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NOTES ON THE UNION'S LESSON SCHEME FOR 1871.
LESSON XXIV.-JUNE 11. THE FIRST-BORN SLAIN, AND ISRAEL SET FREE.—Exodus xii. 29-51. I. The first-born slain, 29, 30.-According to the threat so it came to pass. The Egyptians were busy about their usual avocations, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, all unconscious of the terrible doom overhanging them. The cloud was gathering. It was at first no bigger than a man's hand; but they would not read the signs of the times. They hardened their hearts time after time, and the cloud of wrath grew darker and heavier. God had said that He would bring out His people by terrible judgments, and that He would compel Pharaoh to let
It was midnight. All was hushed in the land of Egypt—there was darkness over all the land. They had retired to rest as usual, not believing that anything would happen, when, by one fell stroke, in every house in all the land of Egypt the first-born was struck down. The thing was the work of a moment, and all died at one and the same time; both the first-horn of men and of cattle. This was no accident; this was clearly the finger of God. There was a great cry in Egypt. And no wonder; for there was no house but had its one dead body. Picture the scene, the darkness, the dead silence of midnight, the sudden screan, and then for a moment the deeper silence, until at last from every dwelling there rose one loud cry of anguish and of sorrow. How vain it is to contend with God! Pharaoh had tried it, and see how he fared. Hence the lesson--acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace with Him. Truly the way of transgressors is hard.
II. The effect, 31-36.—No more sleep in Egypt that night. Pharaoh and his people are in earnest now. They can't wait for the morning. Pharaoh calls Moses by night, and yields all that Moses had ever asked. He makes only one condition now-bless me also. He had treated Moses contemptuously before. He had despised the God of the Hebrews. He had said, "Who is the Lord? I will not let the people go.” All this is changed now. He knows something of the God of the Hebrews now, and wishes His blessing. So far so good. The people are even more urgent than Pharaoh. They have been the main sufferers, and the obstinacy of their king has wrought their woe. They will get quit of them on any terms. They will even buy them off, and willingly give them whatever they ask. They spoil the Egyptians. They obtain gold, and silver, and jewels. God makes up to them for their cruel oppression. The meek shall inherit the earth, and God's people shall spoil their enemies.
III. The departure, 37-51.-What a night that was! The Egyptians in consternation, the Israelites in the very crisis of their deliverance. And so they went out, six hundred thousand men, besides women and children. They were a motley multitude, carrying a short supply of provisions with them, and taking their cattle and their flocks. The following morning saw a strange sight. A whole nation going out from bondage on to the land of liberty. No wonder Moses should say, it is a night to be much observed—to be observed in all their generations. It was the night of their new birth, their redemption year; and they made it ever after their new year's day. Have you been brought out of the land of bondage? have your chains been broken? have you a day or night much to be observed, to be really the beginning of days to you? All God's Israel have been so redeemed ; and only they who have been thus brought out of the bondage of siu shall enter the rest of Canaan. Christ alone can give this rest, and He offers it now. " Come unto Me, and I shall give you rest,” He says to every poor sinner who is in bondage to sin. He says so to you now. Will you come?
Memory Exercise-Shorter Catechism 76.–Paraphrase xxx. 1-4.
Subject to be ProvedGod turns the Hearts of Men.
Text for Non-Reading Classes. “ It came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle.”—Exodus xii. 29.
