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well-known, and generally interesting national government; or, as forming a part of the plan of a divine administration, whose force can never be spent, whose influence on human virtue and happiness can never expire.
God has “ spoken once in his holiness,” in a sensi. ble manner, has made himself seen, heard and felt by a whole people together. But it is neither consistent with his dignity, nor favourable to man's improvement, that he should always or often make himself known in that manner. He has spoken thus once, that every hearer might have a personal reason for acknowledg. ing and adoring the dread Jehovah, the Fountain of all power,
supreme Author of every establishment. And he speaks thus but seldom, that all men may learn to revere conscience, his vicegerent upon earth, to study his word, the interpreter of his nature and will; and to respect and “be subject to the powers which be ordained of God, not only for wrath but for conscience sake.” Directions are accordingly given to ratify the covenant, not by the whole people in person, but by their representatives. The persons summoned to attend on this great occasion, are; first, Moses himself, who was to represent the Mediator between the high contracting parties; then Aaron and his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, who represented the Levitical body or order of priesthood; and finally, seventy of the elders of Israel, who were to act in the name of the congregation at large. When we observe the names of Nadab and Abihu in this respectable list, and look forward to their dreadful and untimely end, we are led to a reflection of no small importance in studying the sacred volume; namely, that the destination of Providence in raising particular persons to eminent, honourable and important stations in civil society, is something extremely different from “the election according to grace.” A Cyrus and a Nebuchadnezzar may be the servants of God, to execute his vengeance or his
love, without knowing any thing of their Employer; and their private and personal character may remain unaffected by their public conduct. The man according to God's own heart, in the view of some great object of public utility, has sometimes been found dishonouring God by private vice, and degrading, destroying himself, while he has been materially serving the world. This most serious consideration dictated to the great apostle of the Gentiles that necessary rule of conduct. “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away,” i Cor. ix. 27. And it is a loud call to every one who acts in a public capacity, to support and adorn it by private virtue and unaffected piety.
While the great God was thus putting honour on these seventy three persons in the eyes of all the people, he sees it necessary to put and to keep them in mind of their distance and depen. dence; “ Worship ye afar off: Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but they shall not come nigh.
This message being reported to the people, they express their cheerful and unanimous consent.
« All the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do,” Verse : 3. Moses upon this reduces into writing the articles of the treaty between God and the people, to be recited aloud in the hearing of all the parties concerned; previous to the solemnities of the ensuing ratification. According to the form observed upon such occasions, rising up early in the morning, he builds an altar under the hill, the emblem of the divine presence, on the one side; "and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel,” Verse 4; or an heap consisting of twelve large stones, according to the number of the tribes, to represent the people, on the opposite side; and upon it he offers a burnt offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord. The application of the blood of the victim principally challenges our attention in the celebration of this awful rite. It was divided into two equal parts : one half was put into basons, and placed by the twelve pillars of stone : where in all probability were arranged the seventy elders, the representatives of every tribe standing by the pillar peculiar to their tribe : the other half was sprinkled upon the altar on the other side. Thus that which constituted the life of the sacrifice was separated, and Moses standing between the divided parts, and having some of the blood now denominated the blood of the covenant, or of the purifying victim, in his hands, rehearsed aloud the words of the covenant in the audience of the people, who were represented by their elders, and then solemnly demanded whether they acceeded to the conditions of it.
The form of adjuration employed in such cases, as you heard in a former Lecture,* now in the hands of many of you, was inexpressibly awful and tremendous. “ As the body of this victim is cleft asunder, as the blood of this animal is poured out, so let my body be divided and my blood shed, if I prove unsteadfast and perfidious.” Under an engagement of this dread. ful import, they consent to the conditions of the treaty, saying, “ All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.”+ Whereupon Moses takes of the blood, and sprinkles it upon the people, in the persons of their representatives, as he had before sprinkled it upon the altar, expressing thereby God's acceptance of their persons and services, and his engagement to fulfil all that the covenant promised on his part. Matters being thus adjusted, and peace established, the burnt sacrifice is succeeded by a peace-offering, and the parties, as friends, sit down to partake of a common repast. This is evidently the meaning of the expression in the end of the eleventh verse: « Also they saw God, and did eat and drink;” that is, as in the presence of the most high God, at peace with him, and * Vol. I. Lecture xiii.
+ Verse 7
at peace among themselves, they did eat of the same bread and drank of the same cup. It would be easy, were it necessary, to confirm this interpretation by quoting the practice of other nations in latter times, undoubtedly borrowed from rites of God's own institution. It would appear from the letter of the narratior, that the scene of this sacred feast was a higher region of the mountain than that where the covenant was ratified. He builded the altar under the hill, and set up the pillars, as it is ver. 4; and when the solemnities of that inferior station were duly celebrated, the nation whom God had thus chosen is exalted to a superior rank, and admitted to a more intimate union with their Maker. “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God now shines, calling to the heavens from above, and to the earth, Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice," Psalm 1. 5. Purified by blood, the blood of the covenant, they are encouraged to mount higher and higher, to approach nearer and nearer; they are enabled, with enlightened eyes, to discern more clearly, and to look more steadfastly.
Being sprinkled with blood, then went up Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire-stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink,” Verses 9, 10, 11. What a stream of splendid ideas here rushes in upon us! “ They saw the God of Israel.” They saw Him whose presence is the glory of heaven, the light of whose countenance is the joy of angels and archangels; they saw Him descended to earth, to be the light, glory and joy of his people, to dwell among them, and to be their friend, their father and their God; they saw him engaging himself by every thing that could affect the son
ses, kindle the imagination, or melt the heart, to guide and protect them, to provide for them, to bless them and to do them good. “They saw the God of Israel,” their fathers' God, their own covenant God, and the God of their seed to the latest generations. They saw God! but, what did they see? That face whose lustre constrains the cherubim to cover their faces with their wings-those eyes, which “as a flame of fire go up and down through the carth,” which discern impurity in the heavens and folly in Angels-that mouth which spake the univese into existence, and whose lightest word shakes the foundations of the everlasting hillsthe hand that wields the thunder, or the feet that walk upon the swift wings of the wind? No: the nobles of Israel had shrunk into nothing before such an awful display of Deity. He needed not to have laid his hand upon them; one glance of those piercing eyes which guard the law, had been sufficient to consume them in a moment. What then did they see? What was under his feet; and even that, something which could not be represented, expressed or described; “as it were the body of heaven in his clearness,". Verse 10. Like Paul caught up into the third heaven, but incapable to tell whether in the body or out of the body; caught up into paradise, and listening to the conversation of its blest inhabitants, but what he heard were words unspeakable, “which it is not lawful for a inan to utter,” 2 Cor. xii. 4. Was it needful to caution such men and such a people against idolatry? What similitude could they employ, who though they enjoyed the fullest and most satisfying demonstration of Jehovah's presence, felt their understanding confined, their imagination checked, their senses confounded. They are lost in a splendor which at once attracted and repelled; which was only the foundation and external vail where glory resided, the pavement not, the ceiling, the habitation not the inhabitant; a splendor resembling the transparency of the gem, which: