The Mount of God: Part 1

Exodus 1‑18  •  24 min. read  •  grade level: 9
I SEPARATE these chapters because they present us, I judge, a distinct subject for meditation, and afford us some of the grounds on which it is that Horeb, or Sinai, in Arabia, is called in scripture “the Mount of God.”
They open with Israel in Egypt, and that land is seen in her guilt before God, for it is here written of her, “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.” That land was thus the ungrateful, the rebellious. She had departed from Joseph, and so from God Himself, from Him who had filled her storehouses with plenty, and her throne with honor and strength. Thus Egypt was in miniature the world—the great apostate from its rightful Lord and gracious Benefactor. And the Lord had no sanctuary, no altar, there. His people would have sacrificed the abomination of that land (chap. 8:26), and therefore they must go into the wilderness to hold their feast, or do their service to the Lord. All was apostate and ripe for judgment. Joseph's memory had been despised, and all that remained to Joseph was put to the brick-kilns. (Chap. 1)
But in such a place the Lord has a cluster, and in the cluster a blessing. The cluster of Israel in the vineyard of Egypt at this time savored, it is true, too much of the soil where it grew; for as the one had forgotten Joseph, so does the other now refuse Moses, saying, “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?” But God has His remnant even in such a generation, his blessing in such a cluster (Isa. 65:88Thus saith the Lord, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sakes, that I may not destroy them all. (Isaiah 65:8)), and it is found in the tribe of Levi, to which this second Joseph (the offered, but rejected, deliverer of his nation) belonged. “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child, and they were not afraid of the king's commandment.”
But the name of this child, this predestined deliverer of His people, has its meaning. Pharaoh's daughter, as we know, called him “Moses,” because she had “drawn him out” from the waters. But God had His purpose, it appears, in that name also, for it is from henceforth to the end owned by the Spirit of God. He was another Noah. Noah had been “drawn out.” An ark had kept him in the waters till the dry land again received him; and that was, as we are divinely taught, a like figure with baptism of death and resurrection. (1 Peter 3:20, 2120Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 3:20‑21).) And so Moses now. He had been kept in an ark through the waters, that place of death, till he stood again in the place of life, as one that had died and has risen. (Chap. ii.)
Thus was he mystically the dead and risen man; and he acts, “when he was come to years,” in the power of resurrection, refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, rather choosing affliction with the people of God; that is, disclaiming his advantages in the flesh and in the world, and walking by faith, seeing Him who is invisible, and having respect unto the recompence of the reward.
Such an one is he, thus, both in his person and character, ere he goes forth to run his appointed service, whether among strangers or in Israel. Through their present unbelief, rejecting this deliverer, the children of Israel are left for a time longer at the Egyptian brick-kilns. But he whom they thrust from them is accepted in another place, and seated, not at the head of a nation, but of a family, enjoying intimacies and affections sweeter and closer than ever he had known among his own kindred. A stranger receives him. Jethro, the Midianite, opens his house to him, and gives him his daughter in marriage, because he had been her deliverer, though, in spite of the same grace towards them, Israel had just refused him.
This family of strangers is mystically the church taken from the Gentiles during the Lord's estrangement from Israel, as has been often observed among us, beloved. I do not therefore stop to look at it particularly. But (as we generally know) the blessing is not to be spent on this family of strangers. Israel is had in remembrance still, though they have once refused the deliverer. Accordingly Moses, in due season, is called forth to change the scene of his action again, and bear God's redeeming love and strength back to Israel in Egypt. For He is their only hope and channel of blessing. If in their distress Israel cry to the Lord, the answer must come by the hand of Him whom once they refused. The Lord has no other help for them. From the outcast Joseph alone is the Shepherd and stone of Israel. But He can and will answer. The ears of the Lord of Sabaoth have heard the cry, and Moses is immediately put in readiness to return from Midian into Egypt for the help of Israel.
