Notes of an Address on Exodus 15:1-22; Numbers 21:7-21; Hosea 2:14-15
It has often been said that song has its birth in sorrow. That singing is the result of the lifting of some pressure on the spirit is, I think, borne out by the scriptures above. “The time of singing is come,” says Solomon, but he gives the reason for saying this, “The winter is past, the rain is over and gone” (S. of Sol. 2:11). Sorrow’s night with its weeping gives place to the song of joy in the morning.
In Psalm 22, it was when the bitter winter-time of the judgment of God was over and the storm was past, that we find the Lord saying, “In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee” (see Hab. 2:12).
It was when the winter-time of our soul’s distress, and the rain of tears was over and gone that we came into the joy of the morning: it was under the clear blue sky of divine acceptance, that we sang our first song, that ever went to heaven. I think if our winter time had been a bit harder and longer our singing would have been sweeter; i.e., if the ploughing up of conscience and heart and the harrowing of conviction had been a bit more bitter, the song would have been brighter and longer and sweeter.
There are three singing times in the history of God’s people Israel, and they find their parallel in the history of His people today.
In the first scripture we have the first recorded singing in the Word of God. It is not difficult to see that this song was the result of the lifting of the pressure of Pharaoh’s hard, and bitter bondage and when they saw that power broken for ever for them, then “sang Moses and the children of Israel,” this song!
This scripture gives us one of the most striking analogies in the Old Testament to the wonderful deliverance that was wrought for us by the death of Christ, when He brought us from the house of Satan’s bondage and sin’s galling yoke, and delivered us from this present evil world.
Here we have the first message of the cross. The firstborn delivered from the stroke of the destroyer, and that by the shelter of the blood of the lamb, and then later from the power of Satan and the world, the sphere of his rule. Both the blood on the lintel and the Red Sea are figures of the death of Christ, and the latter a figure also of His resurrection.
I like to think of it thus. God wished to have the voice of that firstborn son to sing His praise in the land of promise when He could dwell with them and they with Him. To secure this He had to devise the means for sheltering him from His own judgment and saving him from the power of Pharaoh. He was sheltered by the blood in Egypt that he might sing the praises of God in the land. There was no singing in Egypt, there was plenty of sighing, but no song; that could only be when they were put for ever free from all their pressure.
Now He comes forth as a Saviour—in a different character. He is going to save them not merely from His own righteous judgment, but from the power of Pharaoh and from his land. The outstretched rod, the bitter east wind and the dark night are the accompaniments of that mighty deliverance. How strikingly are these things in evidence in the death of Christ.
“Jehovah lifted up His rod,
O Christ it fell on Thee!”
“The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ it broke on Thee!”
That is our Red Sea song if you will; anyway a part of it. That first song went right away to heaven, and we can easily see that God never forgot that bit of singing.
There were two names specially mentioned in connection with this first redemption song; viz., Moses and Miriam. Notice the difference between their singing. Miriam seems to sing on a lower clef than Moses. They both begin, “Sing unto the Lord for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” There Miriam stops. She seems only to be a chorus singer. It was sweet though not very long. But see how far Moses could go with his part of the song! God made His ways known unto Moses and His acts unto the children of Israel. Moses was in the secret of God’s purpose but the rest of the nation only knew what He had done, and not what was the fixed purpose of God. Hence we find that Moses’ song reached right out to the introduction of the Kingdom with Messiah on the throne.
If we could catch the spirit of Moses and look out to the vast sphere of coming glory, as the purpose of God for Christ and for us with HIM, our song would be of a higher order. If we are restricted in our intelligence of God’s ways our note of praise will be proportionately restricted; and like Miriam we shall only be singing on the lower clef of our salvation from our mighty foe.
The second song we find in Numbers 21. The sweet and comprehensive song of Exodus 15 soon died away. Indeed that chapter does not close before you hear the murmurs of the wilderness begin. It is said, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me” (Ps. 50:23). How little praise God got from that people all those forty years. They can complain but they do not praise, they can murmur but they do not sing. They are learning lessons for forty years that are most important to learn and without which there will not be much praise. They are learning themselves, and from themselves. They are their own lesson book! Deuteronomy 8:3 tells us the object that God had in leaving them in the wilderness. It was “to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart.” How many bitter tears have been shed over the discoveries we have made of the unmendable badness of the heart of man in the flesh. What humiliating and disgusting lessons we learn when with the candle of the Lord in our hand we are let down into the recesses of our own hearts. Romans 7 gives us the history of that lesson-learning. In the last half of that chapter nearly every sentence begins with “I” and winds up with “Wretched!”
After forty years of wonderful mercy and forbearance of God, they are murmurers just as much at the end as they were at the start. All that God has done for them has not altered them in one iota, so we find them in Numbers 21 at the end of the journey speaking against God and Moses. Not content with that, we find them loathing the bread of God sent down from heaven.
