« PreviousContinue »
discovery of their crime, nor to account for the severity with which it was punished. The sin of Nadab and Abihu consisted simply in this, they burnt incense with strange fire. Now the meaning of this expres. sion we shall be able easily to collect, by comparing together a few passages that have an obvious connection and serve to illustrate and explain each other. First, in Leviticus, chapter the ninth, verse twentyfourth, it is said that "fire from the Lord,” that is, either fire immediately descending from heaven, or issuing out of the cloud that covered the tabernacle, consumed the first victims which Aaron offered for a burnt-offering. Again-This sacred fire, once miraculously kindled, was by a special ordinance to be kept for ever alive; as we read, Leviticus chapter the sixth, verses twelfth and thirteenth. Thus the vigilance, attention and care of man, was to preserve and continue what Providence had begun. By another ordinance it was enjoined, that the incense to be offered on the day of atonement, should be kindled by a portion of that perpetual fire. This we read in Leviticus, chapter the sixteenth, verses eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth. This then was the fire which the Lord commanded to be used; and of course, every other kind of fire, however produced, and though in all other respects ade. quate to the purpose, was unlawful, forbidden or strange. This accordingly constituted the guilt, they took upon them to kindle the incense, which their office obliged them to burn every evening and morning, with a fire different from that which burned continually on the altar of burnt-offering: every other being strange fire, which the Lord commanded not.
Now it was certainly fit and necessary that such a crime should be punished in the most exemplary manner. The sanctity of the whole institution was over at once, if the ministers of it might with impunity, in the very setting out, presume to dispense with its most august ceremonies. The rank and station of the offenders
was a high aggravation of their offence. It was their duty to have set an example of scrupulous regard to the known will of God. They had been admitted to more intimate communion with God than others; had seen more of the terrors of his power, more of the wonders of his grace. Unhappy men! how had they been betrayed into an error so fatal? Ignorance it could not be, the voice of the law was yet sounding in their ears.
Dared they to be careless in any thing that related to the service of a holy God? They had seen the exactness of their pious uncle, in forming every thing according to the pattern showed him in the mount.
Was it indeed a wilful and deliberate violation of the law? I fear, I fear it was; and dreadful was the expiation. The unhallowed fire of their own kindling was quickly absorbed in a hotter flame:
they died before the Lord; for there went out fire from the Lord and devoured them,” Lev. x. 2. Nei. ther their sacred character, the sacredness of the place, nor the sacredness of the employment, can protect them from the keen stroke of avenging justice. "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire,” Heb. xii. 28, 29. Unhappy father! what were now thy feelings; bereaved in one sad day of half thy children, of thy first, thy darling hopes: to behold them thus immaturely cut off, taken away in anger! The bitterness of death is not relieved by one consolatory circumstance. What is the loss of children in infancy, and falling by the stroke of nature, compared to this? To heighten the old man's affliction, he is expressly forbidden to mourn, or to assist in the last sad offices of humanity towards his deceased sons. Behold him in mute dejection and distress, ministering in the duties of his charge, attentive to the calls of the living, leaving to others the care of burying the dead. How severely must his own offences now have been brought to his remembrance! He had been guilty of a
crime of equal or greater magnitude; he had led the way in idolatry, and presided in the worship of a thing of his own fabrication; but justice suffered him to live, to live to see his own sons dying for a crime similar to
Alas, what is prolonged life but lengthened anguish!
As the giving of the law was fenced round with fire, and the sanctity of the tabernacle worship guarded by a flaming sword; so the meeker, gentler institution of the gospel, fortified its first beginnings by exe. cuting judgment on presumptuous sinners. Severity is the soul of a law, especially when it is notified to those who are obliged to submit to it; indulgence, or the appearance of feebleness, are of the most danger. ous consequence, especially in the commencement of a new constitution. One of the heralds of the Saviour of mankind began his ministry by a clap of thunder; the first rays he shot from his eyes were mortal, and the sudden death of two false and perfidious disciples was the seal of his apostleship, Acts v. The second coming of the Lord himself is to be “in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ," 2 Thess. i. 8.
Aaron had now arrived at an advanced period of life, at the possession of an office and rank in life, which rendered him an object of envy to some, and of veneration to others. He had oftener than once been corrected by his own folly, and he was the man who had seen affliction by the rod of God's anger;" but neither the fire of calamity, nor the frost of age; neither the counsels of experience, nor the sanctity of office, have been able to subdue the indwelling currurtion; for we immediately find him in a plot, with Mi. riam his sister, to disturb the peace, diminish the re spect, and distress the government of their brother Moses. Their pretence was his marriage with an “ Ethiopian woman;" an event which had taken place forty years before; an union which had no immorality in it; which transgressed no law, for the law was not then given; and against which God himself had not expressed any displeasure; but had crowned it with the blessing of children, who were justly admitted to rank in Israel.
Their real cause was their envy of the pre-eminence, which their younger brother had obtained over them in all things, civil and sacred. For this, in spite of all their art, breaks out in the malicious whispers which they scatter abroad to blacken their brother's reputation. “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by us?” Numb. xii. 2. If Moses indeed erred by marrying Jethro's daughter, he had severely smarted for it; for being induced, by an improper compliance with her humor, to neglect the circumcision of his son, he had nearly paid the forfeit of that neglect with his life, by the hand of God himself; and now his good name is bleeding on Zipporah's account, by the envenomed tongues of his own brother and sister; and “who can stand before envy?” Who can think to escape, if Moses remain not unhurt? This attack upon his fame and comfort gives Moses occasion to deliver his own eulogium; and I believe it just, for he gives it with that lovely simplicity, which characterizes all that he relates of himself or of others. Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth," Numb. xii. 3. He either had not heard the scandalous speeches which were propagated to his disadvantage by Aaron and Miriam; or he pitied and he neglected them. Who knows what length the mischief "might have gone, had it not been heard and avenged by the Protector of injured innocence. “The Lord heard it.?? Let the slanderer hear this and tremble.
The two brothers and their sister are now summoned to present themselves together at the door of the
tabernacle of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord appears: and a voice from that glory pronounces aloud and at full length, the praise of the man who had spoken so modestly of himself, and who had been so wickedly maligned by his own nearest relations. “ And he said, Hear now my words: if there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?". Numb. xii. 6, 7, 8. In many respects Moses was “the figure of Him who was to come,” and in both were peculiarly verified the words of Christ, “a man's foes shall be they of his own house,” and, “ a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house,” Matt. xiii. 57. With God to resent is to avenge; having reproved the transgressors he withdraws in anger, and lo, the punishment is already inflicted.
6. The cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and behold she was leprous,” Numb. xii. 10. A shocking example of divine displeasure against one of the most odious of crimes. My fair hearers, let me whisper an advice in your ears. I am no common-place declaimer against your sex; I honour it, and I wish to improve it; you must hear me with the greater attention, and mark what I say. You lie under a general imputation, respecting the vices of the tongue; but general imputations are for the most part ill-founded. I do not mean, however, to insinuate that you are totally innocent, or more so than the other sex: for your affections are eager, and what the heart feels, by the eyes or the tongue you will express; and that expression is sometimes too