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HISTORY OF MOSES.
DEUTERONOMY XXXI. 1. . And this is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his
death. SENECA, the celebrated Roman moralist, was preceptor to the Emperor Nero, and had early and studiously trained him to virtue. But falling under the displeasure of that sanguinary tyrant, he was condemned to lose his life, by being blooded to death. The day of execution being arrived, he prepared to meet his fate with intrepidity, and to die as he had lived, in communicating useful knowledge. His pupils gathered round him, eager to mark his dying deportment, and provided with their writing tables, to record and preserve his last sayings. He was put into the warm bath, the arteries of his legs and arms were opened, and the purple fluid which sustains life, gradually drained off, while his sorrowing, admiring disciples caught the words as they fell from his parched lips.
But a greater than Seneca is here. We are this night gathered round a dying Moses, to listen to the last accents of that tongue which, once excepted, spake as never man spake. We behold him neither impetuously rushing forwards into the mortal couflict, nor timidly shrinking from it; but advancing with a steady, majestic step to meet the king of terrors. The interests of the God of Israel, and of the Israel of God, had employed his thoughts all his life long; and, blended in one, they glow in and expand his heart to his latest moment. He was speedily to cease from every earthly care, to cease from serving Israel any longer, to be occupied with God only; but even in death he is contriving the means of doing good to that dearly beloved, that fondly cherished people. As if his heart had relented at the harshness of some of the expressions which fidelity and a sense of duty had extorted from him; like one unwilling to part with them under any semblance of unkindness or displeasure, he again assumes the tender father, tunes his tongue to the law of kindness, buries all resentment of the past, and every thing unpleasant, in the prospects of futurity, in the gentleness and benevolence of friends who were separating to meet no more.
The soul that is at peace with God desires to be at peace with all men; and it is meet that dying breath be sweetened with mercy, forgiveness and love. Slowly and solemnly as Moscs advanced to meet his latter end, would we accompany his steps in his last progress through the beloved tents of Israel, and in his ascent to the bill, from whence he never should return. With a heart like his, overflowing with charity to the whole church of God, and filled with sentiments of peculiar affection towards you, we behold the approach of that hour which is to disperse us, perhaps too forever. With a blessing on our lips, like hiin, and O that his God and ours may make it effectual, we are hastening to bid you farewell.
The words which I have read are the beginning of the 54th and last parasha, or great section of the law, into which the whole books of Moses were subdivided, for the conveniency of publickly reading them, in conjunction with the prophets, every sabbath day: a custom which prevailed in the Jewish church, down to the times of our Saviour and his apostles, as we learn from several passagrs of the gospel history. Thus Christ himself, “ when he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, as his custom was, went into the synagogue, og the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor : he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised : to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and be gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears."'* Thus James, in determining the question in the synod of Jerusalem, concerning the necessity of circumcision, says, “ Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”+ And Paul and Barnabas, when they came to Antioch, in Pisidia, went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on."
The first section begins with the opening of the book of Genesis, and goes up to the ninth verse of the sixth chapter, and is called Bereshit, the first word in the Hebrew bible. The second begins at these words in the sixth chapter, “ These are the generations of Noah :" and is thence called Noah, and ends at the beginning of chapter twelfth, which sets out with the call of Abraham, and is therefore styled the section Lec Leca, i. e. “ Get thee out," and so of the rest. To bring the whole fifty-four divisions within the compass of the year, they joined two of the shortest into one reading. Thus the whole constitution, both as to civil and sacred things, was publickly rehearsod once every year; so that it was impossible for any decent Israelite to be grossly ignorant of either the laws, the history, or the religion of his country,
The first publick lecture was on the sabbath that followed the feast of tabernacles, and went on till the anniversary of that feast returned. I have mentioned these circumstances for several reasons. I am not ill pleased to have so respectable an example for attempting a mode of instruction which reason and experience convince us to be at once the most pleasant and the most useful. I honour human learning, I admire great talents, I am enchanted with eloquence ; but I am persuaded, if saving knowledge be communicated, it is by the quick and powerful energy of God's word coming, not with the allurements of man's wisdom,“ but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power.” This leads us to express a wonder why the reading of the scriptures by large portions at a time is not universally practised in christian congregations. Surely there must be a better reason for neglecting it, than that it is enjoined by the canons of the church, and is in general practice in the establishment. The last reason I have at present to render for this digression, if it be thought
* Luke iv. 16–21.
