Exodus 15: 27; 17: 1-7; 23: 23
Numbers 21: 16-20
AM I wonder whether we could enquire into the way in which we can prove the Holy Spirit’s service as we make our journey through this ‘living waste’ of which we sang (Hymn 46). The scriptures in Exodus and Numbers give us the pathway of God’s people through the wilderness and we find at every point that there was what was needed to sustain them. The encampment at Elim was very early in their experience; they knew what it was for the passover lamb to be slain and that they were not coming under the judgment of God; they knew what it was to become free of Satan’s world through crossing the Red Sea. They knew what it was for the bitterness that they had encountered in the pathway to be made sweet by the wood which was cast into the waters of Marah, speaking of the life of Jesus given up. Then they come to this point, to Elim. I do not think in Elim we get a figure of the Holy Spirit personally, but we get something which is springing up. I think that many of us may have found that in our experience. We have come to the Lord Jesus and committed ourselves to Him and we find ourselves in a circle which we may not be able to explain, but it is evident that there is something working, something springing up, a circle where you feel safety and where there is that which is to be enjoyed. I think it was very gracious of God that they should experience this at the outset of their journey. He was giving them a foretaste of what they were to arrive at, but how much could they say as to these twelve springs of water, or the seventy palm trees? Nevertheless God brought them there and gave them this assurance that there was sufficient in divine provision to see them through.
In chapter 17 they learn that if they are to walk here (and the wilderness refers to the world that the believer has to go through: it has become a wilderness because Jesus has died) they need to be sustained. They need a power to maintain life in this scene. That power is available in the Holy Spirit, given because the Rock was smitten. How blessed it is to take account of the sufferings and death of Jesus in that way. He was smitten in order that we should receive the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful and blessed aspect that is of His death.
Then, as they go on, God speaks to Moses and says, 'You cannot go through alone; you need one with you in the journey'. In chapter 23 it is a question of guiding them and going before, meeting what they were going to encounter. Think of the Holy Spirit in that respect, He guides the saints, “mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in”. That is His objective, not to keep us in the wilderness but to bring us into God’s full thoughts. If that is to be reached it requires that there should be exercise on our part.
In Numbers 21, there is exercise in the digging of the well and the Holy Spirit personally comes on to view: they take account of Him in type, “Rise up, well! sing unto it”, and from that point there is movement onwards. I do not think we hear of the cloud after that - they have arrived at something in their own souls which enables them to move on to the full thought of God’s purpose. How much we can say of that is a question.
I wondered whether this line would be profitable for the brethren today.
ECB I am sure your last remark is right. The real question amongst us is, how real the life of the Spirit is in us.
AM That is my exercise. If you take the setting at Elim, it is easy enough to go on with a form of teaching and so on, but here there were springs of water, something springing up. I think we are to experience that more often, there is something springing up and it is not just the words, there is something there.
ECB There comes a point when the people manifestly feel a need. How much have we felt the need of some power other than what is in us which would only be of our own minds.
AM They felt the need for being sustained in life when the rock was smitten at Meribah. They felt the need for guidance that they should move forwards and they felt the need for the power to enter into the land in Numbers 21. They were exercised as to that.
ECB It is interesting that God promises the manna every day, but He did not promise the water every day. Nevertheless you can see that they had the refreshment of the water every day.
AM It does not even say that they drank of it, but it was there. It was available to them and they could drink. Paul tells us, “all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank of a spiritual rock which followed them”, 1 Cor 10: 4. It was there every day, it was available.
ECB That scripture merges thoughts of Christ and of the Holy Spirit for the believer. The rock was the Christ, but the water was the Spirit.
AM In order that the Spirit should come it was necessary that the Rock should be smitten.
DJH The seventy palm trees you spoke of are brought in where these things are present. Would that be where there is a sense of victory? I was wondering about coming through the exercises of Romans 7 in the history of the believer, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord”, v 25? It brings into a company but it is in relation to a blessed glorious One who is victorious. God gives us the victory. Is that implied here?
AM What a thing that was, the seventy palm trees, as they set out upon the wilderness journey where everything was marked by death and yet they came to this point where there were seventy palm trees, suggesting the overcoming of what was outward. All the outward circumstances would point to there being no life, but there was that which was overcoming and I wondered whether we are to be like these palm trees. I was thinking of the overcomers in the Lord’s addresses to the assemblies.
