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The ways of providence are plainly illustrated in several minor elements of the work of Moses. First, there is the man on the throne of Egypt at the time when Moses was instructed to demand the liberation of Israel. A good deal depended upon the character of this man. If he had been a reasonable, pliable man, he might have complied with the demand too soon for the work to be done. It was necessary that he should refuse, and that he should refuse obstinately many times, because the liberation of Israel was only one of several things that had to be accomplished by the work entrusted to the hand of Moses. Had the liberation of Israel been the only object aimed at, a single day’s destroying judgment on the Egyptians would have sufficed, after the example of Sennacherib’s army decimated in a single night in the days of Hezekiah. But a higher object was aimed at, both as regarded Israel, the Egyptians, the world at large, and posterity. This object is clearly defined several times in the course of the narrative. It is plainly exhibited in this simple statement:


Israel was sunk in idolatry, as we have seen. If Israel was bad, the Egyptians were worse: the Canaanitish nations were reeking in iniquity, and the world at large lay in darkness. Left to itself, this state of things must have resulted in the establishment of incorrigible barbarism. The purpose of God (which was declared to Moses), that ultimately He would fill the earth with His glory (Numbers 14:21), required that a beginning should be made then, in the exhibition of His power in a way not to be mistaken. To allow of this exhibition, it was needful there should be a plain issue between God and man, and resistance on the part of man, and an ensuing struggle sufficiently prolonged and diversified to exclude the possibility of doubt as to the nature of the operations performed. God could have manifested His power by hurling the mountains from their base, or cleaving the earth with terrible chasms, or rending the air with deafening tempests of thunder, or filling the heavens with terrific conflagration. But this would not have got at the understanding of the people. It would have scared without instructing, and would have passed out of memory as a mere freak of nature. It was necessary that intelligence should be manifestly at work, and this necessity could only be met by a situation that all could understand, and that would allow of the works of God being seen in intelligible relation thereto.


            It would not have been possible to have devised a more effective combination of circumstances for such a purpose that what existed when Moses was commanded to address himself to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. The combination had been slowly developed for the purpose by the incidents of the previous three centuries. Israel, beloved for their father’s sake, were enslaved, and not only enslaved, but enslaved in the midst of the most civilised nation of the world of that age. To demand their release was at once to raise a simple and powerful “question”; and to fight such a question with Egypt was to conduct a struggle that would be visible to the eyes of all the world—much more so than if it had taken place with any other nation at that time in the world’s history. But, for the effectual accomplishment of its object, it was needful that the government of Egypt should be firm in its opposition. This depended upon the character of the man in whom the government was vested. Is it a marvel, then, that the preparation of that man should be a divine work? Nay, would it not have been evidence of the absence of a divine supervision in the whole situation if the right sort of man had not been on the throne at such a time? The state of the case declared in the words divinely addressed to Pharaoh, through Moses, was in harmony with the requirements of the situation:

For this cause have I raised thee up, FOR TO SHOW IN THEE MY POWER, and that My Name might be declared in all the earth.”

Not only was he “raised up” and specially fitted for the part he had to perform, but, during the performance of that part, he was operated on for its effectual performance. His heart was “hardened”:

“I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay My hands upon Egypt and bring forth Mine armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt, by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:3-5).


            The difficulties that have been raised in connection with this matter are difficulties arising from wrong notions as to the nature of man, and from the want of an enlightened apprehension of the prerogatives of God in His relation to His works. If Pharaoh was immortal, and made liable by his heart-hardening to the dreadful destiny depicted in the hell-fire denunciations of orthodox sermonising, the divine work of raising him up and hardening his heart would at least be inscrutable, in the sense, that is, of being apparently inconsistent with what Jehovah had testified of His own character. But Pharaoh, being a piece of living clay, and all mankind in a state calling for some startling exhibition of the existence and authority of God, there is not only nothing difficult to understand, but a something to excite admiration in the development of a man and the contrivance of a situation which should effectually ensure it. Any question of human right, as against God, is unanswerably disposed of by Paul in his famous argument:

“Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?” (Romans 9:19-22).