The burning bush is now the symbol of God's constant care of Israel, though in the furnace of Egypt. It tells Moses how in all their affliction the Lord had been afflicted, and how the angel of His presence had still preserved them. And it is in connection with this mystic bush that Horeb is first called “the Mount of God.” For now it is that the Lord is first telling of Himself there. He “who dwelt in the bush” had a “good-will” towards them, for if the Son of God be in the furnace with His people, it is to preserve them. And this same spot which now thus testified of grace should by-and-by testify of glory to them, as is here said to Moses, “When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God on this mountain.” (Chaps. 3, 4)
Thus was it now between the Lord and Moses at this holy mount. Then by miracle upon miracle, in the sight of Egypt, and with plague upon plague, and fury poured out, this deliverer rescues Israel from under the hand of their taskmasters. It was the day of judgment to Egypt, as afterward it was to Canaan. For Egypt was the world, as I have said. She had filled up her sins. She had despised the day of grace in Joseph, and now comes the day of judgment by Moses. It is as the wrath of the Lamb coming on those who refuse the blood of the Lamb. Pharaoh said he knew not the Lord, but Pharaoh must know Him. (Chap. 5:2; 9:14) If Pharaoh would disown Him in goodness, he must know Him in righteousness, for His judgments were now to be made manifest, and “the Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth.” As His holy prophet says to Him, “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” God would be known in grace; but if that lesson be refused by Egypt, she must know Him in the uplifted hand of power, as she now does, till the strength and flower of her people lie on the banks of the Red Sea. (Chaps. 5-15)
But I desire, in the midst of these scenes which these chapters give us, to look for awhile at the children of Israel between the paschal night and the banks of the Red Sea.
The blood on the lintels had secured the first-born, and the Egyptian had then allowed Israel to pass out of the land. But the Egyptian himself was not yet destroyed, neither was Israel clearly beyond the borders of the enemy. These results waited till the Red Sea was reached and crossed. And till then they are not at ease, nor have they any song. The Egyptian has gone out after them, and they judge, as it were, that it is nothing but death before and behind. They see the cloud, and they cannot but remember the shelter of the blood, and that they have, in some sense, left Egypt. But in some sense also they judge themselves to be in a worse state than ever. And such often is a stage in the history of a converted soul. There is the quickening, the rising up as out of Egypt, the sudden new direction which the soul takes, with some sense of the value of the blood of Christ. But withal, this quickening, this rising up, does but lead the soul to judge worse of its condition than ever. A new sense of death comes in, guilt by trespasses and sins is apprehended, and no adequate assurance of the completeness of redemption. There is a shutting in between Jesus and God, if I may so speak. The soul can look to Jesus-His blood on the doorpost has told of His love, but God has not been so apprehended as to give certainty and ease of heart. All the virtue of the cross is not known, as all the virtue of the cloud and the rod is not known by Israel here. For the cloud had virtue not only to lead the redeemed, but to overthrow their pursuers. It could change its ground, and stand between the two camps, and while it was light to the one, be darkness to the other; as its companion, the rod, could make a passage for the one, and bury the other in the mighty waters.
And so in like manner has the cross its full and double virtue. It rescues the sinner and silences all his accusers. But until those virtues be understood, the soul will be kept as in the interval from the passover to the Red Sea. Let, however, the cloud and the rod fully display themselves-let the cross of Christ publish all its virtue in the ear of faith, then Israel can sing their song, and the believer can say, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” God as well as Jesus can then be triumphed in, the whole character of the cross being made known to the soul. The enmities are seen to be all abolished (Eph. 2)-the law to have found its end (Rom. 10)-sin to have paid its wages, and thereupon discharged (Rom. 6)-the great enemy to have been led a captive with all his powers (Colossians death to have been abolished (2 Tim. 1)-and the flesh to have been found out, rebuked, and discharged also. (Rom. 7; 8) And as the enemy is thus seen dead on the shore, so the believer sees himself fully rescued—accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1)-happy in the adoption and love of God (Rom. 8)-treated as in the Spirit, and not in the flesh (Rom. 8)-safe in that hand out of which none can pluck (John 10)-dwelling in that love which leaves no room for fear. (1 John 4) Israel has passed the waters.
Thus is it ofttimes still with the soul, as here it is with Israel. Of course the full victory of Jesus for the sinner may be understood at once, for the gospel publishes it without reserve. But till it be, the song is not learned, the redeemed one is on the Egyptian side of the Red Sea.
