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History of Moses.
EXODUS XXXiii. 8-11.
And it came to pass, when Mofes went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rofe up, and stood every man at his tent-door, and looked after Mofes, until he was gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, as MoJes entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar defcended, and ftood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Mofes. And all the people faw the cloudy pillar ftand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rofe up and worshipped, every man in his tent-door. And the Lord fpake unto Mofes face to face, as a man fpeaketh unto his friend.
GUILT is the parent of fear and fufpicion; confcious innocence and integrity infpire confidence and tranquillity. "The wicked flee when no man purfueth but the righteous are bold as a lion."* Adam and his wife hid themselves from the prefence of the Lord God, amongst the trees of the garden." Mofes afcends undaunted to meet the Lord, into the midst of tempeft and fire. Behold the height of heaven, how great it is! What fo diftant as the Creator and a fallen creature! But lo, the distance is done away; and what is fo intimately near as a God reconciled, and a fallen creature restored! Jehovah defcend
*Prov. xxviii. I.
+ Gen. iii. 8.
ing in mercy and grace; the foul arifing, upborne on the wings of faith and love, muft meet and unite, whether on the mount or in the tabernacle; in the temple or the clofet. "The fecret of the Lord is with them that fear him: and he will fhew them his covenant."* We have heard of Abraham, who was called the friend of God; and we behold a communication of the fame distinguished honour, to that illuftrious fon of Abraham who has inftructed and bleffed mankind by tranfmitting the hiftory of this facred friendship to the latest generations of the world. We fee it ftill expreffed in the fame manner; on the part of Mofes by humble fubmiffion, holy zeal and importunity, and child-like freedom and confidence: on the part of God, by the most unreferved communication of his intentions, the moft endearing expreffions of affection and good will.
The hiftory delivered in the preceding chapter of this book exhibited the bleffed communion on the mount, fuddenly interrupted, by the dreadful fcene of madness and rebellion in the plain beneath. Behold all Ifrael eating and drinking, dancing and playing, before a dumb idol, the fimilitude of a brute beast. Behold "a covenant with hell" ratified by the fame dread folemnities which had been so recently employed, to join a great nation in alliance with the God of heaven. The law which the plastic hand of Omnipotence had impreffed on the foul of man in its very conftitution; the law which he lately had condefcended diftinctly to pronounce in the trembling ears of all Ifrael; that law he had still farther condefcended, with exquifite art and fkill, by his own finger, to engrave on two tablets of stone, for perpetual prefervation. Mofes defcending in hafte, with this precious record in his hand, perceives at a diftance the diforder which raged in the camp, and, in a tranf port of indignation, dafhes the tablets on the ground, and breaks them in pieces. The motive was good
*Pfal. xxv. 14.
and commendable, but the action was rafh and prefumptuous. We find, however, no expreffion of anger against that rafhnefs; the frailty is loft and overlooked in approbation of the principle which led to it. But had not Mofes punishment fufficient for his hasty conduct, in the irreparable lofs occafioned by it, to himself and to the world? There was no occafion to chide him; his own confcience must have fmitten him fufficiently, as often as he reflected on what, in the moment of impatience, he had done.
Without inflicting a positive chastisement, a righteous God can eafily reprove men by making them to feel the native confequences of their own folly, and, of all the infirmities to which our nature is fubject, anger most certainly and moft feverely punishes itself.
The man who is thus animated with zeal for the glory of God, has forgotten what fear is. Aaron, under the influence of the fear of man, yielded to the popular frenzy, and fabricated the golden calf: Mofes, infpired with the fear of God, defies and despises the multitude, confumes their idol in the fire, and grinds it to powder. This is that Mofes of whom they talked fo contemptuoufly a little while ago. What, not one of the thousands of Ifrael who worshipped the image of the beast bold enough to protect his Dagon! No: abashed they stand, and feel "how awful goodness is, and fee virtue in her own fhape how lovely."
A moft remarkable circumftance is added to the hiftory of the deftruction of the idol, which has greatly exercifed the ingenuity, learning and imagination of critics and commentators. Mofes took the duft into which he had pounded the calf, and "ftrawed it upon the water, and made the children of Ifrael drink of it."* This feems nothing more than an expreflion of fovereign contempt, poured upon a most worthlefs object and a practical demonftration of the abfurdi
ty of idolatry. And it may, perhaps not unwarrantably, be employed as a reproof of the inordinate love of money, that root of all evil. Gold, as an instrument of commerce, as the means of procuring the things that are needful for the body, as a natural production poffeffed of very fingular qualities, may be lawfully fought after and innocently used; but erected into a deity, valued on its own account, fwallowing up every other object, engroffing the whole heart, becomes unprofitable and pernicious, as incapable of gratifying the real appetites of a rational being, as gold in its fimple state is incapable of fatisfying hunger, or, mingled with water, of allaying thirft.
An imagination perpetually on the ftretch to dif cover evangelical ideas in every iota of the facred hiftory, has perceived the method of gospel salvation, in this paffage of Mofes; as if the prophet intended to fignify that the Meffiah, typified by the water which iffued from the rock in Horeb, could alone purify from the guilt of idolatry, and from all other fin.
Mofes having executed juft vengeance on the idol itself, turns in holy indignation to his weak and guilty brother, who had fo readily fallen into and abetted fo grofs a deviation from all duty and decency. "And Mofes faid unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou haft brought fo great a fin upon them ?”*—An anticipated inftance of obedience to the apoftolic injunction, "Thou shalt not fuffer fin upon thy brother, but in any ways reprove him." Justice on the tribunal, knows not a brother in court, but examines the caufe. Juftice, with the pen of the historian in his hand, knows not blood in recording facts, but declares the truth. Juftice, as the minifter of God, muft ftifle the calls of natural affection, and condemn the guilty. And here again Mofes becomes a pattern to all judges and magiftrates, to every minifter of religion, and every relater of events. His own faults, and those of his nearest relations, are told with
* Verfe 21.
with the fame artlefs fimplicity, as their good qualities and praife-worthy actions. Praife and .cenfure are diftributed, with the fame candour and impartiality, to his own family and to ftrangers.
Aaron, formerly an object of condemnation, now finks into an object of pity; as every man muft, in the day when he is called to account, and has no defence to make. "And Aaron faid, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knoweft the people that they are fet on mifchief. For they faid unto me, Make us gods which fhall go before us for as for this Mofes, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I faid unto them, Whofoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I caft it into the fire, and there came out this calf."* Alas, alas! What a profufion of words is guilt constrained to employ in order to cover what it cannot extenuate or excufe. What must it be to behold a guilty world ftand felf-condemned before the Judge of the quick and the dead! How dreadful muft it be, to appear in the number of that guilty crowd, without being able to efcape unnoticed in the crowd!
The scene that follows is one of those from which we turn away our eyes in anguish, or which we contemplate in filent horror and aftonishment-Thoufands of criminals falling at once by the hands of their brethren! The fons of Levi, deftined to fhed the blood of many victims, to make atonement for the guilty-called to the dreadful miniftry of offering up part of the guilty themselves, a facrifice to juftice, to make atonement for the reft! Mark how the courage of one man has roufed that of many. A whole tribe has fortitude fufficient to follow in a caufe, wherein not one man was found daring enough to profefs himfelf a leader. This is one motive, among many, to aim at being fingularly good. Mark the timidity of confcious guilt. Levi was the leaft numerous of all the VOL. IV. tribes;
* Verfes 22, 23, 24.