Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
63. Outside the Camp
In order to enter into the significance of what is to be before us on this present occasion, and especially to discern its typical application to Christendom today, careful attention must be paid to the context. Moses’ pitching of the tent "outside the camp," and the seeking unto it of "every one which sought the Lord" can only be interpreted aright by noting carefully the imperative necessity for such a drastic action, and that, in the light of all which occasioned it. The section of Exodus in which our present portion is found begins with 32:1. In that chapter, as we have already seen, Israel is shown committing the awful sin of making and worshipping the golden calf. That, in turn, was the consequence of their throwing off allegiance to Jehovah. Having, in their hearts, cast off the God they loved not, they now set up an idol patterned after their own evil lusts—a beast, graven in gold.
That the Lord did not there and then let loose the thunderbolts of His wrath and completely exterminate Israel is something which should bow our hearts before Him in wonder and worship, the more so when we observe what it was and who it was that averted His righteous anger against them, namely, the earnest and effectual supplications of the typical mediator. Blessed foreshadowment was this of Him who has entered into heaven itself, "now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb. 9:24), and who is "able also to save them unto the uttermost (to the last extremity) that come unto God by Him, seeing that He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). Had there been no Moses to plead their cause, Israel had perished. And had we no High Priest to plead before God the merits of His atoning sacrifice on our behalf, we too would perish in this wilderness scene. It is the ministry of Christ on High which succors and sustains us while we journey to the promised inheritance.
How Moses must have loved his people! Do we not have more than a hint of this in the words of the Spirit in Hebrews 11:24, 25, "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter: Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." His love for them is brought out again in Acts 7:23, "And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel." Blessed adumbrations were these of a greater than Moses, who refused not to lay aside His heavenly glory and come down to this sin-curst earth, where His "brethren" (Heb. 2:11) were in cruel bondage to sin and Satan. More blessed still is it to follow out the love of Moses for his people under the severest trials and testings. Though they appreciated him not, though they repeatedly murmured and rebelled against him, though they manifested their utter unworthiness of his unselfish devotion to them, yet nothing quenched his love for them. So too we read of Him to whom Moses pointed, "having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1). Nor could the awful sin of His people kill the affections of Moses: when unsparing judgment at the hands of a holy God was their only due, he stepped into the breech, and stood between them and His wrath.
But, as we saw in our last article, though the intercession of Moses averted the consuming wrath of God, yet it did not preclude the manifestations of His displeasure in a governmental way. The nation was not "consumed" (32:10), but it was "plagued" (32:35). This was due to no failure in the prayer of Moses, but to the lack of repentance on the part of the people. Most solemnly does this speak to us, and timely is its warning. How readily neglected is this truth today! if there be little or no preaching of "repentance" to the unsaved, there is still less to those who are saved. Yet, concerning the one we read "But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3); and of the other, it is to be noted, that the very first admonitory word of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation 2, 3 is, "Remember therefore from whence thou are fallen, and repent" (2:5)! It is because there is so little repentance among God’s people today that His chastening hand is laid so heavily on many of them.
"And the Lord said unto Moses. Depart, go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it" (33:1). In these words Jehovah presses upon Moses the solemn position which Israel occupied. Having broken the covenant which they had made only a few weeks before (Ex. 19:5, 8; 24:7), they had thus forfeited their relationship to God as His people. Having rejected Him, He speaks, to them according to their transgression, saying to Moses, "The people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt." Nevertheless, He promised them the land, according to His absolute and unconditional promises to the patriarchs—to which Moses had appealed in his intercession (32:13). "And I will send an angel before thee: and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: unto a land flowing with milk and honey" (vv. 2, 3).
Next, the Lord added. "For I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way (v. 3). Solemn word was this; a real test of Israel’s heart. "At the beginning of this book. when the people were in the furnace of Egypt, the Lord could say, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.’ But now he has to say, ‘I have seen this people, and, behold. it is a stiffnecked people’, An afflicted people is an object of grace; but a stiff- necked people must be humbled. The cry of the oppressed Israel had been answered by the exhibition of grace; but the song of idolatrous Israel must be answered by the voice of stern rebuke" (C.H.M.).
Then we read, "And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned" (v. 4). Here was the first hopeful sign that the people gave. The Hebrew word for "mourn" in this passage means to sorrow or lament. The threat that Jehovah Himself would not accompany them moved Israel to deep contrition. How sad is the contrast presented in Revelation 3! There too the Lord is viewed as not being "in the midst" of His people, but outside (v. 20). Yet Laodicea is indifferent, content without Him (v. 17). When the Lord is no longer "in the midst" of His people, it is high time for them to "mourn."
"And no man did put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, ye, are a stiff necked people: I will come up in the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee" (vv. 4, 5). The removal of their ornaments was for the purpose of evidencing the genuineness of their contrition. Outward adornment was out of keeping with the taking of a low place before God. Contrariwise, external attractions and displays show up the absence of that lowliness of spirit and brokenness of heart which are of great price in the sight of God. The more true spirituality declines, the more an elaborate ritual comes to the fore. All around us Christendom is putting on as many "ornaments" as possible.