tActs xv. 21
| Acts xiii. 14. 15.
one, is its affording me an opportunity of earnestly recommending to masters and mistresses of families, the regular and progressive use of the scriptures, within the precincts of their private households, for the instruction of their children and servants. I am well aware that from a diffidence and humility not too severely to be blamed, some younger heads of families are teinpted to neglect family worship altogether, because some parts of it they cannot, dare not undertake; that for example, of addressing God in prayer, as the mouth of their domestic little church. Let them begin with reading aloud the word of God: for this surely they have courage sufficient. They will be brought to pray insensibly, they will soon cease to be ashamed of that which is their highest honour and most glorious privilege. We now return.
The idea I have formed to myself of " this blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death,'* how justly I presuine not to say, is this: Moses, having received his final summons to prepare for death, feels himself prompted at once by affection and the spirit of prophecy, to take a particular leave of every tribe, to bestow a several benediction on every one by name, and to prepare them one by one for the conquest of their inheritance, by giving them prophetically a general notion of their future condition, as constituent parts of the commonwealth of Israel, and of the particular lot to be assigned to each, with its corresponding advantages and pursuits. For this purpose I suppose him making a solemn progress through the whole host, going, from tribe to tribe, from tent to tent, and pouring out his soul, as a dying parent, in blessings upon his offspring, according to their different characters and conditions. O how unlike these visits of selfishness, pride, ambition and strife, which the candidates for fame, place and power, are from time to time, making through a corrupted land! Let us attend his progress, and mark what he says.
We find Moses siill beginning, proceeding, concluding with God. He sets out on this last awful circuit, with a mind full of the glorious majesty of the great Jehovah. He calls to his own remembrance, and impresses the image of it on the souls of the whole people, that great and dreadful day " when the Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir, unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints : from his right hand went a fiery law for them.”+ The particular mention of Seir and Paran in this exordium, has given birth to a poor conceit in the Jerusalem Targum, to this purpose, “that God first offered his law, and the protection which it afforded, to the Idumeans, the inhabitants of Mount Seir, and the posterity of Esau, but that they rejected it, because it contained this precept, “Thou shalt not kill.” That asterwards it was tendered to the Ishmaelites, or inhabitants of Mount Paran, who rejected it, because it said, “Thou shalt not steal.” That then it was proposed to the posterity of Jacob who immediately replied, “ All that the Lord hath commanded will we do, and be obedient." Without having recourse to a construction so unsupported, forced and unnatural, the words of Moses, at the first glance, convey to us an image inconceivably grand and sublime, but at the same time simple, natural and obvious. Israel was encamped in the plains of Moab, with Jordan and the fertile fields of Canaan directly in view : the prospect on the south terminated by the lofty mountains of Teman or Seir; and on the north by Mount Paran, while Sinai raised its awful head, and buried it in the clouds of heaven from behind. Moses accordingly represents, in the bold imagery of oriental poetry, the glory of the Lord arising like the sun in the east, from behind the top of Sinai, and instantly darting his light from hill to hill, and increasing in lustre till the whole expanse of heaven is filled with it. The prophet Habakkuk
* Deut. xxxiii. 1.
+ Deut, xxxii. 2.
has evidently caught the same celestial fire, is filled with the same animating object, when he exclaims, “ God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran, Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. And his brightness was as the light, he had horns coming out of his hand, and there was the hiding of his power. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth, at his feet. He stood and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations, and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow : his ways are everlasting."
But what are mountains and hills, and their inhabitants ? Moses represents the great God as arising in unclouded majesty amidst ten thousand of his holy ones. “Angels, bis ministers, that excel in strength," the least of whom “ could wield these elements." His red right hand is extended, presenting to the astonished beholder a law, a fiery law, a fire that purifies, a fire that consumes. But the terror of this dreadful appearance is instantly lost, in a display of the grace and mercy which prompted this splendid visit. “ Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand : and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words.”+ Here we behold the legislator lost in the friend, and, instead of distractedly, despairingly calling upon “ the mountains to fall upon us, and the hills to cover us,” we sit down in tranquillity at the feet of our gracious teacher, and every one for himself listens to the language of love.
