« PreviousContinue »
DUS X XXIll.
L E C T U RÈ IV.
EXODUS xxxiii. 8–11.
ernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man
GUILT is the parent of fear and suspicion ; confcious innocence and integrity inspire confidence and tranquillity. « The wicked flee when no man pursueth ; but the righteous are bold as a lion."* Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God, amongst the trees of the garden.”+ Mofes afcends undaunted to meet the Lord, into the midst of tempest and fire. Behold the height of heaven, how great it is! What so distant as the Creator and a fallen creature! But lo, the distance is done away; and what is so intimately near as a God reconciled, and a fallen creature restored! Jehovah descend
* Prov. xxviii. 1.
+ Gen. iii. 8.
ing in mercy and grace ; the foul arifing, upborne on the wings of faith and love, must meet and unite, whether on the mount or in the tabernacle ; in the temple or the closet. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him: and he will shew them his covenant."* We have heard of Abraham, who was called the friend of God; and we behold a communication of the same distinguished honour, to that illuftrious son of Abraham who has instructed and blessed mankind by transmitting the history of this facred friendship to the latest generations of the world. We see it still expressed in the same manner; on the part of Moses by humble submission, holy zeal and importunity, and child-like freedom and confidence: on the part of God, by the most unreserved communication of his intentions, the most endearing expressions of affection and good will.
The history delivered in the preceding chapter of this book exhibited the blessed communion on the mount, suddenly interrupted, by the dreadful scene of madness and rebellion in the plain beneath. Be. hold all Ifrael eating and drinking, dancing and playing, before a dumb idol, the similitude of a brute beast. Behold “a covenant with hell” ratified by the same dread solemnities which had been so recently einployed, to join a great nation in alliance with the God of heaven. The law which the plastic hand of Omnipotence had impressed on the soul of man in its very conftitution ; the law which he lately had condescended distinctly to pronounce in the trembling ears of all Israel ; that law he had still farther condescended, with exquifite art and skill, by his own finger, to engrave on two tablets of stone, for perpetual preservation. Moses descending in halte, with this precious record in his hand, perceives at a distance The disorder which raged in the camp, and, in a tranfport of indignation, dashes the tablets on the ground, and breaks them in pieces. The motive was good
* Psal. xxv. 14.
and commendable, but the action was rásh and prefumptuous. We find, however, no expression of anger against that rashness; the frailty is loft and overlooked in approbation of the principle which led to it. But had not Mofes punishment sufficient for his hasty conduct, in the irreparable loss occasioned by it, to himself and to the world? There was no occasion to chide him ; his own conscience must have smitten him sufficiently, as often as he reflected on what, in the moment of impatience, he had done.
Without inflicting a positive chastisement, a righteous God can easily reprove men by, making them to feel the native consequences of their own folly, and, of all the infirmities to which our nature is subject, anger most certainly and most severely 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: Moses, inspired with the fear of God, defies and despises the multitude, consumes their idol in the fire, and grinds it to powder. This is that Moses of whom they talked to contemptuously a little while ago. What, not one of the thousands of Israel who worshipped the image of the beast bold enough to protect his Dagon! No: abashed they stand, and feel show awful goodness is, and fee virtue in her own shape how, lovely."
A most remarkable circumstance is added to the history of the destruction of the idol, which has greatly exercised the ingenuity, learning and imagination of critics and commentators. Moses took the dust into which he had pounded the calf, and “ strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.”* This seems nothing more than an expression of sovereign contempt, poured upon a most worthless object, and a practical demonstration of the absurdi
* Verse 20.
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 singular qualities, may be lawfully fought after and innocently used; but erected into a deity, valued on its own account, swallowing up every other object, engrossing the whole heart, becomes unprofitable and pernicious, as incapable of gratifying the real appetites of a rational being, as gold in its simple state is incapable of satisfying hunger, or, ningled with water, of allaying thirst.
An imagination perpetually on the stretch to discover evangelical ideas in every iota of the sacred history, has perceived the method of gospel salvation, in this paffage of Moses ; as if the prophet intended to fignify that the Melliah, typified by the water which issued from the rock in Horeb, could alone purify from the guilt of idolatry, and from all other sin.
Moses having executed just vengeance on the idol itself, turns in holy indignation to his weak and guilty brother, who had so readily fallen into and abetted so gross a deviation from all duty and decency. “ And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a fin upon them?"*_-An anticipated instance of obedience to the apostolic injunction, « Thou shalt not suffer fin upon thy brother, but in any ways reprove him.” Justice on the tribunal, knows not a brother in court, but examines the cause. Justice, with the pen of the historian in his hand, knows not blood in recording facts, but declares the truth. Justice, as the minister of God, must stifle the calls of natural affection, and condemn the guilty. And here again Moses becomes a pattern to all judges and magistrates, to every minister of religion, and every relater of events. His own faults, and those of his nearelt relations, are told
* Verse 21.
'with the fame artless fimplicity, as their good qualities and praise-worthy actions. Praise and cenfure are distributed, with the same candour and impartiali
ty, to his owii family and to strangers. ..Aaron, formerly an object of condemnation, now sinks into an object of pity; as every riian must, in the day when he is called to account, and has no de fence to make. “And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot : thou knowest the people that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods which shall 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 becoine of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let themi break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf."* Alas, älas! What a profüsion of words is guilt constrained to employ in order to cover what it cannot extenuate
or excuse. What must it be to behold a guilty world · stand self-condemned before the Judge of the quick
and the dead! How dreadful must it be, to appear in the number of that guilty crowd, without being able to escape 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 silent horror and astonishment-Thousands of criminals falling at once by the hands of their brethren! The sons of Levi, destined to shed the blood of many victims, to make atonement for the guilty-called to the dreadful ministry of offering up part of the guilty themselves, a sacrifice to justice, to make atonement for the rest! Mark how the courage of one man has roused that of many. A whole tribe has fortitude fufficient to follow in a cause, wherein not one man was found daring enough to profess himfelf a leader. This is one motive, among many, to aim at being fingularly good. Mark the timidity of conscious guilt. Levi was the least numerous of all the Vol. IV,
tribes; * Verses 22, 23, 24. ...