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Footsteps of the Flock (Part 4)

Author, expositor, preacher and missionary John Matthias Davies (1895-1990), whose collected writings span nearly 1,500 pages, was mightily used of God to bring blessing to those who heard him and those who still read his works. His exceptional gift for effective and powerful exposition of the Word of God was never more clearly seen than in his “Footsteps of the Flock” book, chapter 4 of which is reproduced below. 

Footsteps of the Flock

Part 4

Separation in Israel

“And I will put a division between my people and thy people” (Exod 8:23). The word “division” in this verse may be translated “redemption”. It is so rendered in Psalm 111:9, and Psalm 130:7.

“The Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (Exod 11:7). Redemption leads to separation. Separation is the necessary complement of redemption. In creation separation is based upon the essential difference in kind and character between the things separated. Abraham’s was founded upon election, the promises and covenant of God, but in the nation the basis of their separation is redemption. Ever afterwards in Israel’s history the Lord appeals to them to be a people separate unto Himself on the ground that He had redeemed them and that therefore they were His by “redemption rights”.

It is essential to note the difference between what did differentiate them from others, and what should differentiate them. The one may be termed their positional and the other their conditional separation. The one was absolute, depending upon the fact of their redemption, the other was varied, depending upon their spiritual condition. The second grows out of the first, it is the essential sequence. Israel’s history until the captivity is associated with Egypt, the wilderness and the land of Canaan. We shall consider their separation relative to each in their historical order.

1. SEPARATION FROM EGYPT

(a) by blood

When the Lord spoke of putting a difference between the Egyptians and Israel, it was a reference to the blood of the slain lamb that was to be sprinkled upon the door-posts and the lintels of the houses wherein the Israelites dwelt. That night in Egypt presented a strange spectacle. The Israelites sprinkling the blood and the Egyptians possibly looking on wondering what it was all for. Some may have ridiculed, and some ignorant as to its meaning perhaps, may have followed the Israelites’ example, for a mixed multitude went out with them, and on a previous occasion some of Pharaoh’s servants had done something similar (cf. Exod 9:20). But whatever of that, one thing is certain, the sprinkled blood formed a very definite and unmistakable line of separation between the Egyptians and Israel on that memorable night. It forms the beginning of Israel’s national history, and the commencement of Egypt’s downfall. As the angel of the Lord went through the land to smite the firstborn of Egypt’s strength, strict care was taken that no house was entered which had been sprinkled by blood. They were safe who were under the shelter of the blood. They had light and peace in their dwellings. But alas! for those who were not thus protected. “At midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, and that without respect of persons. It was the blood of the lamb alone that God respected that night. There was a great cry by reason of God’s judgment on the one hand, and great joy for the dawn of deliverance on the other. The following day witnessed one long procession of sad faces to the graveyard, and another of a people who sang for joy of heart as they began their way to the promised land.

Just such a line of demarcation exists in the world today, dividing it into two distinct and separate camps. Although the world lives regardless of it and many professing Christians do violence to it by living careless lives, yet it exists. Every true believer is elected unto obedience, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:2). But it is not the house that is to be sprinkled under the New Covenant, it is the “heart that is to be sprinkled from an evil conscience.” The conscience is to be purged from dead works to serve the living God, and this should make the Christian differ in his life from the unconverted who have not been thus sprinkled. And be it remembered that solemn and eternal issues are consequent upon this separation, for it is only they who have taken “the blood of the Cross” as their refuge who will escape from the judgment of God, when the day of grace will have run its course and the night of doom and judgment ushered in. Far greater than the midnight cry of those who were unsheltered by blood on “that night” will be the cry of those who, in this day, despise God’s proffered mercy, and mock at the atoning blood. Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth will be their portion, so saith the scripture.

But in the meantime, fellow-believer, let not your security lead you to laxity, but on the contrary, let a purged conscience be the forerunner of a purged life, a life that is separate from everything that is unholy and unclean.

The blood was not the only thing that caused the Israelites to differ from Egypt. The “One” who had provided a means of deliverance for them from the doom of Egypt was to lead them out of Egypt, thereby delivering them from the dominion of Egypt. Egypt was synonymous to slavery and bondage for Israel, but redemption was to make them a free people, free to live to Jehovah’s glory and praise. This He did by opening a way for them to pass through the Red Sea.

(b) By the Red Sea

“Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore.” “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel.”