DJH That is also connected with hearing, “Let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies” (Rev 2: 7), it is to bring in the current power and refreshment and all that the Holy Spirit would bring.
AM We can come to this point and we can see the springs of water and we can see the palm trees - look around this room, there are saints here who have overcome, saints here who have been through much pressure, and they have overcome and they are victorious in the midst of pressure, and you look upon them and you say, I want to have a part in this.
DAB There is a wonderful sense of victory in a soul’s experience when it achieves satisfaction. That is perhaps like this oasis here, at last they were satisfied. We speak of a lot of exercise, but what it is to reach some satisfying conclusion. I was thinking of the young people who give a lot of thought as to whether they should break bread; there is a wonderful sense of victory in the satisfaction that comes from making that commitment.
AM That is right and although this was just an opening experience for them in their pathway, it was an experience that they had. They were in the wilderness and as in the wilderness they would not gain the respect of the nations around. They were a despised people, but nevertheless they are getting this early evidence that God can provide for them and even if they are in the wilderness they can be there in victory and taste something of what is springing up.
DAB I had not noticed before in Numbers that that song is not given in the passage where the well was provided. It is as if the blessing and the joy of it got carried through the whole of the rest of the wilderness experience.
AM I think so. I had wondered whether God was giving them a sense of what they were going to arrive at at the end of the wilderness. They actually arrived at that through exercise. They had to dig that well, there was something wrought in their own souls, but at the very beginning of their experience, God was saying, this is what I have in mind that there should be something springing up.
DAB It was not just left behind like a hole in their history, but they are able to carry the joy of that well through the rest of the journey.
EOPM This would have been normal in Elim. It is a wonderful standard for our localities. Someone comes to a locality and there are twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees.
AM Most of our localities do not have seventy, but these conditions would be normal. I think we should look for that. I think that I, at least, suffer from a very great danger of accepting what is common as being normal, but it is not. We need to cling to what is normal, we need to hold God’s thoughts in our minds and not be satisfied with what is less than that. What we see here in Elim is that there was that which was springing up for the refreshment of the saints and there are those who had overcome, had experience with God and they were providing an atmosphere, an environment, in which the saints could rest.
EOPM We have often been reminded that the assembly and our local companies are practical spheres of salvation, but this is it. If those young in the truth or young in years find this they will not want to go elsewhere.
AM That is true. So when we come out in the evening it is maybe just two or three of us, but is there something which has been formed through experience with God, is there something which is springing up? I feel for the sisters, they come to the meetings, and they come faithfully, and they are a great support, but they cannot contribute audibly. What do they receive?
JW Does this show what we find as we accept the wilderness?
AM We have to learn what the wilderness is. We learn what it is first by going through the Red Sea. The world has become a wilderness because Jesus has died. The One we love, the One who has saved us, and has the greatest blessing in mind, has no place in this world:
This world is a wilderness wide
It becomes a wilderness to us, and then we find in pure grace God makes provision for us.
EFW Would you say a word as to why it says, “I am Jehovah who healeth thee”, Exod 15: 26? We may feel that we do not need healing. It is an unusual word which comes in just at that point.
AM It follows the water of Marah, they were bitter, see Exod 15: 23. We may have experienced that Jesus has, through His death, made a way for us out of this world, but we still go through this world and sometimes the experiences of life can be bitter. You see that Jesus has been here, you see that another Man has gone through this scene, He has experienced what we experience in life and it brings in healing. The water becomes healed; but He heals too, “I am Jehovah who healeth thee”. The circumstances through which we pass should not leave bitterness in us, but He heals.
EFW I have been weighing over the end of that verse because there is a good deal of need for healing at the present time. There are sorrows, difficulties, and to know and experience a God who heals is something that we really need.
AM We prove it individually, but we should prove it together, “Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there? Why then is there no dressing applied for the healing of the daughter of my people?”, Jer 8: 22. That is something we should prove, we come to this place where there is life in evidence, there is what is protective there. It should be a place where healing is known.
