“And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.” – Exodus 2:3
Our age prides itself on its tolerance, particularly on its religious tolerance. We hear it said, “It does not matter what you believe; one religion is as good as another.” But truth is sacred. It does matter vitally what one believes. For if men believe falsity, they will do evil. The need of the world is for truth in every aspect of its life, for truth in its concepts of God, for truth in its international relationships, in its ideas of government, in its trade and commerce, for truth in its ideas of marriage and family life, for truth in education. Only the thoughtless can say that truth does not matter, or that it does not matter what men believe as long as they are sincere.
This is a very popular attitude, but we all remember that it did matter that thousands were educated in the principles of Naziism from their childhood and so believed that they were a superior and chosen people and should rule the world by brute force. And people can be brought up to despise all religion and to deny all ideas of God. They can even be brought up to believe in emperor worship, of which there is a very modern witness.
Our text tells of the preservation of truth. The saving of the infant Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter has an appeal to all readers of the Bible. Even when there is no knowledge of the spiritual lesson contained therein, there is a sense of dramatic fitness in the saving by Pharaoh’s daughter of the one who was afterward to free Israel from the Egyptian yoke.
The need for the concealment of Moses arose from the harsh law enacted by Pharaoh that all the male children of the Israelites should be destroyed at birth. This law had been promulgated under the influence of fear, because the Israelites were increasing so rapidly in number that their masters, the Egyptians, were afraid that they could not much longer control them. The law was not, however, effective because it was evaded.
But the particulars of this specific incident concerning Moses have been preserved not for their literal or historic importance, but for the spiritual teaching that is embodied in them. The incident represents the preservation of Divine truth under circumstances which seem to threaten its destruction. Moses represents the Divine Law. He was the instrument chosen by the Lord to give to the children of Israel the laws by which they should live, the charter of their religion. It was at his hands that they received the two tables of stone, and it is his name which is constantly used as a symbol of the Divine Law itself.
At the time of our story, however, all this was as yet unknown. No one had any knowledge of the future of the infant trusted to the waters in the ark of bulrushes. It was only the Lord who knew the use he was to serve, and it was only the Lord who could control the experiences through which he would pass.
It is from the spiritual meaning of this passage that we are enabled to see that this preservation of Moses by the daughter of the king who had condemned him to death represents the preservation of the Divine truth by qualities which are internally opposed to it.
It may seem strange at first sight that truth should ever be preserved and protected by forces which are at enmity with it; yet it is one of our commonest experiences. There is no power of persuasion or conviction in that which is absolutely and unmistakably false. A lie which is clearly and openly a lie deceives on one. If a lie is to have any influence and to effect its purpose, it must take on at least the appearance of truth. It is the lie that is only half a lie that is the most pernicious and destructive.
The same conditions apply to slander, malice, and false witness. Their power depends upon the appearance of truth which they assume, even though the truth has been garbled or misrepresented. It is the same with other forms of evil. He who would seek to defraud his fellows must maintain an outward appearance of uprightness. These are all cases in which those who are in opposition to the truth preserve it for the use it serves to their own purposes. This is the most general aspect of the saving of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter: the protection of truth by those who have no real love for it.
But the incident has a further application which brings it home more specifically to us all. All Divine revelation has for its purpose the unfolding of the experiences of the soul. This is its chief use to man, for it is by such knowledge that we can be prepared for true wisdom. From this aspect this incident treats of the care exercised by the merely natural affections over the first implantations of spiritual truth.
We are all endowed from early infancy with natural affections. Children love their parents and associates, and yet this is a natural, not a spiritual, love. It is the same with the knowledges that are first acquired: they are natural and not spiritual; and yet, if one is to be regenerated, the Divine truth must first be received and cared for in this natural way.
The Divine truth is not from man himself, nor does it come from his natural affections. The infant Moses was no relation to Pharaoh’s daughter and, although the latter made herself responsible for his maintenance, it was the true mother of Moses who nourished and sustained him. The Divine Truth is not dependent upon this world. It draws all its life from and through the spiritual world. Its origin is there and it is maintained therefrom, and although it is supported by natural affections, yet there is always a distinct degree between them. The lower can serve the higher, but in doing so it acquires no right or dominance over it.
There have been many who, in their quest for natural knowledge, have come into contact with the truths of the Second Advent. They have been attracted by their rationality and consistency. Their logic has made its appeal and the usefulness of their teaching has aroused admiration. In spite of all this, if they have seen in them no more than the views of a man, they do not take them to heart, and therefore they hand them over to others whose love for them is greater. The Divine Truth never comes to anyone in such a form as to compel its acceptance. Its true character always seems to be hidden from the casual glance, and it is this protective seclusion which is signified by the ark of bulrushes.
An ark carries with it the thought of protection, yet the material of which it is made determines the character of this protection. The bulrushes represent those knowledges which come from contact with material objects through the senses, through sight, hearing, and touch. It is in this way that a child develops his first knowledges and ideas.
These knowledges require something to bind them together, and at first this cohesion does not come from heavenly loves but from the loves of the world. Though these are not heavenly loves they serve a use. They bind together the knowledges we acquire and are described as the slime and pitch with which the ark was daubed.
The ark was hidden amid the flags at the river’s brink. We never know when the first rudiments of the Divine truth are introduced into our souls, nor the means by which it has been protected. We are like Pharaoh’s daughter and her maids walking by the river’s side. In our youthful years we do much of this wandering. Our natural curiosity leads us on. Without it there would be no progress. Sometimes we meet a phrase or statement which arouses our interest, and we are led to a further investigation. We do not know what we have come upon, but we do not want to see it die. Pharaoh’s daughter handed over the child to its own mother. That the child’s mother and sister were at hand pictures the constant supervision of the Divine Providence over our reception of truth.
It is quite possible to act upon the edict of Pharaoh and to kill the truth at its birth. There are those who declare that there is no God and seek for natural explanations of the works of His hands. Nevertheless belief in God cannot be destroyed in those who can be regenerated. They will find the truth even though it be hidden in an ark of bulrushes. Salvation cannot come, as some think, in a moment. The first rudiments of heavenly life come to us in an infant form and come to maturity only gradually, and the Lord provides that even our evils and falsities may serve a use in the acquiring and protection of the truth.