LESSON XXV.-JUNE 18. THE PASSAGE OF THE RED SEA.—Exodus xiv. 1-31. I. The pursuit, 1-9.-- Refer to the geography. God did not lead the Israelites across the Isthmus of Suez straight into the land of Canaan. They were turned southward, along the western shore of the Red Sea. A range of hills ran in the same direction as their line of march, and near to Pihahiroth came down close to
The Israelites were thus caught in a sort of trap. The mountains were on their right, and gradually closing them in in front; the sea was on their left; and if an enemy should pursue them there was seemingly no way of escape. Now all this was done on design. God knew what He was to do. He knew Pharaoh's proud heart, and that if he thought he had the slightest chance he would still try to bring back the people. And so it happened. Recovering from the terror caused by the death of the first-born, and hearing the direction the Israelites had taken, Pharaoh resolved to pursue them. A proverb says-Whom God wishes to destroy He first drives mad. Sin is the greatest madness. Pharaoh might have known by this time that God could open up a way of escape. But he never thought of that. He simply thought, I have them now, and I shall pursue them. Notice, also, that Moses would have been the most foolish man possible if he had led the people where they now were of his own accord. He would have been leading them to certain ruin. The very fact that he did lead them in such a direction is a clear proof that he was acting under God's command. And so learn that we must not shrink from our duty, however dark the road may appear, when once we are sure that God is leading us. He will make all clear in the end.
II. The dilemna, 10-18.-The Israelites naturally blamed Moses. They were fairly caught-escape was impossible. We need not wonder at their murmuring. Even Moses did not know what was to be done; but his faith did not fail him.
Stand still, and see the salvation of God.” And so he betakes himself to prayer. He knew the power of God, and that He could make a way out of their difficulty. What mighty power is this ! faith and prayer.
These two can do anything. All things are possible to him that believeth. Then notice the strange command-Go forward. But where to ? The Red Sea is in front, and forward we cannot go. Now this is God's command still Go forward. Forget the things which are behind, and reach forward to those that are before. Egypt is behind, your enemies are behind, and the glorious land of rest is forward, yonder across the sea. But God never gives an impossible command; and when He tells the people to go forward He makes a clear path for them. So here, go forward, and stretch thou thy rod over the sea. All is plain now. The path is clear.
III. The passage, 19-31.-Go over the story, and note these points. The pillar of cloud removes to the rear. It gave light to the Israelites, but darkness to the Egyptians. So now, the self-same Gospel is a savour of life to some, and a savour of death to others. Then the Red Sea was safety to the Israelites, but destruction to the Egyptians. Between the two crystal walls of water Israel passed safely to the other side, but this same water drowned the Egyptians. So the waters of the flood saved Noah, but destroyed all the rest. How terrible the thought that the blessed Gospel, which brings salvation to some, brings death to others! What is it to you ? Notice also God's looking on the Egyptians. That
He could say,
look troubled them. God was their enemy, because they were enemies of God. The face of God is set against them that do wickedly. The Egyptians would gladly have escaped from that look, but it was too late. The Israelites are safe; the rod is again lifted; and with the lifting of the rod the waters close in, and all is still. Read Revelation vi. 14-17, and learn how all will fare who are enemies of God.
Memory Exercise Shorter Catechism 77.—Psalm xlvi. 8-11.
Subject to be Proved—The Wicked haste to Ruin.
Text for Non-Reading Classes. 6. The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.”—Exodus xiv. 22.
LESSON XXVI.-JUNE 25.
SONGS OF DELIVERANCE.-Exodus xv. 1-21. In the Old Testament, as in the New, the Church had precept and example for praising God by “psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.'
This Divine song, composed by Moses and inspired by God, is the oldest poem of its kind in the world. It celebrates the deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, when Pharaoh's host was destroyed in the Red Sea. All nations have some memorable event in their history, which the people cherish in their recollection, and hand down to their children from age to age, -it may be religious, like the Reformation in Germany, which gave the Bible to Europe; or civil, as when the people of the United States celebrate the period of their independence; and as we in Scotland rejoice in the memory of Bruce and Bannockburn. So the stupendous miracle by which Jehovah delivered His ancient people is referred to throughout all the Jewish writings, being frequently recalled in their historical records, in the Psalms, and the Prophets. While this noble ode celebrates primarily the miraculous interposition of God in giving His chosen people freedom from the slavery of their Egyptian oppressors, it can be appropriately applied by believers in all ages to their deliverance from the bondage of sin and death, through the triumphant mission of the Lord Jesus Christ.