"And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb" (v. 6). This was a still more hopeful sign. Here we see Israel obeying God’s command to humble themselves. This is ever the ground of further blessing. The promise is, "he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." A New Testament parallel to what we have before us here, is found in the case of the Corinthians. To them the apostle wrote, "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings" (1 Cor. 4:8). There we see them with all their "ornaments" on. Later he was able to write, "For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath you sorry, though but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly manner" (2 Cor. 7:8, 9). They had "stripped themselves" of their "ornaments"!
"And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of the congregation" (v. 7). This movement of Moses denoted three things: it was an act of submission, it was an act of faith, it was an act of grace. Let us enlarge a little upon these things. The going forth of Moses outside the camp was an act of submission, it was a bowing to God’s righteous verdict. While Israel was a stiffnecked people, Jehovah could not remain in their "midst" (v. 3). While they continued in a state of impenitency life could not own them as His people (v. 1). Accordingly, Moses is here seen acquiescing in the Lord’s holy judgment, and therefore leaves the place where He no longer was. Well would it be—both for God’s glory and for their own good—if His people would act on this same principle today.
But more: the going forth of Moses outside the camp was an act of faith. This comes out plainly and most blessedly in what Israel’s leader did on this occasion: he "took" the tabernacle and "pitched it without the camp." It should be pointed out that this was not the Tabernacle proper, with its three apartments, for this had not yet been erected. If the reader will refer back to Exodus 21:18 and 32:1 it will be found that Israel committed their great sin of worshipping the golden calf while Moses was up in the mount, during which time Jehovah had said to him, "Let them make Me a sanctuary: that I may dwell among them" (25:8)—details concerning which are found in the chapters that follow to the end of 31.
In the opening paragraphs of article 41 of this series (May 1927) on "The Coverings," we called attention to the distinction which is to be drawn between "the Tabernacle" (Heb. "mishkan") and "the Tent" (Heb. "Ohel"): the former signifies "dwelling-place"; the latter, simply "tent." The one refers to the abode of Jehovah, the other to the meeting-place for His people. The two are clearly distinguished in several scriptures, for example in Numbers 3:25 we read of "the tabernacle and the tent." In the majority of passages where the A.V. has "tabernacle of the congregation," the Hebrews reads "tent of the congregation." This holy building was Jehovah’s place of abode, but Israel’s place of assembly; they visited it, He remained there.
Now it was the "tent" and not the "tabernacle" which Moses here "took" and "pitched it outside the camp," for, as we have said, the tabernacle proper had not yet been built. In this action of Israel’s leader we may discern the exercise of real faith. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Moses had been hearing the word of God yonder in the mount, and now that he is down in the camp again his heart lays hold of, and anticipates, the actual erection of Jehovah’s dwelling place. It was a temporary, provision to meet a pressing emergency. "It does not appear that Moses, in pitching the tabernacle outside the camp, was acting under any direct commandment from the Lord. It was rather spiritual discernment, entering into both the character of God and the state of the people. Taught of God, he feels that Jehovah could no longer dwell in the midst of a camp which had been defiled by the presence of the golden calf. He therefore made a place outside, afar off from the camp, and called it the ‘tabernacle of the congregation’" (Ed. Dennett).
Again; the pitching of the tent outside the camp was an act of grace. This will be seen the more clearly if we revert once more to the context; "The Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up in the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee." God was here speaking after the manner of men—just as He does when He is said to "repent." It was as though He were weighing the condition of His wicked people, waiting to see whether or not their "mourning" was genuine. Before He smote, He would furnish opportunity for repentance. The people availed themselves of His forbearance: humbled by their sin, awed by the solemn tidings of imminent destruction, they stripped themselves of their ornaments. Then, as another has said, "He who pronounced judgment upon the people for their sins, provided a way for their escape." Those who "sought the Lord" were not only spared, but permitted to go forth unto the tent. Thus, "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
"And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went unto the tent of the congregation, which was without the camp" (v. 7). Once more we have a striking illustration of the word "even so might grace reign through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21). God is "the God of all grace," yet it ever needs to be remembered that He never exercises grace at the expense of righteousness. God forgives sins, but it is because they were atoned for by Christ. Israel was delivered from the avenging angel in Egypt, but only because they were sheltered beneath the blood. So here: God maintained His righteousness. Holiness forbade Him entering the defiled camp, but grace made it possible for the people to meet Him outside.
"And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tent of the congregation, which was without the camp" (v. 7). Let us now consider the typical significance of this. We think at once of Hebrews 13:13, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him, without the camp, bearing His reproach." Obviously, the Holy Spirit here had Exodus 33:7 before Him, and it is in the light of what is there recorded that we must interpret this New Testament exhortation. What we have there is a call to separation, but unless we pay close attention to the type we shall err in our application of the antitype. The all-important thing is to bear steadily in mind the circumstances under which Moses pitched the Tent "outside the camp." It was not when Israel murmured (Ex. 16:2), when they desecrated the sabbath (16:27, 28), when the Amalekites fought against them (17:8); it was after Israel had disowned Jehovah and set up the golden calf. General and open idolatry in the camp constitutes the call to go forth" outside it!