They had passed through the divided waters, and it was day. The previous day at evening found them with the Red Sea in front of them and the enemy pursuing. When Israel “went into the midst of the sea” nature offered them no light on their path, it was night. It was a step in the dark as far as nature was concerned. The only light they had was that which the Shekinah Glory gave. It was a supernatural light, the light of the presence of God. One wonders if some of the mixed multitude did not object to taking such a step at such a time, and advise waiting until they got some more light on their path. How many do so today! The path of faith is often “contrary to nature”. Nature will not assist anyone in this path that leads to separation from the world, it will but hinder. But in God’s word there is light given and happy are they who walk in it. By following that light all were baptised in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor 10). Once they had crossed, the sea stood between them and Egypt. The waters were opened up for them to go through, but the waters returned so that they could not go back.

The divided waters speak of Calvary, while the “baptism in the cloud” finds its antitype in being “baptised in the Holy Ghost” into the body of which Christ is the head. Being “baptised in the sea” typifies burial with Christ in baptism.

Of the Christians at Rome the apostle could say that they had obeyed from the heart that form, that mould (literally – type) of doctrine, into which they had been delivered. They had given heart obedience to the truth of baptism. Their obedience to that ordinance was not merely a nominal one. It led to a separated life. Just as the Red Sea cut Israel off from Egypt so the waters of baptism should be a dividing line between the Christian and the world. By the cross we have been crucified to the world, and if a believer goes back into the world, he denies the cross and belies his baptism.

The sprinkled blood saved them from Egypt’s doom, and the Red Sea separated them from Egypt’s bondage. While the blood does cleanse us from all our sins, it is crucifixion with Christ that breaks the power of sin in the life. No wonder that nature offers no light on that path. Do not wait for light from nature, for darkness is deepening. Walk in the light of His revealed truth, in the path of faith and separation, the path that leads to true joy.

Pharoah’s Concessions

Pharoah made many to Moses, which, had he accepted would have meant compromise and continued bondage.

1. “Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land” (Exod 8:25). This would mean remaining in their slavery and seeking to worship at the same time.

2. “I will let you go – only go not very far away” (Exod 8:28). Live on the border-land. It would mean a partial liberty but sure to relapse to slavery again.

3. “Go ye that are men, serve the Lord” (Exod 10:11). Leave your little ones and your flocks. If he
could have kept the children he would be sure of the next generation. How important it is that we should
be moved with fear to the saving of our families.

4. “Go ye, serve the Lord, only let your flocks be stayed” (Exod 10:24). “Let your little ones also go.” He tried his utmost to keep them and when that was impossible he tried to keep their flocks, so that they would have nothing for God. If a believer’s business is carried on on worldly principles there will be little for God out of it.

Nothing but a complete deliverance would satisfy Moses, the man of God. We will go “three days’ journey into the wilderness.” We cannot leave our little ones or our flocks. “There shall not a hoof be left behind.”

Alas that so many of the people of God have acceded to these concessions, and have settled down to a worldly life, to a path of compromise have camped on the edge of the wilderness, not very far away.” We are apt to forget that not only is the gate strait, but the way, the whole way, is a narrow way. If we are to be free to serve the Lord, free indeed, the individual, the family, and the business life must be separated to the Lord. There must be the three days’ journey, the “cross”, the “grave”, and the “resurrection”. There must be the crucifixion, and the burial; the baptising into his death and being raised again to walk in the newness of life.

2. SEPARATION IN THE WILDERNESS

They were now a pilgrim people. They had the Tabernacle, where dwelt the Shekinah Glory – divine guidance; they were provided with Manna from heaven daily and with water from the smitten rock – divine sustenance; they were given the law – the divine oracles – which revealed to them their responsibility, the highest moral code that any nation ever had. These differentiated them from all the other nations. Israel shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the other nations” (Num 23:9). No nations had such privileges as they. The Lord God was with them and the shout of a King was among them (Num 23:21). Hence their responsibilities were correspondingly great.

Their Prohibitions

As a pilgrim people marching through the wilderness to their promised inheritance they were given certain prohibitions, which are recorded for our admonition in Deuteronomy Ch 2. For we too have been constituted strangers, or “temporary visitors” here by the cross of Christ, and hence we are to be pilgrims. May we not degenerate into aimless wanderers!

(a) “Meddle not with the children of Esau, for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot-breadth, because I have given Mount Seir unto Esau for a possession” (Deut 2:5).

