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“Between Elim and Sinai”
“And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger…And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations. As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan. Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.” (Exodus 16:1-36)
In this chapter God the Holy Ghost shows us two gifts of grace given to the church of God in the wilderness of Sin. Elim was a place of palm trees and wells of water (Exodus 15:27). There the children of Israel enjoyed great refreshing from the presence of the Lord. It was a place of bounteous blessing, signifying the all-sufficient grace of God in Christ for his elect. In Elim there were twelve wells of water, a well for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were seventy palm trees, symbols of victory in Elim, one for each of Israel’s seventy elders. As Elim clearly represents God’s all-sufficient, unfailing, special, and distinguishing grace in Christ, it also represents all the bounty and infinite fulness of our inheritance in the world to come, as the Israel of God, with Christ our Savior.
Sinai was, as you know, the place where God gave his law by the hand of Moses. Everything in Elim portrays grace, free, bountiful grace. But there is nothing at Sinai but darkness, rolling thunder, lightning and cursedness. In Exodus 16 we find the children of Israel between Elim and Sinai, between the place of bounteous blessedness and the place of everlasting cursedness, in a place called “The Wilderness of Sin.” — That is a pretty good description of where we are, isn’t it? The word used for sin here means “thorn.” That is exactly where you and I live in this world, isn’t it? — “The Wilderness of Thorns!” This world is a place of pain and discomfort, a place of thorns, because of sin. Every pleasant, appealing berry that grows in the wild, in this “wilderness of sin,” is surrounded with thorns. If you enjoy the berry, you will feel the painful prick of the thorn.
The first thing that strikes me as I read this chapter in Israel’s history is the fact that we are a depraved, sinful people, in constant need of grace and forgiveness (Exodus 16:2-3). Remember, it has only been a month since they came out of Egypt. Just one month earlier they experience deliverance by the Lord God through the blood of the paschal lamb, spoiled the Egyptians, walked through the Red Sea, saw Pharaoh and his armies slain upon the shores of the sea, and sang with Moses and Miriam the praises of Jehovah.
“And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2-3)
How like these murmuring Israelites we are! But we ought to look at our trial and the trials of our brethren and think of God’s providence, the benefit of the chastening rod and the sweetness of the Father’s tender care, never causing his child a needless tear. O Spirit of God, graciously teach us not to murmur against our God, but to “rejoice in the Lord,” and in everything to give thanks, knowing that whatever we experience is “the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning” our souls.
But, as they murmured, God bestowed mercy! As they grumbled, he was gracious! When they most deserved his wrath, he gave his grace. Food was provided for the chosen tribes, unseen before by human eye, untouched before by human hand. — “They knew not what it was.” This manna, of course, stands before us as a type and rich emblem of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, salvation’s feast (John 6:31-35, 41-43, 48-58).
“Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:31-35)
“The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves.” (John 6:41-43)
“I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so, he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever.” (John 6:48-58)
What a gracious God our God is! That is the next thing we learn from the Manna that fell in the wilderness. The children of Israel were hungry. Oppressed with great hunger, the journeying multitude murmured from their fretting hearts against the Lord. Their deep-toned, vile muttering reached the ears of the Most High. But he did not react to their murmurings as we might expect. The Lord Jehovah does not send forth swift bolt of lightning to destroy the ungrateful, murmuring mob! — No!
The Lord our God is full of pity. He delights in mercy. He who is our God is love. He opens heaven, and pours down mighty supplies of bread. The supply is a miracle, a miraculous display of our blessed Savior, teaching us today and feeding us today, as clearly as it did these millions of old. Upon thankless sinners, the Lord God pours out tender-mercies!
But God’s goodness in bestowing food pales into utter insignificance in the bright and shining light of Christ’s redemption and gift of eternal life in him! If we would see grace in its zenith, we must look to Mt. Calvary. When in Adam’s loins we stood before the holy Lord God, lost, ruined, and undone as one leprous mass of misery and sin, shameless, tearless, and prayerless, mercy took up the cause of the fallen, and promised that a Savior would descend from heaven, the Seed of a woman, the incarnate God!