V. 1.—“ I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed,” &c.—The earliest example on record of that union of poetry and music in the praise of God which was developed more fully in the time of the psalmist David, and which the experience of the Old and New Testament Church has proved to be the most suitable method of expressing gratitude to God for temporal and spiritual gifts, and especially for the great salvation.
2.-* My strength.”—Recall the circumstances of the passage of the Red Sea;the waters piled up as a wall on either side of the Israelites; behind them the pillar of the cloud; the furious pursuit of Pharaoh's army; the Israelites landing in safety on the other side; the Egyptians overwhelmed in the returning waters. Divine strength having triumphed over the impotent rage of the enemies of God's people, well might the latter celebrate the praise of their Almighty Deliverer, by making Him the subject of their sacred “Song" who had thus so signally proved himself to be their « Salvation.” Prepare Him an habitation,”—prophetic of the Lord's design to manifest His presence, first in the Tabernacle and afterwards in the Temple, to His worshipping priests and people. “My father's God," -- happy the child who is able to recall the piety of a God-fearing father and mother, and to say, "He is my father's God, and I will exalt Him."
3-13.- These verses describe, in an elevated strain of poetry, the great deliverance wrought out by the Lord in the destrnction of Pharaoh's host. Not only is His power extolled, under the figure of “.
a man of war,” but the “ excellency” of His
justice in consuming the Egyptians, who were not merely the enemies of Israel, but rebels against himself: "Thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee.” 8.“Congealed,”—the waters were solidified and piled up like rocky walls. Observe the striking language in which the presumption of Pharaoh (ver. 9) is contrasted with the power of God, which he rashly dared to encounter, (ver. 10, 12.) While the punishment of the Egyptians was a proof of the justice of God, thé redemption of the Israelites (ver. 13) was a manifestation of Divine “mercy.” So is redemption from sin and suffering, through-Jesus Christ, a wonderful display of the grace and mercy of God, worthy of everlasting praise.
14-19.–The effect of this demonstration of Divine power upon the neighbouring nations was remarkable; in proof of which, forty years later, see Rahab's testimony, (Joshua ii. 9-11;) and three hundred years afterwards, the Philistines, when the Ark of God was brought into the camp of Israel, remembered with 'terror the events now under consideration, and exclaimed, « Woe unto us! for who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods that smote the Egyptians," &c., (1 Sam. iv. 7.)
20, 21.-An impressive idea of the grandeur of this occasion is derived from the circumstance that the Song of Moses was joined in by the vast multitudes of Israel, men and women singing responsively, as appears from ver. 21, where Miriam is represented as taking up the strain," answering” those who commenced “I will sing,” &c., (ver. 1,) with the words, “Sing ye,” &c.
The historical event commemorated in the song is one of the most glorious proofs of God's power manifested on behalf of His suffering Church and people on the earth; and we should try to enter into the feelings of devout wonder at the miracle which the Song of Moses celebrates with such power and variety of expression. But our principal lesson is to be learned by regarding this—as we are entitled also to do other parts of the history of God's dealings with ancient Israel- as typical of the sinner's deliverance from a worse than Egyptian bondage, and his preparation for having an entrance secured to him into the heavenly Canaan. Memory Exercise-Shorter Catechism 78.-Psalm lxv. 1-4.
Subject to be Proved—Praise is comely.
Text for Non-Reading Classes. “The LORD is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation : He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt Him.”—Exodus xv. 2.
LESSON XXVII.-JULY 2. THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD.—Matthew xx. 1-16. Ist. The connection of the passage. This chapter stands connected with the former. Peter, for himself and the other disciples, had told our Lord that they had forsaken all and followed Him, and inquired, “ What shall we have therefore?” To this question Jesus replied, that every loss and sacrifice sustained in His cause, and made for His sake, would be compensated “an hundredfold" here, and with "eternal life” hereafter; and in order to prevent misconception, and any feeling of pre-eminence among His followers, He added, “But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” The interesting parable which forms the subject of our lesson is a vindi. cation of the justice of God in rewarding according to His sovereign pleasure-all to the full, but some above others; and hence our lesson begins (v. 1) with “for,” and ends (v. 16) with “so,” as enforcing the illustration and application of the parable.
