“And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters.” – Exodus xv, 27.
In the December SECTARIAN, last volume, we received a request from brother G. W. Barr of Dayton, Ohio, for our views upon this Scripture.
We are told in Romans xv, 4, that: “Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Hence we have multiplied evidence of Gospel travel in the ‘Old Testament’ of that peculiar travel through which the Church passes today.
The connection of the quoted text gives account of the travel of Israel after their deliverance at the Red Sea. The deliverance was a wonderful display of Divine power, that it would seem Israel could not readily forget, and yet they had gone but a few days and “came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah; for they were bitter . . . And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”
In our early years before we had an adequate conception of Gospel Truth, we often thought in reading of the travel of these Israelites, how different our course would have been from theirs; but in later years we have concluded that our Adamic, natural heart is as prone to wander as was theirs – we see in our earthly nature a reproduction of what was seen in these carnal Israelites: “the people sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play,” – Exodus xxxii, 6. Their travel illustrates the travel of Israel today; through storm, and in calm, like Joseph’s “coat of many colors,” – Genesis xxxvii. 3,) for it was just after their experience with the bitter waters of Marah that they came to the wells of water and palm trees of Elim.
It was but a few days after their departure from Elim that they came “unto the wilderness of Sin,” and here it is written “the while congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron: . . . . and said unto them, would to God that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full.” These words certainly sound familiar! We have heard them in different forms, but in identical substance again and again from professed children of grace at the very first appearance of a condition which required a walk “by faith, and not of sight.” “The fleshpots of Egypt” (the money, ease, lusts and glamour of this present world,) is a fearful, and all-prevailing temptation to the carnal mind. There are Bethel and Elim spots scatted along the mortal pilgrimage of saints where they can rest: “a covert from the tempest:” a haven from storm, and from rain.
The word Elim signifies strength and security; and in this surely represents the secure hiding and resting place of the saints. Here is “the shadow of the Almighty” – (Psalm xci, 1) under which saints abide; and their place of defense the munitions of rock, (Isaiah xxxiii, 16;) the green grass of the desert upon which they sit down and into which they are led, and where they find rest unto their souls. – Matthew xi, 28-30.
The wells of water represent the Gospel, of which Jesus says, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” – John iv, 14. In numbers xxxiii, 9 these wells are called “fountains of water.” The Gospel itself is the inexhaustible well or fountain; but here are found twelve wells, which probably more especially represent the twelve apostolic gifts, revealed in the proclamation of that Gospel.
Beloved saints of God, have we not often found such heavenly resting places, as we have come together upon some “Elim spot,” and the never-failing well has supplied our every need, “spring up” to our comfort, without work or effort on our part, for indeed “the well is deep,” said the Samaritan woman, and we “have nothing to draw with.” – John iv, 11. The preached word has come to us, not in form nor yet in “uncertain sound,” but “in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power.”
The “threescore and ten palm trees,” can represent the election and flourishing condition of Israel under the Gospel Covenant. It is noticeable that the number “threescore and ten,” is the number that came “out of the loins of Jacob,” – Exodus i, 5, typifying “the purpose of God, according to election” – Romans ix, 11-13; and pointing to the particular and peculiar people who alone were to rest; and become refreshed in these holy, consecrated, and sanctified places, as the anointed of the Lord: set apart for the blessing, and the blessing specially prepared and reserved for them.
The Palm-tree like the Cedar tree (Psalm xxix,5,) is used in the Scriptures to typify the children of grace; as well as to show forth the enduring and sheltering nature of the Gospel Covenant, (Judges iv, 5; Song vii, 7,8.) In Psalm xcii, 12; it is written “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” The Church of the living God sheltered under the overshadowing wings of the Gospel is indeed a city of Palm-trees, revealed in holy symmetry in the work of the temple, where are carved “cherubim and palm-trees” (Ezekiel xli, 18-20) in Gospel unison upon the wall, and in the work of that building which stands as a type of the Gospel Church.
We have then in our subject a beautiful figure of Gospel grace, of the refuge in which the dear tempest-tossed spiritual Israelites enter, assailed by foes without and within, and their own evil hearts as well. Elim is “favorably located” for such refuge with the “bitter waters of Marah” on one hand, and the wilderness of Sin on the other, while just beyond is located roaring, flaming Sinai with its terrific thunderings, its fiery darts, that disturb the peace, and pierce the soul of the trembling, awe-stricken tribes, who have fled for refuge from the destructive plagues of Egypt.
Beautiful indeed is the language! More expressive still the substance of the testimony of our text. Think, dear reader, of the force of the figure presented for our consideration: “the twelve wells of water, threescore and ten palm trees” of Elim. Think of the surroundings of the restful spot; and then think of the world with its bitterness, its envy and strife against the Truth, of its wilderness of woe, barren of a single green blade, or anything else calculated to afford the slightest enjoyment to the children of grace: you will see something of what our text presents for the comfort of the Israel of today.
