as He appointed, and if circumstances allow, the Levite may minister to the priests — seek to edify the saints. But where the Lord's supper is hurried over at the beginning, or thrust into a corner at the close, the object of the gathering together is virtually lost sight of; the Lord dishonoured and His love slighted!

885 289. The ordinance of the red heifer was not peculiar to the priests nor the Levites; it was for the congregation; and the instruction for saints now is, not as a company of priests, nor as knit together by one Spirit, but as pilgrims journeying through the wilderness. The sprinkled blood as on the Passover night secures us from judgment; the great day of atonement sets forth the full answer of the cross — a perfect redemption — to meet the need of guilty sinners, and to establish new relationships between God and the redeemed. In a word both these ordinances contemplate the sinner; the red heifer is rather a provision for the believers, that they may be cleansed from all defilement by the way, no less necessary for the saint than the shed blood is for the sinner. The truth taught by the red heifer is distinct from that conveyed by the day of atonement, but not so readily apprehended. The blood was sprinkled completely before the tabernacle, to remind us of our access to God by the one perfect sacrifice, and that all needed blessing by the way is founded upon the death or precious blood of Christ. Thus our cleansing is in virtue of it, just as much as forgiveness of sins when we first believed; for whether for saint or for sinner, it is ever "His blood cleanseth from all sin." But the blood of the red heifer is not applied to the defiled saint. It is Christ once offered to God, the perfect sacrifice which is never repeated, nor the blood sprinkled again before the tabernacle. Then all is burnt and the ashes remain, ever abiding in its purifying efficacy for every defilement. As often as defilement occurs, there are the ashes; not another red heifer, to sprinkle blood again before the tabernacle, or again to be burnt under the judgment of God. Christ bore it all once, and it is done for ever. The cleansing of the believer is not with blood, but by ashes mingled with running water. It is the ashes that typify the ground of blessing, the water is only the medium. So the apostle in Heb. 9:13 speaks of the ashes as sprinkled, not of the water. It is the power of Christ's death bearing our judgment, wholly consumed — ashes — and applied by the Holy Spirit using the word — water — to cleanse us from our defilement.

The red heifer following the living rod shows the divine order of these types. The rod laid up in the ark before God was the witness of the intercession of Christ dead and risen, our Advocate; so the red heifer is the result of His Advocacy, the provision of grace for pilgrims defiled on their journey. It was fitting that Christ should be seen as High Priest above before that which is surely the effect of His intercession was typified by the red heifer. If we may so say, this type is the complement of the living rod; both are founded upon the atoning blood, and neither meets the first need of the soul; for without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. When that need is met, other needs are felt: we need One to appear in heaven for us, Who has conquered sin and death, ever living to make intercession for us; and we have this in the beautiful fruit-bearing rod. Then we need that His intercession above should be made good in our souls while here below; and so following upon His Advocacy, this need is also supplied in the red heifer. It is the Spirit of God working in us when we have strayed, as the fruit of His advocacy above. And so, as in all cases where the Spirit works, there is a moral process in the soul, by which it is effectually restored, first, by self-judgment, hating the sin and judging oneself. This is the purification on the third day. The word has been applied — ashes mingled with running water; humiliation and confession before God. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Without this there cannot be purification on the seventh day. But, on that day, for the purified Israelite there was re-admission to the congregation. Not only was the defilement morally purged away, but the brand of exclusion was removed, and he could join again in the worship of Jehovah. The Psalmist shows the same order in a soul's restoration; he first confesses his sin, then he prays that his sin may be blotted out, and, after that, the joys of salvation may be restored (Ps. 51), whatever the dispensation. God's ways of grace and of discipline are the same; the third day, and the seventh, illustrate the unchanging moral dealing of God with souls, the same really in the church of God as with Israel of old. And it cannot be too often or too plainly asserted that the advocacy of Christ, the application of the word by the Holy Ghost, and the restoration of the soul are all consequent upon the blood of Christ, which has been shed, and sprinkled seven times and not again, before the tabernacle of God.

Christ washing the feet of His disciples (John 13) answers somewhat to the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer in Num. 19. Only the cleansing in Numbers is connected with the Spirit's work in the soul; in John 13 it is the Lord as Advocate and we in our measure following His example. "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet." We do well also to mark the defiling nature of sin; for even a clean person, who had to do with the restoration of an unclean, was himself unclean till the even. It bespeaks the care and fear with which we should seek the restoration of another, lest the flesh should make us fail in hatred of the evil, or in grace to the unclean. None but the Lord could touch a leper and be Himself without a taint.

While God is thus bringing out the resources of grace, laying up stores of truth for the people that come after, Israel are also developing more evil. They are more daring and perverse. Going back into Egypt in their hearts was constant. Now (Num. 20) they add the wish that they had died with their brethren before Jehovah. Had they forgotten that the death of their brethren was special judgment, and so awful that they had fled at the cry of them that were swallowed up? Because water is lacking, the congregation gather again against Moses and Aaron and chide them and say in effect they would rather have died under the fearful judgment of God than suffer thirst. Had they cried to God, He would have given them water as before. How true it is that neither judgment nor blessing changes mans nature! But grace appears and water is once more brought from the solid rock. It is not the same truth as at the rock Horeb, but a like absence of reproof for their murmuring. In Ex. 17:5 the rock is smitten with the rod of authority, that of Moses. When judgment fell upon the Egyptians, when the Red Sea was divided for Israel, and closed again for the host of Pharaoh, when the rock (that Rock was Christ) was smitten, the rod of government was the fitting one. While it was the symbol of judgment upon Egypt, it brought blessing (water) to Israel. Then it could be used in dispensing grace, for Israel had not then put themselves under law, so that the rod of government imparted blessing, their sinful murmurings notwithstanding. Here in Numbers it is a very different thing. Moses is told to take "the rod," that particular rod bearing fruit; for the rod of authority and power will not, ought not, to give water to a murmuring people under law. In such a condition, where man can only be a transgressor, government can but condemn and put to death. But He who can have mercy upon whom He will, commands the fruit-bearing rod of Aaron to be taken, the emblem of the abiding efficacy of priesthood, of Christ as alive from the dead. This was the rod suited for the occasion. The people were not without law, but they were the objects of grace then, that we might learn the value of Christ's priesthood. Nothing more was needed than to "speak" to the rock. Christ was smitten once, He cannot be smitten again. By that one smiting He is still the source of, living water for thirsty souls in the wilderness. Then it was typically to be taught. Now we know it by the power of the Holy Ghost.

But Moses and Aaron at this moment stand apart from the congregation; not in faithfulness as on previous occasions. They do not apprehend the sovereign grace of God. It is now their testing time; and they both fail, for neither had learnt the import of "the" rod. In anger Moses took his own rod, but what right had he to be angry when God would show only mercy? Both he and Aaron must die in the wilderness. "Because ye believed me not to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them." How did they fail to sanctify God? Not doing as commanded. The truth of priesthood as taught by the rod was set aside as if of no avail for the people, and with no more significance than confirming Aaron in his office, or in fact merely of use as a "token" against the rebels. But God is most jealous of all and every thing that interferes with His grace. God remembered mercy, Moses thought of their sin. God looked at the rod as a pledge of grace, Moses saw only the "token." Not seeing the mercy side of the rod, what wonder that he took his own rod, symbol of the righteous government of God and said "Hear now, ye rebels" — a word that Jehovah did not put into His mouth?

No doubt, it was a fresh lesson of mercy and forbearance, and deeper than Moses had yet seen, for his rod must give place to the intercessory power of the priest. He was told to "speak" to the rock; but he "smote" the rock and in his anger smote twice. Moreover, so jealous was he for authority that he for the moment forgot his own place as servant. "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" Where was the honour due to God in his saying "WE?" None so meek as Moses; but here he failed and did not sanctify God in the people's eyes. His own place and authority filled his mind: there was no room at that moment for the thought of grace; yet had he not learnt enough of the people and their sin, that nothing but grace could bring them through the wilderness? His indignation might be righteous but his words were hasty, and the gravamen of his sin was interfering with God's grace. God would be sanctified according to His grace, not then by judgment. Therefore Moses could not enter the land. He mourned over this exclusion to his last days. "I must die in this land." Did he fully judge his own failure as the righteous reason why he should not pass the Jordan? "The Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee, speak no more unto me of this matter" (Deut. 3:26; 4:22). But God lays it upon him and Aaron, "Because ye trespassed against me." The people no doubt were the occasion, but the trespass was their own; Moses and Aaron, in a certain sense, we would say it with submission, disobeyed too (Num. 20:24; Deut. 32:51).

If the servants fail to sanctify God, He will sanctify Himself. Their failure cannot change the character of grace, which indeed shines all the more through their failure. Though he smote the rock twice, and contrary to the word of Jehovah, yet the water flows. Such is grace rising above every hindrance, supplying every need. When was it otherwise? In our own lives how many times we have proved and rejoiced in similar goodness of God! We daily learn, and, as we learn, wonder and adore. Our daily lessons are grace; the manner of God's teaching is grace. Yea, grace expresses in a word the full process of the Holy Spirit by which we as believers are brought into communion with His thoughts and ways, and thus become intelligent worshippers of our God.

This is what the whole church of God is not but should be. Israel are not yet brought to apprehend the mercy of God, but their day is coming. But intelligent worship is now the privilege of the church. What will it be when grace is crowned with glory?

9. 1885 305.

Israel's wanderings in the wilderness are drawing to a close, and Edom lies between them and the land of promise. How touching the request of Moses that Israel might pass through. But neither their sufferings, nor the intervention of God on their behalf, move Edom to grant their request. It is a fresh phase of the power of Satan against those who are led of God through the world. He opposed the purpose of God from the first when he used Pharaoh who knew not Joseph and oppressed Israel. After the Red Sea he disputed their progress by the Amalekites; and failing in these he stirred up their innate evil in the depths of the wilderness, that if possible they might be destroyed in the righteous anger of Jehovah. There was far more satanic wisdom in this than in raising up external enemies. Yet in all Satan was only furnishing occasions for the display of grace which rose above Israel's murmurings and rebellions, and gave lessons of faith for the church of God now.

Satan's opposition is seen at this stage of the progress (Num. 20:14), not in the enmity of aliens, nor in their own rebellion, but in the open hostility of brethren after the flesh. And here as in the gospel we find that natural relationships are no guarantee against enmity when it is a question between God and the world. "A man's foes shall be they of his own household" (Matt. 10:36). Moses sent to the king of Edom saying, "thy brother Israel," and Edom's answer is a threat. Once before they came in contact in the persons of their fathers. Then as now Jacob was a suppliant, but God turned aside the hatred of Esau, and Jacob pursued his way. The hatred remained and breaks out in Edom's refusal to let Israel pass through his land, and in later years is again seen when Babylon triumphed over Jerusalem (Psalm 137:7). Here Israel turned away, for Edom's land was no part of Israel's possession. Nor was it God's purpose to lead them through it; their stay in the wilderness was not yet completed.

A few more lessons had to be taught, and the work of Christ fully set forth. There was truth yet needed for our journey through the world, and Israel must wait for us. In them was to be seen typically what is now without a veil made known to us. The word too that condemned them to forty years' wandering, nor permitted Aaron and Moses to enter the land, could not be revoked; so that both the government and the grace of God were implicated in their further stay outside the land. What then have we to learn? For to us the grace has special reference. We learn that the ties of nature are but as tow touched with fire when in collision with the call of God. We are warned not to look for sympathy in matters of faith to the men of the world, even if they be our nearest relatives. We are journeying to our promised land, the heavenly Canaan, and our experience is that unconverted relatives are as great opposers if not greater than the world. As the tie of faith is in the believer stronger than any natural bond, for it is eternal; so in the unbeliever hatred against the things of God dominates every natural affection, and is active against those who are found faithful to God and their calling.