Has it ever come home to us that we have a heart and a nature that simply loathes Christ. They had in reality got tired of Christ, in the figure of the Manna. It is a terrible thing to contemplate that after all these years of conversion you have a nature within you that is not one bit changed since the day you came to Christ as a poor sinner. The contemplation of these things does not lead us to sing. It leads us to sigh.
We begin to ask ourselves, “Am I really converted when I have such sad experiences as these?” Says some tired soul, “I thought when I was converted that the work of God in me would change the old nature into a new one, and that never again should I sin or have the same desires as I used to have!” When it was discovered that this was not the case we could only come to the conclusion that we had not been properly converted and that we had been deceiving ourselves, and the only thing to do was to make a fresh start and try again; but only to make the heart-sickening discovery that things were no better, and at last we were ready to give it all up with the thought that Christianity might be all right as an ideal, but it was a splendid impossibility practically. Such a crisis is all too good an opportunity for the enemy not to use it. He always works behind religious ignorance.
If then the new birth does not remove a sinful nature and the presence of the Holy Ghost does not improve it, then if God must judge what is evil always, how am I with this evil within me to stand clear of that judgment?
We began our Christian career perhaps by singing,
“Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day.”
That was what you expected, but instead of that it has meant that every day has witnessed some fresh defeat!
If my sins did not escape God’s judgment and Christ had to bear them, surely this evil nature so ruled by sin must be judged as well. Neither has it escaped the judgment of God. It has not received its judgment in you, but sin has received its judgment in Christ when He was made sin.
Numbers 21 and John 3 show us the same picture. Christ takes the brazen serpent out of type for us, and points us back from the Cross on which He was uplifted, to the pole on which the serpent of brass was uplifted.
Just as that serpent was made in the likeness of the serpents that bit them, and brought all the mischief in (and being made of brass we see the figure of God’s righteous judgment against sin), so Christ was lifted up on the cross to bear in Himself all God’s judgment on the sin that had brought in all the trouble.
Romans 8:3 speaks of the same thing. God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and by a sacrifice for sin “condemned sin in the flesh.” What I found in myself to condemn as hateful, and wished to get rid of, God has condemned in Christ sacrificially.
When Christ died I died with Him in God’s account. “Our old man is crucified with Christ that the body of sin [that is, sin in its totality] might be destroyed,” that is, annulled, no more to be brought into our reckoning. It is well to remember that God did not remove the serpents, but He caused a serpent to be made like to the one that had bitten them. Their deliverance from its power came when they had faith to look to the uplifted serpent. There was life in a look, outside of themselves. Whosoever looked lived. Life is found not in the betterment of the old nature but in Christ. Christ is the believer’s true life. That is the believer’s true self now; thus we have in Romans 7 the terms, “I” and “I myself.” Sin is connected with the old “I,” but he begins to look at himself apart from the old condemned life; and the true I is the I myself.
We attempt a bit of carpentry, and being inexperienced in wielding the hammer we smite, not the head of the nail, but our own finger-nail! It turns black and presently, a new nail having grown, it is cast off. Before it comes off however, we disown it and treat the new nail as our true nail. My true self is like the new nail. When I see that I am entitled to look at myself apart from the old evil nature it is a great relief, and sigh gives place to song and now we can move forward, singing on our way to the sun-rising—the coming of the Lord.
It has come like a fresh conversion to many when they found out that God was not making the discoveries they were. We live our lives on the principle of the block calendar, where we tear off a leaf for each day. God views them on the sheet almanac principle, where the whole year lies exposed to one glance. “He knew what was in man,” was said at the end of John 3, and knowing He could not trust man. Hence in that same chapter He prepares us for the introduction of a new man. The new birth means the formation of a new moral being, called in Romans 7, “the inward man,” that delights in the law of the Lord.
Israel’s third song is found in Hosea 2. This song has not been heard yet, since praise is silent for God in Zion. That people who should have been to His praise is scattered over the face of the earth. They are a backsliding people today. The song before us is the song of the restored backslider. It is the song of the valley of Achor. This was the valley where Achan the “troubler of Israel” met his judgment. The place of God’s judgment has become “a door of hope” for thousands.
Before the backslider can be restored to the joy of communion, he must be brought to the place in his soul where he can judge himself as God judged him in the place of judgment—the cross of Christ. The song of the restored people will be as sweet to Him as the song they first sang on the banks of the Red Sea. What a touching remark that is, “She shall sing there, . . . as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.” He has evidently not forgotten that first bit of singing, nor will He forget our first bit of singing, even if it was only, “O happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.”
See how He brings about the restoration. “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart.” If you want to see a backslider restored seek to get to the heart. It is well to reach the conscience but equally well to reach the heart. Not the whip for the conscience merely, but comfort for the heart.
Still He dries up the creature springs of prosperity and enjoyment. We are made to feel, as Jeremiah told them, that “it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord,”—the Fountain of living waters. He dries up our springs and then when His work in us is done He speaks to our hearts. When the heart is right we can begin to sing. The judgment of ourselves opens to us a door of hope, and once more we sing as at the beginning.