In Proverbs xxv, 25, we are told that: “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”
“Waters from Salvation’s wells,
Thirsty sinner come and draw;
Love’s the fountain when it rose,
Who its heights or depth can tell?
Christ the channel whence it flows,
O’er the banks of sin to swell.”
Some of our older members in this country (near Alexandria, Virginia) will remember an aged colored brother, Jacob Cooper, formerly a member of the Hepzibah Church in Alexandria, but now long since gone, we humbly believe, to his immortal home. “Uncle Jake,” as he was familiarly called in those days, used to make the fire and clean up the office of certain lawyers in Alexandria. On one occasion as the winter had broken or was breaking, in order to have a little fun with the elderly man, one of the lawyers asked him. “Uncle Jake, do you expect to go to the Springs, this year?” “Yes,” solemnly answered Jake, “I go to the Springs, sir, twice a year.” Somewhat struck by the sober earnestness of the reply the lawyer inquired, “What Springs do you go to Uncle Jake?” “The Old School Baptist Association, sir,” promptly replied the old brother, “and it is the sweetest water that a poor sinner ever drank.”
As we write our memory turns to the reply of this old brother. We live over again the many precious seasons spent in the sanctuary of eternal Truth; the oases in life’s trials, where we are permitted to greet our dear brethren and the friends of Truth eternal; to hear the Gospel preached in its purity, to realize the preciousness of Gospel fellowship, to lay aside for the moment the burdens of mortality; and to rest under the shadow of the palm-trees of our Elim and drink of its wells of living water.
When a boy in our native village during the Civil War, there came through the village one day a company of troops. It was a hot, sultry day, and the company reached the town about noon; foot-sore and weary they halted, broke ranks, and scattered under the trees for refreshments and rest. We have not forgotten how these tired soldiers appeared to enjoy the cooling shade of the trees and temporary rest. So with the children of the Regeneration in their travel through the wilderness of this world, as they reached an Elim spot where they can for the moment lay aside their travel-stained garments, and rest “in the shade of the trees.”
But our subject in the fullness of its meaning implies something more than a ‘moments’ rest. It points us to the eternal character, and the abiding nature of rest in that Man, who “shall be a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” – Isaiah xxxii, 2. “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and His rest shall be glorious.” – Isaiah xi, 10.
The Scriptures abound with figures of the character under consideration, which point to, and center in Christ as the sure Refuge of saints. A striking one is found in Matthew xiv, 15, where the green grass of the desert is a beautiful figure of the Church in the desert of this corrupt world. The last clause of our subject reads: “and they encamped there by the waters.” This then for the time being was something more than a temporary rest. It was truly this, but it was also something more. It was an encampment of Israel. It was an epoch in their journey. It was as when the visible Church has passed through some fiery trials, and she encamps for a time to rest and to meet similar conflicts. “For she goes from strength to strength.” – Psalm lxxxiv, 7.
Did she not thus encamp after the Contest of 1832; of 1852; of 1886-89, and these of later years? New developments are continually arising. New conditions developing, new issues, new perversions, new trials, new conflicts, greater apostasies which must be met in the onward travel of the Church, manifest new needful resting spots. And yet after all it is the same old and oft repeated story of some Israelite murmuring because of the hardness and stringency of the journey, the severity of the statutes of the Gospel; from a natural standpoint hankering after “the flesh-pots of Egypt.”
“Seeking some easy path,
To an inland shore.”
But the Church moves onward, “looks forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” “He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.” – Numbers xxiv, 9.
The Scriptures are one vast volume of Christian experience, dealing more especially with the living scenes of today in the travel of saints. We live the Truth of God. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” (Psalm cxix, 105,) as we pass through the turmoil of time to the peaceful scenes of rest unending.
“And here as travelers we meet,
Before we reach the fields above,
To suit around our Master’s feet,
And tell the wonders of His love.”
The cooling shade under which we rest here is but a foretaste of that which is eternal. The waters by which we camp in our mortal pilgrimage, flow from the throne of God, bearing us onward and upward in more joyous, more glorious revelations, as the streams are lost in the never-failing fountain, and become an impassible river (Ezekiel xlvii, 5,) “and everything that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live.” Truly “spring up into everlasting life.”
Many of us have come to the “brink of the river.” By faith we look out upon the vast glories which blaze forth from the immortal throne. Our only and real enjoyment lies in the interest of the heavenly kingdom; the real pleasure of our mortal pilgrimage is in its restful pursuits. It brightens our pathway through time, “as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Through a rift in the cloud we catch a glimpse of the sublime splendors of the world to come, and hear “the voice of harpers harping with their harps;” rejoicing “in hope of the glory of God;” “receiving the end of your (our) faith, even the salvation of (our) souls.”
“He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him. . . . The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children.” – Psalm ciii.
Elder William M. Smoot
The Sectarian, March 1908