by T. Austin-Sparks
We have been seeing that each one of these steps in the onward movement of God by the law of the Cross brought in some particular phase of the movement of God, and every one of the persons mentioned had a particular and peculiar function to fulfil on the basis of the Cross to final fulness.
In this chapter we come to Moses. This seems to be necessary by way of repetition that we never rightly and sufficiently understand and appreciate the life of any one of these Old Testament men until we can put our finger definitely upon the function that he fulfilled; that is, the particular thing which he represented in the onward movement of God. We have seen that to be very true of them so far.
When we come to Moses we have, first of all, to begin with discovering the exact function, significance and meaning of Moses. And that significance is found in the special designation which was given him, a designation which applies or attaches to Moses in a peculiar way. It is used of others, but it is particularly used of Moses. We saw that Abraham carried a double designation - father, "the father of all them that believe" and friend, "the friend of God".
Moses the Servant of the Lord
Now, we are very familiar, I think, with this: that the word or designation which attaches peculiarly to Moses is that of 'servant'. "Moses the servant of the Lord" - that phrase, in that form or in a little different form, occurs no fewer than twenty times and they are almost all of them in one book of the Old Testament. "Moses the servant of the Lord"; "Moses my servant". So then the function of Moses must quite clearly be that of service in some quite clearly defined way. It is for us to discover what that is.
So in this chapter we are in the presence of that particular aspect of the Cross which has to do with the servant and the service of God - the Cross and the way of life for the service of God. That is our subject. We come then to try to discover from the life of Moses the true meaning of service, and what a true servant of God really is. We can arrive at that in the best way and in the first place, by taking note of the bounds of the life of Moses, the two ends in which his whole life is compassed. At one end we have a people, an elect people in bondage to this world, an elect unreleased. At the other end of his life, we have the elect ready to take possession of the heavenly realm of their vocation, on the borders of the land, ready to go in, for we know well that Canaan is always a figure of the heavenly kingdom, the heavenly realm. Those two things bound the life of Moses, and therefore his service is within the compass of those limits, those confines or those defines.
The Emancipation of an Elect
It begins with the emancipation of the elect out of Egypt, out of the world. I do not want you to stumble at the word 'elect'. Please just close your mind to all your doctrines of election for a moment, and just be satisfied with the fact that there is such a thing as an elect and that from eternity past God has a people chosen for Himself. You can just leave it there. Perhaps it will be safe to say this, that the elect ultimately will not be the only people who are saved, as the book of the Revelation makes clear, but the elect are the elect and Israel is a type of the elect; an elect people, and this is a very real strength and directive to service.
You and I will never be told who the elect are. You and I must dismiss that whole thing from our minds, with this exception: that we must know that God has a people hidden in this world and they may be anywhere and everywhere, and it is for us to get on with the business and leave the sovereignty of God to discover the elect. Leave it at that, but it is a very important thing.
The most unlikely place in all this world for there to be any elect was Corinth in the days of Paul and yet the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision by night, and said "I have much people in this city" (Acts 18:10) before one soul was saved. I have - not, I am going to get, but I have. This is an eternal thing, you see, and we shall never, I repeat, be informed that there are some elect in such and such a place. Our business is to believe that God may have, yes, does have, His elect hidden in the most unlikely places. But there enters, you see, the importance of service being upon the basis of direction by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit knows. And the church at the beginning was a Holy Spirit directed church in all its ministry and service, and never lighted upon a place where there was nothing as the result. God knew. Even in the barrenness and desolation of a desert, there was one man passing in his chariot, and the Holy Ghost directed a servant there. I only illustrate the principle. Holy Spirit directed service is never in vain, but it must be Holy Spirit directed service.
The elect were emancipated first, we need not stay to consider the emancipation. What an emancipation it was! What power from God was required! The corresponding verse or passage in the New Testament and spiritual realm is "the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead" (Eph. 1:19-20). The exceeding greatness of His power, and in Egypt God's exceeding greatness of power was demonstrated, and the 'exceeding' meant that God had extended all the other power of world and devil and gone beyond it. He does that to get his elect. It requires that to get His elect. Though we may not feel the immensity of that power, it is at work for our emancipation. The more we know about it, the more we know that it will take the exceeding greatness of God's power to get us placed where God wants us to be if we have an adequate apprehension of where and what that place is.
