Page images

Is it not amazing to observe on the part of Aaron no reluctance against this horrid proposal ; to hear from his lips no remonftrance? Is it thus he difcharges his sacred trust? Is this the man whom Jehovah was, in the mean while, designing to advance, and promoting to the dignity of the priesthood ? Many things have been alleged in extenuation of his fault, though nothing can amount to a full vindication of his conduct. The conciseness of the sacred history, it has been said, may have suppressed some of the more favourable circumstances, and exhibited only a general view of the subject. Some of the Rabbins* pretend that his colleague in office, Hur, had lately been mafsacred in a popular commotion for dar

to resist the prevailing frenzy; and that Aaron complied, through fear of similar treatment, after having thụs deprecated the divine displeasure ; “ O Lord, I look up to thee, who knowest the hearts of men, and who dwelleft in the heavens : Thou art witness that I act thus contrary to my own will. Lay it not to my charge.'

Others explain away great part of the criminality, both of Aaron and of the people, by alleging that all they demanded, and all he gave them, was an external' object, where they might deposit the homage which they wished to render to the Supreme God; and thus they interpret the request of the people, “ Make us a sensible object of divine worship, which may always be before our eyes, and supply the place of God, when we shall be told of all the wonders he wrought for us in Egypt.”| And a learned prelate: of our own country labours to prove, that Aaron presented only a hieroglyphic of the strength and power of the Deity, and he produces a few passages from ancient authors to prove, that the ox was an emblem of royal and sovereign authority, and the horns, in parD 2

ticular, * In Schemoth Rabba, Sect. xli. fol. 156. + R. Juda, in Lib. Cozri. Part 1. Sect. xcvii. fol. 47.

Patrick, Bishop of Ely, on Exod. xxxii. 4. page 635

[ocr errors][merged small]

ticular, a common and well known emblem of strength.

A fourth excuse has been pleaded in behalf of Aaron, founded on the letter of the facred text. He feigned readiness to comply, according to these apologists, * in hope that the demand of their golden ornaments for the fabrication of the idol, ačting upon their love of finery, or of wealth, might bring them to a stand, and break their resolution. But why set up an elaborate defence for a man who stands condemned by his own brother, who had the best means of information ; and for one who himself had nothing, or worse than nothing, to produce in his own behalf, when charged by Moles with his fault?

These spoils of the Egyptians had not been obtained in the most honourable manner. Ifrael “borrowed and paid not again ;" and it proves a dreadful snare to them. If they had not carried off the gold, they might perhaps have kept clear of the gods of Egypt. But ill-gotten wealth never was and never can be a blessing; and unwarrantable devices fooner or later come to entangle the feet of those who use them. Mark, how one rapacious domineering passion swallows up many others. “ Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?” And yet behold the daughters of Israel cheerfully facrificing the darling embellishments of their persons to a mistaken principle of religion! If there be a passion more violent than another, it is the love of gold in the heart of a Hebrew; but we see one more violent than even that, the delirium of idolatrous superstition.

It is dangerous to have the patterns of evil before our eyes.

We foon learn to bear with what we fee frequently; we are in ensibly led to approve what we have learned to suffer without being lhocked ; and what we heartily approve we are not far from adopting. Ifrael has sustained greater injuries in Egypt

than * Auguft. Tom. IV. Quæst. xli. in Fxod. page 118: & Theodoret. Tom. I. in Exod. Quxit. lxvi. page 3.


than we are at first aware of, and they have been more deeply hurt in their minds than in their persons. The stripes of an Egyptian task-mafter are healed by the lenient hand of time: but the wounds inflicted by the impure rites of Egyptian idols, are still festering at the heart, and threaten death.