Moses first approaches the tents of the tribe of Reuben, and having introduced himself by these solemn, striking words, he proceeds to his particular salutation of that tribe. “Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few." } Concerning the head of that tribe, his dying father had prophetically denounced, “ Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel ;" but the blessing of Moses seems to wipe the blot out of the scutcheon, and Reuben seems restored to his rank in Israel again. Reuben alone of the sons of Jacob pitied Joseph in his distress, and contrived the means of restoring him to his father again. This redeems him and his family from infamy and destruction, and we are disposed to drown the memory of his lewdness, in respect for his tenderness and humanity.
Who stands next on the roll of Jacob's sons ? To whom is the second salutation due ? Simeon. But ah! we see the curse of a dying father upon him ; we see Moses passing by his door without bidding him God speed; we see the blood of the Shechemites, the innocent, credulous Shechemites, lying with an oppressive weight upon his seed; we see a tribe of fifty-nine thousand three hundred in the wilderness of Sinai, melted down and reduced to twenty-two thousand two hundred in the plains of Moab; we see no judge or magistrate in future times springing from his loins; we see him “ divided in Jacob, and scattered in Israel," and in all this we see the vengeance of a righteous God pursuing a cool and deliberate murderer to utter ruin, and we think of the more dreadful weight of that blood which a hardhearted race imprecated upon themselves and their children ; and which the shame and sufferings of one thousand eight hundred years have not yet expiated. What must the sons of Simeon have felt when their dying leader passed them by, without vouchsafing them a word ; to find themselves alone unblessed of all the children of their father's house! Speak to me, () merciful Father, in whatever language thou wilt: chide, upbraid, chastise me; but o pass me not by in silent neglect : cease not to reprove me: say not, “Let him alone.”
The dying prophet passes next to the standard of the tribe of Judah,
* Habak. iii. 3-6.
+ Deut. xxxiii. 3.
Deut. xxxiv. 6.
Judah, destined to empire, increase and strength, Judah, the father of many princes. The root and offspring of David. “And this is the blessing of Judah : and he said, Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah ; and bring him unto his people : let his hands be sufficient for him, and be thou an help to him from his enemies."* These words of Moses send us again to the dying bed of Jacob, and we find both patriarchs holding the same idea concerning this prerogative tribe, strength invincible, triumph over every foe, supreme authority; and we find ourselves led still farther back, to Leah, his inother, in childbirth, bestowing on this her fourth son a name expressive of her personal exultation and triumph ; “ Judah, praise the Lord," and thence to the infinitely glorious design of Providence, which has swallowed up the transient, private feeling of the individual, in the great and comprehensive view of general compassion and favour, and the source of universal gratitude and praise ; and, borne on the wings of inspiration, we rise, with the beloved disciple in vision, to contemplate the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, prevailing to open the sealed book, in the right hand of Him that sits on the throne, and loosing the seven seals thereof." And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne, and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb, as it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven cyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.”. “ And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation ; and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests : and we shall reign on the earth.”+
Thus we behold all that is great and magnificent among men, bringing its glory and honour, and laying it at the feet of Jesus; and all that is past and present lost in the immensity and importance of that which is to come.
He now approaches the priestly tribe of Levi, his kinsmen and friends according to the flesh, and copiously bestows his valedictory benediction upon them, in these remarkable words, “Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massab, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah: who said unto his father, and to his mother, I have not seen him, neither did he acknowledge bis brethren, por knew his own children : for they have observed thy word and kept thy covenant. They shall teach Jacob thy judgements, and Israel thy law : shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar. Bless, Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again."i
Levi had been a partaker with Simeon, in shedding the blood of the Shechemites, and had fallen under the same condemnation ; but their spirit and zeal in expiating the guilt of the golden calf by the blood of its idolatrous worshippers, has removed the stain, and restored their own blood again, and the dreadful sentence, “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel," as far as it affects thein, is from a curse turned into a blessing. They are divided in Jacob, and scattered in Israel, but it is honourably to themselves, and usefully to others; as the priests of the Lord, and the instructers of the people. Why may we not suppose Eleazer the high priest, arrayed in his sacerdotal vestments, standing at the head of his tribe to receive the salu
* Deut. xxxiii. 7.