"The Lord went before them by night in a pillar of fire."
"I will be a father unto you."—2 Cor. 6:18.
"As one whom his mother comforts."—Isaiah 66:13.
"As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young,
spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings: so the Lord
alone led him."—Deut. 32:11, 12.
Three gleams from the Pillar of Fire! A triple emblem
and relationship of earth is taken to set forth the paternal love and
tenderness of God—dealing as a Father; comforting as a Mother; and then is
added a figure very subordinate in itself, but still beautiful and
touching—a figure surely appropriate here as associated with the "Wilderness
of the Wandering"— the eagle of its rocky heights.
The latter words, indeed, form a part of the great
leader's own retrospect of the Divine dealing. Jehovah is likened by him to
the mother eagle teaching her young brood to fly; alluring them from their
eyrie to try their wings, watching their first feeble efforts, hovering over
them, ready, if need be, to dart underneath and bear them on her stronger
Our present brief meditation then, is Israel, and the
Israel of the desert of all ages—subjects of a most gracious discipline and
training: guided, supported, safeguarded, by the Eagle-wing of God.
God's Parental Love—the heavenly Fatherhood—is surely a
theme of themes in the midst of trial. Earth's most sacred relation has its
archetype in the Divine. A father's or mother's tenderest thoughts are
centered in their weak and suffering child. The strong and vigorous of the
family are left to care for themselves. It is the fragile flower, bent with
hurricane and storm, that engrosses deepest affection and sympathy. So is it
with our Father in heaven. It is the child of sorrow on whom He chiefly
lavishes His regards. It was the "sick one" whom "Jesus loved." He
took the blind man "by the hand." He was "moved with compassion" when
He met the funeral crowd, and spoke words of solace and condolence to the
bereft widow. At the sight of His own deeply afflicted mother He forgot
for the moment His own pangs. His last deed and word was to dry her tears
and provide for her a home (John 19:26). The Shepherd in the parable left
the ninety-nine which were safely folded. He deemed it unnecessary to keep
watch and ward over them. It was for the footsore and weary wanderer,
away up amid the thorny brakes and jagged rocks, that he subjected Himself
to toil and peril. "I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I
will bring them safely home again. I will bind up the injured and strengthen
the weak. I will make a covenant of peace with them and drive away the
dangerous animals from the land. Then my people will be able to camp safely
in the wildest places and sleep in the woods without fear." (Ezek. 34:16,
Reader—in the midst, it may be, of mysterious
dealings—dismissing all servile fear, delight to think of this (paradoxical
as the words we have often repeated in these pages may appear), "Whom the
Lord loves He chastens." "What son is he whom the Father
chastens not?" Chastisement—the family badge—the family pledge—the
family privilege. Delight to dwell on that great, that greatest revelation
of Christ. The saying may be taken as the brightest emanation from the Fiery
Pillar—"My Father and your Father; My God, and your God."
My Father! It was the soothing balm mixed in the
Redeemer's own cup in Gethsemane. "This cup which My Father gives Me
to drink, shall I not drink it?" My Father! it is the one name which fetches
back the prodigal and sings him home. So in seasons of severest discipline,
submission is best attained when chastisement puts the yearning prayer into
heart and lip, "I will arise and go to my Father." "Even so, Father." My
Father! it is the key which unlocks many perplexities in life. My Father! it
is the lullaby which smooths the pillow of pain and soothes to sweetest
rest. It is the requiem in the hour of death—"Father, into Your hands I
commend My spirit." Here is a filial prayer: go forth to the desert with it
on your lips; hear the response in your night of gloom and sadness—
"The way is dark, my Father! Cloud on cloud
Is gathering thickly over my head, and loud
The thunders roar above me. See, I stand
Like one bewildered! Father, take my hand.
"The way is dark, my child; but leads to light;
I would not have you always walk by sight;
My dealings now you can not understand,
I meant it so; but I will take your hand.
"The way is long, my Father! and my soul
Longs for the rest and quiet of the goal.
While yet I journey through this weary land,
Keep me from murmuring; Father, take my hand.
"The way is long, my child! but it shall be
Not one step longer than is best for thee;
And you shall know at last, when you shall stand
Safe at the end, how I did take your hand."