The manna fell upon the earth in darkness. It was in the night when this soft shower fell upon the earth. — “When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.” So it was when Christ came. Spiritual blindness was the world’s thick shroud when the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in his wings. And so, it is when his grace first touches the sinner’s heart. Our great Savior finds the heart of man all darkness, a black mass of midnight gloom.
When morning came, the dew became Manna and was obvious to the sight of all. Henry Law observed, “Thus for a while Jesus lies hidden in the Word and ordinances, and gospel-rites, which fall in thick and sparkling abundance around our homes. It is not until the Sun of Righteousness arises, that the real treasure is discerned.”
The manna was small, and round, and white, and sweet. Each of these things tells much about our Savior. It was small. It was like a little seed on the ground. Pride might look upon it and sneer. Can this insignificant thing be from heaven? So it was with our blessed Christ. He appeared in utter humility. No signs of royalty, or divinity were upon him. No place was found for him. He came in the lowliness of our nature. He appeared as the lowliest of lowly men. His highest station upon earth was in the deep valley of humiliation (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-8). Meekness was his Majesty. Abasement was his Glory. He put on our flesh, that he might clothe us in his brightest glory. He sank to nothingness, to exalt us above all greatness. He lived and died in shame, contempt, and pain, that we might reign in all the honor of his highest glory.
The manna was round. Its’ circle was without beginning and without end. Behold our eternal Savior! Who can tell his beginning? Who can calculate the length of his days? Look through the ages of eternity past. In all he lives unchanged, unchangeable. Look through the ages of eternity to come. He still lives unchanged, unchangeable. What an ocean of delight this is, as wide as the breadth and length of our Savior’s love! He declares himself to be he who “was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). And in all the vast expanse of his eternality, our great High Priest has had us in his hand and in his heart. And that will never change. We are forever one with him!
The manna was white. It covered the muck and mire of the filthy earth, stained by the feet and waste of man and beast. The manna’s spotless hue proved its descent to be from above. Again, we see our blessed Lord Jesus. Every look of his eye, every word of his mouth, and every step of his feet are as dazzling and bright as the holiness of heaven. He was the Righteousness of God embodied in the flesh of man. He walked through this earth as perfect as God is perfect, the perfect God-man. He ever shined as the Light of the world, untainted as a beam from the mid-day sun. It could not be otherwise. Redemption required it. He who would redeem us from sin must be without sin. Would you be blameless, without sin before God? Eat this Manna. Trust the Lord Jesus Christ.
The manna was sweet, too. It was nourishing; and the nourishment brought pleasure to the taste. — “The taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (v. 31). Our Lord Jesus Christ is all sweetness to the feasting soul. Taste and see that it is so! What can be sweeter than the redemption that is ours in Christ? In and by him all our sins are fully and forever pardoned, all guilt fully and forever cancelled, all debts fully and forever paid, all pledges of glory faithfully and forever pledged!
How delightful and sweet it is to our souls to gaze with open eye on a reconciled Father’s smile, to enjoy the comfort, instruction, strength, and guidance of the indwelling Spirit of God, to know that the angels of God are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to our souls, to realize all things work together for our good and that all things present and to come are our sure heritage, because we are Christ’s and Christ is ours! Christ is this sweet Manna. Feast upon him and live forever.
Gathered by All
Each day the manna fell; but it had to be gathered by every man in Israel. Every day the multitude was busy in the field. The manna fell thick, in great abundance, and was gathered by the hands of hungry Israelites. O my soul, let it be my daily work to gather the Bread of Heaven! Christ must be received by faith (John 1:12). Each one must receive Christ for himself. And we must feed upon our Savior daily.