Aaron dies, nor far distant the time when Moses also must die. Solemn thought that these two honoured servants of God must die in the wilderness like the generation that God said should not enter into His rest. God is righteous, and maintains government according to His righteousness. "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28).

The priestly robes are put on Eleazar, but he is never presented like Aaron as a type of Christ's priesthood. Another was soon to take the place of both Moses and Aaron as leader of the people. But in this is further truth for the church of God (see Num. 27:15).

Israel sends no request to the Canaanite king of Arad. He hears of their approach and goes out to oppose them. Whether it be Edom or the Canaanite, Israel meets with the same treatment. The called of God and the world have ever been contrary, and will continue so until Christ reigns in power. Arad's king fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners. This is not the first disaster suffered from the foe. The land will surely be given and all enemies subdued; but it must be in God's own time. Any departure from His way entails loss, not victory. How had they departed so as to be smitten and some taken prisoners, as in this instance? As before when first brought to the land, they put human foresight in the place of dependence upon God. Spies had been sent, perhaps occasioned by depression through Edom's unbrotherly conduct; and they would ascertain what kind of foe, or danger, awaited them. But it was not faith. The presence of spies alarms the king, and he prepares to fight. Not going in faith Israel has no vantage ground against Arad, and suffers a repulse. As is generally the result when the people of God use human means where the way of faith is distinctly marked, the means thus used being the very contrary to their hopes. Had they gone in simple faith, they had not been so disgraced. It is a sharp lesson, but they are brought to their right position. They cry unto Jehovah, "If thou wilt deliver this people into my hand." Not much faith in the promise yet. To say "if," after God had so repeatedly said that He would drive out the Canaanite before them, is not faith. But if no faith, or but little (for the Calebs and the Joshuas were very few), they cast aside prudence and gay, "If Thou wilt deliver." Jehovah hearkened to their voice, and the cities of Arad are utterly destroyed.

But mercies however great are lost upon those who have no faith, or just enough to cry to Jehovah when they feel their helplessness. They had cried unto Jehovah Who had answered, but it did not produce confidence. In compassing the land of Edom they are mach discouraged because of the way. A wilderness path is always beset with difficulties, not necessarily with discouragements. Was not the victory over Arad sufficient ground, beside their own history, to assure them that God would not let them die in the wilderness? The flesh never trusts God, is always willing to receive benefits, but has never any return for the Giver but ingratitude. Notwithstanding the manifest interposition of God, and that in answer to their prayer which ought the more to have bound them in trustful obedience to Him, they again murmur, and now more openly against God. They had often murmured against Moses (it was really against God); now it is avowedly against God. The Holy Spirit marks it, putting God's name first. "The people spake against God and against Moses." It is the first time their murmuring assumes this bold character. Often had they complained of lack of water, and in a spirit of rebellion. From the first they preferred the flesh-pots of Egypt to the manna of God. Their soul, they said, was dried away because there was nothing at all beside this manna before their eyes (Num. 11:6). To be discontented with what the Psalmist calls angels' food (Psalm 78:25) was base and ungrateful; but never before had the flesh shown itself in so true colours as when they said "our soul loatheth this light bread." There might be discontent while admitting it was good, but to add loathing to discontentment is the extreme of the dislike of man to the things of God. This bread that God rained down from heaven is only "light bread," and they loathed it. This is the root-sin of nature; their transgressions were but symptomatic, this is the disease itself. Faithful and awful picture of man's dislike of Christ! He is the true Bread that came down from heaven of Whom the manna that fell in the wilderness is a faint type. For the fathers did eat of that bread and are dead; but he who eateth of this bread shall never die. And the hatred of the Jew to Christ was more intense and pronounced than the loathing of the manna by Israel. They did loathe and despise, and called it "light bread." The Jew despised, blasphemed, and crucified Him who came down from heaven. Yet it is the same nature, and only came out in blacker colours in the Jew because the Lord Jesus was not a mere type but the blessed reality. It was His presence that brought out this greater wickedness. For the clearer and brighter the Light, the deeper the surrounding darkness.

How constant the desire for Egypt's food! With every difficulty in the way, whenever their soul was discouraged, there was always coupled with it regret for leaving Egypt. This is the sure fruit of the flesh, for which no sacrifice, nor ordinance, has yet been given to meet its deep evil. Transgression, various defilements by the way, all provided for; blood for transgressions, ashes to be sprinkled with running water for the defiled. But nature, the flesh, the root-sin of all, has not yet been the object of any' ordinance. It has broken out now in its worst form, an evil that admits of no remedy; it must he destroyed. Sprinkling with the ashes of the red heifer, or even blood, does not meet the evil (though well we know that all God's ways of grace from first to last are founded upon the blood of Christ). A pure thing may become defiled, and then cleansed; but death is the only thing for the flesh. Wash it as you may, it is still flesh, and must be put "off." It cannot be improved, and may be covered to a certain extent by a decent exterior; but there it is, as vile as ever under the covering. To cover is man's remedy for the evil he knows; it is the religion of the world in its best form. God would not have His saints go through the world, as it were under false pretences, but teaches us to count it dead, on the ground of our old man crucified with Christ; and, when we take His word simply and truthfully, He gives the needed power to live in accordance with the standing give to faith working experience in us.

How suited to the truth taught is the manner of teaching! Sin, tainted nature, nature as it is now in man, is sin. There cannot be greater condemnation of man. Murmuring against God is but the complement of loathing His bread. In judgment they are bitten by fiery serpents, and dying. Fitting symbol of the venom of the old serpent who instilled his poison into the heart and nature of Adam in the garden; which made him not a mere transgressor of a known , command, but changed his whole being morally before God. Adam truly became another man. Death inevitably followed, and the whole world consequently bears its impress. "Sin entered into the world and death by sin." The connection between sin and death has never been dissolved. If man be sin, how is death to be severed from the believer? Not the blood on the great day of atonement, nor the ashes of the heifer; for the one puts away the sins of the flesh, the other cleansed the pilgrim from defilement contracted by the way. But "the flesh" — nature — remains unchanged, and the righteousness of God demands that that flesh should die. How then is a believer saved? To meet this righteous necessity, Christ was made sin and died, and thus becomes our deliverance from its power. "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." The believer knows no other way of deliverance than death. It is surely by the death of Christ, but it must be morally as well as judicially accomplished. Sin and death are never dissevered. It is a wondrous way in which God maintains His word, and, instead of being mere judgment, it becomes one of our greatest blessings. But being God's way, it must therefore be the way of faith to us. "Reckon yourselves to be dead to sin." Look at Him made sin on the cross, fully answering for flesh of sin; then in the power of that look turn to self and with Job after he had seen God, say, Wherefore I hate and abhor myself. As truly as death is the result of sin, so also is life eternal, life beyond the reach of death, the blessed effect of looking at Christ made sin for us. God's judgment joined death to sin, His grace has joined life to the look of faith.

The manner of Israel's healing is the foreshadowing of this. Then it was simply to look at a serpent upon a pole. A look in itself had been nothing; but God now joined healing and life to it: therefore to look is everything. What a lesson of faith is here! All is referred to the power and grace of God of Him Who said, that every one that is bitten when he looketh upon it shall live. Precious testimony of the efficacy of faith, and of Christ, Who, lifted up like the brazen serpent, had said "that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Here is a type of Christ, not simply of blood, but of death. It is a question of sin in the flesh, not of sins by flesh active. Blood purges, purges the conscience, purges us from our sins. The flesh is never purged. The old man — the flesh — is condemned. Christ was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin; and so sin in the flesh God condemned. This is not a process in the soul always going on; but it is made experimentally true. The old man has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6). The body of sin is thus annulled. An immense fact for us; effected on the cross. Only neither this nor any other blessing is known without faith. Realising by faith that the flesh was condemned and put to death by the crucifixion of Christ, and practically putting on the new man, is both the privilege and the responsibility of believers. Death to the flesh, not atonement by blood, nor mere cleansing, is the lesson here. It is Christ our Substitute, and seems to proclaim a deeper truth than that typified on the great day of atonement. On that day we saw the blood that washed away all our sins. It is propitiation. Here in the brazen serpent it is life through death. Christ in the likeness of sinful flesh, and on the cross, made sin, and then dying under the judgment of God. That is, He takes our place, made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. That righteousness which we are made is the standing we have in Him; is it not also practically that which believers are when they judge their own flesh with the judgment of God? Condemning it root and branch? I am persuaded we shall never know the blessedness of becoming God's righteousness in Him till we pass sentence of death upon self. A nature which was not inherently sin, but might have some good element, would need blood-washing if it transgressed; but you cannot cleanse sin. Our souls are forgiven their sins; that is another thing. Fallen nature is still nature, and must be condemned. The flesh is never cleansed. Christ, our Substitute, has fully borne the judgment of flesh. He was lifted up for that purpose, that we, beholding the judgment of our nature resting upon Him, might be able to say that we died with Him. As the bitten Israelite looked upon the serpent of brass, and lived, so we look upon Christ and in a new life live to God. The question of sin is settled for ever. Of course it is but a hint here: the full truth can only come out in Christ dead and risen.

10. 1885 321.

Israel now set forward under the full efficacy of grace (Num. 21:10). God had said that He would quite take away their murmuring, and Aaron's rod, bearing buds, blossoms, and almonds, was the pledge of it, as well as the occasion of the promise. The rod completed the types of the priesthood of Christ, as One who is alive again from the dead, and so has power over death. Then it was God said He would make their murmurings to cease. Once after this the people murmured, because there was yet another lesson of the flesh, and judgment upon it; not one more needful. Also Christ is seen as Sin-bearer; else the others would be incomplete. For this is the truth of the serpent of brass — death to the flesh and Christ made sin. This last outburst of murmuring in the wilderness God dealt with in such a way that we might know how the incurable evil of the flesh must be overcome. That lesson given, the efficacy of the living red is at once seen, for the murmurs cease, not, through judgment, but by the fulness of blessing. Then the promise is fulfilled. A few stages bring them to the brooks of Arnon. Some wonderful act of power and grace was done there, for it is coupled with the Red Sea as marvellous scenes of God's intervention: so it is written in the book of the wars of Jehovah, "what He did in the Red Sea and in the brooks of Arnon." Though not revealed what He did, we know it was the beginning of blessing; for from the stream of brooks they came to Beer, that is the name that Jehovah spake of. He had spoken beforehand of the well. Was it at the brooks of Arnon that He foretold Moses of the well? Princes and people come prepared, Israel sings, and the princes and the nobles dig with their staves, and the water flows.

The apparent change in God's dealing with the people is as marked as when they put themselves under law at Sinai. Then they exchanged the safe place of being simply objects of mercy and of grace for the fatal position of law-responsibilities where in righteousness God must judge them as being transgressors as well as sinners by nature. Presumption and ignorance of their utter incapacity for obedience led them to their ruin. Nay, rather through the grace that was still active on their behalf, though hidden under cover of the law, God's way to bring them to the only place where the unconditional promises made to the fathers could be fulfilled according to the full purpose of God. Now, at the close of their wanderings, grace shines out fuller and more prominently than before they came to Sinai. They murmured at Horeb. God does not chide though He heard them, but bids Moses smite the rock, and the waters flow. Here God does not wait to be asked; He promises beforehand and tells Moses that the well is at Beer. And God is still before them, He is ready before they are, waiting to be gracious. They are scattered, "Gather the people together, and I will give them water."