The territory marked out in the providence of God as the inheritance of the descendants of the man who had sold his birthright for a mess of pottage was forbidden ground for these pilgrims. God had something better for them – a land flowing with milk and honey. Esau may well represent the man who places more value upon the gratification of physical appetites than upon spiritual things. “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. “The believer’s inheritance is in the realm of the spirit. And not even a foot breadth of the territory of the old man – the flesh, is to be his. Whether it be the flesh in its religious, self-righteous character, or in its more coarser forms the true Christian is to recognise that they “that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and its lusts.” He must view things from God’s throne and believe the report “The end of all flesh has come before me.”

(b) “Distress not the Moabites – for I will not give thee their land for a possession. I have given Ar to the children of Lot for a possession” (Deut 2:9).

(c) “Distress not the Ammomites, for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon for a possession. I have given it unto the children of Lot” (Deut 2:19).

Lot was the world-lover, the one who was attracted away from the fellowship of Abraham by the allurements of Sodom. Moab and Ammon were his children and the pilgrim people were strictly forbidden to distress them or to try and possess their land.

O! the tragedy of being satisfied with the second or third best, the danger of contending for things that are not ours by New Covenant rights. The pleasures of this world, the things which the world indulges in and enjoys, the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. The desire to be somebody and reckoned as great in the eyes of the ungodly world has ruined many a testimony. The believer should neither care for the world’s frown nor cater for the world’s caresses. The world’s caresses may be represented as floral wreaths placed upon the grave of a dead and buried testimony, a life that has lost its power for God.

The Valley of Zered and the Brooks of Arnon were to be crossed (Deut 2:13-24). We are not told all that took place at these brooks, but evidently some mighty work was done; the arm of Jehovah was revealed in some way. “Wherefore it is said in the books of the wars of the Lord, what He did in the Red Sea and in the Brooks of Arnon” (Num 21:14). It needs the power of God to separate the believer in the same way today. To cross over the borderline between worldliness and separation may perchance be costly and leading through a valley – the valley of decision, but it leads to the detectable heights of true fellowship with God. From the brooks of Arnon they went to Beer; Beer-Elim (Isa 15:8), where there was a well, the “well of the heroes”, for none but the heroes of faith drink of this well. Then the voice of the Lord was heard “Gather the people together and I will give them water.” The Princes digged the well with their staves. Pilgrims who had attained to princely honour, and princes who were contented to remain pilgrim – hence the staves! There they seem to have rediscovered the “river which followed them”, the stream from the smitten rock. Dwelling and compassing Mount Seir for “many days” they lost the stream and only found it, again when they were prepared to go on with God in the path of obedience. How true the picture is to our experience. When we tarry instead of going on, things, and truth which we once knew and enjoyed slip away from us, we lose the joy of the Lord and it will only be restored to us as we cross the line of demarcation between “loving the present evil age” and going on in the path of true discipleship, seeking to walk as He walked.

There Israel sang, as they had not sung since they rent the heavens on the wilderness side of the Red Sea. Joy flooded their souls once again, and it revealed itself in a spontaneous song of praise. This was followed by conflict with Sihon king of the Amorites, and a triumph for the people of God, a triumph that staggered the inhabitants of Jericho. The news of this victory spread far and wide. It melted the heart of the enemies, but nerved Israel for further conflicts and more victories. For those who seek to walk with God, forsaking evil, every conflict should mean an added victory. “Flee youthful lusts; follow after righteousness; fight the good fight of faith. That is how the New Testament expresses the same truth. It is the man who knows how to flee, how to make Christ and His Cross his refuge from the allurements of the flesh and the world that can handle the sword effectually.

The Doctrine of Balaam

Balak the King of the Moabites, desired to exterminate the children of Israel, and for this purpose hired the prophet Balaam. But Balaam could not curse those whom God had blessed. He said that Israel should dwell alone and that the Lord beheld no iniquity in Jacob. He wished that his last end would be like theirs.

Yet in spite of the fact that he could not curse Israel he counselled Balak to lay a snare for them. “They called Israel to the sacrifices of their gods, and they did eat and bowed down to their gods. Israel joined himself to Baal-Peor” (Num 25:2-3). Thus Israel was allured into a forbidden fellowship which developed into a false worship, and ripened into a forbidden alliance that caused the anger of the Lord to be kindled against them. Balaam has long since died an inglorious death, but his doctrine has long survived him, and those who have embraced it are legion. Balaam’s doctrine is to break down the line of demarcation between the world and the people of God, to bring the world into the church. But the world and the church are different. The one is the devil’s harlot, the other is espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ. Virgins should not copy harlots neither should the church or the individual believer copy the world, but should be guided by the word of God.

