It is our thought to begin with the end of this chapter, and go on to the end of the book. What is in view, as illustrated by the book of Exodus, is the stages of the life of the Lord's people. We shall suggest four stages in the progress of the life of the people of the Lord, as seen from the end of chapter 14 onwards. We shall draw very simple lessons from the Word here, leaving out a very great deal; perhaps only noting one thing about each of these four stages.
1. The Red Sea to Sinai
Without dealing with any of the detail, we notice that the first stage, from the Red Sea to Sinai, was peculiarly marked by a series of needs arising, and needs being wonderfully met.
The first need was that of deliverance from a pursuing enemy, and with the end of chapter 14 you have the pursuing Egyptians overwhelmed in the Sea leading to the great song of redemption on the part of God's people.
Then there are other various needs arising. The bitter waters; the experience of bitterness, so early coming into the experience of the people of God, changed in a marvelous way, and very swiftly, to sweetness. It seems that, no sooner had they tasted of bitterness, the bitterness was changed to sweetness. It was not a long-drawn-out experience; it was but a taste of bitterness, and then wonderfully and instantly the bitterness changed for sweetness.
The next thing was hunger; and immediately God provided the Manna. Then thirst again; thirst of a deeper kind; thirst of a more enduring character. The waters of Marah represent just a temporary experience, but now they have come to the serious situation that water is essential to life, without which there is no living, and again, wonderfully and instantly, water is given from the smitten rock.
Instantly Amalek comes out to withstand progress, and the first experience of an active enemy, an active adversary to spiritual progress, is entered into. Again marvelously Amalek is overthrown and routed out, and the people are delivered.
So you have a series of acute needs arising and an almost instant stepping in of God in a wonderful way to meet those needs. It represents a clearly defined phase and period of spiritual life, and it is the first phase. How true to history this is. Have not most of us had this experience, that when we were first brought to the Lord, the Lord marked that stage of our Christian life by wonderful answers to prayer, wonderful responses, where it seemed that a need arose and the Lord was at hand. We only had to turn to Him, and He was there. The first state of the Christian life was full of romance, full of wonder, all so clearly marked by the grace of God.
That has been the experience of so many. It is that experience which led a certain hymn writer to pen a familiar hymn:
"Whee is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and His Word?"
It is a reflection upon an experience at the beginning of the Christian life which has now disappeared, and a longing to have that wonderful time all over again. It is just the first stage, and it is marked by swift, wonderful, amazing touches of the hand of God. There was a balance being kept by the Lord, so clearly that the lesson was hardly discernible. What it was the Lord was seeking to teach and lay down as a foundation thing for life by that means, was not very thoroughly learned. Afterwards perhaps we pick it up and see it, but not always at the time.
What does this period, this phase, from the Red Sea to Sinai mean? The Lord is saying, on the one hand, by permitting these experiences to arise, these difficulties, these needs to come about, "I want you to come to see that this earth has nothing for you but bitterness, dissatisfaction and heart-hunger"; this earth can never bring the deep, settled satisfaction of God's own life to the believer. The believer has come out into a realm where this earth can no longer satisfy. This earth is a place of unsatisfied longings, of conflict and adversity, of bitterness and sorrow, when once you have come out to be the Lord's. Now it is the Lord Himself Who is your satisfaction. You will find that, while here there is a state of bitterness, knowing the Lord means that in the midst of the bitterness there can sweetness. Here there may be starvation, but the Lord can be your sustenance, your provision. Here there may be a deep-seated longing for life. The Lord only is your life. This earth can do nothing. Here there is conflict, an adversary, but the Lord is your victory in conflict.
It is a very simple lesson, but that is the balance which the Lord keeps so marvelously in this first stage, and it is just marked by that instant grace of God, seeking to teach the lesson that now the Lord has brought you out to Himself, and you will discover as never before how needy you are, and what the real situation is here in this earth. But you will also discover what the Lord can be to His own. And so, in the first state of the spiritual life from above, it seems as though the Lord is more to you than He ever is afterwards. That is, there is a way in which you see it as you may not see it afterwards. Although the reality becomes very much deeper afterward, you just do not see it.
It is like the blossom on the trees in spring. The blossom is so beautiful, it is all so wonderful to look at, you just feast your eyes upon it. And then the winds of March come, and all the blossom goes, and you say: "Where is the blessedness I knew...?" Well, the blossom has got to go before you can get the fruit, and when the fruit comes later you say: "The blossom was very beautiful, I enjoyed it, the blossom days were great days, but I think things have gone deeper now." You will not live so much on the surface, you are getting the inner fruit; but it is a real experience of the spiritual life. It seems so often that the Lord deals with you and me on the outside of things in spiritual infancy. It is marked by the grace which is seeking to show that the earth can give no satisfaction, and the Lord Himself has determined to be the satisfaction of those who have come out from the world to be His own.
(continued with # 2 - (The Erection of the Tabernacle)