Was it the breaking forth of water from a fresh fountain that man had never known before? It was truly a well of grace which Israel had willingly stopped up, for they chose the law. There was no outward mark, no human sign that water, blessed water as being the special gift of the living God, was ready for them. Is it not so? Therefore God said when the people came to Beer, "This is the well that I spake to you of." Had it been a well evident to man's eye, why should the princes and the nobles dig with their staves? why should Israel sing, "Spring up, O well?" As it were, the water is brought to the surface by the power of God, and only needed the touch of the staves upon the ground for the streams to gush forth as from a fountain till then pent up. The heart of Israel is for once touched with joy, and for a brief moment they forget their discouragements and their murmurings. They sing "Spring up, O well."

Why this abundant display of grace, immediately after they had openly spoken against God (ver. 5)? Truly the flesh had never before so shown itself, had never before been so bold; but there was another and still greater fact which stood out before God, so immense in its efficacy as to turn aside the judgment and bring in healing, yea positive blessing. Christ had been set forth as bearing the full condemnation of sin, and God well pleased turns in upon Israel the full tide of grace. In the serpent of brass is seen the finished work of Christ, the completion of redemption toil. Fulness of blessing, symbolised by abundance of water, is the blessed and necessary result.

This is a passing glimpse of Israel's future, though the veil was not lifted for them. The intended effect, and immediate, was that they might rejoice in Jehovah their God. As Moses was taken up to the top of Pisgah where God showed him all the land, so to the church is made known the future glory, both that for which she is hoping (Rom. 5:2) and that which Israel will possess in the age to come. Israel's joy in the wilderness was soon forgotten, their song very brief. How soon they fell into the snare of Moab; and what a solemn instance that the lips may utter praise while the heart is unchanged! They rejoiced in the gift, and nature can appreciate the temporal gifts of God; but they rejoiced not in the Giver. Let their subsequent history answer, the only answer that man has ever given to God. But man's ingratitude does not prevent the fulfilling of the promises. Israel shall yet enjoy their land; for they will all have clean water sprinkled upon them, hearts of flesh given (Ezek. 36). Then God will pour floods upon the thirsty ground, and Israel shall draw water with joy from the wells of salvation (Isa. 12).

The deeper meaning of this display of grace is for the church of God, which enjoys the present reality of all that Israel had only in type. The abundance of water foreshows their special privileges as God's chosen nation for the earth when the right time is come. Till then they must wait for their full blessing. Another and greater work is going on now, wherein all the varied aspects of Christ and His work and His death, given to them in detail — if we may so say — is for us, the called and chosen of God for heaven, centred in the cross. For there we see the blood that stands between us and the Avenger, there the blood that washes us from our sins, takes away all guilt, and by which we are justified freely. There the cleansing power from every defilement, as by the ashes of Him who was on the cross wholly consumed in the fire of God's judgment; there also the power of death upon the old man which was crucified with Christ when He was made sin, so that according to the new man we might live a new life unto God. Therefore all is ready for the believer to enter into the possession of the whole land, the enjoyment of every spiritual blessing. For salvation, the realising by faith that we have died to sin in the flesh is the last thing learnt. Until this is known, there is much fluctuation in the joy of knowing our sins forgiven. Sometimes seasons of great happiness, at others, doubts and fears arise through the activity of the flesh, which has not been yet reckoned dead, or rather that we have died to it. For the flesh is not dead; but we, reckoning ourselves dead to it, receive power through Christ to live to God according to the new "I,” and thus realise our new condition, as alive to God in Christ Jesus; and so are enabled to mortify our members which are upon the earth.

The soul that is not grounded and settled in this great truth is obliged to be constantly looking at the cross as that which keeps God outside, i.e. the only aspect it can have to a soul yet in Egypt. Nor is forgiveness clearly realised until we have learnt that Christ has done more for us than merely giving us remission. Hence souls go back to the cross as a fresh starting-point to get re-assurance of forgiveness. There is no advance, no growth, in this going backward and forward. Until we take the stand of faith that we in Christ did die to sin, we cannot know the meaning of resurrection-life, and therefore we are as to faith still living in the old life. No wonder if the question of sins is constantly present; and to quiet conscience there is a necessity to sprinkle the door-posts again. For it is a poor condition to go on with an active unjudged flesh, content to think it is all right. In such cases there may be reason to fear that all is wrong.

As a matter of fact before God the question of sins and forgiveness is settled once and for ever; but the enjoyment of the assurance of forgiveness is according to our faith. This is never known as a settled thing until we know that in Christ we really died unto sin. Thence not only peace but power over the flesh; for how shall we that thus died to sin live any longer therein? Does God our Father leave us to make good our position by our own efforts, or by an otiose faith? Nay; when He gives faith to rest implicitly on His word, He also gives the power. He makes our standing good, not in imagination, but by His Spirit given to us. It is our privilege through grace to say with Paul, "I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me." Wondrous divine power, looking not at the mere serpent of brass — not at our thoughts about it — but at Christ Himself, Who was made sin and died for us; faith in the heart, not the mere mind or intellect, looking at Him. If we are content with mere doctrine, we are only looking at the serpent of brass. God would have us in faith look at Christ, and know His power.

So looking, we have abundance of water. The Lord Jesus speaks of water as a symbol of the word in John 3, "born of water and of the Spirit;" in John 4 as power of worship in souls, and again in John 7 it is used to signify the outflow of the Holy Spirit. So we see in the smitten rock at Horeb; in the running water with the ashes; and here in abundance of water, as in John 7, so abundant, that from the believer run rivers of living water. And, note, the water in Num. 21 and in John 7 is not to souls dying from thirst — this we see at Horeb, and the well of Sychar — nor is it to cleanse from defilement, but the joy of God giving abundance to those who know the full and finished work of Christ as typified by the serpent of brass. Divine love now flows down to us, every barrier removed; for Truth and Righteousness are not set aside but exalted. May we not say that in this beautiful scene of the up-springing well God is not so much satisfying the thirst of the people as His own thirst for their blessing, and how He longs to bless us in the same, yet more abundant manner! He was straitened till the whole work of Christ was (in type, as in fact) complete. Then He calls to blessing the very same people whom forty years before He bade them shut their doors lest He came in to destroy them. This is the wonder of redemption, and proclaims how infinite the value of the blood shed for us, the power that brings God, Who must be against us as born in sin, to be for us when redeemed.

This type in the wilderness will have its true significance in the last days for Israel, when the Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh, and the desert shall be like the garden of the Lord. But if it was God's delight to make the well spring up in the wilderness, how much more when Israel's fulness comes in! Then truly all their murmurings will cease, for they will know and rejoice in Jehovah. But there is a more blessed realization of this type already; whatever the blessedness of Israel, however richly the Spirit may be poured upon them, it will not, cannot, equal the blessing when the Holy Ghost came down upon the gathered disciples on the day of Pentecost. God had been waiting for that event, one of the results of the finished work of Christ. In the wilderness God said, "Gather the people," all were to be present, and to share in the blessing. And on the day of Pentecost the disciples were all with one accord in one place. On both occasions all for whom the blessing is prepared are brought together. And it is God's joy to have a people here on whom He can bestow the fulness of His blessing. He gathered Israel on that day that He might have the joy of giving them water; and He gathered the disciples that He might have the delight of an assembly formed to receive the Holy Ghost. The Lord Jesus said, "I will send the Comforter "; this answers to the word to Israel, "I will give them water." Israel sang to the well; we rejoice in the presence of the Comforter by whose power we sing praise to God our Father. In the great day that is coming blessing will flow through Israel to the Gentile; but of the church, rather of every believer, it is said, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." Our blessing, and power of blessing goes beyond their's. Channels of living water! Immediately the rivers of living waters began to flow, and thousands drank thence at Peter's first preaching. And as Israel sang to the well, so these new disciples continued daily in the temple praising God. The water still flows, the well is still springing up, the Holy Ghost has not left the church — never will (even in the eternal glory the church will be the habitation of God by the Spirit); and though we are yet in the world, a wilderness, the water flows abundantly for us.

Alas! how we have failed in that the living waters have not flowed from us according to the mind of God. The professing church has rather dammed up the outflow, and in its representative character has so failed that the world denies the truth, of which the church is or ought to be the pillar and ground. The church has sunk to the condition of a mere confederation intent upon maintaining an earthly position. And the world so esteems it, seeing in it an intruder aiming at secular power. The world's judgment is sadly and unwittingly, in accord with the word of the Lord; for it has become a great tree. The two powers have struggled, and do still. Where the secular power is supreme, as in Protestant lands, the nominal church seeks to influence, and in most instances secretly to dominate the secular. Where the world has failed to oust the ecclesiastical power from the usurped throne, there the church openly takes the lead in all, and is more tenacious of worldly things than the world itself.

The day is coming when the world will re-assert itself, and wrest from the false church its acquired power, wreaking their vengeance upon it, "and shall burn her with fire."

But there are, spite of this wickedness, the true saints of God — all believers — who enjoy the blessing of the Holy Ghost's abiding presence. As to this the church is unknown to the world; as to testimony it ought to be well-known. The hidden joys of communion, sitting at a table invisible to man, is not for the world; just as the well was not for the Edomite nor the Moabite, though in the border of their land, but for Israel alone.

"I will give them water." Has the water ever failed? For more than 1800 years the Holy Spirit of God has dwelt down here with the church. Little companies here and there are witnesses of His presence. Persecutions, contempt, and reproach have not hindered, nay, all these have only made His presence more manifest. The corruption that has resulted from evil men creeping in has only made the poor of the flock cleave more to the Name of Jesus. And this was never more visible than in the present day when not persecution from without but divisions within betray the untiring aim of the enemy to scatter what he cannot destroy. God, our God, is faithful to His word, "I will give them water." For the church is His delight. Now that Christ is in heaven, the church of God is called to be the representative of Christ during His absence, and therefore the only object here below acceptable and pleasing before Him. Acceptable! yea, but only as the result of the finished work of Christ. There could be no such thing as the church of God till Christ had died, risen and ascended. "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come, but if I depart, I will send Him unto you." The church was wholly dependent for its formation upon the descent of the Holy Ghost. And when redemption is complete, He forms the church. Jehovah was waiting for the last type of the work of Christ to give water, and God waited till the real redemption was accomplished to send down the Spirit. It is "the well" that Christ spoke of before He went away.

It is the water of life; through the church (out of his belly) it reaches dead souls and quickens them. The Lord Jesus said the dead should hear His voice, and should live. But Who applies the word and gives life? The Spirit. Who raises the first cry in the soul, "give me this water that I thirst not?" The Holy Spirit. By what power is it that this water is a well of water whence the living stream flows to others? The Holy Spirit. It is He revealing Christ, therein using God's servants as channels of salvation. This is God's joy. He says to His servants now, "Gather the people together, and I will give them water."

11. 1885 337.

Victory now rests upon Israel. Their song at the "well" is as a fresh starting-point, and marks a change of wilderness history. At the first, they sang Jehovah's triumph over the Egyptian foe. Their song now is the fitting sequence to the latest type of the death of Christ. At the Red Sea God was for them, the enemy was overthrown; the serpent of brass shows how the "flesh" is to be overcome. The flesh which had shown itself in such varied forms during the journey is now judged before God in the death of Christ. The soul that realises this by faith rises above the circumstances of the wilderness, and finds springs of living water. The wilderness does not change, it is still a dreary waste; but God has provided grace and communion, and the rain filleth the pools. At the Red Sea they did nothing; here the princes and the nobles dig with their staves. It is the activity of faith laying hold of the blessings brought within reach by grace. This is the work of faith, no toil, no labour, no opposing influence to set aside, but grasping the blessing brought nigh. And just as the princes must dig with their staves, so must we take hold of the blessings now given to us in the gospel. In contending with the world, in bearing the daily burden, there is the labour of faith; in putting forth the hand to take what God gives, is the intelligent obedience of faith. It brings communion and joy; and (in knowing that we have the victory over flesh, over sin in us, through death) sets the believer above the present condition, and puts the song in his mouth, "Spring up, O well." And this is the "well" that God has told us of in the revelation of Christ. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11); see also 1 Peter 4:1-2. Only those who in the obedience of faith reckon themselves to have died to sin, to the flesh, can fully sing this song. A believer may, even while the "flesh" is yet unjudged, sing the song of the Red Sea; but while the flesh is active, unjudged in its nature, and bringing discipline upon him, there cannot be this true singing of the soul to God. Reckoning ourselves dead to sin is not to reckon the flesh dead; he who reckons thus will soon find his mistake, for "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us;" but to reckon that we have died to it, is God's divine way of giving us victory over it. It is of faith, not of works lest any should boast.

