33 The Cleft in a Rock

<< Exodus 33: The Lord Seen from the Cleft of the Rock >>

And the Lord said, Behold there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back-parts: but my face shall not be seen.–Exodus xxxiii. 21-23.

FAITH is the evidence of things unseen, the substance of things hoped for. Faith is the confidence of the heart, so far as it is renewed: the quiet trust of love. Faith is calm, reliant, satisfied, resting in the Lord. A beautiful illustration of faith is afforded in the gospel in the case of the centurion who entreated the Lord to heal his servant, who was dear unto him. The Savior was approaching the house, but the confiding convert sent his friends to say, I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof; neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. Jesus said, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.Luke vii. 6, 7, 9, 10.

Full faith is satisfied all is right, it relies, and is patient. Feeble faith is always wanting to see, wanting to know. Full faith sits at the feet of the Masterlike Mary; feeble faith like Martha is restless and careful about many things. Thomas would not, believe unless he saw and touched, and felt and handled. But the Lord said to him, Thomas, because thou best seen me, thou hast believed, but blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.John xx. 29. Full faith springs from full love; and love trusts the Being whom it embraces to be all-sufficient for the things it cannot see; being satisfied by what it has seen a thousand times, that it is in the hands of an All-loving Friend.

Feeble faith is never satisfied; it is always running about with its doubts, and fears, and surmises, the confidence of the morning brightness is altogether gone in the evening shade. It is not evidence that is wanting, it is love. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never faileth. Let us pray then, in all times of depression and difficulty, for more love.

We have said faith fails not for want of evidence, but for want of love.

Nothing can more completely illustrate this than the case of Moses. He had not only seen the wonders of Egypt, but been the instrument of their performance. The Red Sea had parted beneath his rod. The manna had daily come down according to the revelation made to him. He had seen for months the pillar of fire by night. He had seen the glorious appearance of the Lord in the angel of His presence so that it is said the Lord spake unto Moses face to face as a man speaketh unto his friend.–ver. 11. Yet here was Moses expressing distrust, wanting to know who would be chosen to go with him, evidently unsatisfied, and wanting to see more closely the Divine Presence than he had yet seen.

Moses was informed that the naked Divinity could not be seen. Thou canst not see my face and live: for there shall no man see me and live.–ver. 20. And, then, the divine condescension and tenderness to his weakness are shewn, and what the Lord would do is declared, I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by. And I will take away mine hand and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

We may probably feel great astonishment that Moses should have anything but perfect confidence after the miracles and wonders of Omnipotence that he had witnessed. We think our own distrust is comparatively excusable. Yet our ignorance alone of the wonders of everyday life prevents us from being aware that every moment we have been guarded by Omnipotent Love, as completely as were the Israelites. We were helpless when we were born, knew nothing of food, or how to obtain it; but divine care, acting through parents and friends, supplied our every want. We knew nothing of the laws of health, pet we have been nurtured by light, and warmth, and air. We have not had manna descending every day, but we have had a greater variety of food; and is it less wonderful that Omnipotent Love through the seasons, and with every varied influence of weather, through rain and sunshine, wind and calm, should supply us and all earths millions with daily bread, and transform that bread into bone and flesh, nerve and sinew? Is it not a wonder of mercy and love that keeps our circulation and secretions in constant motion, moving in ways but faintly known to us, and keeping up their flow in the helplessness of sleep, as well as in the enjoyment of wakefulness?

Then what wonders have been wrought in our mental condition!

Have we not been brought out of Egypt? Has not our bondage been broken? Has not our darkness been dispelled again and again? Has not the Word been given and been triumphant in us a thousand times? Has not help come in our difficulties in wonderful ways of which we had never dreamt? Just as with our earthly food, when it passes from hand, mouth, and stomach, where we know something of it, by a divine chemistry which works wonders, it is transformed by ways surpassing our knowledge into strength and all the marvelous tissues of the body, so is it with our mental food. We masticate it and ruminate upon it, and so far we know something about it, but then it disappears we know not whither; and other views, sentiments, and circumstances hide it in the recesses of the memory, we know not where. But it supports us, it adds to our daily strength, and the sum total of our character. And when we are in strait, and in sorrow: when we are sorely tried, the lessons that have been hidden away come forth, refreshing and strengthening as a healing potion from a cup held by an angels hand.

With all these experiences of an adorable Providence, why then are we often so anxious, so wishful to see, so unable to confide? Why so much restlessness, and so little faith?

We cannot see the Lords Providence naked, any more than Moses could see the naked Divinity in the face. Our Heavenly Father allows us to perceive as much as is good for us, more He cannot. He says spiritually to us, as was literally said to Moses. Behold there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock.

By the place by me is meant a state under my protection–a state in conjunction with me; and thou shalt stand upon a rock intimates that the souls true support is the Rock of the Word of God.