3. SEPARATION IN THE LAND

As a people who had been brought into covenant relationship with Jehovah, the land of Canaan was given to them for an inheritance. God had specified its boundaries and cast out its inhabitants from before them. Moreover, God had given them the promise of a coming Messiah, who, like Moses, would deliver them from all their enemies, and who would be the anointed prophet of the Most High, revealing to them the will of God and God Himself. No other nation had such a hope. This was intended to be an incentive to them to maintain their position as a separated people, which was now their privilege and responsibility. For the same purpose they were enjoined also not to:

(a) Make any covenant with the nations (Deut 7:2)
(b) Contract any marriages with them (Deut 7:3)
(c) Nor be conformed to them in their customs (Lev 18:30; Lev 19:28; Deut 14:1)

So:

(a) Israel a Ruling Nation (not making covenants with the nations)

Israel was intended to be a ruling nation and not a subject race. To make a covenant with any nation would in itself be an admission of weakness and inability to conquer them, and a departure from the path of faith in Jehovah to deliver them. To make a league with them would mean entering into fellowship with them in their ungodliness and sin, and probably forfeiting to them some of the land which had been given to Israel. It would mean being on friendly terms with the enemies of the Lord, and that at the expense of possessing all their possessions. It would mean walking in a path of compromise. “Sin shall not have dominion over you” is the emphatic statement of the New Testament. No truce is to be effected with it. But as Israel could only exterminate their foes in the measure they obeyed the Lord, so the believer will only be able to enter practically into the realisation of what it is to be “more than conquerors through Him” by obedience to the will of God, and thus by daily life prove what it is to be acceptable to the Lord.

(b) Israel a Separate Nation (not contracting any marriages with the nations)

Israel was not only intended to be a ruling nation, but a separate nation, hence intermarriages with the Gentile nations was strictly forbidden. Mixed marriages would mean an unequal yoke, and would finally lead Israel away from the Lord, leading them into conformity with the ways and worship of the ungodly. In the New Testament this principle is not abrogated but rather emphasised. The believer is free to marry – “only in the Lord”. A believer who marries an unconverted person knowingly, virtually denies the Lordship of Christ over his or her life. Hence it cannot meet with the Lord’s blessing or approval, but rather it may result in solemn consequences. One young lady who was thus contemplating marriage to an unconverted young man, went and spoke to Mr. Spurgeon about it, asking his advice. “He requested her to mount a chair, and then on to a table, and asked her to pull him up to her level. This, of course, she couid not do. Then he took hold of her hand and easily pulled her down to his level. This served as an iliustration to her of what would happen if she married him while he was still unconverted. Many have been the bitter experiences of those who have acted contrary to the scriptures in this important matter.

(c) Israel a Peculiar People (not being conformed to the customers of the nations)

Israel was also intended to be a peculiar people, a people specially for the Lord. They were not to be conformed to the ways and customs of the nations around them. They were to be governed by the Word of God. This was not easy for them as their after-history proved, and it is no easier for the believer today as can be gathered from the conformity of so many who profess to be the Lord’s people to the latest fads and fancies of the world, even at the expense of loyalty to Christ and adherence to all that God hath said.

“Be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of the mind.” The word
“transformed” is found in two other places in the New Testament. Matthew 17:2, “transfigured” and 2 Cor 3:18, “changed”. It is the word from which we get the word “metamorphosis”. The caterpillar metamorphosises into a butterfly. What a change that is! This change can only be brought about in the believer by having the mind renewed through. The reading of the scriptures, by looking into the mirror of the word of God at the image of the Lord reflected therein. Thereby we shall be transformed into the same likeness even as by the Spirit of the Lord. The conformity of the believer to Christ is the final purpose of God in redemption (Rom 8:29).

The record of the failure of Israel to maintain these lines of demarcation and its sad results should be sufficient warning for the believer today to seek to keep himself unspotted from the world. World-conformity, worldly fellowships and alliances, with defeated Christian lives as the net gain, are alas too prevalent. Victorious Christian living demands a purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord and be separate from the world.