But the sea once crossed, Israel understands the cloud and the rod, and Egypt and its enmity are gone forever. Ere; however, they reach “the Mount of God,” where they were to hold their feast, they are to learn the hand that would lead them, as well as the arm that had just saved them. For there is to be a journey from the sea to the mount, as there had been from Egypt to the sea; and on this second journey we would also linger with them a little space. (Chaps. xv.-xvii.)
Five distinct lessons are taught the people on this journey, the value of each of which the soul of the saint, still also enters into. The song has already instructed them in the Lord's victory, and that song should be kept alive in their hearts all through, whatever other lesson they might learn, for that was a deathless victory, and the fruit of it they were gathering every step of their way. But after it we get the healing of Marah, the wells and palm-trees of Elim, the manna, the water from the rock, the discomfiture of Amalek. These five distinct actions, displaying the Lord's varied grace and power, pass before us in this interval from the Red Sea to “the Mount of God.” And each of them tolls us of His care for His congregation in the wilderness. The healing of the waters of Marah by the tree tells us of the consolations which are provided to meet the sorrows of this evil world. Paul gathered of that tree, when he could say, “sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing.” The wells and palm-trees tell us of the occasional refreshings which the saint gets through communion and ministry. The camp passed them, and saw them no more, after taking, as it were, one repast of them. So the apostle could sit down at them for awhile, when comforted by the mutual faith of himself and others. The manna, in its turn, tells us of blessing also. It speaks of Jesus, the bread of life. Unlike the provision of Elim, it remained. It waited, morning and evening, for forty years on the camp, and fed them till they reached the land of corn and oil-as the true bread which the Father gives can feed us, let the plane of the desert be what or where it may. The water from the rock tells us in due order of the Holy Ghost, the abiding Comforter. Unlike the wells of Elim also, this water follows through all the way, as the Giver of the true water says, “that he may abide with you forever.” And, lastly, the overthrow of Amalek tells of the strength of the right hand of the Lord over that which would dare to withstand the way of that ransomed people over whom the Lord of the glory was hovering.1
Thus they learn the sufficiency of God's grace and strength for all their necessity. He has the bread and the water for them, the healing tree, and the palms of Elim, though the place be desert and dry, and victory for them when the enemy appears.
And here let me say that the Lord acquires His holy honors by all those acts and mercies which He accomplishes for His poor people. Thus His memorials are engraved on our blessings. Wonderful grace and perfection of goodness this is, that God should be celebrated by and in that which blesses us He got the title of “Jehovah-jireh,” because He graciously provided a ram in the place of Isaac; He was celebrated as” a man of war,” because He got the victory for His people in the Red Sea; He was “Jehovah-rophi,” because He healed the bitter waters for the camp; He was “Jehovah-nissi,” because He was their banner against the face of Amalek. And so I might show still further. But this is enough to tell us how the Lord makes Himself a name, as Jeremiah says (Jer. 32:2020Which hast set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, and in Israel, and among other men; and hast made thee a name, as at this day; (Jeremiah 32:20)), by His doing for us, and acquires (such is His grace) His own praise and honor by that which secures His people their blessing. The victory of Christ was over our enemies. If we believe His victory, we must believe our own salvation. To question our blessing is to refuse Him His praise. And it is a blessed economy of goodness that thus weaves the two inseparably together.
But the last of these lessons has large instruction in it, and I would look at it a little more particularly. Amalek was the grandson of Esau, and Esau, as we know, was the profane one-the man of the world. And Amalek appears before us in this place as one in that long line of willful ones who run their course across the face of the earth, “mighty hunters before the Lord,” or defiers and rivals of God Himself. At this moment the glory was seen over Israel, and the rock was following them with its streams. But what was all this to Amalek? What did he care for the glory? Such as Isaiah or Daniel might learn their own vileness from it, and Peter in its presence might know himself to be a sinful man, but the glory had no lesson of holy fear for such as Amalek. He comes out the rather to measure strength with it. He is as the one who by-and-by will dare to plant his idols on the battlements of the holy city, and his tabernacles on the glorious holy mountain. What is the glory to such as these? “Our tongues are our own,” say they. Their standards may rival the Lord's pillar. But the hand that holds them shall wither, as Amalek here falls, and as the last of the race shall hereafter fall (Dan. 11), with none to help him.
This may be fearful, and it is so; but it ends the trial and discipline of Israel. As in that future day also, when the last Amalek falls, Michael will stand up, and every one found written in the book shall be delivered, so here the discomfiture of this enemy makes full and easy way for Israel to “the Mount of God.” That place, out to which they had been called from Egypt, under promise that there they should serve the Lord, and hold their feast to Him, is now reached, their toil and discipline and danger all over.
And this long promised and now attained mountain is again called “the Mount of God.” The first time Moses is seen there, the burning bush, as we then saw, told him of grace; but now there is to be something to tell him of glory. Then he saw the pledge of redemption, now he is to see the pledge of the kingdom. (Chap. 18)
Zipporah and her children had been sent home to her father's house; and, as far we can judge, immediately after the circumcision of the child (chap. iv.), and naturally so. For there was something in that action that was not according to the mind of a Gentile wife. But Moses, when returning into connection with Israel, should have owned the circumcision of the God of Abraham. Coming back to his kindred in the flesh, he should have remembered the legislative national token in the flesh. The reproach of Midian should have been put away then, as the reproach of Egypt was afterward. (Josh. 5) But Zipporah, who had no fleshly kindredness with Israel, could not have been prepared for this, and therefore with her the Lord had no controversy. It was Moses or his child, and not Zipporah, whom the Lord would have slain at the inn, according to the, ordinance. (Gen. 17:1414And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant. (Genesis 17:14).) And his life being forfeited to that ordinance, it was grace that spared him. And it is altogether likely that it was just at that moment Zipporah was sent home. The Spirit, however, has left it without certainty. And justly so, as I judge, because her departure home to Midian is typically the hiding of the Gentile, or heavenly family, in the Father's house, till the Lord, the true Moses, conducts those judgments on this Egypt-world, which are to issue in the deliverance of His earthly people and the kingdom.
But Egypt being judged, Israel redeemed, disciplined, and led to the borders of the mount, the due time had come for the re-appearance of Zipporah, the Gentile wife. She is now manifested, led out by the hand of her father, for re-union with Moses at “the Mount of God,” when all the action of judgment and redemption was now gloriously and fully accomplished.
The scene here is thus strikingly beautiful and significant. We have here (as another has justly called him) “the mysterious Kenite,” for Jethro is a type or mystery, a sign of that which is especially the mystery. He here meets the redeemed heirs of earthly blessing till now a stranger to them. He comes from regions unknown to Israel. But when they meet there is no want of full companionship. A common hand seems to have led them towards each other. The deeds of the Lord, His famous deeds for Israel, are rehearsed, when Jethro and Moses had kissed each other, and the family affection had taken its course. The strangers congratulate the earthly tribes on their recent rescue and prosperous journey to “the Mount of God,” and now the union of the great deliverer of Israel with this distant unknown family was made manifest. Hitherto this had been a hidden union. But now the wife and the children, led forth by the father, appear in the presence of his fleshly kindred, and take a place nearer to Moses, the great center of the whole scene, than any of them.
The stranger likewise soon takes the highest dignities, as well as fills the place of nearest affection. He occupies, as it were, both the throne and the temple, giving direction to the lawgiver, and offering sacrifice in the presence of the priest. The last is first—the younger before the elder-the stranger in higher honor than the kindred.
But what is all this but in figure the dispensation of the fullness of times, the gathering together in one of all things in heaven and in earth? What is it less than the raising of the ladder between heaven and earth? Do we not here listen to the intercourses of the kingly priestly stranger with redeemed Israel, rejoicing in their blessing, but holding still the place of holiness and honor? Jethro assumes the place of Melchizedek. In no less glories than those of king and priest together does he here shine before us. He offers the sacrifices and spreads the feast for Aaron, and sits as chief in the seat of judgment with Moses. And when he had thus displayed his glories, rejoiced in the prosperity of God's chosen, and led their praise for the mercy, “he went his way.” As was said of the God of Abraham before, “and the Lord went his way as soon as he had done communing with Abraham.” (Gen. 18) So now Jethro, having rejoiced with Israel and displayed his glories, goes his way. For both were as strangers in the earth, and a distant way led them to their proper home.