For each one there was exact sufficiency. Each one had enough. Those who gathered much had nothing left over; and those who gathered little had plenty. Great as our souls’ needs are, Christ is sufficient, his grace is sufficient. Though our sins abound beyond measure, where sin abounds his grace still much more abounds. Live, child of God, every day, bathing in the Savior’s blood, trusting the Savior’s righteousness, and seeking the Savior’s grace, and you will find his grace sufficient. Then, with Jacob, you can say, “I have enough” (Genesis 33:11). You will have enough, but none to spare. Each one must gather according to his own eating for himself. — “According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29). Gather the children’s Bread and live forever. Even if you gather only the crumbs, you will find this Bread sufficient for all your soul’s needs. But the manna was daily food, only good for the day it was gathered. It could not be hoarded or stored for the future. So, Christ is our daily Bread.
Though the manna did not come by human effort, it did not encourage or cause sloth or indifference. So, it is with Christ and his salvation. He is altogether free. He saves sinners freely by his grace, without them exercising any effort or doing anything. Yet, saved sinners serve him and one another with fervent love and zeal.
The manna sustained the bodies of the children of Israel for a little while; but it could not keep anyone from dying. Though they gathered manna and ate in the wilderness, they died there, too. But Christ is the Bread of Life. He is Manna that gives eternal life to all who eat. He promises, “I am the living Bread, which came down from heaven, if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
The manna was a standing miracle in the wilderness for forty years. It was found every day six days a week, for forty years, throughout the wilderness march. That, too, is a picture of our dear Savior. He is a standing miracle of grace, an enduring supply for all life’s weary way.
The manna began to fall from heaven from the time the Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sin, which was the sixteenth day of the second month after their departure from Egypt, until they came to Canaan. Yet, it never fell on the sabbath. The miracle is even more astounding when we remember that there was enough manna every morning to satisfy the daily hunger of millions of people for all those forty years. Remember, too, that every Friday there was twice as much manna on the ground. The manna was so delicate and perishable that, if kept for just one day, it bred worms and stank. Yet, to teach Israel to reverence the sabbath, that which was kept for the sabbath did not spoil. And the omer of it, which was laid up before the Lord in the ark of the covenant, was preserved for hundreds of years.
The manna was to Israel a gift of unrelenting mercy. Though they rebelled and sinned against the Lord often, there was never a day the manna was not provided.
“And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.” (Exodus 16:35)
What a fit portrayal this is of our blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and God’s unrelenting mercy to our poor souls in and by him! Though we rebel against him, mercy is not suspended. Though we murmur, his grace still abounds. Though we sin and forget him, he will not forget us, and will not forget to be gracious. Though we fail in our duty, our Savior does not fail in his love. Morning after morning, mercy still comes. Day after day, grace is sure. Not a day, or an hour is omitted. Our blessed Savior is all this and more. — “For it shall come to pass, that before my people call, (he declares) I will answer; and while they are speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
Here is another sweet thought. — As Israel had no other sustenance until they came into the Land of Canaan, so God’s elect have no other sustenance in this world than Christ, and desire no other, until they come into their Canaan above. In Christ, there is a boundless fulness of grace and life, and of glory, too. Help me, my Lord, to feed on you and on your great salvation by faith. O Spirit of God, let my meditation of him be sweet!
“I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD.” (Psalms 104:33-34)
And when time’s crumbs are no more needed, eternity’s full feast begins. Sweet is the present taste of grace; but what will be the heavenly feast?
An Instructive Memorial
In verses 33-34 a specific command was given to Aaron to gather an omer of manna to be kept as a memorial to Israel of God’s great provision for his people. — “Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations. As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.”
An omer of manna was placed in a golden pot that was placed inside the ark of the covenant, under the mercy-seat. And that ark of the covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies, where the high priest sprinkled the atonement blood once a year. The manna under the blood was a perpetual declaration to Israel that they obtained deliverance, were sustained by bread in the wilderness, and came into the Land of Rest by the blood of the Paschal Lamb.
