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Bible Truths

By S. S.

No. IV.
From the Exodus to the Delivery of the Law at Sinai.

The pen of the sage and the poet have essayed to depict, in language befitting the sublimity of the subject, those great cli<<453>>macterics in Bible history, when the Most High made his power   and glory visible to the sons of men, for the purpose of instructing them in such great truths as should be sealed in their hearts, and indelibly impressed within their inmost souls, and when minor means would have failed to effect this object. But what sage, what poet has at all approached the simple and majestic narrative of our great prophet, or his detail of those events preceding and succeeding the redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage?

How can a finite pen describe those wondrous miracles? How picture forth in proper colours the mercy, the forbearance, and the love of that Omnipotent Being, who carried Israel as on eagles’ wings forth from the house of their captivity; who with more than a mother’s love for her first-born soothed them in their waywardness, with an immortal patience bore their ungrateful murmurings, and with unceasing kindness supplied their every want?

When we reflect upon this epoch in the annals of our race—when we call up before us the vision of that time when our ancestors daily beheld an actual manifestation of the Supreme; for the pillar cloud departed not though the sun shed his rays around them, neither did the pillar of fire cease to give light when day had withdrawn her beams: how humbled and yet how elevated does this contemplation leave us? Humbled, for the little spirituality displayed by our ancestors in their conduct; and our faith elevated, because had not our Redeemer found even then something good in the descendants of Abraham, those mercies showered around them with a hand so unsparing, would have been withheld; and was not every murmur a means through which was displayed in greater glory the power of the Omnipotent? Israel might have drunk from the wells of the field, had they not tempted the Lord to cause water to flow from the flinty rock. They might have eaten of the products of nature, had not their cry ascended to God, who, to prove them, and show to us that Providence was quite equal, when faith was not wanting, for the supplying of our daily wants—miraculously fed them by a daily supply. The pillar of cloud and of fire are no <<454>> longer beheld visibly by the eye; yet the purified imagination, more powerful than the magicians of Pharaoh, can summon its presence; and though the Voice that spoke to Israel in the wilderness is now silent to our corporeal organs, by the ear of faith its low, penetrating sound is still heard. At the dawn of the morning it whispers, “Hear, O Israel! all the goodness that the Lord has done for thee;” in the silence of midnight it utters, “The Lord still is thy Saviour and Shield.” It penetrates the mists of ages with a calm and holy light, steadfast and clear as that of the polar star. It dispels the gloom of superstition, and says, “To sanctify you to me, to teach you how to be pure and holy, did I descend in the olden time, and showed you the greatness of my mercies, my long-suffering, kindness, goodness, and truth; and as then I pardoned Israel when they turned from their backslidings, though grievous and many, my hand is not shortened, nor is my forgiveness withheld from the repentant and sorrowful heart.” Oh, that Israel had but full faith in the Lord, and would lay their sins and sorrows at the footstool of His throne!

Before discussing the moral and civil laws proclaimed at Sinai, it will be necessary to take into consideration the state of the human mind as then developed, what were its inclinations, and the vices and faults to which it was addicted, ere revelation pointed out in detail the rules of its future government. Except in one race polytheism reigned rampant—not a worship as elevating in its tendency as that of the Sabeans, who bowed down before the hosts of heaven as visible representations of omnific power; but a debasing adoration of beasts, of reptiles, and of images. It was, therefore, necessary not only to proclaim the unity of God; but His incorporeality and eternal self-existence, His unity in antagonism to the polytheistic belief, His incorporeality as opposed to the likeness of anything in the heavens above, or the earth beneath; and His eternity as antagonistic to anything formed or created. Nor was the worship then existing confined in its effects to the spiritual tendencies of man; it debased alike his whole conduct and nature as a social being. Their gods were to be found in their temples, and there only; and, consequently, could not take cognizance of the evils com<<455>>mitted elsewhere. There was, therefore, a strong necessity of giving a correct impression of the omnipresence of the true God, In order that the conduct of his creatures should be at all times both just and pure, so as to give no offence to that Holy Being who saw their every act, who read their every thought. The ideas of right and wrong were still undefined. The strong made the laws, the weak obeyed them, and the king was the only omnipotent power known to their misguided understandings. The miracles which took place in the presence of Pharaoh annihilated this belief—the wealth bestowed upon the disenthralled showed that the rights of persons must be respected; and the instantaneous exhibition of a superhuman power proved that man, that nature itself, existed only by the will of its Creator.

The law then was to teach these fundamental truths:—that the Omnipotent and Eternal God was the sole Creator and Preserver of all things; that man could only acknowledge his gratitude towards his Creator by an implicit obedience to his commands; that he could only render himself fit for his presence by the utmost purity in his thoughts and person; that to render himself thus pure, it was not only necessary to do but to abstain; to do those things commanded by God, and to abstain, from doing those things which he had prohibited; and that we could not render ourselves acceptable to God without endeavouring to promote to the extent of our capabilities the happiness of our fellow-beings in their individual and social capacity.