2d. The illustration.—“The kingdom of heaven is like,” &c., v. 1.
The kingdom of heaven means, in this place, the Gospel Church, so called in contradistinction to the old dispensation, as being more spiritual or heavenly. The carnal rites and ceremonies of the Old Testament Church were all done away in Christ, and under the Gospel the “laws of heaven for life on earth" were to be developed with a simplicity and fulness never known before.
“ An householder"—tenant-proprietor, and has reference here to God as proprietor of His Church or vineyard. “ Vineyard."--The grape was much cultivated in Judea, and hence vineyards were very common. The mode of preparing a vineyard is very distinctly stated by Isaiah, (Isai. v. 1,) and shews the care and attention bestowed on the culture of the vine among the Jews. Here Christ speaks of the Church under the symbol of a vineyard ; elsewhere He represents himself as the “true vine,” and His Father as “the husbandman,” thereby shewing the intimate union of every true believer to Christ, and that the Church is the divinely-appointed means for bringing sinners to God. " Labourers"-vinedressers. These, like our gardeners, formed a distinct class of workmen, and when out of employment sought engagements in the public market-place. Every Christian has a work to do for himself, and also for others.
3d. The agreement.--"And when he had agreed with the labourers,” &c., v. 2.
Here is a bargain struck-wages promised for labour given. "The labourer is worthy of his hire.'
“A penny a day,” a silver coin, the Roman denarius, value about sevenpence (7d.) of our money. The bargain here is not to be understood as shewing that our work in His service makes God our debtor, but simply as teaching God's liberality to all His servants. This engagement was but for a day. Our life is only a little bustling day, and all our engagements should be entered upon as in God's service and for His glory. We should work “while it is called to-day," seeing “the night cometh when no man can work.” 4th. “ Other labourers,” verses 3-7.
The husbandman, after the early morning, went out about the third, the sixth, the ninth, and eleventh hours of the day, and found other labourers waiting for employment; and having engaged them also, he sent them to dress his vineyard. The Jews divided their day into twelve hours, beginning at sunrise, and ending at sunset; so that the hours mentioned in our lesson would be about nine and twelve A.M., and three and five P. M. with us. With the early labourers there was a distinct agreement, but with the others only a simple promise of "whatever is right.” God is always just, (“justice and judgment are the habitation,” &c.,) and, as we shall immediately see, generous also. These labourers were engaged at different hours; and so, under the Gospel, believers are called at different agessome in the morning of life, when young and tender; others in middle life, and others again in old age, at the eleventh hour. Those are the best workers who begin early—“learn young, learn fair.” 5th. The payment, verses 8 and 9. The payment was made in the evening—the rest and the reward came together.
The steward.”—A steward is a person having charge of an estate, and managing it for the proprietor.
The labourers receive all alike-"every man a penny"and in this we see God's justice and great liberality.
6th. The grumblers, verses 10-12.
These grumblers “murmured at the good man of the house" without cause, seeing they had got their full pay according to contract, and should rather have been ready to extol the master for this act of generosity to the other servants. This conduct is in keeping with that of “the elder son” in the parable of the prodigal.
7th. The vindication, verses 13-15.
The proprietor, in great condescension, at once seeks to vindicate his procedure before his servants, whom he is not ashamed to call his friends, and tells one of them who is the mouth-piece of the others, that he has done him “no wrong, and for proof refers him to the mutual contract :“Didst thou not agree with me for a penny ?” We do not wonder this “good man” is indignant at the conduct of these servants, by whom he had dealt so faithfully, whose envious greedy eyes (for so “evil eye” means here) would lead them to question his right to his own