The whole thing is a picture of Christ and our salvation by him. Christ is the Paschal Lamb slain for us, by whom God’s elect are delivered from death, hell, and sin, and redeemed from the curse of the law, by whom we have salvation. Christ is our Salvation, the Bread upon which we feed day by day in this world. Christ will bring us into our heavenly Canaan. He is our acceptance in the holy place. And our blessed Lord Jesus has given us a reminder of these things in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.
Blessed Sabbath Rest
Bread is a great blessing. Indeed, bread is a necessity. Without it, we could not live. It is a great gift of grace that is ours in Christ. Let us never cease to give thanks to our God for Christ our daily Bread. But there is another necessity of life, one that is equally necessary and equally blessed. That is rest.
“And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that today; for today is a sabbath unto the LORD: today ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So, the people rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:22-30)
Here we have the first mention of the sabbath. Notice how the sabbath is described in verse 23. It is called “the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord.” Like the manna and like the water gushing out of the rock, this blessed sabbath rest is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ and the boundless grace of God given to us in him.
The sabbath day, that day of rest,
Was sanctified and blest
To point us to our Savior Christ,
In whom alone is rest.
That legal sabbath ended when
Christ died and rose again.
Yet, there’s a sabbath that remains,
A rest that’s found in Him.
“Come unto Me,” the Savior said,
“And I will give you rest.”
O weary sinners, cease from works,
Trust Christ and find sweet rest.
Ah, sweet refreshment for my soul,
The rest of faith is rest!
Ceasing from works, I trust God’s Son, —
Christ is my Sabbath Rest!
This ordinance of sabbath observance was established by God in the wilderness at the same time that manna was given from heaven. The manna portrayed God’s provision of life in Christ, the Bread of Life. The sabbath portrayed God’s provision of rest in Christ. It is specifically called, “the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord.” — “So, the people rested on the seventh day.”
The children of Israel were commanded not to do any work on the sabbath. They were not even allowed to pick up manna on the seventh day of the week. In Exodus 20:8-11 God’s law strictly prohibited any man from doing any work on Saturday, and even prohibited him from having anyone under his authority to do any work for him.
Those who would impose upon us the carnal ordinance of sabbath keeping, those who would bring us back under the yoke of bondage to the law, compelling us to keep the sabbath day, compel us to do what they themselves cannot do. I know that many teach sabbath keeping as a rule of life. They would impose upon God’s saints strict rules and regulations for sabbath day observance. But all their teaching and preaching in that regard is sheer hypocrisy. Not one of them observes the sabbath day. Their teaching regarding the sabbath are just “a fair show in the flesh” (Galatians 6:12-13), no more. Their pretended reverence for the law of God, when closely examined, reveals a total disregard for God’s law. They sift through the commandments, pick out what they like, and simply ignore the rest. Let me show you what I mean. Here are four things required in God’s law for the observance of the sabbath day. If the sabbath day is observed, it must be observed in such a way as to include all four of these things.
1. The sabbath day must be observed on Saturday, the seventh day of the week (Exodus 20:10). Sunday is not the sabbath day. It never has been. Sunday is once called “the Lord’s Day,” but only once, and then with no instructions of any kind about the matter. It was the day of Christ’s resurrection. But nowhere in the Bible are we commanded, or even permitted, to observe the sabbath on Sunday.
2. No work can be done on the sabbath. — NONE (Exodus 20:10). Works of necessity and works of mercy were permitted on the sabbath; but no one was allowed to do any work of any kind for himself, or to benefit himself. If you want to keep the sabbath day, in accordance with God’s holy law, then you must not, under penalty of death, light a fire for cooking (Exodus 35:3), gather wood for burning (Numbers 15:32-36), carry any burden (Jeremiah 17:21-22), travel (Exodus 16:29), or do any business (Amos 8:5). Anything which might be construed as a matter of personal profit or pleasure was expressly forbidden on the sabbath day (Isaiah 56:2; 58:13; Ezekiel 20:12, 21). The essence of sabbath worship was absolute, unreserved, unconditional, all-encompassing self-denial. It was an utter renunciation of self and an utter dedication of one’s self to the Lord God.