            The fact is beyond question that Pharaoh was raised up for the part he had to perform in connection with the work of Moses: and the usefulness of the fact arises from this, that no one living in Egypt during the thirty or forty years preceding the exodus would have been aware, from anything he saw or heard, that the ruler of the country was the subject of divine work one way or the other. Had he watched him from the beginning—seen him nursed as a baby, noted him under tutorship, followed him through the ways of youth to maturity and manhood, he would have detected nothing indicative of divine selection and preparation. All was apparently in the order of nature. Yet the man was a divine work. It is easy, turning from the contemplation of such a picture, to realise that in our own day, such men as Louis Napoleon, Bismarck, the Pope, the Emperor of Russia, or such a woman as our own Queen, or any one having relation to the divine work of the latter days (Dr. Thomas for instance), may equally be a divine development and the subject of divine supervision, though every element in their lives superficially is thoroughly natural. The “natural” in such cases is the form of the divine hand, or rather the tool used by it. The user of the tool is not visible in the work done, and the tool is only a tool. The tool is invisibly guided in a way that seems to itself and others perfectly natural, yet the work done is divine work because divinely planned, and divinely supervised in its execution, though the agents are unconscious of the divine initiative. Such a view helps us to recognise the hand of God in current public affairs, where the natural man sees only the proximate agency. Such a view can, of course, be prostituted to the result of claiming divinity for things which have nothing divine in them. But wisdom will know where to draw the line. All things are not divine, but some are which are apparently natural. We need not assume divine initiative for any action in particular, either in public life or in our own lives, though God may have to do with both or neither. Our business is to conform in all modesty to what God has required of us; but it is our comfort at the same time to know that matters and men and results may be of God, even if apparently natural only. Our part is to commit our way to Him in faith. We are helped thus to count upon and recognise the direction of God, where to the natural eye it is not visible.


            Next we look at Israel in the time of Moses. The time of the promised liberation had come near; and accordingly—

“The children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land (of Egypt) was filled with them.” “The more” the Egyptians “afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew”

(Exodus 1:7, 12).

There was nothing manifestly divine in this. It was apparently a matter of natural fecundity, and nothing more. Yet it is testified it was a work of God.

“He increased His people greatly (in Egypt), and made them stronger than their enemies” (Psalm 105:24).

By the word of God, the heavens were made, and when this same word broods with prospering intent upon any people, the result is seen in the presence of a vigour apparently natural and really natural in its form and modes of development, yet super-induced by a divine volition at the roots. The presence of this volition is the difference between what God does and what He does not do. The exercise of it was manifest in the case of Israel in a debased state in Egypt, because the time for God’s work with them had drawn near. May we not apply the fact to our own day? The time for the return of mercy to Zion has come: the time for God, who scattered Israel to gather them, and we see nothing divine in the lively vigour and prolificness and growing prosperity of the Jews in every land? It is all apparently natural, but the hand of God is in it, and will shortly be made manifest to all nations when that hand is no longer hidden, but taken out of the bosom and uplifted, in visible works of power before the eyes of all the nations.


            Israel experienced the difference between God being with them and not being with them, when they attempted to make war against the Amorites contrary to the command of Moses after the report of the spies. It will be recollected that after hearing that report, they refused to invade the land, and became mutinous against Moses. They were then condemned to wander in the wilderness forty years, till the adult generation should die out of the congregation. On hearing this, they were filled with consternation, and clamorously offered to enter at once upon the work of invasion which they had declined. Moses would not give them permission: they persisted.

“Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? But it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you (Numbers 14:41).

But they disregarded this, and issued from the camp in military array.

“Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in the hill, and smote them and discomfited them, even unto Hormah” (verse 45).

Had God been with them, the Amalekites would have quailed, and Israel would have stood firm to their work and gone forward victoriously; but, in God’s absence, the case was reversed. The natural agency in the one case and in the other was the same, but when God is “with” the agency employed that agency is supplemented with an invisible power of direction and efficiency that is lacking when God wills against it, and the agency, though feeble in itself, will be powerful against all odds. This, Asa, king of Judah, recognised when he said on the approach of the Ethiopian horde against Jerusalem:

“Lord, it is nothing with Thee to help, whether with many or with them that have no power; help us, O Lord our God for we rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go against this multitude. O Lord, Thou art our God; let no man prevail against Thee.” “And the Lord smote the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled” (2 Chronicles 14:11).

On another occasion, later in his reign, Asa “relied on the king of Syria, and not on the Lord his God,” which evoked this interrogatory from the prophet sent to him:

“Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because thou didst rely on the lord, he delivered them into thine hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth to show Himself strong on the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him. Herein thou hast done foolishly; therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:7-9).

This principle was recognised by Jonathan when he proposed to his armour-bearer a forlorn attempt against the Philistine garrison at Michmash:  

“It may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

It was recognised by David when he went against Goliath:

“Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield, but I come unto thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into my hand, . . . that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with the sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47). 

David gives frequent expression to the same principle in the Psalms:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).

“There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength: an horse is a vain thing for safety; neither shall he deliver any by his great strength” (Psalm 33:16).