Our Lord alludes to the same Rock when He says, Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man who built his house upon a rock.–Matt. vii. 24. The same Rock is referred to when it is written, He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and He hath put a new song into my mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.–Ps. xl. 2, 3. The same Rock formed that faith in Peters mind, which occasioned him to be called a rock-man which the word Peter implies. Upon this Rock of the Word, and especially upon the acknowledgment of the Lord, the very soul and life of the Word–the Living Word, the church is built, and when so founded and established in the soul, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.

The same Rock is understood when it is said, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.–Is. xxviii. 16.

Opinions which exist in the memory as speculations are like sand on the seashore; divine truths bound together by love are a firm Rock on which our hopes may be soundly built. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.–1 Cor. iii. 11.

The place by me, which the Lord indicates to Moses, implies that it represents a state comparatively external, a state yet more of truth than of love. They who are, as yet, mainly under the influence of knowledge and truth, and but little realize the power of pure love, are said to be BY the Lord or WITH the Lord; those who have realized states of inward love are said to be IN the Lord. Our Savior said concerning His Holy Spirit as the Comforter, He dwelleth WITH you and shall be IN YOU. I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.–John xiv. 17, 18. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.–John iv. 16.

It is interesting to notice the petition of Moses, and Jehovahs reply. Moses said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. Jehovah replied, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee. How often are we all like Moses, anxious after outward splendor, dignity, and show. The heroes of earth yearn after pomp, the vain dream of fame is the gaudy wreath for which millions pant, and toil, and spiritually starve, yet how clearly are we taught, that in the divine idea, the only true glory is in being good. To Mosess prayer to see glory, the answer is, I will make all my goodness pass before thee. And the Divine Speaker adds in words which will be better understood if we translate them more exactly than they are given in the ordinary version, I will be gracious to whom I am gracious, and I will shew mercy upon whom I do shew mercy.–ver. 19.

The meaning is, that mercy and grace proceed from the Eternal on unalterable laws. Re always gives grace to those who will receive grace. He always gives mercy to those who will receive mercy. He is unchangeably good. He was then, and is at all times shewing mercy, and imparting grace to all who seek these blessings at the divine footstool, and he will never depart from His laws of order, which are laws of love.

The Lord is not moved to His merciful operations by our Prayers. He waits to be gracious. He secretly prompts the prayer, whose petition He grants. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.–John xv. 7.

He will never depart from this graciousness. He will always be gracious to those to whom He is now gracious; He will always be merciful to those to whom He is now merciful. Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good. I am Jehovah, is His declaration, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. He is Love Itself. To cease to be Infinite Love would be to cease to be God. Let us rather, then, imagine that the sun will cease to shine, that waters will flow upwards, that heat will cease to warm, than doubt the tender, the unceasing mercy of Him from whom our salvation comes. He WILL be gracious to whom he is gracious: and He WILL show mercy to whom he does shew mercy.

Thou shalt stand upon a rock. Happy are they who are placed spiritually on the Rock of Ages. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.–Ps. Lxi. 2. For their rock is not as our rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.–Deut. xxxii. 31.

On the Rock of Divine Truth we may see the Lord, but not the face, the interior essence, the ardor of the unclothed divinity. In this respect no man could see Him and live (ver. 20). But the back-parts, the externals, the humanized manifestations of the Deity may be seen, and are seen in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Humanity of Jehovah is here meant by the back-parts, and elsewhere by the heel (Gen. iii. 15) of the Lord, because it is the Lord brought down to man. The Infinite glow of Godhead is too high for man or angel, but in the mild splendor of the Divine Humanity, the gracious countenance of the Divine Man, the glory of our Heavenly Father may be beheld and enjoyed by His unspeakable Mercy. He that sees Him sees the Father. He is the Father in the heavens, to whom we are to look and to pray. My back-parts thou shalt see.

The Lord further said to Moses, While my glory passeth by, I will put thee into a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by.

The Rock, as we have seen, represents Divine Truth; a Cleft of the Rock represents Divine Truth narrowed, confined obscure, such as it was amongst the Jews, and such as it is by all who have not yet entered into interior religion.

They think about heaven, but only as a place of enjoyment, of outward splendor, glory, and gratification. They know yet nothing of its eternal laws and real celestial character. They are as yet only in a Cleft of the Rock. Still divine mercy places them there, and protects them there. They know something of the letter of the Word, but very little of its spirit and life. They are permitted to see the lower things of the Almighty, but not the higher and grander ones. The Lord arranges in mercy for their states. He covers them with His hand. But until their states are more advanced, they can only be in a Cleft of the Rock. Yet the Lord shews them as much as they are able to bear.

These divine words have a sublime lesson for us in relation to the Lord’s Providence.