3. In addition to these things, any genuine observance of the sabbath day necessitates a return to the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. The sabbath day cannot be observed without the offering of a double sin-offering, a double meal offering, and a double drink-offering; and those offerings must be made in the temple at Jerusalem (Numbers 28:9-10).
4. There is one more point, which cannot be ignored. — Those who insist upon keeping the sabbath must also demand the execution of all sabbath breakers (Exodus 31:15). The very same law that required the observance of the sabbath also required the death of those who broke the sabbath. If a man wants to keep the sabbath, he must also be willing to stone to death anyone who breaks the sabbath, even his own son or daughter.
Do you know anyone who observes the sabbath day this way? I don’t. Not even the most orthodox Jew, the most strict Adventist, or the most heretical Russelite in the world observes such a sabbath. And those who pretend to observe a Sunday sabbath do not even come close to the requirements of God’s Word regarding sabbath observance.
It is obvious that no one observes the sabbath day in a literal sense, and no one has for more than 2,000 years. Jews do not observe it. Catholics do not observe it. Protestants do not observe it. Reformed people do not observe it. Those who pretend to observe it only make a mockery of the sabbath by their hypocrisy. Their sabbath keeping is nothing but a fleshly show!
Christ is our Sabbath. True sabbath rest is faith in Christ.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Here the Son of God, the Lord of glory, the God-man Mediator, our all-glorious Christ, bids weary, heavy laden sinners to come to him and find rest for their souls. — “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is no salvation to be had, but by coming to Christ. There can never be any true, peaceful, satisfying rest for our souls, except we come to Christ, trusting him alone as our Lord and Savior, trusting his blood as our only atonement and his obedience as our only righteousness. Only Christ can give weary sinners rest.
Here is the Master’s word to us all, both to the unbeliever and the believer. — “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls.” In all circumstances of life, we find rest unto our souls only as we voluntarily submit to the rule and dominion of the Son of God as our Lord and King. The only way to find rest is to willingly slip our necks under his yoke. When we do, and only when we do, we will find that his yoke really is easy and his burden really is light. I bid you now, whatever your circumstances, take the Master’s yoke upon you, and find rest unto your soul. Take upon you the yoke of his grace, bowing to him as your Lord (Luke 14:25-33). Take upon you the yoke of his doctrine, his gospel, bowing to him as your Prophet (Jeremiah 6:16). Take upon you his yoke of providence, trusting him as your God and Savior (Psalm 31:1, 5, 7, 15). Only in this way do we find rest for our souls.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” — The call of the gospel is a call to rest, the blessed rest of faith in Christ. It is this rest that the Old Testament sabbath day pointed to and typified. All things relating to sabbath law in the Old Testament pointed to the necessity and blessedness of that rest of faith which believers enjoy in Christ.
Let every hungry soul “Come and dine.” Feast upon the Manna, the Bread of Life, Christ Jesus, and live forever. Let every weary, heavy-laden sinner “Come and rest.” Quit your works and come to Christ; and he will give you rest.
“Nothing, either great or small,
Nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.
When He from His lofty throne
Stooped to do and die,
Everything was fully done:
Hearken to His cry: —
‘It is finished!’ Yes, indeed,
Finished every jot:
Sinner, this is all you need,
Tell me, is it not?
Weary, working, plodding one,
Why toil you so?
Cease your doing: all was done
Long, long ago.
Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
Doing is a deadly thing,
Doing ends in death.