The beginning of the servanthood of Moses, then, was in the emancipation of an elect. An old prophetic phrase was "out of Egypt have I called my son" (Hos. 11:1). Moses' challenge to Pharaoh was from God, "Let my son go, that he may serve me" (Ex. 4:23). Service begins with separation from the world, emancipation from the kingdom of this world, but it is a very thoroughgoing thing. Oh, that the church would recognize this, that God's last word about this matter of emancipation and separation is "there shall not a hoof be left behind" (Ex. 10:26). You see, Moses' service was a very thoroughgoing service, and it went that far, that not a hoof was left behind, and that is service to God. 'See that the people are utterly out, and there is no link remaining.'
The Constituting of One People
After the emancipation came the formation; the constituting of this people as an ordered people and a solid unit. They were a rabble, a mixed multitude, but when they are ready to go over into the heavenly country, they are a unit, they are an ordered people in step; one people. The formation of the people of God like that is a tremendous business, and all the life of Moses was drawn out in that work of bringing these people to formation, constituted according to Christ, with the laws of the kingdom of heaven.
And with the formation there was the education. Their teaching, their instruction in very practical ways - not theoretically, but practically they were taught these principles of the kingdom which they were to inherit. I cannot stay with all that. You see there is an immense amount of detail there. I can only gather it up into those words: emancipation, formation, education, and that was the service to God; that is the service of God.
God's Training of Moses for Servanthood
Well, having said that, we can pass from the service to the servant, and begin to understand the life of Moses now. We immediately understand why it was that God precipitated His emancipation of Egypt, and how thoroughgoing was the separation of Moses from the kingdom of Egypt. At the end of forty years in the backside of the desert there was not a hoof of Egypt left in Moses. God simply emptied that man out of his old life and his old relationship. Yes, it was a very deep and drastic work of separation that was represented by the taking of him out of Egypt and keeping him so far removed in a desert place for so long a time. During that time of separation a great work of discipline was going on.
We have said 'emptying', but not only the emptying of Egypt, but the emptying of himself. Separation between him and Egypt truly, but now the work was being carried into an inner realm; a great divide was being made between Moses, the old man, and another man: Moses the servant of God. Do remember that service is always governed by this: a deep inward separation. It is not enough for us to come out from the world and become parts of the people of God. Something more than that is necessary. The whole self-life in us has got to be definitely dealt with, and a great separation has to take place there.
The impulsive, hot, fiery Moses has to become the quiet, patient, meek Moses... learning, perhaps above all things, meekness and patience. What a discipline of those forty years of self-emptying. Presently when he really enters upon his life's work, his life service, one of the things that he will need most will be patience, and there is nothing more calculated to produce patience than the discipline of inaction. We do not learn patience when we can keep busy, when we can gratify all our impulses by doing something. But when we are not allowed to do anything, when we are cut off from ministry and work and service, and shut up to the discipline of inaction and the discipline of delay, God is preparing for better service than we would ever have fulfilled otherwise.
So it was with Moses. If ever a man needed patience in his service, that man did. You remember that one outburst, when the old Moses of Egypt flared up and said, "Hear now, ye rebels". You can see what the man was in himself, what was possible in that man, that of which he was capable. It is a marvellous thing that it was only once that it happened. It shows that something had been done very deeply in him. But here it was, the preparation of the servant was like that. That man was going to need meekness above all things.
There were going to be times when jealousies over him and his position would flare up. "Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?" (Num. 12:2), not by us? - jealousies. In that hour the most fatal thing that could happen would be for Moses to seek to vindicate himself, seek to establish his own position, to fight for his own ministry - the most fatal thing. Thank God, in that hour, in that very hour, when the jealousies were rife, the word is written, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth." He simply turned to the Lord, and said, 'Well, Lord, if You put me into this work, I did not choose it, if You put me into it, if You gave me this work to do for You, appointed me for this, it is for You to see that my ministry is fulfilled; I am not going to fight for it. I leave it to You, Lord. You just take responsibility for what You have done where I am concerned", and the Lord did it. But, mark you, that is not Moses naturally, not a bit of it. That is something that has been wrought in him very deeply and very thoroughly.
Do you see a little the meaning of service, the meaning of service to God? We have got to draw a very broad distinction between doing a lot of things, as we think "for the Lord", rushing about and being busy and organizing and conducting and speaking and preaching and taking meetings and classes and all this, and we call this "Christian service". We have got to draw a very broad line of difference between that and real service to the Lord. Real service to the Lord is the emancipation of a people from this world for Him and the formation of that people according to Christ for a heavenly vocation, and a heavenly vocation now, not afterwards.
You can test your service by this: the measure of the emancipation of the people who come under your hands and the measure of the formation of Christ that is going on. These are things which are service. And then you will discover that, whereas the other line of things with all the movement and activity and feverish and excited work does not call for very much patience of this kind. It does not call for much real self-emptying, no, it does not call for a great deal of meekness: rather I think it ministers to the opposite. It makes us self-important. It makes us proud. It makes us self-sufficient. It makes us self-assertive. It makes us jealous for our position and our ministry, and resentful if it is interfered with. Yes, Christian work does that with many. The true service can be tested by these things, and the true servant can be tested by the measure of those virtues of Christ: utterly selfless, self-empty.
