Page images


own all-comprehending intelligence, all-pervading benignity, all-subduing love.

If, in that portion of ancient history which is now to come under our consideration, we observe Providence treating one nation with uncommon severity, and another with indulgence altogether as singular, we are to regard the parties not as they are in themselves, or in relation to each other, but in their relation to God and to mankind in general, as an important link in the great chain of Providence, as serving and instructing the human race to the end of the world. The perverseness and unbelief of Moses met with pity and forgiveness, and were cured by a series of miracles. The impiety and unbelief of Pharaoh met with resentment and ishment, and were even confirmed and strengthened by a most awful series of miracles; not for the sake of Moses and Pharaoh merely, but to illustrate in the eyes of the whole world the goodness and severity of God; the wisdom and safety of repentance and submission on the one hand, the madness and danger of impenitence on the other. Egypt was plagued, and Israel saved, that violence and cruelty might be awakened to see the naked sword of justice suspended by a single hair over its guilty throat; and that misery and depression might find a refuge from despair.

We have seen with what solemnity the commission to Moses for the deliverance of Israel was granted, and the awful seal which was appended to it; even the great and fearful name, Jehovah,“I AM THAT I AM." We have seen the backwardness, irresolution and timidity of the prophet, in undertaking an employment so flattering to ambition, so desirable to the spirit of patriotism, so elevating to a mind awake to the influence of religion. We have seen the goodness and condescension of God in deigning, by repeated exertions of power and mercy, to remove the scruples and level the objections of incredulity and fear. And we have seen Aaron, the brother of Moses, providentially conducted to the spot, and at the moment, to establish a belief in the divine power and veracity, to confirm the wavering, trembling soul, and constituted to a share of the diligence, difficulty, danger and glory of the illustrious enterprize.

Behold the two plain old men, one of eighty, and the other of eighty-three years old, setting out from the deserts of Arabia, on an undertaking to human reason the most wild and romantic that ever was attempted; to persuade or to constrain one of the most powerful princes of the world, to enfranchise, nay, to dismiss the tenth part of his most valuable and useful subjects! And how are they provided for this vast undertaking? The pleas of reason, the powers of eloquence, the calls of humanity, the claims of justice, it is well known, make but a feeble impression on the hearts of kings, when their pride, ambition or interest oppose. For such a vast multitude to slip away by stealth is impossible, and to think of forcing an escape from a power so greatly superior is rashness and ruin. When men engage in hazardous and difficult expeditions, they levy armies, accumulate treasure, provide magazines, strengthen themselves with alliances. But when God addresses himself to action, we behold no apparatus, no effort. Is an universe to start out of nothing? “God speaks, and it is done." Is a sun to arise, and light to shine? God says, “Let there be light.” Is a great nation to be subdued, and a little one asserted into liberty? Our eyes are direct. ed, not to a general at the head of a mighty host, but to a shepherd with his crook in his hand.

But the commands of Heaven break not in upon the sacred duties and the virtuous charities of private life. The charge given to Moses was pressing, the object most important, and the authority under which it was issued, supreme; but yet he is permitted to return for a little while, to attend the calls of nature, of gratitude, to the gentle claims of filial piety,

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

of conjugal and paternal affection. He went back to his father-in-law to acknowledge his protection, hospitality and kindness to him when a stranger, to inform him of the extraordinary commission he had just received, and the necessity he was thereby laid under of immediately entering upon the execution of it; to obtain his consent for this purpose, and to ask his paternal benediction. Religion is in a happy state in the soul of that man; who has learned to unite and reconcile the views and pursuits of the citizen with those of the private man, who pleads not the performance of one duty as an excuse for the omission of another; whose life exhibits every moral and divine principle in action, every one in his season, every one in his place. How simple and affectionate the dismission which honest Raguel gave to Moses, compared to that of the selfish rapacious Laban to Jacob: Gen. xxxi. 26, &c. “Go in peace!” says Raguel; an adieu expressive at once of submission to the will of Providence, and of affection to his son-in-law, mixed with regret at the thought of parting with him.

It pleased God again to confirm the confidence of Moses, by assuring him that all who had ever harboured a design against his life were now dead; and that nothing therefore remained, but to address himself boldly to his great work. Accompanied with his wife and two sons, he leaves the land of Midian, and proceeds towards Egypt.

On his journey, a very extraordinary incident oceurs: but the conciseness of the sacred history leaves it involved in much darkness and difficulty. GOD had blessed him with two sons in Midian, whom in compliance with the commandment of God, and as a son of Abraham, he ought to have circumcised on the eighth day from their birth. This, however, either for want of the proper minister, from inattention, or out of improper respect to the feelings or prejudices of Zipporah his wife, or some other reason that appears not, had been hitherto wholly neglected; and thereby his children, the younger at least, through his neglect, seems to have incurred the dreadful penalty denounced by the terms of the covenant against uncircumcised persons, that of being "cut off from his people.” This punishment God seems disposed to exact at the hand of Moses himself, who was indeed the guilty person, by attacking him either with a threatening bodily distemper, by remorse of conscience for his criminal neglect, by the appearance of an avenging angel, or some other sensible token of displeasure. But the difficulty is, Why the conduct of Moses in this respect was never called in question be. fore? Why he was not purged of his guilt before he was honoured at all with the divine commission? Why the precept was enforced upon a journey, and at an inn, where the operation could be performed less commodiously, and was accompanied with some degree of danger? What could Zipporah mean when she reproached Moses as “a bloody husband?” The passage is evidently enveloped in much obscurity; and probably with design. Instead of curiously inquiring into its hidden meaning, an attempt vain and unprofitable, we may, by the blessing of God, learn from it more than one practical lesson, neither obscure nor unimportant; and this, no doubt, the Spirit of God principally intended. The first is, that no circumstances of prudence or conveniency can ever be with propriety urged as a dispensation with a clearly commanded duty. Secondly, that as there may be a sinful undervaluing of the feelings, prejudices and inclinations of our near and dear relations, so there may be a sinful tenderness for, and compliance with them, to the neglect of God's known and declared will, and at the risk of falling under his just censure. Thirdly, that he who is to be the interpreter of the law to others, ought in all points to be blameless, and in all things conformed to the law himself. To which we may add yet a fourth, not of less importance than any of these; namely, that when God has procured the proper respect to his revealed will, the controversy between him and the offender is at an end, the object of his government be. ing not so much to avenge himself as to amend the criminal.

This scene of domestic danger and distress is speedily followed by another of a pleasanter kind, namely, the interview between the two brothers, in the wilderness; an interview attended with many circumstances to render it mutually interesting and satisfactory. It must have been highly gratifying to Moses, after living forty years among strangers, to meet his own brother, to receive particular information concerning his family and nation, and to communicate to a friendly ear the knowledge of his own situation during so long an interyal. What must it have been, on the other band, to Aaron, to learn from the mouth of his brother the great de igns of Providence respecting themselves and their people? With what overflowings of heart would they mingle their sighs and tears? With what ardour would their united prayers, and vows, and praises ascend to heaven? How confirmed the faith, how forward the zeal of each, strengthened and stimulated by that of the other! They go on their way rejoicing; they are following God, and they must prosper.

Moses had found the evidence of his divine mission completed, in the opportune arrival of his brother Aaron, according to the declaration of the oracle at the bush; and he soon finds a resolution of his first doubt, in the very entrance upon the discharge of his office. Compare the first, and the two last verses of this 4th chapter, and see what a contrast they form to one another. 66 Ind Moses answered, and said, But behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto “ und Aaron spake all the words which the Lord had spoken unto Moses, and did the

« PreviousContinue »