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of the venerable hand which formed and reared it, and of the lapse of so many years which had stamped respect upon it," he brake in pieces the bra. zen serpent which Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did bura incense to it, and he called it Nehushtan,"'* by way of contempi piece of brass.
On this part of the history of Moses, pagan antiquity has founded the fabulous history of Esculapius, the pretended god of medicine, whose symbol was a serpent twisted round a rod. The learned have, through a variety of particulars, traced the derivation of the fable from the fact ; but to repeat them, would rather minister to curiosity than to instruction and improvement. We dismiss the subject, then, with this general remark, that in more respects than is commonly apprehended, and than it has had the candour to acknowledge, is pagan literature indebted to the sacred volume ; that the wisdom of Egypt, of Babylon, of Greece and of Rome is traceable up to this source ; that Moses is, of course, to be considered as the father of profane, as of saered learning, from whom all subsequent historians, legislators, orators and poets have derived the lights which directed them in their several pursuits ; that to the pure source of all wisdom, the revelation from heaven, in a word, the world is indebted for the first principles of science, morality and religion ; which appear to the attentive and discerning eye through the mist in which credulous ignorance or bold fiction have involved them.
Let us hence be encouraged to revere the scriptures, to search and compare them; to derive our opinions of religious subjects from that sacred source, instead of forcing the truth of God into an awkward supporter of our preconceived opinions. Above all, let it be our concern to regulate our conduct by the laws which scripture has laid down, and to comfort our hearts by the hope it inspires, and the prospeets which it has unfolded. Amen.
*2 Kings xviii. 4.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
NUMBERS XXVII. 12, 13, 14.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes. That is the water of Meribah in Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin.
There is something peculiarly interesting in hearing a plain, honest, intelligent man, without vanity, or self-sufficiency, or of affected humility, talking of himself; going into the detail of his own history, with the same fidelity and simplicity as if it were the history of a stranger; unfolding his heart without reserve, disclosing his faults and infirmities without palliation, recording his wise and virtuous actions without ostentation ; and relating events, with all their little circumstances, according to the feelings which they excited at the moment.
It is pleasant to see an old man, with his faculties unimpaired, bis spirits cheerful, his temper sweet, his conscience clear, his prospects bright; enjoying life without fearing death; blending the modesty and benevolence of youth with the wisdom and dignity of age. There is a double satisfaction in hearing such a one describe persons whom he knew, scenes in which he acted, expeditions which he conducted, schemes which he planned and executed.
And such an one was Moses, who having, by divine inspiration made the ages and generations before the flood to pass in review, and unfolded the history of redemption, in its connexion with the system of nature and the ways of Providence, during a period of two thousand five hundred years ; having adınitted us to his familiarity and friendly instruction during an eventful life of one hundred and twenty years, is now, with the same calmness and ease, admitting us to contemplate his behaviour in the immediate prospect, and up to the very hour of his death.
The idolatrous defection of Israel in the plains of Moab, had been visited with a plague which swept away twenty-four thousand of them. Immediately on the staying of that terrible calamity, Moses is commanded, with the assistance of Eleazer the high priest, to take the number of the people, from twenty years old and upwards, and to compare the muster-roll of the day, with that taken in the wilderness of Sinai, thirty-eight years before. This being done with all possible accuracy, two most singular facts turn up, each singular, considered separately and by itself, and both most singular, taken in connexion one with another. In a multitude so great, and at the distance
of thirty-eight years, the whole difference is no more than one thousand eight hundred and twenty men : for at the former period, the number of men of a military age was six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty; and at the latter, six hundred and one thousand seven hundred and thirty. But though the strength of the host was nearly the saine, the individuals whereof it was composed were totally changed ; two names alone of so many myriads stood upon both lists, Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nup, for Moses himself was under sentence of condemnation ; he was not to be permitted to pass over Jordan; he is already numbered with the dead.