Thus we have great things in this chapter. The opening of it shows us the heavenly One descending, and the close of it shows us His return or ascending in figure, as the angels of God once ascended and descended on the mystic ladder, and will again upon the Son of man. And it shows us also in figure all things in heaven and earth gathered in that one who has connection with the two great households, though in different ways, while they themselves were unknown to each other till now. All this tells indeed of the dispensation of the fullness of times. (Eph. 1:1010That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: (Ephesians 1:10).) This mount, where all this is seen, is now again called “the Mount of God,” as being in this manner the place of glory, as before when it was called “the Mount of God,” it was as strikingly the place of grace, or the burning bush. It well deserves the praise. It surely is the mystic holy ground where the traces of the blessed God are thus to be seen, and when, we learn those ways of His, that establish the heart both in faith and hope.
This intercourse between the heavenly and earthly families having one great center, as it will be enjoyed in the coming kingdom, so has it been typified in many past shadows. The ladder which Jacob saw, and to which I have alluded, gave it in figure to us. The passing and re-passing of Moses from the cloudy tabernacle to the camp of the congregation (Ex. 33), was another expression of this intercourse between the place of the glory and the earth. The vision on the mount of transfiguration, where the glorified family were seen, and also the representative of Israel, gives us another pledge of it The interviews between the risen Lord and His disciples, still in their earthly places, is a like figure: for then at seasons He showed Himself to them, but His place was more duly in heaven, His word being “touch me not,” though at times He would eat and drink with them as before. So, the notice that is taken of the ascent, by which Solomon went up to the house of the Lord, and which was one of the principal objects that rested on the vision, and filled the spirit of the queen of Sheba, is another intimation of the same (2 Chron. 9); for it looked somewhat above, and apart from, the mere earthly places, to which the sitting of the servants, the furniture of the tables, and all the royal magnificence and fullness pertained, and would properly have drawn her thoughts upwards. And so this our closing chapter shows the same. Here is the ladder again, the communion of the heavens with the earth in the days of the glory. Moses's estrangement from Israel for a season, his secrecy among the Gentiles with his father, his wife, and his children there, then his return to Israel, and their redemption and discipline under his hand, the overthrow of the great enemy who dared to affront the glory of the Lord, and finally, the place of peace, “the Mount of God,” where the strangers and Israel (both, though differently, having found their union with Moses the common deliverer) meet for the first time to rejoice together, while the stranger fills the nearer intimacies and the higher dignities: all these tell out the mystic tale of the heavens and the earth in the coming kingdom or fullness of times. The union of the bride and the bridegroom, which before had been hidden, is now published, and the Gentile stands nearer to Moses than all his kindred in the flesh.
There is a voice in all this, beloved, that we cannot but hear. For thus will it be in the kingdom, surely. Is not all that is royal and glorious to be on the earth then, with the ascent to heaven from Jerusalem? Is not the true ladder to be there, and the ministers of the kingdom passing and re-passing upon it? Is not the glory then to be a covering on the dwelling-places and assemblies of Zion? “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.” Tales of mercy and salvation will then be rehearsed, as here; and the church will learn the joy of Israel's deliverance, though they never knew each other before, for the church's path had been heavenly, and Israel's earthly, and thus they lay not in the same regions at all. But then they will find that all the while they have had a common center in the true Moses, the true Bridegroom of the true heavenly stranger, the true deliverer and leader of the tribes of Israel. And then as Jethro here spreads the refreshments and gives the blessing, so the golden city, the city of the heavenly strangers, will pour forth its light and its waters, the effulgence of its glories and the streams of its fountains, to gladden and refresh the earth, and Israel with her attendant nations shall be blest in the millennial kingdom of the Son of man.
The next chapter (19) introduces us to other scenes and thoughts altogether, so as to allow us to look at this scripture (chaps. 1- 18) by itself. And it is, as it were, one of the title-deeds of Horeb to the holy dignity which it bears. It shows us why it should be called “the Mount of God.” For grace and glory, as we have now seen, both display themselves there, and they belong to God. The next scenes are still, however at the same mount, and they will give us to read again, though in other lines (the Lord giving us grace and His blessing), the title of that mount to bear the same holy inscription upon it. And if we still linger upon it, beloved, may our souls get some little increased strength to rise above the level of this corrupted earth, and all its low ambitions and vanities.