<< Exodus 16:13 : The Quails and the Dew >>
And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. Exodus xvi. 13.
TO those who have regarded without ally deep knowledge of human nature the wonderful circumstances of which the Israelites had been witnesses, who remember the astonishing displays of Divine Omnipotence, of divine patience and long suffering, that they had witnessed in Egypt, during their passage thence, and in their sojourn thus far on the border of the Wilderness, it does seem an astonishing thing, that now, within one month, the Israelites should be murmuring against the Lord, distrusting His divine providence, imagining that they were about to perish, and fancying that they had left something that was really worthy of their regrets, when they left what they called the flesh-pots of Egypt, and what they now described as bread to the full.
To those who suppose that good and evil are simply opposites, that when a man leaves the one he takes the other, and that the whole work is then completed, the Israelitish history will appear to be remarkably perplexing. It pictures to us variations, temptations, trials, murmurings, victories, and so on from time to time throughout the whole of forty years sojourn and pilgrimage. And yet, if we are right in describing the exodus of the Israelites as a divine drama, illustrative of regeneration, where the scenes are extensive countries, the actors a whole nation, their history the Word of God for all ages and for all nations, then we must find their history to be but the reflex of human spiritual history in every age.
If we have sought to come out of the bondage of our Egypt, if we have made any progress in our way towards the land whither we go to possess it, then has it been precisely the case with us as it was with Israel. We have supposed at times that we are now so thoroughly on the Lords side that all will henceforth be right--that we shall never be thoughtless again. But, in a very short time we find ourselves murmuring at the loss of some little pleasure, or at the anticipation of some danger.
We have feelings of anxiety, and are as far away from peace and inward satisfaction as though we had experienced no deliverance at all. And so are go on; up and down, in sunshine and in rain, through our days and nights, summer and winter, each bringing those varieties of feeling and condition which have attended the history of the children of God in every age.
We need not wonder, therefore, at the divine history before us; in fact it describes the discipline of all who are being trained for heaven. Because they have no changes, it is written in the Psalms concerning some, therefore they fear not God. He who seeks that thorough transforming of his fallen and perverted nature, which must be accomplished in order to have a, new heart and a right spirit, an angelic love of what God loves, and real heavenly thoughts in harmony with the thoughts of angels, must be prepared for all these changes; he must remember that they are the needful incidents of his preparation for heaven. It was an instance of this representative kind, that was prevented by the Israelites at the time we have now to consider. They murmured and entreated the Lord, and quails were given them in the evening; then dew descended in the morning, and when it disappeared it left the manna behind which provided for all their wants.
We have said it wits now about a, month since the Israelites quitted Egypt. We are told that this was the fifteenth day of the second month, and you will remember that it was on the fourteenth day of the first month that they commenced their march out of Egypt, so that they seem in taking the half-prepared bread, which they hastily made ready when departing from Egypt, to have been provided with a sufficiency of food for about a month. This supply had now come to an end. The Wilderness and famine were before them. No doubt it was, humanly speaking, a question of considerable anxiety how they should be fed. There were themselves, their wives, and their children--two millions of people,--having exhausted all their provision for the way, and with apparently a foodless country before them. They would have perished had it not been for the divine supply which was provided for them, and which is described in this chapter as the manna.
But allow me to notice as we pass, the peculiar interest which there is for the thoughtful and well-informed reader, in the different incidents of this important journey. Every particular as it comes up, reminds us of the incidents which are common to the traveler in the same parts of the world even at the present day.
When a pilgrim advances from Egypt, crosses the Red Sea, and comes upon the border of the Wilderness, he finds just such circumstances as are here described--a few palm-trees, a few wells of water; then some bitter water, at Howara--probably the Marah of Scripture. Then often come quails, lust as they are described here--a sort of sea-pheasant--a small water bird, and yet frequently found thus far from the sea. The traveler realizes these things now. Even the manna is to be found yet. On the trees, which are sparsely scattered, there is a sweet kind of substance often gathered which is called manna to the present day, and which is probably the very same sort of food given to the Israelites, only given to them more abundantly at the time to which this history alludes. We are thus taught that the wonderful miracles, the extraordinary scenes and circumstances of this astonishing and world-elevating history, were events similar in kind to those of the present day, only on a somewhat grander scale. They were not things contrary to nature; they were only exhibitions of powers common in nature, but given with greater force, greater energy and with a divine end In view, by the King of kings, namely, the production of His all-saving Word.
It has sometimes been enquired, On what food did the cattle subsist?