Israel did not rise to the height of the blessing, nor was it God's purpose they should. It was reserved till Christ should come; and the fulness of its meaning, like the good wine at the marriage of Cana, was kept for the church now. They rejoiced in the gift; it is ours to joy in God the Giver as revealed in Christ.

They soon prove that they had not full confidence in God. In a little while they come to the possessions of the Amorites, and messengers are sent to Sihon the king. The land of the Amorite was included in the original gift of God to Israel, and the question arises, Why send messengers asking permission to pass through it, as they did to Edom? The land of Edom and of Moab formed no part of Israel's promised possession, it was God's command that they should not be dispossessed. The land of the Amorite was given; was it of faith to ask merely to pass through it? The request did bring out their hatred, and their attempt to hinder Israel. Their destruction was the consequence. But the question remains, ought not Israel to have taken possession at once? To ask permission to pass quietly through a land given to them of God, was it the obedience of faith? Upon the Amorite there was righteous retribution, for they had taken that land from Moab; and now Israel by the will of God takes it from them.

The Amorite boasted against Moab. Israel now boasts over the Amorite, and in derision turns their boasting against them. They had a national song commemorating the capture of Heshbon, and Israel takes it up as a proverb against them. "Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared; for there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon; it hath consumed Ar of Moab and the lords of the high places of Arnon." Sihon seems to have made the captured city the point whence, in his boasting song, fire issued and consumed Ar of Moab. Whether the following verse (29th) be the continuation of the Amorite's boast, or Israel's lament over Moab, the impotence of their god Chemosh is declared. In irony they say that Chemosh had played them false, and had given his sons and daughters (the Moabites) captives to the Amorite. If this be the language of Israel, it is but a proof of the deceitfulness of the heart, for Israel afterwards worshipped the god they here despise. The 30th verse seems the triumph of Israel over the Amorite. "We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba." If fire came from Heshbon and destroyed Ar of Moab, fire came from Israel and Heshbon perished.

Again the old want of confidence in God appears; "And Moses sent to spy out Jaazar." Had not a sufficient lesson been given as to the employment of spies? Here however no disaster follows. Is it not that the fulness of grace as seen in the "well" covers as it were the want of faith in the promise of God? This is not a solitary instance of the sovereignty and grace rising above failure (have we not daily proofs?) and setting it aside that the goodness of God might triumph over the untrustful heart of man. In all their history grace is the rule, as real after law if not so prominent as before. It was the same grace that told Moses to speak to the rock in Num. 20:8 as bade him smite the rock in Ex. 17:6. And in this comparatively late day, when their journeyings are closing, grace shines out with equal brightness as before. Alas! there is also the breaking out of the old human prudence. How offensive this must be to God whose word was pledged to them that they should have the land! It is the opposite of faith; for faith resting upon His word never sends spies, looks not at obstacles with the eye of doubt and fear, refuses to meet unfavourable or opposing circumstances in a human way, but counts on God and His unfailing word, and thus overcomes. Was Moses again pleased to send spies (Deut. 1:23)? He had before asked Hobab to be eyes for them; failing him, they use their own. But we are here in the full efficacy of the grace that made the dead rod to bloom, and the well to spring up in the desert. It is peculiar to grace to rise above the lack of faith, accomplishing its own purposes. Thus Israel dwells in the cities of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, like Sihon, is delivered into their hand, and they possess his land.

In the following scene (Num. 22) no greater confirmation of the word in Rom. 8:31 can be given. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Principalities and powers are here, the powers of the unseen world are invoked, man unites with Satan to curse the people of God. How intensely interesting to the believer to watch the continuous attempts of evil on the one side, and on the other the marked intervention of God, baffling and bringing to naught the aims of Satan. For he it is, though hiding himself behind Balak and Balaam. It is a question of God's care for His people, and of His power. He has given Israel victory over their fleshly enemies: can He turn aside the malice and power of Satan? God permits Satan to try, that we may have as it were a preconfirmation of the word of the Lord. Nothing shall take us out of His hand. And may we not say that God emphasises His love and care for us? For in this scene He uses no mere human instrument but contends personally with the enemy who is shrouded in the person of Balaam. If this tells how precious Israel was to Him, does it not speak with yet more power to the church of God now? If so much to them who had only the shadows of the good things to come, how much more to believers now who know and have the reality? Behold how God condescends personally to enter the arena of the contest, meeting the foe upon his own ground. If Balaam goes to meet enchantments, it is God that meets him; if he will go to Balak, it is Jehovah with His drawn sword that withstands him in the way; if he will speak against Jehovah, God compels him to utter blessings and not curses; and at last Balaam broken under the power of God is forced to utter judgment against the man from whom he would joyfully have received his house full of silver. For his heart was with Balak, and his desire to curse Israel no less. When no longer held in the hand of God, his will is seen; where he cannot curse, he would seduce; and, having more Satanic wisdom than Balak, he succeeded later by wiles (Num. 31:16), where in a question of direct power against God he could only be crushed.

The two prominent factors in Satan's attempt are the dismay that filled Balak's mind when he saw the hosts of Israel, and the covetousness that ruled Balaam's soul. Balak sends for Balaam. In this early day we see the power of the world uniting with the religion of the world against that which is of God. The most terrible instance of this union is not yet come, when the Beast and the false prophet will unite to make war with the Lamb. Here we have the secular soliciting the aid of the ecclesiastical, as since the ecclesiastical has oft called upon the secular. But whichever solicited, the other always responded; and every difference or jealousy between the two was set aside to make common cause against the people of God.

Israel is now pitched in the plains of Moab, and brought thither by the power of God. They are there as victors bringing their trophies with them, fresh from the conquest of Sihon and Og, and in possession of their cities. A glorious but terror-striking scene met the eyes of Balak, as from the mountains of Moab he gazed upon the broad plains. Here were the people whose report had long before made the heart of the Canaanite to quake, whose miraculous path through the Red Sea, nor less wonderful through the desert, attested the mighty power of Him who led them. Balak saw, feared, and hated this people; and conscious that a power above his own led them, he lost all confidence in his own might. He seemed to be aware that no mere human arm could destroy this people, and he goes not forth as Amalek, Sihon, and Og, with their armies. The power that guards them is not flesh and blood, but one that is mysterious and to him unknown. But is there not a power on his side? Yea, and he invokes Baal-Peor by the intervention of Balaam his prophet. And thus the power of Satan hitherto masked by the idolatry of Moab is brought out in open conflict with the power of God.

Satan had been trying to ruin Israel ever since they passed through the Red Sea; and, now (seeing that in spite of his endeavours to make them disowned of God, they are on the contrary the objects of God's favour, which seems to increase as they become more unworthy), he brings his two servants, his king and his prophet, as he will do again ere long, in a futile attempt to curse them. What an instance of impotent rage and malice! Terror fills Balak, covetousness brings Balaam, but the rage and malice are deepest in Satan; yet is he not less impotent than his two agents who are in this scene his mere puppets, while God for a time wrests Balaam out of Satan's hand, and makes him utter the blessings and greatness of Israel. Satan as well as man must bow to God's will; he, the prime instigator, is here pitting his hatred and cunning against the might and purpose of God. The devil's wish to curse is the occasion for God to pronounce blessing.

Morally, Israel was not a whit better than on the passover night in Egypt when God put a barrier of blood between Himself and them, lest He destroyed them. How surprising then the testimony God brings out of the enemy! How could such words be the testimony of such a people? Only through the finished work of Christ, in virtue of which God had looked upon them, as He now looks upon us who believe in Christ, and sees us now as He saw Israel then before Him in the acceptability of Christ. And how blessedly and truly is the overshadowing worth of Christ in His person and work manifested when the reluctant Balaam is made to say, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel." Was not perverseness a most prominent feature in their history of the desert way? Bidden to possess the land they refuse, alleging their fears of the sons of Anak; and when consequently told to turn towards the desert, they essay to enter the land. They cried in their hunger for bread, and God gave them bread from heaven; afterwards they loathed it and preferred the flesh-pots of Egypt, and even said that Egypt was better than Canaan! Is not this the extreme of perversity? God's mercies misconstrued, His blessings denied, His forbearance abused.

In presence of this what otherwise could be said than what Moses said, "Thou art a stiff-necked people" (Deut. 9:6)? But the infinite value of Christ covers all their perverseness and their iniquity, and God will not behold it. The word does not say that there was no iniquity among them, but that God will not look at it; He will look at Christ. He will not look at the debt, but at Him who paid it; not at the sin, but at Him who bore the judgment. Nor will He allow the enemy to say one word against His people. Moses as the servant of Jehovah might tell them that they had been rebellious ever since the day they came out of Egypt; but not Balaam. He was Balak's willing mouth-piece to utter curses, but no reproach can pass his lips against Jehovah. Leprosy might break out in the camp, and their habitations become defiled; but he, the hater of Israel, is forced to say, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel." Again we say, how could such a testimony be borne of such a people, save as the result of that grace which we cannot measure; of that precious blood whose preciousness God alone can estimate?

It was through, and in virtue of, the cross (though not then accomplished, but only shadowed forth in characters that God could read) that He looked down upon Israel, and made the wretched but impotent Balaam thus speak. Satan's eyes were on them, and malediction in his heart; but he is powerless. If he made such efforts to get Israel cast off by God (for that was his aim) need we wonder that the church of God is the constant object of his attacks; and even if he knows how impossible it is to take the church out of the hand of God are we surprised that he uses all his power to hinder our being what we should be before God? Nay, but are we not amazed that there is so little of watchfulness on our part? Nevertheless, we can still say, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"*

[* The writer alone is responsible for any peculiar views. Ed. B.T.]

354 Both Moses and Balaam bear witness concerning Israel: the former to their moral condition; the latter to God's estimation of them, now what Christ is for them having been (typically) set forth. That the first witness is true, their whole history proves. Balaam's testimony is no less true, for it really testifies of Christ. According to Moses, not one bright spot in their whole course as a nation unless we except the song of the Red Sea. And among the few individuals who stood faithful to God, scarce one without a recorded failure. The congregation are marked by persistent disobedience, constant complaints. It was at the well that sovereign grace silenced their complaining, and God fulfilled His own promise that He would quite take away their murmurings. A fuller accomplishment yet remains when their iniquity is all purged away. Instead of murmuring they sing. Yet their singing is more the testimony to God's grace than the evidence of thankful hearts. Not long after their song they proved how unchanged were their hearts. Balaam's view of Israel is altogether from a different standpoint; he speaks not of what they were practically as Moses did, but how grace could think of them as redeemed by Christ. Moses testifies what Israel is toward God, Balaam what God is for them. Moses speaks of them as responsible and constantly rebelling, Balaam utters the purpose of grace. Moses accordingly proposes their blessing as contingent upon their obedience, Balaam, the settled and fixed purpose of God dependent only upon His will and power; yea, even present blessing, and the hiding of sin and iniquity.

There is the same kind of double testimony concerning us; for that of Moses is analogous to the testimony of the Spirit in us as to our ways and nature. Nay we ourselves are witnesses to ourselves that there is nothing good in the flesh, that the old nature is unrenewed, and incapable of it. All the characteristic evils of the flesh whether in its religious or more corrupt aspect have been developed by the circumstances of the way. And if we in the light of God judge ourselves, will our judgment of self be different from that of Moses concerning Israel? Many an evil root has sprung up owing to circumstances. But it is not the will of God that we should be the creatures of circumstances; it is ours to live above them. But the same Spirit testifies to us the perfectness of Christ, and to our perfectness in Him. It would be an impeachment of the cleansing power of His blood if, as in Him, there was a spot or stain to be seen.

Satan made strenuous efforts to curse Israel. But the very way in which God was pleased to frustrate them shows how completely God held in His hand both him and his wretched servant, Balaam, so that not a movement against Israel was possible till the words of God were all spoken; yea, Balaam himself made to say them. If Jehovah was more visibly for His people at the Red Sea, not more gloriously than here at the close of their wilderness journey. But Balaam's natural character comes out too; for by this Satan works. I doubt if he initiates any evil; he brings it to the surface, energises it, leads it and makes corrupt nature his instrument for all evil. Man is made wise with Satanic wisdom, and the common desires of the mind are combined with those which are clearly more Satanic in character. Thus in this man covetousness is combined with enmity against God and against His people, which might not have so clearly appeared, had he been kept from accompanying the messengers of Balak. The truth is, Balaam was in accord with Satan, willing to curse Israel. He was held in by bit and bridle, and compelled to utter the words of God, not the desire of his own heart.

The messengers in result came with the rewards of divination or witchcraft; but the power of God immediately appears, for at the first call Balaam says, "I will bring you word again, as Jehovah shall speak to me." It was not his wont to seek counsel of God; his intercourse was with the powers of darkness. He says he will bring the word of Jehovah, but he knew not the import of that Name, though compelled to use it. We surely see in this that it was God as the Jehovah of Israel Who met him, at once proclaiming Israel's relationship to Him and Himself as their God. He was for them. But He was not "Jehovah" to Balaam, it was "God" that met him. Balaam's constant use of that Name only makes him the unwitting witness that God was for Israel and against Moab. Constrained to refuse at first, and again seeking to know what God would say to him, it shows how determined his will was, how great his desire to get the reward that Balak promised. It, also, in result brings out more clearly the intervention of God on behalf of His people, for we should not have had these wonderful prophecies if he had not gone. God is making the power and malice of the enemy to praise Him, and to manifest this, to make Satan's discomfiture more complete, God on the second occasion bids him go (i.e. allows him to follow his own will, yet telling him he is powerless and can only speak the word God gives him). This permission to go did not lessen his sin in going. The thought, the desire to curse Israel was still uppermost in his mind; therefore the angel of Jehovah met him in the way and would have slain him. We know how he escaped; the dumb ass rebuked the madness of the prophet.

Balaam feigns obedience and offers to return. He says, "I have sinned." Where was his conscience that he had sinned in persisting to go after God had told him not to go? His thought was merely that he had failed to discern the presence of the angel in the way. This was not in itself a sin, but it was the consequence of sin, and as such illustrated the moral blindness that sin always produces; in an unbeliever it is fatal. But even in a saint following, in any degree, however small, the impulse of his own will, how can he discern the mind of the Lord? The blind unbeliever rushes upon the sword of the Lord, and is destroyed; the saint is preserved, spite of himself, but when his eyes are opened it is to find that the Lord has been withstanding him. We may take warning even from a wicked Balaam. The peculiar tendencies of our own hearts are often turned into a thick veil by Satan, so that we fail to discern the Lord's mind. Covetousness was the human element of this man's opposition to God; it was the blind through which he found himself rushing to destruction. So it was with Judas, who not for a house full of silver, but for only thirty pieces betrayed his Master. I have said "human element" to distinguish it from the deeper wickedness — enmity against God, though this, even as the other, has its seat in the human heart.

His heart is unchanged. Therefore he is again bidden to go, and again reminded of his inability to say aught but what God gave him to say. Had his confession of sin been real, would he not have found mercy? Not being real, he is allowed to follow the bent of his own will, the willing servant of Satan. But, while filling up the measure of his iniquity, God all the while uses him to accomplish His will, and to declare for our profit and joy the unchangeable counsels of God.

It is a wonderful scene; was there ever any other occasion (save the cross) where the wickedness of man and the rage of Satan were so evidently against God and yet used to make known His power and blessing for His own?

"And God's anger was kindled because he went and the angel of Jehovah stood in the way for an adversary against him." There was an appearance, which is always indicated when it is said "the angel of Jehovah," though not always of a person. Not necessarily when it is simply "Jehovah spake," as so frequently to Moses. The appearance may be a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, but it is the angel of Jehovah (Ex. 3:2). So also the cloud that went between Israel and the Egyptians was "the angel of God" (Ex. 14:19). The man that appeared to the wife of Manoah was "the angel of Jehovah." There is no necessity to suppose an appearance to Balaam before this, when on his journey the angel of Jehovah met him in the way; for God can make His power and presence felt without assuming an appearance. Evidently there was an opposition now, for the ass saw, though Balaam was not at first permitted to see. But his blindness made his will more manifest.

It would seem that not only the name "Jehovah" but the use of the number "seven" was borrowed from Israel by the nations outside. For on the high places Balaam caused seven altars to be prepared, and a bullock and a ram on each; and by way of making himself acceptable to God says, "I have prepared seven altars, and I have offered upon every altar a bullock and a ram." Thus would man — the flesh — endeavour to propitiate God; is there anything more offensive to Him? From these high places he sees the utmost of the people; the whole camp is spread out before his astonished eyes. He pronounces them blessed, and confesses his own impotence. "How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed, or how shall I defy whom Jehovah hath not defied?" Balak reproaches him, and the unwilling Balaam owns the power that controlled him. Another place is selected whence only the outskirts of the camp can be seen. As if Balsam's limited view could tarn the blessing into a curse, or thwart the purpose of God!

In Balak we see how utterly lost was the knowledge of God. The world by wisdom knew Him not; nor was the ignorance of Balak darker than the world's wisdom. Indeed its wisdom and its ignorance are both alike here. God is known only by revelation, and Balak's ignorance is less astonishing than that of the wise world. The wisdom of the world searched for God not in creation where His eternal power and Godhead were surely displayed, but in the dark and filthy caverns of a filthy and corrupt imagination. What that produced is graven on every page of the world's history. What Balak's idea of God was is evident from his words to Balaam. He thought God was altogether such as himself, or such as he conceived his own god to be. For he in his highest thoughts could not conceive anything beyond nature; he might imagine a monster possessing every conceivable attribute that nature could suggest; and his god Baal was but the expression of his own imagination. He might think that Jehovah was a more powerful God than Baal, and so did not direct Balaam to consult the god of Moab. But to him gods and men were not beyond the influence of circumstances and place. And so he says, judging Jehovah as he would Baal, "thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all; and curse me them from thence." But God is not man that He should lie, or the Son of man that He should repent; He had spoken, and would make it good. Balaam had received commandment to bless and he could not reverse it; as if he said, I would but I cannot. In effect a fuller blessing is pronounced; and Balak, despairing of cursing them, would fain content himself with hindering blessing. There was no enchantment, no divination, able to bring a curse upon Israel; on the contrary the enchanter himself had been blessing — had even uttered the wish that he could share in their lot at the end, and die the death of the righteous. And the miserable king, beginning to feel how hopeless it was to strive against the God of Israel, says, "Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all;" as if he would say, Let them and me be equal, and then I may overcome them. But Jehovah's interposition for His people is never merely to frustrate the aims of the enemy and turn aside evil; there is always the positive side of blessing. And here how great the blessing is, how comprehensive yet not circumstantial in its details; each step rising in fulness, until God in the person of the coming Star of Jacob triumphs gloriously over the power and malice of Satan. What a marvellous sort of conflict between the power of God and the power of evil!

Yet again another place is chosen (ver. 27). The God of heaven and of earth is unknown. To his dark idolatrous soul, what was the Jehovah of Israel more than the tutelary deity of a particular people, or of a limited locality where indeed He might be supreme, while in another place another god would prevail? Such was evidently the thought of Balak. The idolatry of every clime and age never went beyond this; each nation had its own god: Elysium and Tartarus, earth and sea, each its own deity. Or if the philosophic mind went farther, it was but a fruitless attempt to grasp at an indefinable intangible something, of which the name they gave, Chaos, only declared their ignorance. The common people did not rise even to this. Long afterwards the Syrians said the God of Israel was the god of the hills, and not of the valleys. Even the wicked Balaam somehow learnt better. Perhaps even before, he was like the Roman augurs who, as Cicero surmised, winked to each other when they beheld the superstitious folly of the common people. But though he might have been as mach as others the slave of superstition, and as firm a believer in his own enchantments, when, for the third time, Balak prepares his altars and his sacrifices at another place, Balaam meets not his thought implied in change of place; he feels the folly of seeking enchantments as at other — the former — times, and sets his face toward the wilderness.

Notwithstanding this apparent giving up of his divinations. in yielding again to Balak's "importunity he gives further evidence of his own will, unbroken yet powerless. And is it not that God would make His power still more manifest? Balaam seeks not enchantments; his own "familiar spirit" is driven from the battlefield, and now it is said "the Spirit of God came upon him." He is now only as a captive chained to the chariot of the Conqueror. He was no better than his ass, which spoke when God opened his mouth. And so must Balaam.

The Spirit of God came upon him, but not in saving power. This is not the only instance of the Spirit using an unconverted man, and here an enemy, as a mere instrument for His purpose. God works by whomsoever He will, but His instruments are always chosen according to His infinite wisdom. No prophet from among Israel could so well have proved the truth of God's power, and that the God of Israel was the true God of heaven and earth. This was of the highest importance as a testimony to the heathen world, and declared to them that their gods were no gods. In Balaam, unwilling, resisting to the last, the unmistakeable testimony is wrung out of him, to the supreme power and sovereignty of the God of Israel. No doubt the prophecies of Balaam with the attendant circumstances were known to the nations, as well as the miraculous passing of Israel through the Red Sea (Joshua 2:10). Thus beyond the special point of Israel's blessing here is a witness of the Being and Power of God over and above the testimony of creation. Judgment was imminent over the Canaanite; ere it falls, a fresh and altogether new witness of the One true God is given, and through them to all nations. To continue in idolatry after such proof increased their sin. The world is willingly ignorant. "So that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20).

The word affords other instances of the Spirit coming upon a man as quite distinct from His presence where there is a broken spirit resting on redemption. When the conscience is in the presence of God, and bows to His judgment, then the Spirit of God acts in saving grace, not using the man as a mere instrument, but blessing his soul: in a word, it is salvation. But even where there is no conscience-work, and consequently no salvation, the power of the Spirit may be so great that for the time he who is under it becomes another man. After Saul was anointed, the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him, and he became another man (1 Sam. 10:6). The Spirit of God came again upon him (1 Sam. 19:23), and he prophesied as on the former occasion; but at neither time was there any work in the conscience, or change of heart. Indeed on the second of these two occasions his behaviour was such as to be evidence to the contrary. Yet on both he was so unlike himself ( — became another man) that the people amazed said "Is Saul also among the prophets?" So also another instance of this same power of the Spirit of God is seen in that the lying and seducing prophet, is made to pronounce judgment upon the disobedient prophet (1 Kings xiii). In all these the prophesying is the manifestation of the Spirit's power, not in saving efficacy, but as sovereign and selecting His instruments according to divine wisdom.

