« PreviousContinue »
trary institutions derive all their value and use from a right understanding of their meaning, and the design of their author, express words are put into the mouths of parents and heads of families for the instruction of generations to come, in the nature and reason of this solemn service. “ And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, This is done, because of that which the Lord did unto me, when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee, upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the Lord's law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt. And it shall be when thy son asketh thee, in time to come, saying, What is this?that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of beasts: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the first-born of my children I redeem.”
Hence it appears that, besides this great annual sacrifice, a law was enacted at this time, though it was not to be enforced until they should be put in possession of the promised land, that in grateful remembrance of God's passing over their first-born when he destroyed those of Egypt, the first-born of the human species, and also of the brute creation, through every age, should be dedicated and set apart as a sacred property. The great legislator was pleased afterwards, by a particular injunction, to appropriate to himself one whole tribe out of the twelve, in room of the first-born out of every tribe, to minister unto him, in holy things; and in this ordinance the church of God, at that early period, both exhibited and enjoyed an emblematical representation of the evangelical priesthood; not vested in and exclusively belonging to a particular description of men, but the common cha
racter and dignity of all christians; a “generation chosen of God, in Christ, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people—that they should show forth the praises of Him, who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light.” And they are introduced before the throne, with this song of praise in their mouths, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." Rev. i. 5, 6.
Is it not worth while to compare, seeing the Spirit of God has thought it meet to transmit to us the very numbers, the entire state of Israel, as it were, at the time of its descent into Egypt, and at its departure thence? The whole number which accompanied Jacob from Canaan, when driven thence by the famine, himself included, was sixty-six; which, added to the family of Joseph already in Egypt, consisting of himself, Asenath the daughter of the priest of On, adopted by marriage into the family of Abraham, and their two sons, the amount is seventy, when they left that country. In a period of little more than two hundred years, they are increased to the amazing sum of six hundred thousand men, of military age, without reckoning females, children of both sexes under twenty, and old men of sixty and upward: for that was the age of superannuation among this people. Taking therefore the calculation so low as four of all the other descriptions for one of the military age, that is, males from twenty to sixty, the whole number of the descendants of Abraham that left Egypt must have been at least three millions. So that, dividing the whole time of their sojourning there into periods of twenty years, it appears that their number was multiplied nearly three times every twenty years. Now if we consider, that the cost rapid state of population in the ordi. nary course of nature, and in circumstances the most favourable to it, is a doubling the number of inhabitants every twenty years; and that only in the earlier ages of a people or colony; what must we think of this amazing increase in circumstances the most unfavourable: in a people cooped up in a narrow district, and that district not their own, but the property of a nation much more powerful than themselves; a people among whom marriage was grievously discouraged by the want of liberty, by hard and oppressive labour, by subjection to the despotism of a foreign prince, by penal edicts which doomed all their male children to death, and by which, doubtless, multitudes perished, together with their natural increase? The multiplication of Israel in a proportion so great, in a progress so rapid, in a situation so unfriendly, will be in reality found a miracle, though less striking to a superficial observation, being gradually and imperceptibly performed, upon closer attention, a prodigy equal or superior to any that were wrought in immediately effecting their enfranchisement. And this leads us to the grateful acknowledgment of God's wise and gracious providence, in its ordinary operations and effects. What is daily preservation but creation-one omnific
LET THERE BE,” daily, every instant repeated? What is the progress of vegetation, of life and reason, but the continual interposition of the great Source of all being,
, life and intelligence? What is dissolution and death, but the supporting, vivifying power of God withdrawn from the body which is just now inhabited?
This vast host was accompanied with what Moses calls a mixed multitude. This is supposed to have been made up of the produce of marriages between Israelites and Egyptians; of Egyptians, who, from the mi. racles which they had seen wrought in favour of Israel, had been determined to follow the fortunes of that people; and of neighbours who, in the ordinary intercourse of mankind, might be brought into contact with them, and who through fear, interest or curiosity, might be induced to follow their camp.
Man, with his usual ignorance and haste, would have been for conducting this mighty army directly to Canaan. And no doubt the same almighty arm which had thus asserted them into liberty, could have led them straight forward to conquest. But in studying the history of the divine conduct as ordering and governing the affairs of men, we find it is composed partly of the interposition of Heaven, and partly of the exertions of men. It is not all miracle; that were to encourage eternal indolence and stupidity in rational beings, formed after the image of God, and to reduce men to mere passive clods of earth; nor is it all, on the other hand, the effect of human skill, industry and diligence; for that were to resign the government of the world to the frail and the foolish; that were to weaken the power of religion, which is the life, the joy, the guide, the support of the universe. But we discover divine interposition, to a certain degree, so as to inspire a reasonable confidence in and dependence upon God; and we discern the exertions of men crowned with success through the blessing of Heaven upon them, and this enforcing the necessity of bringing out and exercising the powers and faculties of our intellectual nature. Israel is delivered from Egypt at once; but is introduced into Canaan by degrees. The former act of sovereign power, unmixed with, independent upon human efforts; the latter, the less perceptible operation of Omnipotence, blending itself with, subduing, directing and promoting the designs and endeavours of reasonable beings, who had a great object in view, and a clear rule to walk by. Thus, in a case of universal importance, the justification and adoption of the sinner, are acts of free, sovereign grace, whereby sin is forgiven, and the right and privileges of sons conferred; whereas sanctification is the gradual work of the Spirit, supporting us by the way,
overcoming our enemies by little and little, and mak. ing us“ meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
A great multitude of people is always an object of serious attention, and of deep anxiety. Many nouths were to be fed, many humours to be studied, many talents to be employed. Some were to be gained by love, others to be governed by fear; the impetuosity of one was to be repressed, the timidity and diffidence of another to be countenanced and encouraged; care was to be exercised about those who were either unable or unwilling to exercise any about themselves. What a charge then was that of Moses and Aaron! bearing on their shoulders the burden of such an assembly; a vast multitude agitated with the ordinary passions of human nature; unarmed, unaccustoined to discipline, untractable; one moment elated with extravagant hopes, the next depressed with unscasonable fears. The wisdom of a Moses had been unequal to the task, unsupported by the Wisdom which sees all things at one view, and the Power which “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
There is a happy disposition in all the evils to which our nature and condition are subject, to find out and to apply their own remedy. Necessity always sets in. vention to work. Invention puts the machine in motion; and once in motion, every wheel keeps its place, exerts its power, performs its office. But here the mighty machine, prepared in all its parts according to the plan of infinite wisdom, put together and regulated by the hand of almighty power, and conducted by unchangeable truth and faithfulness, could not vary its motion, could not deviate from its design: and the pas. sage of perhaps four millions of people, with their immense possessions of Alocks and herds, and other property, from Egypt to Canaan, will appear one of those singular phenomena in history, which no principles of human conduct, no natural and ordinary concurrence