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HISTORY OF AARON.
And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in Mount
Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying, Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto Mount Hor: and strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there. And Moses did as the Lord commanded: and they went up into Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.-NUMBERS XX. 23—29.
WERE it not that life and immortality have been brought to light by the gospel, human life must appear in the eye of sober reason, a trifling scene of vanity and impertinence. Wherefore drops that babe into the grave as soon as he is born? Why was the wretched mother torn with anguish to bring him into the world? Was it only to be torn with more cruel anguish, to behold him prematurely snatched out of
it again? Why is that old offender permitted to live, a burden upon the earth, the derision, hatred, and scorn of mankind? Why does that minion“ fret and strut his hour upon the stage,” arrayed in the glitter of royalty? Wherefore strides that barbarian from conquest to conquest, from continent to continent? Why pines modest worth in indigence and obscurity, and wherefore, at length, perishes it on a dunghill? These, and a thousand such questions that might be asked, the doctrine of immortality and of a judgment to come, resolves in a moment. i. We know but in part, we see in a glass darkly.” What the great Lord of nature, providence and grace doth, we know not now, but we shall know hereafter.
The brevity and extension of life, difference of rank, talent, office and condition, variety of fortune and success, acquire an importance not their own by their inAuence on character and moral conduct, by the changes which they produce on the soul of a man, by their reaching forward into eternity, and by producing effects which no length of duration can ever alter.
Men die, offices pass from hand to hand, dispensations change; but the purposes of Heaven are permanent, the plans of Providence are ever going forward, and while one generation of men removes to that world of spirits from whence no traveller returns, another rises up to contemplate the wonders of that which now is, and to carry on the business of it. Hence wise and good men become not only concerned about their own future and eternal happiness, but about the prosperity and happiness of the world, after they have ceased to see and enjoy it. Hence they cheerfully engage in schemes which they cannot live to execute, and justly soothe their souls to peace, in the prospect of a kind of immortality upon earth. Hence among the other motives to excel in goodness, this has a pleasing and a powerful influence, “the righteous shall
be had in everlasting remembrance,” “ while the memory of the wicked shall rot."
It is as difficult to make the proper estimate of death as of life. Death is an undoubted mark of the divine displeasure against sin, and is inflicted as a punishment upon the guilty. But, like all the punishments of Heaven, it is upon the whole, and in the issue, an unspeakable benefit to good men. The just estimate of death, then, must depend upon what we are, and upon the consequent change which death shall
produce in our internal character, or outward condition. It is a light evil to be stripped of priestly robes, the work of man's hands; and to return naked into the earth as we came from it; it is a light thing to feel the earthly house of this tabernacle dissolving, and the head which wore the mitre or the crown sinking into the dust; while the promise of Him who is faithful and true, rears for us "a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” 2 Cor. y. l; while the eye of faith contemplates that “ crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give at that day: and not to one only, but unto all them also that love his appearing,” 2 Tim. iv. 8; assured that “ to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
If ever there was an enviable domestic situation, it was that of Aaron elevated to the priesthood. Think of the honest pride of honourable alliance: and who would not have been proud of such a brother as Moses? Reflect on an office of the highest dignity and respect, procured not ·by cabal and intrigue, but bestowed by the voluntary appointment of Him who is the source of all honour. A suitable provision like. wise made for the support of that dignity, and an external habit annexed to it, that could not fail to attract notice and reverence. The sacred office was entailed upon him and his family for ever, and that family built up by four hopeful sons, coadjutors and
successors: and, to crown the whole, these pleasing, flattering circumstances were crowned with an open, unequivocal, indubitable mark of the divine approbation. The fire of heaven caught hold of their burntoffering, and kindled a flame never to be quenched. But alas, how short-lived was this tranquillity! The sons of Aaron are hardly consecrated to their office, when the two eldest profane and disgrace it. Celestial fire has scarcely proclaimed the favour and acceptance of God, when with unhallowed fire, which he commanded not, they defile his altar and his service: and thereby call down a second time fire from above, to avenge a holy and righteous God, as before to display the grace of Him who is good and merciful. The notoriety of the late transactions, the sacredness of their character, and the distinguished regard of Heaven expressed toward them, greatly enhance the atrociousness of their guilt, and justify the severity of their punishment.
This tragical event is thus recorded by Moses, whose method it is neither to extenuate, nor to set down aught in malice. “ And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord,” Lev. x. 1, 2. The words are few, but they convey a full and distinct idea of the guilt of the parties; though by attending to the context, we shall have reason to conclude their crime was of a very complex nature. And surely it could be no common transgression
which drew down a judgment so dreadful. Bishop Patrick is of opinion that Nadab and Abihu had rendered themselves incapable of doing their duty by intemperance; that they indulged in the delicacies of the sacrifice to a criminal excess, till they were incapable of putting a difference between holy and unholy, and between clean
and unclean. This conjecture is founded upon the injunction which immediately follows the narration of this dismal story in the ninth and tenth verses.
“ Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die : it shall be a statute for ever, throughout your generations: and that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.” If there be truth in this conjecture, it is a melancholy proof that the best things are most liable to abuse, that the brutal part of our nature is ever ready to run away with the rational: that as God is continually employing himself in bringing good out of evil, so men are for ever perversely employing themselves in bringing evil out of good.
Others have charged upon these two sons of Aaron, the criminality of attempting to enter the most holy place, which was not permitted but to the high-priest, and that only at certain stated times. This charge is established in the following manner. In the passage we have quoted, it is said, that it was before the Lord that Nadab and Abihu offered incense with strange fire. Upon comparing this with what is recorded in the sixteenth chapter in the first and second verses, where Moses recapitulates this sad event, we find it added, “ The Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy-seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat.”
mercy-seat.” Hence it has been in. ferred that the two young men, uncalled, unauthorized, presumed to enter that august department of the tabernacle, assuming to themselves privileges that belonged only to the supreme priesthood, which in their father's life time it was unlawful to intermeddle with, and which even he himself durst not at all times exercise. But though neither of these suppositions be improbable, we have no occasion to go so far for a