DAB In connection with what has been said, I was struck as you were speaking at the beginning that the very same thing that makes the world a wilderness releases the resource for the believer to pass through it; that is, the death of Christ does both.
AM Yes it does, you are thinking of the smitten Rock?
DAB We sometimes get held up over the idea that the world is a wilderness and we think that is going to make things difficult but the very thing which made the world a wilderness releases the resource to get through it.
AM God is not unfair to His people. He is extremely generous and if He takes us out of Egypt and puts us into the wilderness - in other words, if He works in His own sovereign way in our souls so that we can see His answer to all the wickedness that has come and we can put our faith in the work of Jesus and see that the whole world is condemned in the light of His death - then He will provide what we need. So the Rock had to be smitten.
NJH The death of Christ lies at the beginning of the wilderness and the end of the wilderness and we have types of it in between, but are experiences of the wilderness not meant to bring us in some sense to the life of Christ?
NJH It is something to come to eventually, making way for another order of life that the Spirit will sustain in such conditions. It is the life of Christ in the saints.
AM Is that not typically the life which was seen across the Jordan? They went across the Jordan, they had another power there. One order of man had gone completely in the Jordan, the twelve stones show us that. The twelve stones came out of the Jordan; it is the life of Jesus in the saints.
ECB Is the experience at the end of chapter 15 and beginning of chapter 16 an initial experience? There was never bitter water again.
AM There was not. I suppose it should be so with us.
ECB I wondered whether that was part of the lack among us. What has conversion actually meant to us? Or has there been conversion? Or do we just accept what is said in the meeting?
AM. For the children of Israel it was a definite thing - they either put their faith in that passover lamb or they were lost. Conversion should be as real as that to us. I think there has been a general exercise that the gospel should be preached to that end, that souls are converted. The children of believers should know what it is to reach a point in their own history where they change their course and their conversion is genuine. That way you never look back.
ECB I wondered if the experience of Marah is bitter, and whether the experience of Elim where there is divine supply, fixed and settled, is not something that we need as a base for our growth in Christian life. The wilderness is not part of God’s purpose.
AM His purpose was to bring them in, He had another land in view - the land that He promised to Abraham. For us it goes right back before the history of time. When you get to that land you find there is a city that existed before Zoan in Egypt, see Num 13: 22. All the antiquities of Egypt could not compare with what God had in mind in His purpose. The wilderness is our way of reaching it.
PM Have you some thought as to why the smitten rock comes immediately after the manna?
AM I think God in giving the manna is giving them the kind of food that He enjoys. There is that which is kept before Him and He wants His people to come into an appreciation of that, but if we are to do so we could not do that with our natural taste, “when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him”, Isa 53: 2. It is necessary that the Holy Spirit should be given.
PM I was tracing God’s experience with them in the wilderness. Does God provide us with an order of man that does not belong in the wilderness, and He forms that in us; and immediately I have to come to it that if I am going to appreciate that order of man, Christ had to be smitten in order that there might be resource and power for me to value Him?
AM That order of man, as far as He was concerned, could have lived forever, but if I am to come into any appreciation of that He had to be smitten. He said Himself “It is profitable for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you”, John 16: 7. The way in which He went was that He was smitten.
ECB In regard to what has been asked, is the experience of the smitten Rock necessary for us to appreciate the manna?
AM I wondered that, it comes in immediately afterwards. When the manna is given we get the Spirit’s comment as to it. He describes it and tells us what it tastes like, but then the rock has to be smitten so that we should come into the appreciation of it.
ECB I was thinking also of, “the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified”, John 7: 39. I wondered whether something of that entered into it. You might say, the life of Jesus on earth is not the means by which we receive the Spirit. His death is needed, but the grasp of what He is where He is now glorified is the basis of our having the Spirit. It is the culmination of the exhibition of that life on the earth.
AM What was seen in that life was what God intended to be seen in the life of all His people; the moral excellence that was seen in that life was what God had in mind for man. And yet it was necessary that He should be smitten, and that He should be raised and installed in His present position, if the Holy Spirit should come at all that we should enter into it.