In this respect we are often anxious to see the divine ways in the face. We should like to know our future. We would fain pry behind the curtain which a merciful Father and Savior keeps entirely under His own control. We would like to see coming events; and, doubtless, if this were possible, we should like to touch and shape them. How miserable would be our failure, if we could touch the secret causes, and shape the events to our wish. How often what we do know turns out after awhile, quite differently from what we supposed. The unpleasant circumstance from which we shrunk, and over which we grievously lamented, has led to some of the happiest events of our lives. The plan we contrived and hoped would be attended with the highest advantages has resulted in utter failure, in untold evils. Joseph was made a slave, and cast into prison, even his character assailed, and for two years he was a captive; but that was only the bitter path by which he was led to the highest usefulness, and the highest honor. Those who beheld the Saviors crucifixion were overwhelmed with grief and despair, yet out of that death has sprung mankinds life. Our churches, our schools, our charities, our progress all date from the Cross. We can see the back-parts of the Divine Providence, but we cannot see its face. And in proportion as we become as little children in heavenly innocence we shall not wish to see more. We shall be satisfied that the Lord does all things well. He gives little when little is good for us, and much when much is good. What can we see, what can we know, we are but in the Cleft of a Rock. But our Heavenly Father sees and knows all. Why then can we not be satisfied to leave all care to Him, who careth for us, faithful only to do our duty, and to confide in Him.

See how tranquilly a little child rests on the lap of its mother. It loves, and confides, and is quiet. Its innocence dwells in ignorance, and is content and calm. The true Christian will have a similar innocence, but dwelling in wisdom. He is wise enough to know that Divine Providence is infinite, and always has eternal ends in view. He sees the lilies how they grow. Rooted to the same spot, they cannot seek the rains they need, or choose the breezes which are essential to their life; yet the refreshing showers come, and the invigorating winds blow, until they bloom, expand and brighten; and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

We observe the birds of the air: they sow not, neither do they reap. They have no rational or far-seeing powers to calculate and provide, yet our Heavenly Father feedeth them,

Shall we, then, for whom creation exists and stands arrayed; who are the immortal children of the Eternal God; who know that He is infinitely wise, and infinitely loving; who have had experience of His care ever since we came naked and helpless into the world; shall we who have gathered power and ability with every year; who know from the Word, from the world, and from all things that it is His will that every child of His should become an angel, shall we repine because we can only see the back-parts of the Divine Providence, and not the face? Oh no; let us rather adore the wisdom that saves us from so many anxieties, and provides us with every needful blessing without painful cares for the morrow. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof sufficient also is the good thereof. I have been young, and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

The good will have trials as well as the evil, but none more than they need. The Lord covers them with His hand, and uncovers them as their necessities require; but He doeth all things well.

The child thinks it very hard often to be compelled to stick closely to its lessons, those wearisome lessons which it can so little understand ; but the time comes when it can see the back-parts, the events of life, for which those lessons have been preparatory, and it has blessed the kind pressure that led to its duty being done.

The invalid who is under the direction of a kind and skillful surgeon is often impatient to remove the bandages, or to exchange the treatment which experience and discretion have laid down, to accomplish a thorough cure. At length he sees the result, and he rejoices.

He honors the man who insisted upon that discipline which resulted in solid restoration and perfect health. So will it be with us in the results of our spiritual life, only let us trust and love.

Of all the angels it was said to John, These are they which came through great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

They had often been in sorrow often been tempted and agitated; their years have seemed to move slowly, and wave after wave of trouble had rolled over them. They had struggled for principle; often had the world been against them. They had been depressed, but they had been faithful; and now they could see the back-parts, the operations of Divine Providence, all evolving everlasting purity, and everlasting joy. They would now never wish to recognize anything more than the divine hand in all that they have, and in all that they have not; content with all that pleases Him; from Him they feel they have every blessing. To Him they delight to give child-like and never-ending praise.

How grateful should we be to that adorable Providence which raises us to stand upon the Divine Rock, when we look to Him for aid, and then to shew us the glory of His goodness. His GOODNESS is what we need to see. We have heard of His severity, and it has seemed to us that His frown has been darkly over us. Oh, could we but see His goodness, His pardoning tenderness, His reconciling love; then all our burden would pass away, the world would be a new world to us; all things would be covered with brilliant light.

If God would speak to me,
And say He was my friend,
How happy I should be,
Oh! how I would attend.

He speaks, and says, I will place thee in a cleft of the rock. Thou shalt see so much as will gladden thy heart; as much as thou canst bear. Thou shalt see my goodness, pet thou shalt not be dazzled, and overpowered. I will cover thee with my hand; I will protect thee in thy weakness: and when thy strength increases, I will take away my hand, and thou shalt rejoice in the unclouded splendor of heaven. Arise, shine, for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee. My back-parts thou shalt see; and as events unroll themselves before thee, thou shalt know and confess that Infinite Love and Mercy have ruled in all My dealings towards thee, and all shall issue in everlasting order and peace.

Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)