The Crisis in the Life of Moses
Well now, the crisis in the life of Moses - that is the point of this message. Exodus 4:24 says: "And it came to pass on the way at the lodging-place, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him." This is one of the most extraordinary and most difficult passages in the whole Bible, viewed from one standpoint. Here is a man who had been miraculously preserved at birth, who had been providentially educated and trained for leadership in childhood, in youth and in manhood. A man who had been deeply disciplined in patience by long years of delay as, apparently, a forgotten man, then brought directly and immediately into touch with the Lord Himself at the bush of fire; personally commissioned to his life-work by God Himself, and a great life-work at that. Then suddenly, after all that, with all that, confronted by God in some unexplained way, and it says, "God sought to kill him." He is on his way to Pharaoh. He has got all that history, he has got that commission, he has met God face to face, and on the way he comes to the lodging-place between the wilderness and Egypt, and Jehovah met him and sought to kill him. His life is suddenly threatened with a sudden end at the hand of God Himself. What can you make of it? There must be some very vital principle involved to account for so strange a thing and such a drastic experience, and there is.
All this servant and service, all this preparation, all this need of God, all this, and then God met him and sought to kill him. You can have all that, be called in that way, prepared in that way, commissioned in that way, and the thing does not go through. If this were not in the Bible, it would be difficult to believe, would it not? It does seem so terrible. Can it be true? But it is, and there is a reason. The reason is in the immediate context.
Sufficient to say it was the whole question of circumcision, and carried right over into the New Testament, we know what it means. Col. 2:11 - the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, which Paul explains to be the putting away of the whole body of the flesh. There was a place in the life of Moses, and a very vital place, where the Cross had not been applied and everything is hung up on that. Everything is hung up on this: that right there at the centre of his life, the place where the Cross ought to be registered, had no such registration. I cannot go into it fully and explain it. You see, service and the servant of God, which we are speaking about now, is not just the matter of our salvation. We are speaking about the call of God to His service, to this great work to which the church is called, to which you and I are called. We will touch on that again in a minute. In this kind of work there is something to be done where we are concerned that may be lacking in a great many people called Christian workers, but in this kind of work God is very particular.
Do you see what it means from God's side? God is taking absolutely no risks about this whole thing that is in view. The thing that God is set upon is so tremendous, so utter. It has got to go right through, right through without any staying and cutting short. It has to go right through and right on to the eternal ages, this work of God. It has got to develop and grow and it has to be characterised by life and ever more life. This is the thing that God is after. He is not after just little fragments for the time being. He has got the whole thing in view and He is taking no risks where that great purpose of His is concerned, no risks at all. And one little bit of uncrucified Self in the servant, in the vessel, is a risky thing for God; a very risky thing. God knows how much may be spoiled and held up if you and I and all His servants, whether individual or collective, are uncrucified people.
I repeat, God was taking no risks at all. Of course, there is much more to it.
We saw in Genesis 17 how God gave the covenant sign to Abraham, the covenant sign of circumcision, and made everything for the future contingent upon that covenant sign. It was there. Moses knew it and had neglected it. God has made known His will and it is there. We have got to acquaint ourselves with it. We are held responsible for anything that God has said, and service is a very responsible thing, you know. God deals with His true servants in a far more drastic way than He deals with anyone else. The very law of His Son's Cross was in danger of being overlooked or neglected at that point in the life of Moses, and God will not have it. He sees the whole thing at a glance and will take no risks. Oh, what a tremendous thing is the Cross in relation to the service of God!
Well, thank God, the thing was put right on the spot there and then at the lodging-place, and Moses was released, his life was spared. He went on and fulfilled his life's purpose. Are you believing this to be a true interpretation of the Word of God? Do let me remind you that what God is really needing and seeking and must really have is this kind of service; that which gets a people right out and right through to the place where... what? Well, if the figure of the land stands for anything at all, it means what the letter to the Ephesians I believe interprets it to mean: the church now operating and functioning in the realm of principalities and powers and bringing down that whole kingdom and hierarchy. You cannot cast out the devil if you are living in the flesh, if you are not a crucified man or woman or instrument. The devil would turn and laugh at you and make an awful mess of you if the Cross is not there.