The same principle holds good in the interpretation of Hebrews 13:13. This exhortation was not given to the Corinthians, where a sectarian spirit prevailed, where immorality had been condoned, and where the Lord’s supper had been turned into a carnal feast. Nor was the call given to the Galatians, among whom false doctrine, of a serious character, had come in. Instead, it was addressed to "Hebrews." The believing Jews were enjoined to forsake the unbelieving Nation who had despised and rejected Christ. The "camp" was guilty of the murder of God’s Son, hence the call to forsake it. What we would here press upon the Christian reader is that neither Exodus 33:7 nor Hebrews 13:13 supplies any warrant for Christians forsaking "churches" or companies of God’s professing people where Christ is owned, honored, worshipped. There are those claiming to "gather unto the Lord," who insist they are the only people that are on true scriptural ground. They have separated themselves not only from false systems, but from the great majority of God’s own people. Little wonder that today they are more sectarian than any of the denominations, and that God has blown upon their proud and pharisaical claims. To "go forth unto Him without the camp" is a vastly different thing than separating from God’s own people. All who are dear to Christ should be dear to the Christian.
It was corporate idolatry which made Jehovah refuse to continue in Israel’s midst. It was when the Lord Himself had been rejected, and not till then, that Moses pitched the Tent outside the camp. Nothing short of this ever warrants a Christian from breaking away from those who profess the name of Christ. Perfection will be found no where on this earth, and the loftier the pretentions of those claiming to come nearest to perfection, the least grounds for such a profession they will evidence. A drum makes a big noise, but it is very hollow inside! No, ideal conditions, a faithful carrying out of all the revealed will of God, are not to be met with among any company of Christians. Failure is stamped upon everything which. God has committed to man. But that does not justify me in holding aloof from my erring brethren and sisters, and assuming an attitude of "I am holier than thou"; for in the sight of God I am probably a greater failure than they are. We are all of us quick to discover the mote in another’s eye, while complacently impervious to the beam in our own eye.
"Strengthen the things which remain (not "pull down"), that are ready to die," is God’s word to us (Rev. 3:2.) "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Heb. 12:12): obedience to this will accomplish far more than criticizing and condemning every body and everything. "Forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:2), implies there is that in each of us which is a trial in the other. There will be much to test patience and love in any "church" or gathering, but if the Lord is there, that is the place for me too. He is "long-suffering," so must I be. But when He is disowned, when a false god is set up in His place, when "another Jesus" (2 Cor. 11:4) is preached (a "Jesus" who is not the God man, born of a virgin, died for the sins of His people, rose again in bodily triumph over death), it is high time for me to get out. To remain in a place where He is denied would be for me to dishonor my land. It was on this principle that Moses here acted; and not Moses only, but "every one who sought the Lord."
Thus, the principle which is to guide us to day in our application of Hebrews 13:13 to any local situation, is simple and plain, If I am worshipping with a company of Christians where the Lord Jesus is owned as the Christ of God, as the alone Savior for sinners, as the Exemplar of His people, though the preaching there may not be as edifying as I could desire, though my fellow disciples may come far short of what I wish, that is no reason why I should desert them; rather it is an occasion for me to be much in prayer on their behalf, and by my own walk seek to show them the way of the Lord more perfectly. But, on the other hand, if I am in a place where the Christ of God is denied, the inspiration of the Scriptures repudiated, the Holy Spirit quenched through a false god having been set up, then no matter what my friends may do, no matter what may be the decision of my brethren, I am responsible before God to separate myself from what is so grossly dishonoring to Him.
"And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle" (v. 8). From this it appears that not many responded to the call of separation. "The majority stood at their tent doors, interested in Moses, and looking after him, and seeing the pillar of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent, but not going out! They seem to represent those who have reverence for divine things, and are interested in the truth, but who remain in the camp. God-fearing persons, but not knowing the presence of the Lord in its attractive and satisfying power" (C. A. Coates).
"And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses" (v. 9). The "cloudy pillar" was the visible symbol of Jehovah’s presence. This is the third time in Exodus we find mention of it. First, in 13:21 we read, "And the lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light." Second, in 14:19, 20 we are told, "And the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night." Third, "the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses." Thus it was connected first with guidance, then with protection, now with communion.
"The cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses." Blessed answer of God was this in the confidence of His servant. How true are His words "them that honor Me I will honor." Moses was not put in confusion: his submission and faith were amply rewarded. God never disappoints those who seek His glory and count upon His grace. It is the compromisers, the fearers of men, and the unbelieving who are the losers. O for more single-eyed devotion to the Lord. then we shall have Him "talk with" (not "to") us.
"And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door" (v. 10). Nothing but a gracious manifestation of the Lord will produce real worship, and the more we are conscious of His unmerited favor, the more fervent will our worship be. Nor must we ignore the Spirit’s notice of the position occupied by these prostrate Israelites: they "worshipped every man in his tent door."’ This has a voice for us if we have hearts to receive it. The "tent" is the symbol of the pilgrim, and it is only as this character is maintained that worship will be sustained. The blessed sequel we must leave for consideration till our next article. May the Lord exercise each of us by what has been before us.