Surely there is contained in these facts a very solemn consideration for those who are now used in the service of God. To be a prominent servant and a useful one in the greatest of all works is no proof even of conversion. No zeal, no success, in preaching can compensate for the absence of life. There are those who will say, "Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in thy Name? And in thy Name have cast out devils, and in thy Name done many wonderful works?" The Lord's answer to such reveals the sad and solemn fact, that their activity in such labour and zeal was without the knowledge of the Lord; and, as without this saving knowledge, all their labour and zeal was nothing else than the work of iniquity! "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. vii). There is only one ground of salvation (and indeed for acceptable service), that as lost sinners we are saved only by Christ — by faith in Him. The great apostle himself had no other plea but this the common ground of all. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15).

Three times the enemy has tried and thrice failed in his attempt. Now Satan in the person of Balak appears in more open opposition, and seeks as if he would be revenged upon his helpless servant. For Balak here is but the mouth-piece of Satan. He had his rewards for the prophet, but they were offered in vain. In anger and disappointment he tells Balaam to flee to his place. "I thought to promote thee unto great honour; but lo, Jehovah hath kept thee back from honour." It is against Jehovah that Balak speaks, it was against His will that the king now openly declares himself.

It was a question between righteousness and grace. Satan was not ignorant of the demands of righteousness, he knew that Israel deserved to lose the promised inheritance; but he knew nothing of the purposes of grace, or how these purposes could be fulfilled without setting aside the demands of righteousness. He is as it were challenging God, whether He can bless a people hitherto rebellious. And wondrously have the Wisdom and the Power (1 Cor. 1) met the challenge. The great question is settled before God, though the time was not then come for the public setting forth of Christ Himself as the propitiatory for sin (Rom. 3:25). It is in view of the cross that God can declare Israel blessed. The book of types and shadows had been unrolled before Israel, but unread by them; the true Light had not to them illuminated the page; but all was before God, and the people who most deserved to be cut off are those to whom the highest and greatest (earthly) blessings are assured. Nor could Satan read the record more than man, he never knew it till the great fact of atonement was accomplished. God did not make Satan the depositary of His counsels. But on the cross where Christ was lifted up as the answer to all Satan's charges, as well as to assure every believer, then Satan knew how God could be just and the Justifier of the ungodly.

Now though Satan was the prime mover in the attempt to curse Israel, stirring up the evil in the hearts of these two men to accomplish his purpose, yet after all it was not so much the people, as the fearing and hating Him who was to come from them. Satan knew the meaning of the first word given in Eden. The Lord who was to come should bruise his head. The word was renewed to Abraham: Satan saw it was connected somehow with Israel. If he could destroy Israel, the promised Seed could not come. But the counsel of God as to His Christ is eternal; and "hath Jehovah spoken, and shall He not make it good?" Satan, vanquished, disappears. His two servants may each go their way. Nay, not yet; God has not done with Balak; this great controversy is not to be left so. God as it were now takes the initiative, and the curse Balak sought for Israel is pronounced upon himself. "Come, I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days." And now it is not Israel, but the STAR out of Jacob that is before the eye of God. It is in Him and by Him that the future victories and greatness of Israel will be achieved. Moab and every other power of the world that has stood up against Christ and His people shall be subdued under His mighty power. The ships of the west may afflict Asshur and Eber; but their leader shall perish. It is the judgment of the quick at the end of the age, even then and thus pronounced.

The scene closes, the curtain drops upon this wonderful drama: Satan for the time is vanquished, and the everlasting counsels of grace stand firm in the power of God, which is yet to make all good for Israel.

Did Israel know how wondrously God, their Jehovah was maintaining their cause, yea, His own sovereign right of grace against the enemy? Nay, they, unconscious, dwelt at ease in their tents, while the battle was fought and won upon the high places of Moab.

12. 1885 369.

The prophecies uttered by Balaam are unsurpassed in their magnificence. In scope like Isaiah they take in the complete circle of God's dealings and purposes concerning Israel. Isaiah is fuller and richer in height, depth, and breadth; but the brevity of those adds not a little to their grandeur. They begin with the counsel of God: He blest Israel; and the four utterances give the characteristics, the salient features, of their position and relationship to God and man. In the beginning of their national existence they felt the iron yoke of slavery, and God interposed and brought them out of the land of bondage. He separated them from the nations unto Himself, and made His abode with them, and will yet raise them to power and greatness over every other nation. Their glory at the end through Him Who shall come out of Jacob shall never be equalled.

Yet running through this glory and splendour, there is the wail of a soul consciously outside, looking on but not nigh; whose first longing desire to share in Israel's lot, at least to die their death, ends in a cry of despair, "Alas! who shall stand when God doeth this?" The condition of his soul, entwined as it is with the declared blessings of Israel, is like a dark thread in a skein of the brightest colours, but which by contrast enhances the beauty and brightness of Israel.

The first word declares the people blessed, not as then beginning but as an existing fact. Separation from the nations was a necessary result. God instituted for them a special and peculiar government which effectually placed a thick fence between them and the nation. This was preparatory to the second blessing — sin not imputed. And this must be before' the King can dwell among them and find His pleasure there, as the third evidently declares. The fourth is Messiah's reign, and the putting forth of His power.

At this time they do not appear to be so numerous but that he who looked from the hills could see them all as they spread out on the plain. Their number is given (Num. 26): 601730 males above the age of twenty "able to go to war;" and these do not include the Levites. Moses does say (Deut. 10:22) they are as the stars of heaven for multitude. But only in the millennium will it also be said, "as the sand upon the sea shore." And the next place selected by Balak where only the uttermost part could be seen implies that all Israel could be seen from where the first prophecy was given. Be this as it may, "dwelling alone" is the first salient feature of their blessing; in itself a blessing, but a means also for higher and greater. They were a vineyard hedged about, a tower and a winepress within the enclosure. God gave all that was needed for maintaining separation, and enforced it by command. This was the external aspect of their blessing; and if a Gentile became a proselyte, he too must sever all previous connections. For this is the key of their position before God, and their special privileges hung upon their "dwelling alone."

And this mark which God put upon them from the first has never been lost. They have rebelled and in hardness of heart sought intercourse with idolatrous nations. Yet, mingle with others as they might, their identity. was never lost. During the kingdom they would easily be distinguished; but they were as distinct from their neighbours in Babylon, visibly maintained for seventy years, more than two generations (according to modern computation). Nor were they less visibly maintained in the city of Ahasuerus, and in all the provinces of his empire when Satan for the second time sought to destroy them all through the counsel of Haman the Agagite. But, whether it be Pharaoh or Ahasuerus, God watched over them and kept them in safety. The ease with which the Jew could have been distinguished from his neighbour, when the first decree was issued for their slaughter, is proof how unmingled they were in reality with the Gentile. The same power now keeps the Jews from being lost among the nations where they are scattered.

Naturally the nationality of immigrants soon becomes undiscernible; it is blended with that of the native, or both together evolve a new character. Our own land where are welded Saxon, Dane, and Norman, with aborigines is an instance of a nation different from any one of the various elements. Perhaps each nation in Europe can point to similar facts in its own history. But the Jew, notwithstanding his association with Gentiles and sharing their pursuits, has ever remained distinct and discernible. It is the mark of God. Recent legislation would obliterate this mark and the world's policy approves. But the word "shall dwell alone" abides, and man cannot reverse it. It may be said that the ten tribes are so mingled with other peoples that their nationality is quite gone. They are truly lost to the eye of man, in the dust of the earth. Is that a proof that their identity is lost to God? In His time they will come forth in the light, and then they will be recognised by all. This should at least lead professed believers not to speculate as to this or that nation being the lost tribes. All such guesses are the merest folly. Nor do I doubt that this bold inquisitiveness of the human mind prying into the hidden things of God is mainly controlled by Satan who knows no more than man where the ten tribes are. It is God's secret, and He has hidden them from the malice and persecuting power both of Satan and of the world. The Jew not hidden has suffered. But whether hidden as the ten tribes, or persecuted as the Jew, the word stands out in prominent truth, "they shall dwell alone." It was true in Egypt, in the wilderness, in the land, in captivity, and will be in their future greatness and glory. "Lo, the people shall dwell alone and shall not he reckoned among the nations."

There is a reckoning time coming for all nations, a reckoning of judgment. Israel's chastisement will then be past. As they stand alone under a judgment that distinguishes them from all other nations, so when these nations are visited neither will Israel then be reckoned among them.

At the time of this prophecy they were a comparatively small nation (Deut. 4:38), but a glance at the future is given, when the primal word (Gen. 13:16) will be literally fulfilled through the line of Israel whose seed shall be like the dust of the earth, and as the sand on the sea shore for multitude (Gen. 28:14, Gen. 32:12). Balaam "the man whose eyes are open" sees their mighty numbers and exclaims "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?"

The next word confirms the first which declared Israel to be blessed. God stamps it with the seal of His own unchangeable nature. "God is not man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent; hath He said and shall He not do it, or hath He spoken and shall He not make it good?" The commandment to bless had gone forth, and none could reverse it. And now the blessing advances and takes a moral character. The first has given their relationship to the world, and it is one of distance, not nearness; here in the second prophecy it is their position before God, their relationship to Him as the people, in whom He will not behold iniquity nor see perverseness. The word does not say that Israel was free from iniquity, but that God would not see it. If He looked upon their perverseness, how could they inherit the land? God Himself hides their sin and rebellious ways from His own eye. Christ, whose atoning work has been displaying its wondrous efficacy all through the wilderness, covers all. He leads them in under the shelter of His wing. God's delight is in Him, and His work. And this so fills His eye that naught else is seen, and He can only bless. What a divine proof of the infinite worth of Him Whose precious blood has made atonement for sin; may we not say, divine evidence of the overwhelming power of redemption! As the rising tide effaces every character written on the sand, so does the full flow of grace blot out the handwriting against Israel. "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel." Nor is this marvellous declaration limited to the then circumstances which were only a brief foreshadowing of the grace which still awaits them. All Israel will again take possession of their land with a more glorious display of the power of grace, when victories will be won by a mightier hand over greater foes. In the past we see a sinful people, but God will not behold their iniquity; in the future clean water shall be sprinkled upon them, all shall be taught of God. Ennobled by grace, each house of Israel shall inscribe upon its escutcheon "Holiness to Jehovah" (Zech. 14:20). Practical righteousness shall characterise them; for the word is prophetic and awaits its perfect accomplishment. In the past we see God's estimation of the blood of Christ, it makes atonement; in the future for Israel, its further cleansing power. "They shall look upon Me Whom they have pierced." "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness." (Zech. 12:10, Zech. 13:1.) "Hath He said and shall He not do it, or hath He spoken and shall He not make it good?" "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God" (Ps. 87:3).

Mark the glory immediately resulting from God's not seeing perverseness. "Jehovah his God is with him and the shout of a King is among them." Not to see sin is the negative side of their blessing; there is no judgment. Now we have the positive side; Jehovah is there, and the shout of a King. To this the prophets long after testify. Zephaniah joins the presence of the King among them with joyous songs, "Sing, O daughter of Zion, shout, O Israel, be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. Jehovah hath taken away thy judgments, He hath cast out thine enemy; the King of Israel even Jehovah is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not see evil any more" (Zeph. 3:14-15). The Psalmist celebrates the same glory when the Son of David reigns and shall be acclaimed the King of glory Ps. 24).