This question arises from a mistake as to the character of the Wilderness. It is supposed that the Wilderness of Sinai and Sin, or the commencement of it, towards Sinai, was an arid desert of rocks and barren plains, sand here, sand there, and sand everywhere. In such a country the cattle could not possibly be supplied with food, and there was no miraculous food sent for them. And if the cattle perished, how could the sacrifices be kept up, how could the Passover be kept twelve months after, in which there had to be a lamb, or a kid for every house? An accurate knowledge of the character of the district to be passed through clears up these questions. A wilderness does not mean a desert, where nothing grows; it means a wild district where there may be considerable fertility, but which is not cultivated into ordinary fields, vineyards and olive yards. In the Sacred Scripture it is clear that the ordinary places for feeding cattle were in the Wilderness. Moses fed the hock of Jethro, his father-in-law, at the back of the mountain, in the wilderness. And you will no doubt remember very well the question which was put by Davids elder brother, when the youth had gone out to enquire how they were all faring in the army, Where hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? And so you will find from time to time reference made to the pastures of the Wilderness.
There was, in fact, abundance of fertility, though of a rude and uncultivated kind. That, therefore, is the sort of country we must think of, and not a country where sheep could not graze, or where cattle could not live.
There was a portion of the Wilderness utterly waste and terrible, where no man dwelt, and this is occasionally alluded to in the Scripture, as in Deut. viii. 15, but generally there was a sufficient supply for cattle.
Permit me now to call your attention to the spiritual lesson involved in the condition of the Israelites and their changes--their joys and sorrows--their grief and pain--their states of comfort and satisfaction. The first general truth seems to teach that the work of regeneration is not that light business which many imagine. It is not a sudden gasp, a sudden cry, a piercing prayer, and nothing more. It is not just walking up to a line and saying, Now I will cross over, and then I shall be on the good side, and shall have no trouble whatsoever. It is an entirely different process. It is the restoration of the soul. Ten thousand thousand little particulars in the organized condition of the human heart and mind are all now by nature turned in the wrong direction. Every fiber in the lower degree of the soul is perverted, and turned towards things of earth, things of self, and things of hell. Regeneration is the restoring of this infinitude of parts to heavenly order, and building us up in the beauty of angelic life. It requires, therefore, that there should be change after change. Just as--to illustrate it by a very common occurrence--if a limb is broken and wrongly set, or if other important parts of the human body have been severely injured, they can only be gradually got into a state of health and order. It must be by slow degrees--healing a little at a time, so that the parts may knit up, and become fully and completely and rightly healed. Just so is it with the human soul. The heart, as we are told, is by nature deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked--a little hell. He knows nothing who does not know himself; and he who knows himself knows that there are in him tendencies to everything that is mean, malignant, unholy, and impure. Only by matchless patience, love and tenderness, does the Lord bring man back into a state of heavenly order. It is first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear. If a man will quietly and patiently walk according to the divine will and commandments, the King of kings will build him up, renew him inwardly--not taking notice of, and condemning, all the little outbursts of impatience and difficulty, but wisely, patiently, and lovingly turning him towards heaven more and more, until in good time, he feels that he is renewed, and has the healthful spirit of heaven.
This, then, is the lesson we have to learn here. While we have thousands of temptations, while we have abundance of trials, while we have what many times makes us complain, there is in reality not a tear nor a trial too many, not a sorrow in which our Heavenly Father overlooks us. When we begin we are gold in the rough; when the gold is purified no fire of tribulation will distress us any more. We shall enter happily into heavens glorious kingdom.
The immediate subject of our text is the divine goodness in providing them flesh when they longed for flesh. They were promised quails, the flesh of a sea-bird, at even; and the next morning the dew was to descend, which would furnish them with bread for the future.
Evening and morning are representative, in the spiritual sense, of states. Merely natural life is to spiritual life, as evening is to morning. Merely natural love, feelings, thoughts and enjoyments are as shade to light, when compared with spiritual delights. Hence, in the divine history before us, there is presented first of all the goodness of our Heavenly Father in furnishing us with the comforts of merely natural life, represented by the flesh of these sea-birds given in the evening and afterwards the divine loving-kindness is seen when a new state of spiritual life descends upon us--when it is morning within and there is a descent of the dew of divine peace and truth. He gave them flesh in the evening, and dew in the morning.
To perceive the precise application of these terms, and the divine things to which they refer, it will be well for us to bear in mind that flesh is the symbol of goodness. Flesh and blood in the human body are the two great constituents, and they represent the two great constituents of all things, when they are used as symbols. Thus, the flesh of the Lord is representative of His divine goodness, and the blood of the Lord of His divine wisdom. In that conversation of His, which so astonished the Jews, and which is given in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St John, He says, The bread that I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life. The Jews went about and said, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? They supposed that He was speaking of His bodily flesh. But the Lord reiterated the instruction, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.
