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narrates to us in the text: “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war."
Such are the general heads of Israel's history, as it relates to their progress from the Red Sea to Canaan.
II. It illustrates, I think, in a very striking manner, the method of God's dealings with his people.
i. As Egypt typifies the world as it is to those who still are the slaves of sin and Satan; so the wilderness represents the same world as it appears to the seekers of salvation.
The Israelites, before Moses was sent to rescue them, might look upon Egypt as their home; and so the men of the world have their portion in this life, all the portion they desire or seek for. But no Israelite considered the wilderness as his resting-place; and in like manner the Christian's views of the world are altered. To him it is a wilderness, a place in which there are “ fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there is no water 5 ;" that is, a place wherein he must expect to meet with crosses and disappointments, and to experience opposition and fatigue; where he can find no solid comfort; nothing that can help him forward to the acquisition of his proper happiness; much indeed which may exercise his faith, and send him to his God by prayer, but nothing which his soul may feed upon.
However, though the world can administer no true good to the Christian out of its own proper stores, yet, even here, he has meat to eat, of which the men of the world know nothing .
1. Israel ate of the manna, and so knew the Lord for their God: and the Christian, when perils assail him from without, and natural corruption from within, is sustained by the spiritual manna of Divine grace. God satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul 5 See Deut. viii. 15.
o See John iv. 32.
with goodness. The Christian waits upon the Lord, and renews his strength day by day; and continual communion with his God is his soul's continual feast. Israel “ drank of that spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock (St. Paul says) was Christ ?.” The true believer now draws water with joy out of the wells of salvation. The Spirit, given, through the Redeemer's intercession, to be his Comforter, is “in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life 8.” The wilderness indeed is still a wilderness in itself; the dangers and trials which he meets with have not changed their nature: yet if he may be described “as sorrowful,” he must be described also as “always rejoicing;" if “as having nothing,” “yet” also as “possessing all things ' :" for he has all things in God: and feeling this, he knows God, even his love, his power, his faithfulness, his all-sufficiency in another manner from that in which others know Him. God manifests Himself unto him as He does not unto the world.
2. Israel, even in the wilderness, had the benefit of God's ordinances; and the Christian has the same in the house of his pilgrimage. The nominal believer has the form, but the true believer has the spirit also, and the power and the blessing. Through the ministration of the word, through prayer and sacraments, he grows in grace and in the knowledge of his Saviour Christ. He renews his covenant, and receives renewed assurances of God's good will to him, even though he may have faltered and fallen in his Christian course. It is written, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins 10.” The Christian sees Him continually by the eye of faith; and therefore, though
, . his false steps have been not a few since the day first dawned and the day-star arose in his heart, he receives boldness to rise again by faith, and re-acquires his assurance of peace with God.
3. Neither is the Christian left to lose his way in the wilderness. Israel had the pillar of the cloud to 1 Cor. x. 4.
8 John iv. 14. 2 Cor. vi. 10.
10 1 John ii, 1, 2.
guide their journeyings, and God guides all by his counsel now, whom He means to bring to glory. “Strait indeed is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life!' But, howsoever some may wilfully wander from it, the real subjects of Divine grace shall not mistake it, as the prophet very sufficiently explains to us: “ An highway,” he says, “shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called, The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those:” (that is, for simple-minded seekers of holiness :) " the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein..... And the ransomed of the Lord shall
. return, and come to Zion ?.” The God, who guided Israel, shall guide that guileless and true Israelite now, who desires to know his will that he may do it, and inquires the road to the heavenly Canaan, because he has “set his affections on things above !.”
ii. Let us consider, next, the conduct of Israel during their progress through the wilderness. They praised God, as I said, for their first deliverance; they showed signs, at times, of faith and zeal; but so fluctuating and unstable were they, so prone to fretfulness and despondency, to sensuality and idolatry and unbelief, that Moses, in his last discourse with them, declares, “ Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you *.”