ECB The life of Jesus being manifested in our mortal flesh implies not only His life here but His glorified life. There is one life of Jesus, what was exhibited here, but we do not know Christ after the flesh, and we are dependent on the Spirit for the maintenance in our souls of the life of Jesus glorified. Has there not been much failure in Christian history in the attempt to imitate the life of Jesus on earth, whereas the life of Jesus in glory, that is the power of the believer?
AM To imitate that life on earth must be doomed to failure because it is recognising the man that He came to set aside.
DJH What do you see in the reference to Moses standing on the rock, see Exod 33: 21? Would it involve anything of what we are speaking of now, that is not exactly the rock that was smitten? I suppose they are connected, but he is standing on the rock. Does it relate to the present position of Christ, but then we have to realise that that One has been smitten in order for the water to flow?
AM That is good - His present position. I suppose Moses here was identified with the rock, he was standing upon it, he would be identified with it, but in order that the water should flow that rock had to be smitten. The Lord is now in a position where He is beyond that, but as down here He was smitten. The people took account of Him as smitten, but this is really beyond what men could take account of. They say, “we did regard him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted”, Isa 53: 4. That is what men took account of, but this is beyond that, He was smitten of God in order that there should be the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to man.
DJH The Spirit has come from Him glorified. I wondered whether that related to his standing on the rock in that sense.
JW Is it affecting how God meets the condition here in grace on His part? The sufferings of Christ involve that the very murmuring that was in my heart had to be met by God so that the Spirit might be available to us.
AM The people here murmured against God, they had already had the evidence that God would provide for them, but they murmured. Natural man would have said, the people should have been smitten, but no; what grace it is that the Lord Jesus has come in and He has been smitten. Here it is not His death on account of sin or anything like that, but it is what He went through in order that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out upon men and women. How wonderful that is because, the Holy Spirit having come, there is that formed in individuals which is pleasing to God, which does not murmur.
DJH We were speaking of conversion, it is in view of receiving the Holy Spirit. I was thinking how Peter speaks of that in the Acts, “Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”, Acts 2: 38. He does not say, 'Your sins will be forgiven'. It would be so of course, but, “ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. We must not stop short of that must we?
AM No, otherwise how are we left? We are left with just our own power here. We say, everything will be all right in the future, but what about today, how am I going to get through the world today? I need resource. Here what the people needed was in view of sustaining life.
DJH I was thinking of the importance of that coming into the end of the preaching of the gospel that the forgiveness of sins is not the end, it is very important and basic but it is not the end. The end is that we should receive the Holy Spirit and thus be able to live here in the world where Jesus died.
AM So they had the wilderness before them, how were they going to go through it? There was the means available. Most of the wilderness was before them. The book of Exodus only covers the first year, thirty nine years were ahead of them, how were they going to go through? They were to walk according to the Spirit.
PJW Where does the matter of desire fit into your exercise?
AM I think what we have in this scripture is that there was a need. They felt the need and I think that is a point that God would bring us to in our soul’s history, that we feel a need. Then the water having been made available, the people would want that resource. That takes us on to chapter 23 where they would want a resource to get through and God provides that for them. Moses was not content that the people should lead a nomadic existence in the wilderness with no prospect. How are they going to get through that wilderness? They need some resource, not only to sustain them in their thirst but to guide them, and I think we see in Moses the recognition of the need of the people and his desire that they should be provided for.
PJW I was thinking of the woman at Sychar’s well. The Lord said to her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that says to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water”, John 4: 10. I wondered whether He was seeking to provoke a desire in the woman for the Spirit.
AM That is right because it goes beyond need, if it was just need she could have gone out to that well every day for the rest of her life but she would not have been satisfied, but He was creating a desire for something that was greater.
DAB If you speak of them getting through, where were they going? That is the spring of desire, to know where you are going.
AM Moses had that, “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance”, Exod 15: 17.
DAB I was thinking of Caleb; he had no thought of being dehydrated by the wilderness: he wanted to be fit enough to possess what God had set before him.
DEB The question at the end of verse 7 is a telling one for us even today, “Is Jehovah among us, or not?”, Exod 17: 7. If He is, there is no alternative but to stay where He is. If He is not, that raises a serious exercise as to why that should be.
AM Exactly. We know one another, and most of us have been brought up in fellowship, and we have known the terms of the truth, we have been taught them from our earliest days, we have heard wonderful things spoken about, but that is not the point: “Is Jehovah among us, or not?”. There was the evidence, the water was flowing and they could draw upon that resource. God is here in the Holy Spirit.
AMcS Do we get something of the Lordship of the Spirit in chapter 23?
AM Are you thinking of the expression, “Be careful in his presence”, Exod 23: 21? We may take account of His gracious service and wonder at it but it does not in anyway obscure the greatness of the One who carries out the service, “Be careful in his presence”. I think it should affect even the way we speak about Him. He is the Holy Spirit. In the way we refer to Him, we recognise something of the greatness of that blessed One, a divine Person, and yet He is here and He is guiding the people.
AMcS Even in a meeting like this the Spirit would be searching all things, “even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:10), and it is important in our contributions that we feel our way and wait and see what the Spirit would draw out.
AM I think so, and we can be very thankful for that too.
NJH The name, the Holy Spirit, does not stress His authority, but do the Father and the Son not stress it? For instance in John 14, 15 and 16, the Spirit of truth and the authority He carries in His person?
AM Divine Persons are jealous for each other. The fact that the Holy Spirit does not stress His authority is a testimony to His grace, but such grace must be divine grace and it in no way diminishes the authority of the One who is here.
PM Do you get both the protective service of the Spirit, “to keep thee in the way” and His authority in His guidance, “to bring thee to the place”, Exod 23: 20? Both are needed together.
AM That is right. The children of Israel had a very chequered history and in reading this section, “to bring thee to the place that I have prepared”, think of the grace of the Holy Spirit, (taking the angel here as a figure of the Holy Spirit). Think of the occasion at Kadesh, see Num 13, 14. The children of Israel had journeyed through the land so far and they got to Kadesh, and they said, ‘no we do not want the land’ and God said, “turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness”, Num 14: 25. Think of the grace of One who went with them, even though they had rejected the divine testimony, they had rejected the evidence of the goodness of God and His great thoughts in purpose and they said, ‘no we do not want that’, and yet still He brought them to the place that God had prepared.
JW Would the reference to the angel in this section point to the Spirit as in the assembly personally? It brings before us the need to have the light of the assembly and the presence of the Spirit in the assembly.
AM Does that not really distinguish the assembly, that a divine Person has taken up His abode in that vessel? There was one angel here. When it came to the drinking of the smitten rock the people could drink as individuals, each one could drink, but here was the company and there was one angel to guide them, to bring them into that place. The Holy Spirit has a sphere in which He can operate.
JW The Spirit is totally in the assembly: no believer has the Spirit totally. It brings out the fulness of resource that there is in the Spirit.
AM It brings out the greatness of what is here in the assembly. I did not mean that the Holy Spirit is not able to operate outside of the assembly - He is a divine Person, He is sovereign, He can do as He will; but it brings out the greatness of the vessel that a divine Person is dwelling in it.
JBI To each of the assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3 there is reference to hearing His voice. Do you think that would bear on us now in our own current working out of things in our histories?
AM How do we hear His voice? In the addresses to the Revelation there is no suggestion that at any time He is not speaking, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies”, Rev 2: 7. That voice is to be heard. How do we hear it?
JSG I was wondering whether the verses in Isaiah 63 that refer to Moses help in the enquiry. It says, “Where is he that put his holy Spirit within him, his glorious arm leading them by the right hand of Moses”, vv 11, 12. I wondered whether there is a suggestion there of authority in the Holy Spirit and how the one who was appointed to lead them as a man, Moses, really was controlled and guided by the Holy Spirit.
AM In that section the wilderness is a place where the hardships are overcome, “dividing the waters before them, to make himself an everlasting name, - who led them through the depths, like a horse in the wilderness, and they stumbled not?”, Isa 63: 12, 13. They were in victory as they went through, “As cattle go down into the valley, the Spirit of Jehovah gave them rest”, v 14. What a blessed touch that is that there was One who is able to bring the saints through so that they do not stumble. They come into conditions where rest can be enjoyed.
DAB To go back to your question, Christendom as a profession has not listened to what the Spirit was saying. There is such a clamour of voices in that profession and we need to clear our ears of all those things and hear what the Spirit says. They have not been careful in His presence.
AM No they have not. In His grace there is still the character of a soft gentle voice that can easily be drowned out by the clamour of other sounds.
DAB I think our more recent experience illustrates what we are saying, that as soon as other voices can be silenced there is a wonderful progression, “to bring thee to the place”, Exod 23: 20. We can hear the directions.
AM We need to be exercised, we must never become complacent. We need to be exercised that we keep our ears attuned to that voice.
DJH It says, “what the Spirit says to the assemblies”. Is that also an answer to how we hear it? It is something that He would speak as we are gathered together in our localities, not that we claim to be the assembly of God in a place, but as in the light of that and as in dependence upon Him we would hear what He says.
AM I think so. I am sure that every one of us here has had the experience of coming to a meeting, and as the brethren are speaking over the scriptures something comes out and you think, ‘I have never seen that before’. And it is something precious - you would not forget it; get home and write it down, work at it, follow it through the scriptures and pray about it so that it becomes built into your soul. The Spirit has said something.
RWF Are those precious things to remain precious to us? I wondered if this is one of the great aspects of the service of the Spirit that what we have learnt is retained. There is reference here to sickness, “I will take sickness away from thy midst” (Exod 23:25), “I am Jehovah who healeth thee” (Exod 15: 26), that initial impression is to be retained and that can be done and is willingly and readily done, by the Spirit. The experience we have then becomes cumulative.
AM It must. What we receive from the Holy Spirit has come from heaven, it has come from a divine Person; He has brought it to us. Therefore at no point in future years can it be regarded as commonplace; it has to be retained and treasured, “things new and old”, Matt 13: 52.
NJH Where do we get the ear? It is one thing to stop the voices that surround us and confuse us if we listen to them, but is there any link between the ear, “He that has an ear” (Rev 2: 7), and “ears hast thou prepared me” (Ps 40: 6), which was unique to Christ and His reception?
AM I think we see that distinctively in the Lord Jesus, but what we see is that God intended man to be a receptive being, receptive to His own words and thoughts, “ears hast thou prepared me”.
NJH The Spirit of God, as we know, brings that scripture forward as, “thou hast prepared me a body”, Heb 10: 5. I wondered whether the ear must involve that the whole person is in some receptive mode or subjection to the word to hear what the Spirit says?
AM I think so. I have sometimes wondered about Paul when he was on the Damascus road. According to his account to the Jews, after he heard the voice, he said, “What shall I do, Lord?”, Acts 22: 10. It was a simple question. I have wondered whether Paul started every day afterwards with that question, “What shall I do, Lord?” It is good just to turn in simple dependence in prayer to get some sense of direction. We see that in his service as he gets the Spirit’s word among the saints.
JTB Is there a practical expression of this at Philippi, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (Acts 16: 6), and then they were prevented by the spirit of Jesus from going in another direction, but they came to Philippi where Lydia was, “whose heart the Lord opened to attend to the things spoken by Paul”, Acts 16: 14. Her heart had been prepared, it seemed that her value was being prepared for these movements of the Holy Spirit.
AM There was the Holy Spirit’s sovereign work in Lydia, working in her heart before she even received Paul; the Holy Spirit worked there so that that heart should be ready.
JTB Having been sensitive to the spirit of Jesus, they heard the Macedonian man speaking, their ears were attuned to the speaking of the Spirit.
AM That is good.
ECB Does not this section bear very much on what is being said because it goes on to say, “if thou shalt diligently hearken unto his voice”, v 22? I wondered if the two parts of the earlier remark are not important and challenging; that is to say, as to being careful in His presence, and whether failure amongst ourselves does not result from our not being careful because we are not sufficiently attentive to the Person of the Spirit and we are not diligent.
AM It does not say what they are to be careful about they are just to be careful.
ECB Because you have to maintain your relationship with Him. I wondered whether “diligently hearken” did not bear on what has been said earlier.
AM I think that is good, “if thou shalt diligently hearken unto his voice, and do all that I shall say”. The Holy Spirit here is conveying the mind of heaven.
ECB Do you not think that if they had remembered this counsel they would have found that it was eleven days journey and not forty years!
HAH It is beautifully said of the Lord Jesus that, “He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the instructed”, Isa 50: 4. Do you think that is important that before we hear other voices we should have some sense of hearing the Lord’s voice?
AM I think so. In the morning we start the day in prayer and we read the scriptures. It has often been said that when we read the scriptures we ask the Holy Spirit to show us something of Christ. Read the scriptures slowly, read them thoughtfully and prayerfully because then you are opening your heart to receive some communication.
In Numbers 21 they are at the end of the journey. They have arrived at the crucial point: they are about to move forward. They had the experience of the brazen serpent, they have seen that man in all his natural condition has been condemned. God has condemned sin in the flesh, that is all gone before but then how are they going to move forward? There is the well, “that is the well of which Jehovah spoke to Moses”. Think of God speaking to Moses. It says, “And Jehovah spoke with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend”, Exod 33: 11. He spoke to Moses at some point and said, 'I have a well in mind for the people'. What this meant was that the people had to be in exercise about it. A lot of what we have said today has centred on God’s gracious provision. He provided the springs of water and the seventy palm trees. He provided the water flowing as a result of the rock being smitten. These things have been provided by God but here there is a well and they had to dig it, they had to be in exercise as to themselves about it.
DAB I often enjoy the thought in relation to the man who dug and went deep and laid his foundation on the rock (see Luke 6: 48) - who told Him there was a rock there? He dug in faith and what He found was Christ. These men dug in faith, who told them they would find water? They believed God’s word to Moses that there would be water here if they exercised themselves to take advantage of it.
AM That is right, the word of God had come, the word of the lawgiver, and they accepted that. They might have said, 'what evidence have we that there is water there?' But they dug it out with their staves, doubtless some suggestion there of their experience with God, and worked that the water should be free, that it should not be blocked.
PM Is there some experience of this in the local reading? “Assemble the people, and I will give them water”. Something has to be worked at in the local reading and God provides for His people and the result is that there is response to divine Persons.
AM Here the figure of the well is a figure of the Holy Spirit Himself and there is a response in song. What joy this would give to the heart of divine Persons that there should be a response in song. When we sing it involves joy and uplifting of hearts. That is what we find here.
HAH The staff was not the usual implement for digging a well. I wondered if it indicates what they had arrived at in experience and therefore they were ready for it.
AM I think so. Man naturally would say, there will be an easier way to do this. But no, there is no easy way. The only way in which the Holy Spirit Himself comes before us in this way is a result of deep soul exercise in ourselves and you work away at it.
DJH They had arrived at something by experience, it is the princes and the nobles that are digging.
AM I suppose they can be taken account of as nobility because of the way they dug. Is that not really what makes a noble? Experience with God. Israel received his name when he had experience with God, he was a prince of God. Here these men had had experience. Their staves were there and they were prepared to dig in order that the well should be freely available; and the word is, “Well which princes digged, which the nobles of the people hollowed out”.
HAH Jacob was made noble and he worshipped on the stop of his staff, see Heb 11: 21.
AM He ended his days as a prince. He did not depart from that, he had had experience with God. He needed that staff after his experience - he limped, he was a lame man, he could not walk without it, but what might outwardly have been seen to be a disability for him becomes the ground on which the service of God takes place.
DAB It is a question perhaps with us all - because we all have influence, the staff would also represent these people’s influence - whether there is any application of my influence to facilitate the enjoyment of the Spirit’s presence among the people of God? I do not want to be negative, but think of the kings in Corinth, they were using their staves as rallying points for party spirits to the point when even the Lord’s supper had been displaced, but here these nobles and princes are using the tokens of their authority and influence to bring the Spirit among the people of God.
AM So that what I have is to be used in order that the saints should be able to partake of the blessedness of the springing well.
JW What is the significance of, “the word of the lawgiver”?
AM I thought the word of God had come, they had answered to the word.
JW I think what you say is right; their exercises were under direction, “the word of the lawgiver”.
AM In a sense the situation was changing here, Moses with all his authority had led them through the wilderness, but they are going to look on to a point in time when they are going to need another kind of leadership and that was going to be a spiritual one. Moses has taken them to this point and now they have the springing well, they are going to be led on. It awaited Joshua to complete their journey, but they have here the resource in the springing well that they should continue.
JMW I was wondering whether we find in these exercises that God has gone before. In your earlier scriptures it is, “I will stand before thee there upon the rock”, and then he says, “I send an Angel before thee” (Exod 23: 20), and here we get “the word of the lawgiver”. There seems to be some sense in which God has gone before in relation to the provision that is necessary?
AM I am sure that is right. How far back has God gone in relation to the provision? It goes back to divine counsel. God has provided everything in His ways that His purpose should be fulfilled and they start moving on now towards the land in order that they should enter into His purpose, that they should, “apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height” (Eph 3: 18), that is the sphere that they are moving to. God has gone before to provide for them all that is needed that they should be able to enter into that.
ECB There is remarkable liberty in this exclamation, “Rise up, well! sing unto it”? It is almost as if something of the work of God is breaking out in them. You would like to hear that in a meeting would you not?
AM Yes, and you might have thought that it was Moses who said this, but this was the people, “Then Israel sang this song”. Is that not blessed that the company was there, there was something springing up, they had arrived at something and they were going forward into the land of God’s purpose, “Rise up, well! sing unto it”.
ECB I think they had arrived at something about Moses as well as about the well. “The word of the lawgiver” (Num 21: 18), there is great respect in that, a man who had been with them all the way, you get an almost idealistic picture of Israel here.
AM I think so and there is respect for one another too. That is good - the well is here as an object before them, “Rise up, well! sing unto it”. There is the well in all its immeasurable resource, but then there are princes, nobles, Moses the lawgiver, there is respect for one another, each one taking account of each other in a fresh light.
JW Does this bring out the way the Spirit is to have a place in our affections? We have been speaking of the resource there is in the Spirit. If we prove that He is to have a place in our affections, that would help us to practically recognise the Spirit and to make progress in this way.
AM When you think of His untiring service, which is another aspect altogether, and you see the greatness of the One who it is, then your heart goes out to Him. What grace He shows. How patient He has been with me, and your heart goes out to Him.
AMcS Could you give us your impression as to verse 20? I know what you have been expressing about going into the land which is very full and real but here they look back over the surface of the waste.
AM I was very thankful for the reference to the hymn:
We’ve no thought in the waste to abide (Hymn 139)
The people have reached a point now, they can look back and see God’s ways. People might say, How have you got through that wilderness? How did you do that? God has led us through. Divine Persons have been active, the angel was there, the Holy Spirit has been guiding them and keeping them in the way, and you look back over the waste and say what a wonderful service this has been that has brought the people safely through.
AMcS There is an expression in Hebrews 12 as to the “afterwards”, see v 17. The chastening had been very real in their experience, and so has it been with us all, we have proved that, but there is an afterwards where you can look back and be thankful.
AM It is a great encouragement to lay hold of that, “afterwards”.
DJH I thought of that word too, the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “What I do thou dost not know now, but thou shalt know hereafter”, John 13: 7. We pass through these experiences and perhaps do not understand, but there is a “hereafter”, an afterwards, when we shall know.
AM “To those exercised by it”, Heb. 12: 11. We have the experience, we accept that it is in the Lord’s hands. At the very lowest level we say we cannot argue with that, but there is more than that. We know that He is working something out through it. He has His own plan and afterwards there is what is fruitful for Him.
DJH It had formed these princes and nobles.
PM They only look back after they have sung. They were no longer their object, there was another object and they could look back as having another object.
AM It was safe to look back now. The whole period of their wilderness history had been characterised by looking back to Egypt, and that just brought in death and sorrow, but here they have an object before them and they can look back and see the wonder of God’s ways.
DAB Moses says that in Deuteronomy, “thou shalt remember all the way which Jehovah thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness”, Deut 8: 2. What they would remember was not that the miles from Egypt were increasing, but they would remember the way that God had nourished and looked after them, and they would see why.
AG Song of Songs speaks of “thy stature is like to a palm-tree” (ch 7: 7), I wonder whether that is the effect of overcoming. It will be seen in the earthly remnant, but it should be seen in me now.
AM Yes, that is right, that is very suggestive.
18th November 2006