And so it is. Because by the Lords flesh, which must be eaten to receive eternal life, is meant that infinite goodness of His that imparts the life of inward love and purity to the Christian soul. He who does not eat this flesh has no life in him. Flesh, therefore, represents, as we have said, the substantial, yet soft and holy goodness, which descends from the Lord, and gives to man His likeness. Flesh is that kindness of heart, that spirit of charity, which is the true companion of faith. Hence, when regeneration is described by the Lord in Ezekiels prophecy, He says, I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. He will give a kind heart, a loving heart of goodness. The selfish hardness that cares for nothing but its own sordid interests, shall be taken away. I will give you a heart of flesh. In the same way it is said in Jeremiah xi. 15, The holy flesh is passed from thee; when thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest. That is to say, holy goodness has gone away from you, and you have been falling into grievous sin. In the Psalms it is said, My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. That is to say, the spirit of real love for God, and real love for our neighbor, yearn to be supported by truth from the King of kings.
The flesh was the flesh of a sea-bird, because the sea which surrounds the land is representative of the external sphere of mind which surrounds the soul; and the sea-birds flesh is representative of that lowest of all goodness, the goodness of rejoicing in our social joys. The good of the pleasures of earth when used in moderation, is granted by the Lord to the religious man lust as much, and in fact more, than it is to any other. With the evil, such pleasures are the flesh-pots of Egypt. With the good, such pleasures are the flesh of quails.
Yet this very flesh, when it was not used in moderation twelve months afterwards at the foot of Sinai, produced terrible diseases. We are told in the eleventh chapter of the book of Numbers that the people partook so voraciously of quails that a plague broke out amongst them, and utter destruction shewed the condemnation by the Divine Being of their immoderate use of merely natural delights. But the lesson here is to teach us, that, it is not the will of our Heavenly Father when we become truly religious that we should become ascetics. The enjoyment of the pleasures of home, the pleasures of company, the refined pleasures of the beautiful in art, the charms of music and poetry, the pleasures of outward delights, so far as they are combined with, and moderated by the spirit of justice, the spirit of improvement, and the spirit of resistance to all known sin are innocent and pure.
In fact, the truly religious man has more real enjoyment, more thorough delight in his moderate enjoyments than Any mere sensualist can have. When a person becomes a drunkard, he has no longer the pleasure of a true and temperate use of food. When a person becomes: a glutton, the blessing of taste becomes a curse; he tries to obtain delight, but he destroys his capacity of enjoyment. The true use of natural pleasures is represented by the Lords permitting them to have this flesh at even. The good must have their outward pleasures, and they may really enjoy themselves in them. He has a poor conception of religion who would forbid children to have their childish games, who would forbid the natural man to have his natural delights. All that the Lord desires is, that earthly delights should be kept in subservience to spiritual delights, and that true joy may be pure and full. He came not to destroy earths roses, but simply to take away the thorns. Hence it is, that He gave to these people quails in the evening. When the state of evening is with us, He gives us natural delights to be enjoyed, but to be ever enjoyed with order, truth, purity and innocence. He gave them quails in the evening; and then this evening of theirs gradually made way for another state--the state of morning.
In all the circumstances of our lives there are evenings and mornings. Change and vicissitude are inherent in all things. So is the kingdom of God, the Lord Jesus says, as if a man cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. We have thus our states of change. Sometimes our spiritual part is all weak, we are weary, and desire rest-this is evening. Then comes a period of vigor, when we hunger and thirst after righteousness. We can take full doses of heavenly blessing. Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it, the Lord says in such cases. This is our morning state. Then after a little there comes a state in which we feel that we have had enough of this spiritual supply. We must rest. Our morning fades into evening. It is a natural state with us. We do not think so much about heavenly things as about those of earth. We do what is right in earthly things, and this is religious also, but it is evening. In our natural concerns, if we have had a well-spent day, if we have done our mornings work cheerfully and joyously, when the shades of evening come on, how gratefully, how delightfully we can sit, and rest, and feel that the Lord hath blessed us hitherto.
We have a kindly and grateful heart towards Him, and towards all. And then he giveth his beloved sleep. It is just so in our changes of soul. Hence it is aid in our text, that after the evening there came dew in the morning. The opening of the spiritual state, the opening of internal wakefulness, the opening of the angelic state within us makes a heavenly morning.
In the morning the dew lay round about the host. The dew of the soul is calm, quiet, holy, peaceful wisdom which comes down when we are in fresh states of holy love. At such times there is no anxiety, but a sweet heart speaking peace. The wisdom thus received is called theologically, the truth of peace. It is the Lord himself descending as dew into the soul and blessing every thing there. He says I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily.--Hos. xiv. 5. Again, I will consider in my dwelling-place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.--Isaiah xviii. 4. And in the same way the descent of this interior blessing is described in the 133rd Psalm, where it is said, How good, and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.... It is like ... the dew of Hermon and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commended the blessing, even life for evermore.
Oh! may this dew of peace, too holy for words, descend upon us and bless us, as each new morning comes, and the Sun of Righteousness arises upon us with healing in His wings.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)