I by no means mean to say, that the gross acts of wickedness which Israel committed are to be regarded as specimens of the occasional failures of God's people; as though it were common for them to proceed to similar extremities in outward deed: God forbid ! Eminent saints, indeed, have fallen foully; but such scandals, I trust, are comparatively rare. lified sense, however, the best of men must own, that they see in Israel's behaviour a picture of themselves.
When Israel saw their enemies the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore, they exclaimed with one heart and voice,“ Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously 5.” And the young convert commonly is filled Matt. vii. 14. ? Isa, xxxv. 8. 10.
3 Col. iii. 2. Deut. ix. 24.
5 Exod. xv. 1.
In a qua
with zeal and thankfulness upon the first experience which he has that the Lord is gracious. But tribulations and persecutions arise because of the word, and by-and-by he is offended. Glorious is the hope of immortality; and lovely the first clear view of redeeming mercy; and fervent the first desires; all is devotedness, and joy, and rapture; but long ere the race is run, long ere the prize is grasped, conscience will convict him of so much treachery and so many wanderings, that he must say of his own heart what Moses said of Israel, “ Thou hast been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew thee.”
He has been mercifully kept, it may be, from bringing a scandal upon the truth; but what have been the tendencies of nature in him? To charge God foolishly; to murmur at the cross; to be dissatisfied with the manna of heavenly consolations; to exchange communion with his Maker for those very worldly vanities which professedly he has renounced; to think scorn of that pleasant land to which the Lord is leading him; to magnify the vile diet of Egypt, and depreciate God's care and kindness; to quarrel with his appointments; to question his love, and power, and faithfulness; to doubt of his good will, in spite of multiplied experiences; to fret and be discouraged because of the wearisomeness of the journey, the length of way he has to travel, and the vigilance he has need to exercise; to envy the comforts of those whose religion it is to sit down to eat and drink, and rise up to play; yea, with a backsliding and revolting heart, to worship and serve the once duly-despised creature more than the Creator; and, last of all, to cry out, “Would God we had died in Egypt! would God we had never entered upon a religious course! The struggle is too hard for us; victory is impossible ; God's yoke is too heavy to be borne. Let us return back again to Egypt. Let us give up this fruitless contest. We cannot help ourselves, and the Lord will leave us and forsake us."
These, I say, are the thoughts which arise in our
minds; these the blasphemous, backsliding, sensual, unbelieving imaginations, which often perplex and harass us, and to which we often yield.
iii. But the Lord deals by his people as He dealt by Israel.
“ The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy
“ He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men ?.” He will hear the prayer of the poor destitute, though it be mingled with much impatience and infirmity: and if at last, because He loves, He must rebuke and chasten, still his dispensations, compared with our perverseness, are but so many exemplifications of that divine saying of the Psalmist : “ He hath not dealt with us aft our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities 8.” But He is wise as well as merciful, and in his wisdom He varies the methods of correction. It is said of Israel, “ When He slew them, then they sought Himo!” and oftentimes He brings back wanderers by awful judgments. For when, upon a different occasion, they lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, it is said, “ He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul ';" and in this way also He frequently reclaims backsliders. They grow lukewarm, and despise spiritual consolations, and lust after the good things of the world: He lets them have the world; they eat of it and are full, but their souls are starved; the spirit of prayer declines; joy and peace in believing vanish; and then, at length, they perceive their wretched folly, that they have forsaken the fountain of living waters for broken and dry cisterns; and in penitence, and humiliation of spirit, they pour out their complaint before Him, that it is not with them now as it was in the days of old. In short, by a thousand variations of forbearance or of chastisement, but always in love, and always in perfect wisdom, He convinces and converts, rebukes and edifies his people, till they learn implicitly to trust in Him, and to distrust themselves; till they learn to love Him supremely, and to 6 Ps. ciii. 8. ? Lam. iii. 33.
Ps. ciii. 10. 9 Ibid. lxxviii. 34.
Ibid. cvi. 15.