They had got to come in and dispossess that land of seven nations mightier than themselves. And does not that correspond with our position? What are we before the hierarchy of Satan? What are we children of God in the presence of principalities and the world-rulers of this darkness and the host of wicked spirits in the heavenlies? What chance have we got with nations mightier than ourselves? But crucified men and women can do it; a crucified church can do it. That is our vocation now, to set a Kingdom above that kingdom.
Moses' Touch with the Throne
One very particular point in the servanthood of Moses was his touch with the Throne; I mean his place with God in divine authority. That rod of Moses always symbolized the authority of God in his hand. That rod brought the authority of God against the Egyptians and all the gods of the Egyptians. Over the Red Sea it was stretched. Ever and always that rod spoke of the Throne of God in the hand of Moses - that is not a wrong way to put it. What tremendous divine authority was exercised by that man! It works itself out to the undoing of that other great kingdom of evil.
Now, says the New Testament, that is what the church is called for, to have such union with the Throne in heaven. Christ... far above all rule and authority and principalities and powers and such union with Him that this thing is happening, the other kingdom is losing ground, the other kingdom is being cast out. Oh, we say it very carefully. We are not of the people who lightly and glibly begin to hurl epithets at the devil. God forbid! But because it is such a tremendous thing and is really the essence of service, that is where service really reaches, because it is that the Cross must have a very real place, and that is the explanation of all this. God saw that if, in principle, the Cross had not been planted there right over the life of Moses, and deeply so, the whole of the work to which he was called would be jeopardised. That people would not be taken out, that kingdom would simply prevent it, that kingdom would not be formed and constituted in the wilderness, that people would not go through as a solid unit. And so He saw that it was worthwhile to straddle the path of Moses even at that point and say, 'Look here, a closed door to service apart from the Cross.' It is a very deep lesson, a very solemn lesson.
But there is the other side. Thank God, it was put right and the work was done. Eventually Moses brought the people as a unit to the borders of the land and handed over to Joshua and they went in. Well, it is all types, and all types and figures are limited things; they break down, but it is a type of the church in this dispensation and that which it typifies. The church is going through on the same principle.
My closing word must just be this, that while we have spoken in such broad terms, or even specific terms, we have to apply this. Such a servant and such servants and such service may be individual. It may be that. God will lay His hand upon a person to be the one whom He uses in this way. It may be upon a local company that the hand of God comes for this very purpose, that by reason of a local company, a local assembly of His people, He will make the bridge between His elect in bondage and His elect in the heavenly inheritance. A tremendous thing to think about. It may be that God in His sovereignty has brought a local company together, they have not fully known why, and it may be that in that sovereignty they are in that place, wherever it is, to be God's bridge for His elect, to be His servant collectively, to bring a people out, His people out, fully out, utterly out, from the kingdom of this world.
It is no mere verbiage to say that all Christians are not out of the kingdom of this world. To bring a people right clean out for God, and to form, or for God to form, something corresponding to His Son and make it into a unit out of a number of individuals. One unit, instructed by the Holy Spirit in the laws of the heavenly kingdom - and there in that place to be God's instrument of breaking the authority of Satan. This is what God has called us for. That is the service of the church, whether it be in its individual, special ministries, or whether it be in the local companies, or further, whether it be a matter of your being a part of a much larger work that is worldwide.
Do not think that Christians are called together just to have meetings and Bible study and nice messages and just live there as nice Christians, happy together, very pleased with themselves, seeking the Lord, praying and singing and so on. That is not what you are there for. Get the vision, the mighty vision, of your heavenly vocation which all concentrates and focuses down upon a little group here and there; a heavenly vocation, something much bigger than yourselves. If only little assemblies got the vision of their heavenly calling and vocation, how they would be freed and enlarged, and what effectiveness would come in. We know this to be true, we have seen it happen and we are seeing it happen, and we pass it to you. No, not just meeting together very happily, having good times, but how much is there a registration amongst the powers of evil? How much is there a testimony in the kingdom of Satan? What do principalities and powers think of you? And you will soon know if they think anything about you. Do not make any mistake about it - you touch them and you will know that they think about you. But what does it mean? It means the Cross; it does mean the Cross.
You must be crucified servants, you must be crucified companies. Nothing that counters the meaning, the deep meaning of the Cross must be there or your vocation will be arrested, your service will be held up. God cannot go on. He will say again, 'There is no way, the door is closed, you will have to stay where you are and die.'
May the Lord say His word into our hearts. It is a difficult word to say, but I must trust Him to interpret and explain. I am quite sure that it is His word - what He wants to say to us. God has a great purpose for His church, in every part, to fulfil in this dispensation. That purpose is to get His church, His people, into that position where they take the kingdom. And that, I say again, means a deep work of God in the life of such.