"The name of the one was Gershom . . . and the name of the other was Eliezer."—Exodds xviii. 3, 4.
These two names which Moses gave his sons afford a pathetic glimpse into the feelings with which he began his exile and the better ones which succeeded. The first, "Gershom," according to. one explanation, means banishment, and according to another, "a stranger there," and in either rendering expresses a sense of homelessness. It brings up the bitter contrast between Egypt and the desert, the refined and luxurious life of the court and what Moses had to endure as a wandering shepherd. But as years went on he grew accustomed to his position, and so, when his second child was born, his murmurings had been hushed and he looked beyond circumstances, and reached out his hand to grasp God's hand, as the name Eliezer, "God is help," witnesses. It was worth while to be sent into the desert for a third part of his life, and to have purposes and hopes broken off short, in order to have burnt into him these two thoughts in their combination. Life will have done its best for us if it has taught us to weld together these two convictions—of being strangers here, and having God for our help.
We are all strangers here. We are plunged into the midst of a scene of things which obviously does not match our capacities. There is a great deal more in every man than can ever find a field of expression, work, or satisfaction in anything beneath the stars. And no man that understands, even superficially, his own character, his own requirements, can fail to feel in his sane and quiet moments, when the rush of temptations and the illusions of this fleeting life have lost their grip upon him: "This is not the place that can bring out all that is in me, or that can satisfy all that I desire." Our capacities transcend the present, and the experiences of the present are unintelligible, unless the true end of every human life is not here at all, but in another region, for which these experiences are fitting us.
But, then, the temptations of life, the strong appeals of flesh and sense, the duties which in their proper place are lofty and elevating and refining, and, put out of their place, are contemptible and degrading, all come in to make it hard for any of us to keep clearly before us what our consciousness tells us when it is strongly appealed to, that we are strangers and sojourners here and that this is not "our rest, because it is polluted." Therefore it comes to be the great glory and blessedness of the Christian Revelation that it shifts the centre for us obviously, and makes that future, and not this present, the aim for which, and in the presence of which, we are to live. So Christian people, in a far higher sense than Moses, who only felt himself a stranger there because he did not like Midian as well as Egypt, have to say, We are strangers here. The very aim, in one aspect, of our Christian discipline of ourselves is that we shall keep vivid, in the face of all the temptations to forget it, this consciousness of being away from our true home.
One has heard of half-reclaimed gipsies, who have been coaxed out of the free life of the woods and the moors, and have gone into settled homes. After a while there has come over them a rush of feeling, a remembrance of how blessed it used to be out in the open, away from the squalor and filth, where men "sit and hear each other groan," and they have flung off, as if they were fetters, the trappings of "civilisation," and gone back to liberty. That is what we ought to do—not going back from the higher to the lower, but smitten with the "heimweh" —the home-sickness that makes us feel that we must get clearer sight of that land to which we truly belong.
Do we feel that where Jesus Christ is, is our home? We have, or have had, dear ones here on earth about whom we could say that where they were was home, wherever our abode might be. Are we saying the same thing about heaven and Jesus Christ? Do we feel that we are strangers here, not only because we, reflecting upon our character and capacities and on human life, see that all these require another life for their explanation and development, but because our hearts are knit to Him, and where our treasure is there our heart is also, and where our heart is, there we are. We go home when we come into communion with Jesus Christ. Do we ever, in the course of the rush of our daily work, think about the calm city beyond the sea, and about its King, and that we belong to it ?" Our citizenship is in heaven," and here we are strangers.
But we must carry the name of Moses' other child with us too, if the consciousness of being strangers here is not to pain and sadden us. In that name lies the secret of contemplating the homelessness of our souls, and the transiency of their transient dwelling place, and yet being glad. There is a beautiful addition to the phrase in one of the Psalms: "lam a stranger uith Thee, and a sojourner, as were all my fathers." If that Divine Companion is with us, it matters little whether we are in Pharaoh's palace or in a tent in the desert.
On the other hand, our hearts will not grasp God as our helper in any thorough and satisfying fashion unless and until they have steadfastly kept hold of the conviction that we are strangers here. When we feel the rush of the stream of time sweeping us away from all other moorings, we anchor ourselves in God. When other props are known to be unreliable, we rest our whole weight on the one strong central pillar which bears up the universe. When the floods are out, men flee to the high ounds.
That second conviction will illuminate perplexed and problematic providences. When Moses fled from Egypt he thought that his life's work was rent in twain, and when he found himself only a shepherd to an Arab Sheikh, he said to himself: "This is not my proper sphere; I am out of my element and thrown away here." But long before the forty years were over, he had learned to look more sanely, that is to say more thankfully, at his past and to say: "The God of my fathers was my help, and He delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh." What at first seemed disaster at last was discerned to be deliverance. So we, when we get away from our sorrows far enough can look back at them and say, "The mercy of the Lord compassed me about." Here is the key that unlocks all the perplexities of providence, "The Lord was my Helper."
And that conviction will steady and uphold in a present, however dark. It was no small exercise of his faith and patience that the great lawgiver should for so many years have such unworthy work to do as he had in Midian. But even then he gathered into his heart this confidence, and brought summer about him in the midwinter of his life, and light into the midst of darkness, "for he said"—even then, when there was no work for him to do that seemed much to need a divine help—" the Lord is my Helper." And so, however dark may be our present moment, and however obscure or repulsive our own tasks, let us fall back upon that old word, "Thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation."
When Moses named his boy, his gratitude was allied with faith in favours to come; and when he said "was," he meant also "will be." And he was right. He dreamt very little of what was coming, but this confidence that was expressed in his second child's name was warranted by that great future that lay before him, though he did not know it. When the pinch came his confidence faltered. It was easy to say "The Lord is my helper," when there was nothing very special for which God's help was needed, and nothing harder to do than to look after a few sheep in the wilderness. But when God said to him, "Go and stand before Pharaoh," Moses for the moment forgot all about God being his helper, and was full of all manner of cowardly excuses, which, like the excuses of a great many more of us for not doing our plain duty, took the shape of a very engaging modesty and diffidence as to his capacities. But God said to him, "Surely I will be with thee." He gave him back "Eliezer" in a little different form. "You used to say that I was your helper. What has become of your faith now? Has it all evaporated when the trial comes? Surely I will be with thee." If we will set ourselves to our tasks, not doubting God's help, we shall have occasion in the event to be sure that God did help us.
So, let us cherish these two thoughts, and never dwell on either without the other, and God will be
"Our help while troubles last,
And our eternal home."