The Mixed Multitude
C. H. Mackintosh
We call the reader's attention to an expression full of weighty admonition for us: "And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept again". There is nothing more damaging to the cause of Christ or to the souls of His people than association with men of mixed principles. It is very much more dangerous than having to do with open and avowed enemies. Satan knows this well, and hence his constant effort to lead the Lord's people to link themselves with those who are only half-and-half; or, on the other hand, to introduce spurious materials — false professors — into the midst of those who are seeking, in any measure, to pursue a path of separation from the world. We have repeated allusions to this special character of evil in the New Testament. We have it both prophetically, in the Gospels, and historically, in the Acts and in the Epistles. Thus we have the tares and the leaven in Matthew 13; then, in the Acts, we find persons attaching themselves to the assembly who were like the "mixed multitude" of Numbers 11; and finally, we have apostolic reference to spurious materials introduced by the enemy for the purpose of corrupting the testimony and subverting the souls of God's people. Thus the apostle Paul speaks of "false brethren unawares brought in" (Galatians 2:4). Jude also speaks of "certain men crept in unawares" (verse 4).
From all this we learn the urgent need of vigilance on the part of God's people; and not only of vigilance, but also of absolute dependence upon the Lord, who alone can preserve them from the entrance in of false materials, and keep them free from all contact with men of mixed principles and doubtful character. "The mixed multitude" is sure to "fall a lusting", and the people of God are in imminent danger of being drawn away from their proper simplicity, and of growing weary of the heavenly Manna — their proper food. What is needed is plain decision for Christ, thorough devotedness to Him and to His cause. Where a company of believers are enabled to go on in whole-heartedness for Christ, and in marked separation from this present world, there is not so much danger of persons of equivocal character seeking a place among them; though doubtless Satan will always seek to mar the testimony by the introduction of hypocrites. Such persons do obtain an entrance, and then by their evil ways bring reproach on the Lord's name. Satan knew full well what he was doing when he led the mixed multitude to attach themselves to the congregation of Israel. It was not all at once that the effect of this admixture was made manifest. The people had come forth with a high hand; they had passed through the Red Sea, and raised the song of victory on its banks. All looked bright and promising; but "the mixed multitude" were there notwithstanding, and the effect of their presence was very speedily made apparent.
Thus it is ever, in the history of God's people. We may notice, in those great spiritual movements which have taken place from age to age, certain elements of decay which at the first were hidden from view by the flowing tide of grace and energy; but when that tide began to ebb, then those elements made their appearance. This is very serious, and calls for much holy watchfulness. It applies to individuals just as forcibly as to the people of God collectively. In our early moments — our young days, when zeal and freshness characterized us, the spring-tide of grace rose so blessedly that many things were allowed to escape unjudged which were, in reality, seeds flung into the ground by the enemy's hand, and which, in due season, are sure to germinate and fructify. Hence it follows that both assemblies of Christians and individual Christians should ever be on the watch-tower — ever keeping jealous guard lest the enemy gain an advantage in this matter. Where the heart is true to Christ, all is sure to come right in the end. Our God is so gracious, He takes care of us and preserves us from a thousand snares. May we learn to trust Him and to praise Him.
But we have further lessons to draw from the weighty section which lies open before us. Not only have we to contemplate failure on the part of the congregation of Israel, but even Moses himself is seen faltering and almost sinking beneath the weight of his responsibility. "And Moses said unto the Lord, 'Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favor in Thy sight, that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that Thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which Thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if Thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee out of hand, if I have found favor in Thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness" (verse 11-15).
This is truly wonderful language. It is not that we should think for a moment of dwelling upon the failures and infirmities of so dear and so devoted a servant as Moses. Far be the thought. It would ill become us to comment upon the actings or the sayings of one of whom the Holy Ghost has declared that "he was faithful in all his house" (Hebrews 3:2). Moses, like all the Old Testament saints, has taken his place amongst the "spirits of just men made perfect", and every inspired allusion to him throughout the pages of the New Testament tends only to put honor upon him, and to set him forth as a most precious vessel.