Reader, with the hand of a Father-God in yours, and yours
in His, rejoice in the double assurance, alike under the shadow of the
Pillar of cloud and the gleam of the Pillar of fire—"You compass my path"
(in the daytime), "and my lying down" (the vigils of night). Implicitly rely
on the methods of His guidance. His one object in all is to bring you
nearer to Himself; and even if there be the removal of prized blessings, be
assured there is a "needs-be." "You may accuse me," says the Duchess de
Gontaut, in her impressive Memoirs, "of making too light of all
vicissitudes. You would be wrong. God has simply endowed me with the faculty
of making the best of His severest inflictions: and I believe this to be the
surest proof of real faith and the only way of living through life without
Oh for the trust and ready implicit submission of the
Father of the Faithful, of whom it is said, "he rose up early in the
morning"; as if eager to fulfill, be what it might, the bidding of his God!
Instead of murmuring at the slow lifting of the cross, seek to bear meekly
your mystery of pain or of sorrow. We are apt to be hasty and impatient; to
marvel at protracted suffering and baffled hopes. All God's dealings are
slow. An earthly father's education of his child is necessarily gradual and
prolonged. The child feels the slowness. There are tears shed over hard
tasks, and restlessness under what appears redundant toil and effort. But
there is wise discipline in all these mental and moral struggles. Our
Heavenly Father has the same end in view—"He, for our profit"—"Then do we
with patience wait for it." Let every murmur be suppressed with the Master's
words, "If you (earthly fathers), being evil (imperfect—often erring), know
how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your Father in
heaven give good things to those who ask Him?" (Matt. 7:11).
It is difficult—almost impossible—often to own all
this—to see wisdom and love, "good things," in what seem strange, regarded
as paternal dealings. But ever fall back on the truth that the best and
noblest lives have been molded by affliction: the purest gold is brought
forth from the refining process in the furnace. It was the alabaster vase in
New Testament story, shattered and broken, that yielded precious ointment
and diffused sweetest fragrance. How many of God's afflicted family can give
the attestation—It was trial that braced me for duty and service. Trial was
the training school where I was disciplined as a soldier in the use
of spiritual weapons: taught how to put on "the whole armor of God" that I
might be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. "It
was good for me that I was so afflicted, for before I was afflicted I went
astray, but now I keep Your word!" The homestead has been pillaged, but the
pillaging of the earthly nest has driven me to the wing and to heavenly
soarings. As it is the famine, and crippled resources, which form the main
impelling motives of the emigrant to seek other climates and shores, so it
is affliction which often colonizes the spiritual kingdom.
Trust parental love. In words suggested by one of our
"Let Your angel-wings be spread
O'er me; keep me close to Thee:
In the peace Your love does shed
Let me dwell eternally!"
"What," says Bishop Hall, "if property, credit, health,
friends, and relatives were all lost; you have a Father in heaven." And if
these fatherly dealings are not at the time apparent—if the writings be now
blotted, undecipherable; rather, if we in our infancy are only spelling out
our Father's mysterious words—the meaning strange—the time will come, when
all shall be made plain; erasures restored; light supplied; involved
passages interpreted. Many a needed translation of what has been long to us
like a foreign language, will be rendered in "Heaven's Vernacular," the
motto on every title-page of the volumes—too often blurred and faded now,
made luminous then—"like as a father pities his children."
It is said of the seventy translators of the Old
Testament into Greek (the Septuagint), who were shut up to accomplish their
task by one of the Ptolemies in the Island of Pharos, that though each
occupied a separate apartment, on issuing forth from their seclusion, the
translations were to a word identical. It will be so in Heaven with God's
translated Providences. However diverse may be the rendering at times
here, there will be no divergence from the united testimony in that true
"Land of LIGHT"—"He has done all things well" (Mark 7:37). "For we know in
part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then
that which is in part shall be done away…Now we see through a glass darkly;
but then face to face" (1 Cor. 13:9, 10, 12).
"Leaflets, now unpaged and scattered,
Time's great library receives;
When Eternity shall bind them,
Golden volumes we shall find them,
God's light falling on the leaves."
Yes, His ways may be past finding out; but confident that
there are blessings in reserve for us, blessings in disguise, surrender
yourself to His wiser, better guidance, with faith's impassioned prayer,
"Bless me, even me also, O my Father!" The response will in due time come.
It is already yours—the Pillar-flash lights up the barren wilderness—"I will
be a father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord