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And all the congregation of the children of Israel jour
neyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journies, according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide you with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thec of the elders of Israel: and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.-Exodus xvii, 1, 2, 5, 6.
THE reconciliation of interrupted friendship is one of the chief delights of human life. The extatic pleasure of meeting again, after long absence, persons whom we dearly love, obliterates in a moment the pain of separation: and one hour of sweet communication compensates the langour, solicitude, and gloom of many years. After an interval of five months, I return, to converse with Moses, and to talk of him to you, with the satisfaction of one who has been upon a long journey, and, returning home, finds again those whom he left, those whom he loves; and finds them such as he wishes them to be. Let us, my dear friends, with increased ardor, affection, admiration and gra. titude, renew our intimacy with the venerable man to whom we are indebted for so much rational pleasure, and for so much useful instruction. Moses, thou prince of historians, sublimest of poets, sagest of legislators, clearest-sighted of prophets, most amiable of men! To thee we owe our knowledge of the ages beyond the flood! Thou first taughtest to string the sacred lyre, and to adapt the high praises of God to the enchanting concord of sweet sounds. By thee, king in Jeshurun, all succeeding princes have been instructed how to govern; and lawgivers are formed to political wisdom and sagacity. By thee, Jews were led to expect, and Gentiles are encouraged to rejoice in MESSIAH, the great prophet, after thy similitude; by whom alone thou art excelled. And by thee, sweetest, meekest, gentlest of mankind, the endearing charities of private life are most engagingly exemplified, and most powerfully recommended. But chiefly thee, O Spirit! thee only, we adore,
.6 Who didst inspire
Rose out of chaos.” Whatever wisdom we may have learned, whatever pleasure we may have enjoyed, whatever comfort we possess, whatever hope we feel-all, all is of thee, pure, eternal, unchanging source of light and life and joy:
Moses, in the passage of his writings which I have now read, is carrying on his own interesting, eventful history. At the head of the myriads of Israel, he is now pursuing his march from Egypt to Canaan, following a guide who could not mislead them, and whom they could not mistake; protected by a power, which, like a wall of fire, bid defiance to every threatening foe; and from day to day supplied by a bounty incapable of being exhausted. All these present and singular advantages, had the sweetness of hope mingled with them. They had just escaped from the most humiliating and oppressive of all servitude, and they were hastening to the inheritance of their fathers: yet we find them a people as peevish, irritable, and difficult to please, as if they had never known adversity, and as if they had just issued from the lap of ease and indulgence.' To day, the bread is dry and stale; tomorrow, the water is bitter; the third day, there is a scarcity of it. The water is sweetened; manna de. scends; quails fall around their camp; but there is still "a cruel something unpossessed,” and all that went before is forgotten; all that is in possession becomes insipid. Bestow on the ungrateful persons nine hundred and ninety-nine favours, and withhold the thousandth, and all you have done for him is lost. The present pressure always seems the heaviest. Mouldy bread and brackish water in the wilderness, are considered as evils more intolerable than all the rigours of slavery in Egypt.
Where does this censure fall? On that moody murmuring race, the Jews, and on them only? Alas! it overwhelms ourselves, it bears hard, not upon indivi. duals here and there, but upon mankind!
mankind! We expect more from the world than it possibly can bestow; and, when we discover its insufficiency, we charge God foolishly; and because we have not every thing that we wish, we are satisfied with nothing. Solacing ourselves, like Jonah, under the shadow of a gourd, we fancy it is a perennial shelter. We see not the worm which is gnawing its root; and when it is smitten down and withers, we are ready to say, with the sullen, testy prophet, “We do well to be angry.”
But, was the want of water a slight evil? And, is it sinful to complain under the pressure of a calamity like this? And, was this the first time Israel had been in distress, and found relief? Who was it that sweetened the waters of Marah? Who divided the Red Sea? Who rained bread from heaven? And, who ever mended his condition by murmuring and discontent? Had God intended to destroy that people, why all this exertion of a strong hand, and stretched out arm to deliver them? God in the failure of our earthly comforts intends not our mortification and ruin, but our wisdom and improvement. He thereby teaches us our dependence; it summons us to the observation of his provi. dence; and levels, not the hope and joy, but the pride and self-sufficiency of man.
Water! precious fluid! infinitely more valuable than the blood of the grape, than rivulets of oil, or honey from the rock; refreshed, sustained every moment by thee, we are every moment wasting, neglecting, forgetting thee. We prize thee not, because of thy rich abundance; and, because thou enterest into every other mean of food and comfort, thy importance is unobserved, thy benefits forgotten. May I never know thy value from the want of thee.
“ There was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide you with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?” If in their calmest moments men are often incapable of reasoning justly, and distinguishing accurately, is it any wonder to find then, in the very tide and whirlwind of passion, acting foolishly and unreasonably? Who would envy pre-eminence such as that which Moses enjoyed? Is glory obtained? He comes in but for a moderate share. Is blame incurred, or distress felt? All is imputed to him. To what a severe trial was the temper of this meekest of all men now put! What so provoking as to meet with censure when we are conscious of meriting praise? What so galling as to have the calamities of others charged upon us as crimes; to be accused as culpable, merely because we have been anfortunate?
Surely the great are set in “slippery places;” and “unieasy must the head lie that wears a crown.
We see Moses flying in the hour of danger, whither the people ought to have fled in the hour of their af. fiction. “ He cried unto the Lord.” Religion opens a refuge when every other refuge fails; and it administers a remedy to ills otherwise incurable. I trem. ble for the life of Moses. He trembles for himself. “They are almost ready to stone me.” The voice of Jehovah is again heard, and Moses is in safety. But, I tremble now, for these murmuring, unbelieving, rebellious Israelites: Is not the thunder of His indignation going to burst out? Is not the fire hastening to consume? Or, is the earth going to open her mouth, and swallow them quick up into the pit? Behold a solemn preparation is making! But it is an arrangement of love. It is the voice of God I hear: but it speaks mercy
The tremendous rod of God, wherewith he bruised and broke Egypt, is again employed; but not as the instrument of punishment to Israel. It smites, not a sinful people, but the flinty rock; and it draws forth, not a stream of blood from the heart of the offender, but a stream of water to cool his tongue, and to restore his fainting soul. Surely, O Lord, “thy ways are not as our ways: for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are thy ways higher than our ways, and thy thoughts than our thoughts," Isa. lv. 8, 9. “Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but towards thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off,” Rom. xi. 22. Astonishing instance of the power and sove. reignty of the Most High! The same rod which smote the river, and it became blood, smites the rock, and it becomes streams of water. Who is to be feared, who is to be trusted, but the God who can do these great things?
How honourable had it been for Israel, to have had