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And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM. And he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto wou–ExoDUs iii. 13, 14.
THE objects presented to us in the commerce of the world have a relative greatness, but those with which we converse in solitude and retirement possess a real grandeur and magnificence. A vast city, a numerous and well-disciplined army, a proud navy, a splendid court, and the like, dazzle the eyes of a stranger, and produce a transient wonder and delight. But a little acquaintance dissolves the charm; the dimensions of created greatness speedily contract, the glory departs, and what once filled us with astonishment is regarded with calm indifference, perhaps with disgust. The eye, almost with a single glance, reaches the end of human perfection, and instantly turns from what it has seen, in search of something yet undiscovered, striving to find in novelty and variety a compensation for the poverty, littleness, nothingness of the creature. But when we withdraw from the haunts of men, and either retire within ourselves or send our thoughts abroad to contemplate God and
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his works, we meet a heighth and a depth which the line of finite understanding cannot fathom; we expatiate in a region which still discloses new scenes of wonder; we feel ourselves at once invited and checked, attracted and repelled; we behold much that we can comprehend and explain, but much more that passeth knowledge; we find ourselves, like Moses at the bush, upon “holy ground,” and the same wonderful sight is exhibited to our view—“JEHOVAH !” IN A FLAME of FIRE whose light irradiates and encourages our approach; but whose fervent heat arrests our speed, and remands us to our proper distance. The great man had now passed the second great period of his life in the humble station of a shepherd, and the shepherd too of another man’s flock. He had quitted the enchanted regions of high life, not only without regret, but with joy; not impelled by spleen, nor soured by disappointment; but filled with a noble disdain for empty honours, with generous sympathy towards his afflicted brethren, animated by exalted piety which settled on an invisible God, and inspired with a soul which looked at pomp with contempt, and on obscurity with acquiescence and desire. It was in this calm retreat that he cultivated those qualities, which proved more favourable to the designs of Providence than all the learning which he had acquired in Egypt. At the age of eighty the race of glory is at an end with most men; nay, the drama of life concludes with the generality long before that period arrives. But the same activity and usefulness of Moses commenced not till then; for as it is never too early, so it is never too late to serve God and to do good to men; and true wisdom consists in waiting for and following the call of Heaven, not in anticipating and outrunning it. Abraham was turned out a wanderer and an exile at seventy-five. And Moses at four-score was sent upon an enterprise, which it required much courage to undertake, much vigour to conduct and support, and a
great length of time to execute. But before the divine mandate every mountain of difficulty sinks, “every valley is exalted, the crooked becomes straight, and the rough places plain.” Abraham, at the head of a handful of servants, subdues five victorious kings, with their armies: Sarah, at ninety, bears a son; and Moses, at eighty, with a simple rod in his hand, advances to succour Israel, and to crush the power of Egypt.
The solemnity with which the commission was given suited the dignity and importance of the undertaking. The whole was of God, and H E does every thing in a manner worthy of himself. While Moses was employed in the innocent cares and labours of his lowly station; and faithful attention to the duties of our several stations is the best preparation for the visits of the Almighty; a very unusual and unaccountable appearance presented itself to his eyes. A bush wholly involved in flames, yet continuing unchanged, undiminished, unconsumed by the fire. Whether nature preserves her steady tenor, or suffers an alteration or suspension of the laws by which she is usually governed, the finger of God is equally visible in both; for, what power, save that which is divine, could have established and can maintain the order and harmony of the universe? And what power short of Omnipotence can break in upon that order; can make the sun to stand still, or its shadow return back to the meridian after it had declined; can leave to fire its illuminating, but withdraw its devouring quality; and render artificial fire, such as that of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, harmless to the three children of the captivity, but fatal to the ministers of the king of Babylon? Were our hearts right with God, miraculous interpositions would be unnecessary; every creature, every event should promote our acquaintance with our Maker. And such is the condescension of the Most High, that he vouchsafes to cure our ignorance, inattention or unbelief, by making the mighty sacrifice of that stated course of things, which his wisdom settled at first, and which his power continues to support. Rather than man shall remain unchanged, unredeemed, the great system of nature shall undergo alteration; fire shall cease to burn, the Nile shall run blood instead of water, the sun forget to shine for three days together; the eternal uncreated Word shall become flesh, and the fountain of life to all, shall expire in death.
It required not the sagacity of a Moses to discover, that there was something extraordinary here. But mistaking it at first for merely an unusual, natural appearance, whose cause, by a closer investigation, he might be able to discover, he is preparing by nearer observation to satisfy his curiosity; when lo! to his still greater astonishment, the bush becomes vocal as well as brilliant, and he hears his own name distinctly and repeatedly called, out of the midst of the flame. Curiosity and wonder are now checked by a more powerful principle than either. Terror thrills in every vein, and arrests his trembling steps. How dreadful must the visitations of God’s anger be to his enemies, if to his best beloved children, the intimation of his goodness, clothed in any thing like sensible glory, be so awful and overwhelming? When I meet thee, O my God, stripped of this veil of flesh, may I find thee a pure, a genial and lambent flame of loving-kindness, not a consuming fire of wrath and vengeance! .
Moses instantly comprehends that the Lord was there; or if he could for a moment have doubted who it was that talked with him, in a moment his doubt must have been removed by the continuation of the voice of Him who spake. We find here, as in many other places of the Old Testament, the same person who is styled, in the course of the narration, the “Angel of the Lord,” styling himself Jehov AH and God; exercising divine prerogatives, manifesting divine perfections, and claiming the homage which is due to Deity alone. The person therefore, thus described,
can be none other than the uncreated “Angel of the covenant,” who “at sundry times, and in divers manners,” in maturing the work of redemption, assumed a sensible appearance; and at length, in the fulness of time, united #. divine nature to ours, and dwelt among men, and made them “to behold his glory, as the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Every thing here is singular and every thing instructive. The first interview between God and Moses inspires terror; but the spirit of bondage gradually dies away, and refines into the spirit of adoption and love. Acquaintance begets confidence. “Perfect love casteth out fear;” and the man who spake to God with trembling in Horeb, by and by becomes strengthened to endure his presence forty days and nights together, in Sinai. “Enduring, as seeing Him who is invisible,” he “despised the wrath of an earthly king.” When he comes to the knowledge of that same God, by the seeing of the eye and the hearing of the ear, he “exceedingly fears and quakes; abhors himself, and lies low in dust and ashes.” But, following on to know the Lord, he comes at length to converse with Him, as a man with his friend. “Acquaint thyself then with him, and be at peace, thereby good shall come unto thee.” Miserable beyond expression, beyond thought are they, whose acquaintance with God has to begin at death; who having lived without a gracious, merciful, longsuffering God in the world, find they must, by a dreadful necessity, fall into the hands of a neglected, forgotten, righteous, incensed God, when they leave it. The appearance of Jehovah in the bush was not only preternatural, but emblematical; it not only sanctioned the commission given to Moses by the seal of Deity, but exhibited a lively representation of the state of his church and people in Egypt; oppressed, but not crushed, brought low, but not deserted of Heaven, in the midst of flames, but not consumed. And it is a strik