Cast your deadly doing down,
Down at Jesus’ feet,
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
 Robert Hawker’s Poor Man’s Portions (July 22 – Evening) — My soul! thou art still in a wilderness state, not yet arrived home to thy Father’s house; and thou art frequently exercised with wilderness dispensations? Perhaps, under the Spirit’s teaching, an evening’s meditation on the wilderness of sin, where Israel sojourned, will be profitable to thee. Let faith lead thee thither, and see what subjects are there opened before thee.
Was there ever an instance like Israel, which was brought out with a high hand, and stretched out arm, from the tyranny of Egypt? Did the sea open a path for them to march through; and that memorable spot, which to them became the way of salvation, became to their enemies that pursued them, the pit of destruction? Did the Lord go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and cover them from danger by the pillar of fire by night? After such miracles, yea, in the moment of receiving the same continuance of divine favor, while on their way to Canaan, what was there in the people’s passing through the wilderness of sin, that should have discomposed their minds, or made them call in question God’s faithfulness and his love? Thou knowest, my soul, what the Scripture hath recorded of the events of the wilderness to Israel. Though their history furnisheth a continued series of the Lord’s mercies over them, yet, on their part, little else can be found but rebellion, unthankfulness, and sin.
Pause, and let the apostle’s question have its full weight upon thee. — “What then? (saith he) are we better than they? No, in no wise; for we have before proved, both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.” Was there ever an instance of grace like this, my soul, so great, so distinguishing, so abounding, when the Lord found thee in the Egypt of thy fallen nature, and when he brought thee out with a sovereign hand? Did Jesus open to thee a new and living way through his blood? And dost thou not know, that his cross, which is thy glory, and thy salvation, will be the condemnation of all the enemies who despise it? Is thy Lord leading thee, going before thee, and following thee, in grace, and goodness, and mercy, all the days of thy life, like the pillar of cloud, and the pillar of fire, to Israel, and bringing thee by a “right way, to a city of habitation?” Are these among the daily manifestations of thy Lord? And shall thy passage (for thou knowest that it is but a passage) through the wilderness of sin make thee for a moment lose sight of Jesus?
True, thou art exercised; and thine exercises appear to thee so peculiarly distressing, as if no one of God’s people before had ever been so circumstanced. But in them thou shouldest mark the wisdom, as well as the love of him that appoints them. Didst thou trace Jesus in all, thou wouldest find a sanctified blessing in all; and the issue of thy heaviest trials would then bring in an exact proportion of the sweetest comforts.
It is because they are peculiar, that they are suited to thee. There are numberless things which occur in the exercises of thy brethren, which to thee would be no exercises at all. They feel them, and know their pressure, and the love of Jesus in sending them, and the tenderness of Jesus in helping them under them, and bringing them out of them. All these things thou seest and knowest in others, and findest cause both to admire and to adore the divine faithfulness in the dispensations. But in the study and improvement of the exercises in thine own heart, which, of all others, is the most important, here thou failest. And yet thou art convinced, in a cool hour, when grace is alive, that if a synod of angels were to arrange the circumstances of thy state, they could not order them with the wisdom and love that they are now ordered with.
Go then, my soul, go by faith, frequently to the wilderness of sin. Look at Israel’s history, and look up for wisdom to gather suitable instruction. Behold Jesus in every dispensation. Whatever tends to lead thee to him must be blessed. It is impossible that any trial, be it what it may, can be otherwise than blessed, which opens to the view Jesus therein, and endears and makes Jesus precious thereby.
And, my soul, while I wish thee frequently to go by solemn meditation to the wilderness of sin, let each renewed visit remind thee that thou art getting through it. Like children at school, every day brings on the festival which will take us home to our Father’s house. A few steps more, a few exercises more, and Jesus will send his chariot for us. Yea, he will come himself to fetch us; and we shall take an everlasting farewell both of the wilderness of sin and this world of sorrow together. — “Haste, haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe, or to a young hart, upon the mountain of spices!”