Mark too how this greatness and joy is referred to God as the source of all. What were they, this renowned people, what was their origin? "Thy father was an Amorite and thy mother a Hittite" etc. (Ezek. 16) And later, what were they? A nation of slaves! Their first steps from Egypt were a flight, and fear marked them till their enemies were drowned in the sea. "God brought them out of Egypt." But now they have the strength of a unicorn. This also awaits a fuller accomplishment; but a sample of their strength was given in their triumph over Og and Sihon. In the beginning they fought with Amalek, and to human eyes the fight was dubious. Sometimes Amalek seemed to prevail. Israel had not then the strength of a unicorn. But God will have them enter the land as conquerors, and He has clothed them with power. The nations may be greater and mightier, nevertheless the nations flee before them. And this power with which they are endowed is to be yet more displayed in Joshua; and he is but the type of a greater Joshua. But if our hearts are attracted by the magnificence unfolded in these prophecies what will their accomplishment be! The man who has seen these visions of the Almighty, having his eyes open, beholds the future and exclaims in wonder but not in joy, "What hath God wrought!"

There are two parts in Num. 23:22. The former presents Israel as the objects of God's care; the latter, as the instruments of God's vengeance upon the nations. The 23rd verse answers to the former part, the 24th to the latter. "God brought them out of Egypt." It is the pledge of His unceasing watchfulness. When God begins to bless, He never ceases; for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. It is the assurance of His power ever active on their behalf; a power that would preserve them from the world as such, and from the malice and occult machination of Satan. "Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither any divination against Israel." This was verified at that time, for Balaam and his "familiar spirit" sought in vain to curse them. The seduction of Moab might and did ensnare them; but the direct power of Satan, apart from the world, as a means of temptation, is met by the immediate power of God. And so it ever is. Never did any evil overtake them but the cause was found in their own yielding to the world outside them. No enchantment or divination of Satan ever prevailed save when they broke through the barrier God had made, and served other gods. How soon they joined themselves to Baal-Peor, and then became enchanted with the daughters of Moab; how oft repeated up to the captivity! But the defeat of Satan in all his attempts (now seemingly successful) will be gloriously complete when Israel established in righteousness in the land will shout in praise, "What hath God wrought?" And the nations in amazement shall with responsive shouts acknowledge the power of God.

The first part however looks chiefly at their defensive strength, and how God would have preserved them: a care so graciously seen in the wilderness (Deut. 11:1-7). The second part is their aggressive power; it is in view of conflict and of ultimate victory. "He hath as it were the strength of a unicorn." The King in their midst is their strength. We have had their numbers, "Who can count the dust of Jacob?" Now it is their might, "Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift himself up as a young lion; he shall not lie down till he eat of the prey and drink the blood of the slain." The metaphor is bold and striking; the majesty of might in the rising up of a great lion, the vigorous bound of a young lion. So sang Isaiah, " They shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west; they shall spoil them of the east together; they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab, and the children of Ammon shall obey them." Israel's triumph is complete, as the lion will not lie down till he eat of the prey and drink the blood of the slain. So again, with different but not less forcible imagery: — "Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth; thou shalt thresh the mountains and beat them small and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them, and thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 11:14, and Isa. 41:15-16). Thus will God be avenged upon the enemies of Israel, and by their hand.

12. — 2. 1887 1.

The third prophecy fills the cup of Israel's blessing, yea, it overflows. The imagery is earthly and is most appropriate. For their place is the earth; yet their earthly blessings supply images of blessing higher than peace and beauty. The Holy Spirit in few words gives a picture of Israel at rest in their land. The two former prophecies do not speak of visions, but this with the following is prefaced by the words, "He hath said which heard the word of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling, but having his eyes open" — not hearing only, but seeing. And he saw Israel, not merely as they then were, though beyond doubt there was order and beauty, and their tents never before more goodly than at that moment; for they were enjoying anticipatively the result of the work of Christ which had been fully presented to them. But his eyes were open to the future, and he saw, in the vision of the Almighty, a far greater beauty and a more perfect order. The vision was transient, but complete. The repose of the quiet valley, the beauty of gardens by the river side, where the fragrant lign aloes sheds its perfume, or where the magnificent cedar spreads its cool shade. Nor is there need to interpret these as only metaphors for spiritual warfare. No doubt there will be blessings higher than fulness of all earthly prosperity, to which the national well-being will be a fit accompaniment; the temporal and earthly, the complement to the spiritual, when God in that day will pour out of His Spirit upon them. In both, the merely earthly, or the higher, it will be said, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel."

Two trees are used as emblems of Israel; the lign aloes in appearance little more than a shrub, and the cedar whose greatness is unsurpassed. But the lign aloes if lowly is fragrant; and it is said of them, "which Jehovah hath planted." The perfume shed by these trees is emblematical of the praise that will ascend to God in that day. When Jehovah said of an offering that He would smell a sweet savour, it was a token the offering was accepted. Jehovah has planted the lign aloes, and, as it were, makes provision for His praise in the millennial day. This reference to His planting is special and significant.

If the lign aloes, lowly and fragrant, is the emblem of Israel, in whom God will delight and smell a sweet savour from all their offerings, the cedar proclaims their superiority in the world. In scripture its typical use is always to denote power or exaltation, if not pride. When the king of Israel would pour contempt upon the king of Judah, he compared himself to a cedar and Judah's king to a thistle (2 Kings 14:9). The Psalmist employs it to express the prosperity of the righteous, "He shall grow as the cedar in Lebanon" (Ps. 92:12). When judgment comes upon the great of the earth, the prophet Isaiah says it is the day of Jehovah upon the cedars of Lebanon (2:13). These mark the cedar as the symbol of dignity and power. There have been powers and empires in the world, which, as trees, have given shelter to the birds, and their branches covered the beasts of the field; but the trees died. Not so when Israel shall be first among the nations: their glory shall not fade, nor their leaf wither; they are as cedars beside the waters.

Material prosperity and spiritual blessing await Israel. They will also be the means of blessing to others; and with no niggardly hand, for "he shall pour water out of his buckets," a figure which shows the lavish profusion of blessing. Wherever the Israelite goes, he carries blessings; and his seed is by many waters, his king shall be higher than Agag, his kingdom exalted. All the earth will be blessed; but Israel, the fairest portion of the coming kingdom, shall flourish as the garden of Jehovah.

In the midst of this coming glory, the people are reminded of their origin. "God brought them forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of a unicorn." This is repeated from the second prophecy (23:22), where it is connected with God not beholding iniquity, and Israel protected from enchantment — there also with power against their enemies; but here in this third prophecy, not only victory over the enemy as in battle but the utter subjugation of the "nations his enemies." God would not have them forget that He brought them out of Egypt. Whatever height they attain of glory and power, they were once a nation of slaves. God is the source of all good, clothing with beauty and endowing with power.

The 9th verse resumes the picture from the 7th verse, but gives another idea, even that of conscious power, but in repose. "He couched, he lay down as a lion and as a great lion: who shall stir him up?" The metaphor is grand; who dares disturb the repose of a lion? It is taking rest after victory.

How bright the portion of Israel in that day! Beautiful gardens in peaceful valleys; fragrant trees which Jehovah has planted, magnificence and stability as cedars by the waters, the power of a lion that overcomes any rebellious spirit among the nations. Nor is this all. The people that God made as a sharp threshing instrument, with which He judged the nations, shall be in the millennial day the channel and dispenser of blessing to all nations. "He shall pour water out of his buckets." The prophecy says, "he shall eat up the nations;" but afterwards God blesses the nations and the whole earth through them. Is not this a happy solution of Samson's riddle, "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness?" This magnificent prophecy closes with the words which in all the history of Israel shaped and modified God's dealings and judgments upon the nations around them: "Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee." Even when God used this or that nation as His rod to chasten Israel, they were afterwards judged according to the spirit in which they treated Israel (see Isa. 47:6; Zech. 1:15). When Israel is grafted in again, it will be life from the dead (Rom. 11:12-15).

The fourth prophecy is of Christ as God's King in Zion (Ps. 2), the putting forth of His power when seated upon the throne of David. He is the Star out of Jacob, the Sceptre out of Israel. "Israel shall do valiantly" but by His power. Christ alone is before God; as He ever was and is. To exalt Him God brought the people out of Egypt, and now He smites the corners of Moab and destroys the children of Sheth. It is a vision of the Almighty.

This prophecy is in four parts marked by the words, "took up his parable." The judgment begins with those nations who are by descent more or less related to Israel. Edom and Moab were also close neighbours. Edom as the son of Isaac was the nearest of all; Moab could not count Abraham as an ancestor. These two are named together, and named first, for there was a speciality in their enmity. Edom refused to let his "brother" pass through his land, Moab invoked the power of Satan. Con resented the enmity of Edom: it is the special charge against them (Amos 1:11 and Obadiah). Moab knew that human power could not avail, and he sought that of Satan; virtually a denial of God. The enmity of Edom is unnatural; of Moab, Satanic. They are the first to feel the vengeance of God.

Then he looks upon Amalek. In this "parable" Amalek appears, and we see in each "parable" that the sin judged differs in its moral features. Amalek was the grandson of Esau (Gen 36:12), and nearer in descent to Israel than Moab. But his was the fatal pre-eminence to be the first of the nations in open antagonism to Israel after they had passed through the Red sea. And his judgment is given separate from all others. His kingdom may have been the most powerful on the Canaan side of the Red sea; for it is said of Israel "his kingdom shall be higher than Agag's." But the words "first of the nations" refer, I apprehend, specially to the fact that Amalek was the first nation that fought against the redeemed people.

He looks on the Kenites and again takes up his parable. They will be wasted. They appear to be a branch of the Midianites, and therefore descendants of Abraham. Midian was a son of Abraham (Gen. 25:2). Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was priest of Midian, and we read (Judges 1:16) the children of the Kenite Moses' father-in-law: what is recorded of the Kenites betokens amity. Not a few dwelt among the Israelites, though the greater part remained with the Midianites. And there were those who boasted of their strong dwelling places and put their nest in a rock. They thought themselves secure from Him who must reign over all, and that the gift of the land to Abraham (Gen. 15:19) could not be made good to his children. The sin of the Kenites was self-confidence, they boasted in their fastnesses. Nevertheless they should be wasted until Asshur carried them away captive.

Again he takes up his parable and with a cry of dismay, "Alas! who shall live when God doeth this?" The vision reaches on to the last days, and there is seen that the nations, who at one time were a rod in God's hand for others, are themselves the objects of God's judgment, so that there is escape for not one. And this being so, he might well cry out, "Who shall live when God doeth this?" Asshur might be used to carry the Kenite away captive; but their turn would come. Ships would come from Chittim and afflict Asshur. Asshur, or Assyria, was the power that carried Israel captive, and the turn of Asshur to feel God's judgment comes. The ships of Chittim afflict Eber as well as Asshur. It is the Western powers that become the instrument of God's wrath against Eber, that is, Israel, or the Jew; but not as Israel, they are "Lo-ammi" and are no more than the children of Eber, Hebrews. They are not acknowledged, their title and name of power is for the time lost. But when the Star out of Jacob comes, and the Sceptre from Israel, this name of power shall be given them again, and "Lo-ammi" reversed for ever. Then of the ships of Chittim, of the great leader of the West, it is said, "And he also shall perish for ever."

Is not this a wonderful sketch of the history of the no less wonderful people? Who would have foretold of those groaning under the grinding burdens of Pharaoh that they would be the highest and most blessed nation in the world, that every other nation would be proud to do them homage? "In those days it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying,

We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you" (Zech. 8:23). There is the secret of their power and supremacy: God is with them; their own King, the Son of David, is King over the whole earth, but His portion is His people; Zion is the choice place of all His earthly domain.