The course of nature, it is true, is continually producing a similar effect on the human race, upon the whole; but there is a degree of exactness in this instance, not to be accounted for on common principles, and which must be resolved into a special interposition of Providence, which had pronounced the doom of death on the whole body of offenders, in the moment of transgression, and at the same instant, promised the reward of fidelity and obedience to those illustrious two; longevity and the possession of Canaan. Vain therefore is the hope of so much as one guilty person escaping in a crowd, groundless the fear of singular goodness suffering in the midst of many wickea.
It is related of Xerxes, king of Persia, much to the honour of his humanity, that surveying from an eminence the vast army with which he was advancing to the invasion of Greece, he burst into tears to think that in less than one hundred years they should all be cut off from the land of the living, What then, O Moses, were the emotions of thy soul, to see the event which Xerxes but aoticipated, realized before thine eyes ? To walk through the ranks of Israel without meeting one man who followed thee out of Egypt, with whom thou couldst mingle the tears of sympathy over so many fallen, or remind of the joy and wonder of that great deliverance? Is not that man already dead, who has survived all his contemporaries ? A consideration, among many others, powerfully calculated to reconcile the mind to the thoughts of dissolution, and to impress on the soul the sentiment of the wise man concerning the world, “I hate it, I would not live always."
Long life, however, is not the less to be considered as a blessing. The love of it is a constitutional law of our nature; and the promise of it is annexed to the sanctions of the written law, as a motive to obedience: “Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,'* and it is here bestowed as a reward on the faithful. Premature death, in like manner, is an object of natural horror, is threatened in anger, and inflicted as a punishment. "The wicked shall not live half his days, and his memory shall rot.” In general, a wise and merci ful God hides from the eyes of men the era of their departure out of the world. The bitterness of death consists in the foretaste, and the forerunners of that great enemy. That bitterness, in its full proportion, was wrung out, and mingled in the cup of Moses. The death of every Israelite was a deathwarning to him. He had lately ascended Mount Hor with Aaron his brother, stript him of his garments, closed his eyes to his last long sleep, and descended without him; and Mount Hor is only a few steps distant from Mount Abarim, and his own summons comes at length. He is respited, not pardoned, and a reprieve of forty years is now expired.
It is in that awful, trying hour, we are at this time to trace the character and mark the behaviour of the man of God.
From the moment he fell under the divine displeasure wbich shortened the date of his life, we observe it lying with an oppressive weight upon his mind. The love of life manifests itself, and we behold, in the prophet, the
* Exod. x. 12,
man of like passions with ourselves. There is no incident of his life on which he dwells so much, and with such earnestness of interest as this. The history of his offence is again and again repeated, not in the view of extenuating the guilt of it, but to vindicate the righteous judgement of God. The excellence of this part of his narrative, is its departing from the direct line of narration. He hastens forward to bring it early into view ; he returns again upon his footsteps, and presents it a second time to view. Is he reminding Israel of their rebellion and disobedience ? his own transgression, and the punishment of it, arise and stare him in the face. Is he encouraging them in their progress towards the promised land ? he sighs to think that he himself shall never enter into it. At one time he flatters himself with the hope that justice might perhaps relent, and presumes to expostulate and entreat, in terms earnest and pathetic, such as these ; “O Lord God, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness and thy mighty hand; for what god is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon."*
At another time, he seems quietly to give up the cause as lost, and patiently prepares to meet his fate, and meekly resigns himself to the will of the Most High, which he was unable to alter. In a word, we see him at once the man and the believer, and a pattern well worthy of imitation in both respects.
It is impossible to observe the conflict of Moses's soul, when this cup of trembling was put into his hands, without thinking of the bitter agony in the garden, of the travail of the Redeemer's soul, of that passionate address, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me"-of “ sweat like great drops of blood falling down to the ground,"t-of the triumph of resignation, “ nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done"-of “ humiliation to death, the death of the cross." Thus it “ behoved him to fulfil all righteousness." Thus he taught men to obey the law of God, to use all lawful endeavours to preserve life; and thus he inculcated submission to that sovereign will which it is unprofitable and impious to resist.