Aaron is too eager and intent upon his shameful work, to escape the suspicion of being hearty in it. “And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving-tool, after he had made it a molten calf : and they said, These be thy gods, O lfrael, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. All that industry, all that art could do, is employed to confer lustre and value on this worthless object; and :yet he would have it believed, when he is called to account, that the form and fathion of the idol was the effect of accident, not of design: “I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.”+ What a pitiful figure does ingenious, industrious wickedness make, when it stands exposed, convicted, self-condemned ! But the framing and erecting of this idol is not the whole extent of Aaron's criminality. I am still more Thocked at beholding an attempt to blend with its profane worship, the facred day, the sacred ceremonies and services of the true God. « And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To-morrow is a feast to the Lord.”I What concord hath Christ with Belial ? An attempt to form such an union as this, is more grossly insulting than even avowed neglect or opposition. It freezes the blood to observe a repetition of the same august ceremonies which were lately employed in the mount, for confirming the grand alliance between the great Jehovah and his people, in the settling of this Strange league between Ifrael and a bauble of their own invention. “ They rose up early,” as men intent upon their purpose; the altar is reared, the facri. fice is offered up, the peace-offering is provided, the

feast + Verse 24.

Verse 5.

* Verse 4.

feast of friendship is prepared and eaten. “They of. fered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings ; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play." *

These last words are supposed by some commentators of note to be descriptive of a scene of extreme lewdness and debauchery. And certain it is, that one of the principal instruments of propagating and supporting idolatry, was the attraction of beauty and wantonness, vilely prostituted to decoy strangers into the homage of the impure and worthlefs deity of the place. That people must be in a dreadful state indeed, among whom religion, the foundation of good morals, the guard of yirtue, is employed as a minister to unhallowed pleasure, and a hand-maid to vice.

The prevalence of evil practices is a lamentable thing, but the establishment of wrong principles is much worse. The wholesomest stream may be acci, dentally tainted and polluted, and work itself pure again ; but if the fountain be poisonous, nothing but death can flow from it. " When luft hath conceived, it bringeth forth fin : and fin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” +

- We are now conveyed from this awful scene of pollution in the valley, to a much more awful scene of meditated vengeance on the mount. While Mo. fes was folacing himself in the pleasing prospect of being soon dispatched to the people of his charge with messages of love ; while he was rejoicing in the important transaction so lately paft, confident that all was now fettled between God and his people; the joy of this exalted communication is suddenly interrupted by intelligence of a new, unprovoked and unexpected revolt.

" And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down : for thy people which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned afide quickly out of the way which I commanded them : they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have

sacrificed * Verse 6.

+Jameş i. 15.

sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be the gods, O Ifrael, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”* An offended God refuses any longer te acknowledge as his, a generation of wretches who had rendered themselves fo entirely unworthy of his slightest regard. Justice awakes to a recapitulation of the benefits which they had received and the offences which they had committed, and concludes with a resolution totally to consume them. “ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

In the dialogue which passed upon this occasion, fome of the most interesting objects that can be contemplated present themselves to our view. The condescension of divine friendship: As God would not “ hide from Abraham the thing which he was about to do ;" would take no step towards the destruction of Sodom till that friend of God had been fully heard in its behalf; and could do nothing till Lot was departed; fo the fame God, rich in mercy, will not arise to vengeance against Israel, till Moses has been consulted and has acquiesced in the sentence. o the wonderful

power of faith and prayer! Mofes is represented as poffesfing a constraining power over omnipotence, the anger of Jehovah refuses to burn till his permission is obtained. O the wonderful grace and condescension of the most high God! Thus is justice ever tempered with mercy : “ It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compaffions fail not."

A proposal is made to Moses, (and what is too hard for the Lord to perform ?) which a selfish heart would eagerly have grasped at; " I will make of thee, says God, a great nation.” But selfishness in this truly great man was controlled by much nobler and more generous principles ; zeal for the honour of God, and compassion for a devoted people.

The intercessory address of Moses is a master-piece of eloquence, and discovers a foul superior to all re

gards, * Verses 7, 8.

+ Lam. iii. 22.

« PreviousContinue »