Remark that, of the objects of judgment in this prophecy, only two have their evil recorded. Other prophecies declare the sin of Edom and of Moab; here, of Amalek and the Kenites: Amalek, foremost in his hatred of God; the Kenites, strong in self-confidence putting their trust in nature — in man. These are common traits of the natural man; and when the Lord Jesus appears to take the kingdom, these two characteristics will be most prominent. After the church is gone, hatred against the godly remnant will be more intense than ever before. Satan in his rage will lead on man and urge him to shed the blood of saints in that day, which will be pre-eminently the day of martyrs. Joined with this will be the extreme of confidence in man, in his boasted progress; like the Kenites of old, they will put their trust in the rocks. In their delusion — that awful judgment of God — they will wonder after the Beast (Rev. 17:8.) and exalt him, saying, "Who is able to make war with him"? (Rev. 13:4) and this joined with the scoffing spirit against the true king, saying, "Where is the promise of His coming?" (2 Peter 3) until at the close their hearts will fail them for fear. The latter day will be marked by sevenfold hatred against the godly remnant, and by the extreme of pride in all things human as opposed to the things of God.

But there are sweeter thoughts — though not more true — we may gather up. In some of these prophecies we can read our portion in a more blessed way, and we can rejoice in all. God's people are separated from the nations by ordinances, our separation is after the pattern of our Lord, "they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world:" a more complete separation, and with higher associations. If God would not behold iniquity in them, for us it is not a mere negative declaration — marvellous as this is — but He adds the positive side that we are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). And if the habitations of Israel are goodly, how much more to be in Christ. How much greater the beauty to be clothed with the best robe, and the honour to be chief guests at the Father's table. This is the portion of the church. There is no beauty like her's. But we can also rejoice in that which is the special portion of Israel; for He who leads them to victory, the Star out of Jacob, the sceptre oat of Israel, who when He reigns over the world, will be God's king in Zion, is the One who has obtained victory for us, and who gives us to participate in His glory, and has prepared a place for us in the mansions of the Father's house above. It is our joy to know that every tongue shall confess Him, and every knee shall bow to Him. "And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are on the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped [Him that liveth for ever and ever]."

13. 1887 17.

The last properly called wilderness lesson is another instance of the incurable evil of the "flesh." Israel falls through the seductive wiles of the devil, from whose open enmity God had so graciously and wonderfully protected them. His care for them as seen in His direct and (if we may so say) His personal intervention, to frustrate the purpose of Satan in the matter of Balaam, was no solitary instance of His watchfulness. All through the wilderness they were the objects of the same care not strikingly displayed after such a manner, but as real, as necessary, and as mighty. When Satan acts and stirs up the power of the world against the people of God, then God is there to turn aside the power of the world, and control the power of Satan as will best suit His own glory; but there is no responsibility attaching to the believer. On the other hand, if Satan's attempts against us are made through the flesh (his most successful way), the responsibility and the danger of the Christian are great. There is only one thing greater, and that is the grace that restores when the wiles of the devil have led to the believer's fall. How often during the forty years did the outbursts of "flesh" bring upon Israel the anger of Jehovah; and ever followed by grace which rose above their sin and triumphed over judgment! These blessed interpositions of grace are recorded for our admonition and profit. For us "this world is a wilderness wide" and here are divine lessons, in the shape of warning and deliverance. Have we taken them to heart? Have we seen in them, as in a mirror, a true picture of our own nature? And judging it in this light of the word do we say with Job, "I abhor myself?" If we have not come to that, there is at least one important lesson not yet learnt.

Here, on the border of the land, when there is but one step more, sin breaks out under circumstances which make it worse than any before. Truly the generation about to enter the land give full proof that they are the children of their fathers. The patience, the mercy, and the favour of God had constantly followed them; victory was given them over every opposing foe, the promised rest in view: in presence of all this they join themselves to Baal-peor, It is these favours that make their sin with Moab worse than all previous murmurings and rebellions. For every added mercy increases the guilt of every subsequent sin. All departure from the ways of righteousness is measured by the truth revealed. Light is the measure of darkness.

Balaam is again the instrument of Satan. He could not curse, but he can seduce. Here is the cunning of the old Serpent. Before he was as the roaring lion seeking to devour Israel, now he is the wily serpent. When he roars as a lion, the believer naturally turns to God as a refuge and a strong tower; when the cunning Serpent hides his venom, the unwatchful believer is sure to be ensnared. The "flesh" is in affinity with the world and Satan; it may be corrupt or religious flesh, appearances may differ; but it is the same nature, and if not watched and judged, the saint is taken as a bird in the snare of the fowler.

Unable to curse, Satan attacks the people through the lusts of the flesh; as if he would say to God "See what sort of people Thou art blessing." God knew them well; but His purpose was to bless; not because they were worthy, but the worth of Christ had been (typically) declared, and this not so much for Israel's intelligence as for God's delight in the Redeemer of Israel. For Christ's sake the blessing stood fast. Judgment necessarily followed upon their sin, but God's word of grace once spoken could not be reversed.

While learning the incurable evil of our own nature, we see also the unchangableness of the word of God's grace. Are there any two things more needed for the believer to learn? What is more prevalent among professors than the teaching and consequent endeavour to improve the "flesh"? or, that a believer may "fall from grace" (as it is not uncommonly expressed) and thus lose life, eternal life? These errors are twin sisters; and where one is, the other is not far distant. Are they not complementary?

How evident the hand of Satan! Why should Balak seek intercourse with Israel whom we saw he hated and feared? Was it a human way of overcoming and causing their destruction? Nay, it was the wisdom of the serpent. Balaam, the emissary of the devil, instructed Moab in the art of seducing the people who were known as Jehovah's people; and he found in Israel fit material to work upon. For they were familiar with idolatry. Delivered from the land of the grossest idolatry, they carried the love of it in their hearts, and thus went back into Egypt (Num. 14:3; Acts 7:39). Now they join themselves to Baal-peor and sink lower in their idolatrous orgies than when they worshipped the golden calf at Horeb. The ignorant Moabites knew not the power behind the scenes — knew not the aim of Satan to ruin Israel? Did not Balaam know? This wretched man had gone back to his enchantments, and, after his experience of the controlling hand of God, had a more fatal knowledge of Satan's power and aim, and, in confirmed enmity against God and His people, surrendered himself a willing captive to the great enemy. He counselled Balak, and Israel fell before the seductive power of their enemy.

The daughters of Moab (Num. 25:1) drew the people to sacrifices of the idols of Moab, and so "Israel was joined to Baal-peor." In the 17th verse Jehovah said unto Moses, "Vex the Midianites, and smite them; for they vex you with their wiles wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor's sake." The Midianites seem to have been more prominent in the sin of Israel as this chapter shows. Balaam no doubt was a Midianite, and there was intimate connection between the Moabites and the Midianites. At the first Balak consulted the elders of Midian, and the elders of both Moab and Midian went together to seek the aid of Balaam and his sorceries. Midian may have been the larger section, as in this matter the more prominent. But Balak was king of both. Be this as it may, the judgment of Jehovah is here upon the Midianites. Moses says (Num. 31:15) after the slaughter of Midian, "Have ye saved all the women alive? behold these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against Jehovah in the matter of Peor." But the daughters of Moab were also in the sin (Num. 25:1). Again, we hear the command, "Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites." Why not of the Moabites? Then the destruction of Moab would, as that of Midian, have been complete. But God had said that Israel should not molest Moab (Deut. 2:9); and therefore judgment here does not fall upon Moab proper, but does fall unsparingly upon Midian. Is not this an instance of the discriminating judgment of God, Who will have mercy upon whom He will? And since Balaam, the Midianite, counselled the Moabite king, was not the judgment upon them most just?

But let us mark well that before Jehovah said, "Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites," He had avenged Himself of the children of Israel. By His command Moses said to the judges, "Slay ye every one his men that were joined to Baal-peor." And this was righteously done, and Moses afterwards referred to this as a warning to Israel. "Your eyes have seen what Jehovah did because of Baal-peor; for all the men that followed Baal-peor, Jehovah thy God hath destroyed them from among you. But ye that did cleave unto Jehovah your God are alive every one of you this day" (Deut. 4:3-4). It is said in the New Testament that judgment must begin at the house of God (see 1 Peter 4:17). And so God began with Israel. To begin at home is the true and right way. It is a divine principle, and as it marks God's way here, so does it mark His true servant, whether for closer communion with Him, for greater zeal in active service, or, as in Israel's case, for vengeance upon God's enemies. So Jacob would have his tent cleansed from idols, before he went to Bethel (Gen. 35). See another instance in king Josiah, who by his personal piety stayed the judgment of God upon Jerusalem for a brief period; he was four years seeking after the God of his father David before he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chron. 34:3). This same holy principle of beginning with self before attempting to correct others is seen in the Lord's word to take the beam out of our own eye before seeking for the mote in the eye of the other (Matt. 7:3; see also Rom. 2:1, 21). So here, first Israel and then the Midianites. Thus the power of God is with them, and taking vengeance upon the enemy was in fact pronouncing judgment upon themselves, the condemnation of their own sin, but also in conscious restoration.

Often had Israel put the patience of Moses to the test; and none so meek as he. Once he failed, which hindered his passing through the Jordan — a perpetual grief to him. How great his indignation in this matter of Baal-peor! Jehovah puts honour upon him and commands him to vindicate His name in Israel, and then upon the Midianites: "afterward shalt thou be gathered to thy people." Jehovah, Whose great servant he was, gave him the joy of purging the worshippers of the one God, assailed by the gods of Moab, by judgment upon the guilty. Was not this sweeter to him than even entering the good land? It was surely more to the glory of Jehovah. This was his last great act. What a privilege, what grace to one who had not on a former occasion sanctified God before Israel! Many a time he had stood almost alone against the whole congregation for Jehovah's honour, but no former occasion like this, for Jehovah is avenged upon Israel in the presence of the enemy. Such a judgment could not be hidden from them; they were witnesses of God's jealousy for His name; and it was a testimony against them and their idolatry. Moses passes away from the earthly scene, gathered to his people, as vindicator of Jehovah against the unfaithful people and over the foe.

Balaam was slain fighting against God. He had at one time a good desire — as men say. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his;" but there it ended. Further light, even seeing the vision of the Almighty, produced no change in him, save to confirm him in sin — the sure result where truth is resisted. Nor is he unconscious of his condition and doom. "I shall see Him but not nigh." It is the history of many a lost soul. Resistance to the truth, not ignorance of it, is the sin that characterises the present day. To go in the way of error for the sake of reward is always accompanied with resistance of the truth, and christendom bears this stamp of Balaam (Jude 11). Alas! the day of "many stripes" is near.

I now close these papers with one more remark. Of all the lessons unfolded to us by the Holy Spirit in this eventful journey, this last is most important and practical. We learn not only how prone to evil is nature, but the believer has before him God's way of dealing with it. Has it broken out? Then first submit to the discipline of the Father. Avenge God upon yourselves. The zeal of the faithful Israelite in the day of Baal-peor has its counterpart in the godly sorrow of the Corinthians, "For behold this self-same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea what zeal, yea what revenge. In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (2 Cor. 7:11). When God is vindicated in our own souls, then are we able to appear as His witnesses against evil in the world. The weapons of Israel's warfare were carnal, they contended with flesh and blood; our foes are spiritual foes, and how contend with such? how are we to avenge God upon these spiritual Midianites? Our weapons are not carnal, but spiritual. Watch and pray, judging the thoughts of the heart, and watching for His appearing. These and the word are our weapons. We avenge God upon the evil that surrounds by judging it, living separate from it, and showing how by faith we overcome the world.

Beloved brethren, let us beware of the daughters of Moab. We shall only be beyond the reach of flesh and the world's allurements when with the Lord.

R. Beacon.