6 Get thee up," said God to Moses, “ into this Mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel ;"I and this is all that the law can do for the guilty ; it conducts to an adjoining eminence, it spreads a distant prospect of Canaan, it can display its beauty and fertility, it can inspire the desire of possession : but it cannot divide Jordan, it cannot lead to victory over the last enemy, it cannot make " the comer thereunto perfect," nor establish the soul in everlasting rest. Neither Moses, the giver of the law, nor Aaron, the high priest, under the law, could “ continue by reason of death.” But the Apostle and High Priest of our profession is “entered into the holiest of all,” has opened a passage through the gates of death, to life and immortality ; lifted up, first upon the cross, and then to his throne in the heavens, he is drawing all men unto him.
Together with the honest though fond attachment to life, which characterizes the man, and the pious resignation which marks the child of God, Moses discovers, on this occasion, that excellent spirit which sinks and loses the individual in the public. He cheerfully gives up his personal suit, and the cause of Israel henceforth engrosses him whoily. “And Moses spake unto the Lord, saying, Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them
* Deut. üi. 24, 25.
+ Luke xxii. 42–44.
Lev. xvii, 12, 13
in ; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd."*
Let modern patriots think of this, and blush at their pride and selfishness. But they are lost to all sense of decency, they keep each other in countenance by their multitude and confidence, and "glory in their shame." This noble conduct of the Jewish legislator was not the affectation of virtue and public spirit, the ostentatious boasting of a man who had no prospect, or a distant one of being put to the trial; but the native greatness and superiority of a mind occupied with two grand objects, the glory of God and the good of his country; a mind that could rejoice in the advancement of an inferiour, and decrease with inward satisfaction while the other increased. Ordinary men look with an evil eye upon their successors. A prince and his heir, though that heir be his own son, generally live upon indifferent terms; but Moses sees his dignity departing from himself in his life time, departing from his family, given to his servant, without a murmur, without a sigh. It was enough to him that God had been pleased to adopt Joshua, for the purpose of finishing his work, of introducing Israel into their inheritance. It is no sooner intimated to him, than Joshua becomes his son, his brother, his friend : and he proceeds to his iastallation with as much alacrity, as he invested Aaron with the pontifical robes.
This solemn ceremony consisted of a variety of circumstances, which are well worthy of our attention; from their being of divine appointment, from their great antiquity, from their inexplicable mysteriousness, or their obvious significancy. Joshua was already anointed with the unction of the Spirit: he was a person of singular piety, undaunted resolution, and unshaken fidelity: he had long attended upon Moses as his minister, had accompanied him into the mount, when he ascended to meet God, had traversed the land of Canaan as one of the spies, had brought up its good report, and stood firm with Caleb in resisting the timid and discouraging representations of his cola leagues. He possessed all the qualities natural, acquired, and miraculously dispensed, which were requisite to the discharge of the duties of that high and important station to which Providence was now calling him. By the spirit which is said to have been in Joshua, some understand the spirit of prophecy, or supernatural powers of foreseeing and providing for future events. By taking in every circumstance, it seems rather to denote those rare gifts with which nature had so liberally endowed him; wisdom, and courage, and strength, and which Providence was now calling forth for the general benefit. But though thus amply furnished for his great undertaking, God was pleased to command a solemn and public declaration of his choice, and that the object of it should, before the eyes of the people, be set apart by the imposition of the hands of Moses to the office assigned him.
Forms are necessary, because men are not spiritual ; forms are interposed, that the understanding, the heart, and the conscience may be approached through the channels of sense. And of all forms, recommended by divine authority, and its own significant simplicity, that of the laying on of hands is one of the most ancient, most frequently in use, and most striking. By this solemn rite, the devoted victim was set apart for death, and the guilt of the offerer transferred, as it were, and laid upon the head of the oblation : and thus were the minister of the sanctuary, the general, the statesman, dedicated to the duties of their respective stations ; thus new and extraordinary powers were conferred upon Joshua: thus Jesus took leave of his disciples, and left a blessing behind him, more precious than the mantle of Elijah. “He led them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands and blessed them.”
* Numb. xxvii. 15–17.
+ Luke xxiv. 50.