“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Psalm 127:1).


            There might be a tendency to conclude that, in such a view of matters, human agency is superfluous, and indeed displaced: and that the only thing left for a man to do is just to do nothing but stand still and see what God will do. Such a view has, in fact, been acted on in many instances. It is a mistaken view altogether, as we have seen in previous chapters. It seems to result from one aspect of the matter; but we must not limit our view of any subject to one aspect of the matter. We must take all sides into account. The other side in this case is the revelation that in working with a man, God wills that that man should do his part humbly, faithfully, and diligently, and that God’s part should come in as a supplement or addition to what man does. We might pause with profit to consider the admirable wisdom of a principle of action which, while making effectual results depend upon God, admits man to the pleasure of cooperation in the process by which they are worked out, and compels him to perform this advantage-yielding part. Our aim, however, is not so much to discuss the philosophy of God’s ways as to exhibit what they are.


            Israel were made very distinctly to recognise that while they could do nothing if God were not with them, yet God could not, in a sense, do His part unless they did theirs. God said to Moses in the beginning of their enterprise:

                        I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, etc.” (Exodus 33:2);

From which it might have been concluded that there was nothing for Israel to do. The very reverse was the case. God meant to do His work by them. Moses told them:

“Every place whereon the sole of our feet shall tread shall be yours. . . . There shall be no man able to stand before you; for the Lord your God shall lay the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon, as He hath said unto you” (Deuteronomy 11:24-25).

The matter was made still plainer when Moses was dead. God then spoke to Joshua as follows:

“Moses my servant is dead. Now, therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, thou and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your feet shall tread upon, THAT HAVE I GIVEN UNTO YOU, as I said unto Moses, . . . only be thou strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:2, 7).


            In no plainer way could the principle have been enunciated that God requires men to do their part as the condition and means of enabling Him to work out His purpose with and concerning them. It is a principle illustrated throughout the entire course of scripture, culminating in the command to work out our own salvation, coupled with the assurance that God works with and in us to will an to do of His good pleasure. It is a noble and beneficent principle, tending to keep back man from presumption, and to prevent him from abusing God’s help to his own destruction. It preserves the faith and wholesome activity, while giving us the comfort of divine cooperation in all that we do according to His will.


            Man is liable to run into extremes. The assurance to Israel that the occupation of the land was dependent upon their taking possession of it, was liable to inspire them with the idea that it was an affair of their own prowess, irrespective of God’s cooperation. On more than one occasion there was a rude check to this misapplication of the truth. In the days of Gideon, when the Midianites had to be vanquished, God commanded the thinning down of the host he had gathered, saying,

“The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianite into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me saying, MINE OWN HAND HATH SAVED ME” (Judges 7:2).

It will be remembered, also, that in the very beginning of Joshua’s campaign against the Amorites, Israel were smitten at Ai, because God’s commands had been disobeyed in an individual case in the matter of the spoil, and God said to Joshua,

“The children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were cursed; NEITHER WILL I BE WITH YOU ANY MORE, except ye destroy the accursed from among you” (Joshua 7:12).

The whole congregation of Israel in the wilderness had fearful illustration of the effect, in a natural way, of God being not with them, but against them. At the end of their forty years’ wanderings, we are informed that, among them all, “there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest numbered” at the beginning of the period:

“There was not left a man of them save Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, the son of Nun” (Numbers 26:64-65).

Moses tells us—

“The hand of the Lord was against them to destroy them from among the host until they were consumed” (Deuteronomy 2:15).

It must have been so, for, in the ordinary course, out of the thousands of young men over twenty who were in the congregation at the first numbering, many must have survived and lived years after the termination of the forty years’ wandering. Yet, from day to day, while they were in the wilderness, nothing would be visible in the way of divine interference. They would drop off one by one in a natural way, just as they do in a great city today.


            In these and numerous like ways, was Israel taught the lesson that while the performance of their part was necessary to the accomplishment of God’s purpose with them, the accomplishment of the purpose was all of God. And so, though Joshua fought and Israel conquered, David could write with emphatic truth,

“They got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them, but Thy right hand, and Thine arm and the light of Thy countenance, because Thou hadst a favour unto them” (Psalm 44:3).

Let us beware of the modern mistake of forgetting that—

                        “These things were written for our admonition.”

God is the same today and for ever. We must do our part with all the wisdom and diligence we can command, but we must commit and commend all our matters in prayer and constant fear of God, who can prosper or frustrate the devices of men, or leave men altogether to their own devices like the regardless millions of the human race who are mostly like the cattle on a thousand hills.

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