But still we are bound to ponder the inspired history now before us — history penned by Moses himself. True it is — blessedly true — that the defects and failures of God's people in Old Testament times are not commented upon in the New Testament, yet are they recorded with faithful accuracy in the Old. And wherefore? is it not for our learning? Unquestionably. "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15 :4).
What, then, are we to learn from the remarkable outburst of feeling recorded in Numbers 11:11-15? We learn this at least, that it is the wilderness that really brings out what is in the very best of us. It is there we prove what is in our hearts. And inasmuch as the book of Numbers is emphatically the book of the wilderness, it is just there we might expect to find all sorts of failure and infirmity fully unfolded. The Spirit of God faithfully chronicles every thing. He gives us men as they are; and even though it be a Moses that "speaks unadvisedly with his lips", that very unadvised speaking is recorded for our admonition and instruction. Moses "was a man subject to like passions as we are"; and it is very evident that in the portion of his history now before us, his heart sinks under the tremendous weight of his responsibilities.
It will perhaps be said, "No wonder his heart should sink". No wonder, surely, for his burden was far too heavy for human shoulders. But the question is, Was it too heavy for divine shoulders? Was it really the case that Moses was called to bear the burden alone? Was not the living God with him? and was not He sufficient? What did it matter whether God were pleased to act by one man or by ten thousand? All the power, all the wisdom, all the grace, was in Him. He is the fountain of all blessedness, and, in the judgment of faith, it makes not one whit of difference as to the channel, or whether there is one channel or a thousand and one.
This is a fine moral principle for all the servants of Christ. It is most needful for all such to remember that whenever the Lord places a man in a position of responsibility, He will both fit him for it and maintain him in it. It is, of course, another thing altogether if a man will rush unsent into any field of work, or any post of difficulty or danger. In such a case, we may assuredly look for a thorough breakdown, sooner or later. But when God calls a man to a certain position, He will endow him with the needed grace to occupy it. He never sends any one a warfare at his own charges, and therefore all we have to do is to draw upon Him for all we need. This holds good in every case. We can never fail if we only cling to the living God: we can never run dry if we are drawing from the fountain. Our tiny springs will soon dry up; but our Lord Jesus Christ declares that "he that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water".
This is a grand lesson for the wilderness. We cannot get on without it. Had Moses fully understood it, he never would have given utterance to such words as these: "Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people"? He would have fixed his eye only upon God. He would have known that he was but an instrument in the hands of God, whose resources were illimitable. Assuredly, Moses could not supply that vast assembly with food even for a single day; but Jehovah could supply the need of every living thing, and supply it forever.
Do we really believe this? Does it not sometimes appear as though we doubted it? Do we not sometimes feel as though we were to supply instead of God? and then is it any marvel if we quail and falter and sink? Well indeed might Moses say, "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me". There was only one heart that could bear with such a company, namely, the heart of that blessed One who, when they were toiling amid the brick-kilns of Egypt, had come down to deliver them, and who, having redeemed them out of the hand of the enemy, had taken up His abode in their midst. He alone was able to bear them. His loving heart and mighty hand were alone adequate to the task; and if Moses had been in the full power of this great truth, he would not and could not have said, "if thou deal thus with me, slay me, I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes; that I may not behold my wretchedness".
This surely was a dark moment in the history of this illustrious servant of God. It reminds us somewhat of the prophet Elijah, when he flung himself at the base of the juniper tree and entreated the Lord to take away his life. How wonderful to see those two men together on the mount of transfiguration! It proves, in a very marked way, that God's thoughts are not as ours, nor His ways as ours. He had something better in store for Moses and Elias than aught that they contemplated. Blessed be His name, He rebukes our fears by the riches of His grace, and when our poor hearts would anticipate death and wretchedness, He gives life, victory, and glory.
Extract from Notes on the Pentateuch, by C. H. Mackintosh.
The Mixed Multitude