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asserted into liberty ? Our eyes are directed, 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 to the calls of nature, of gratitude, to the gentle claims of filial piety, 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 ob tain 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:*- 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 this journey, a very extraordinary incident occurs : 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 before ? Why he was not purged of this 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 being not so much to avenge himself as to amend the criminal.
* Gen. xxxi. 26, &c.
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, afier 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 interval. What must it have been on the other hand, to Aaron, to learn from the mouth of his brother the great designs 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 fourth chapter, and see what a contrast they form to one another. “ And 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 thee." “ And Aaron spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed : and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.” The tremendous name JEHOVAH affixed as a signet to the record, and vouching its authority by sign upon sign, quickly produces belief; and inspires gratitude and joy corrected by reverence and godly fear. So far, then, the way is cleared, and Moses is no longer rejected as an upstart and intruder, as presuming to take upon himself the office of prince and judge over his brethren.
But this is the smallest difficulty in the way. Who does not eagerly cleave to the prospect of returning liberty ? Men believe things incredible, attempt things impossible, endure things intolerable, when freedom, precious freedom is the object. No wonder then that oppressed, groaning Israel should greedily listen to the voice of this heavenly charmer. But the grand difficulties are yet behind. Their fetters will not fall off by a wish. Their fond desires dictate not the edicts of Pharaoh. The smarting of the strokes of their taskmaster' whips are not to be conjured away by a sound. The question is not, will Israel believe; but, will the king of Egypt comply ? Every step Moses advances, he finds a new and growing proof of the truth and faithfulness of God. For the same mouth which declared concerning the children of Israel, “they shall hearken unto thy voice,” declared concerning Pharaoh, “I am şure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no not by a mighty hand.”
The faith and obedience of the one, therefore, and the insolence and pride of the other, equally and conjointly demonstrated to Moses, that the Lord had spoken unto him.
Armed, therefore, with a command from on high, confident of the goodness of their cause, and exalted above the fear of man, Moses and his brother advance boldly into the presence of the king, and make their requisition in these Jofty and majestic words ; “ Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.”
In some ancient Jewish fragments, we have an account of four miracles, by which Moses signalized his entrance into Egypt. First, he made fire to issue out of the earth, in the eyes of all Israel, and thereby produced confidence in him as their deliverer. Secondly, being shut up in prison by order of Pharaoh, he broke the bars, burst open the gates, struck the guards with death, and reJeased himself. Thirdly, he pronounced in the ears of the king, the name of JEHOVAH--at the sound of which that prince became deaf, and after a certain interval recovered his hearing, through the interposition of him who had taken it away. Fourthly, by the use of the same awful name, he deprived all the Egyptian priests of sense and motion. To this the Rabbins add, that on entering the palace of the tyrant, he was suddenly clothed with a dreadful form, and a countenance bright and majestic, like that of an angel.
But we have no need to resort to fancy for a description of the magnificence of the scene, neither is there reason to suppose that any part of the glory of Moses consisted in personal lustre. His Employer and his errand lend him sufficient dignity and importance, without the glare which dazzles the eye.
Whatever were the outward appearance of Moses, his message, we know, was treated by Pharaoh with insolence and contempt, in these words ; “ Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice, to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” We are not to conclude that Pharaoh was an atheist, from his using this impious language. No: Egypt was a country wholly given to superstition ; a land which had multiplied deities to itself. It was Jewovah whom he scorned to acknowledge. It was the God of Israel whom he despised. He judged of the power of their Patron and Protector from their own present forlorn condition.
The methods which Moses and Aaron employed to obtain the end of their mission, is a beautiful, an instructive, and an alarming representation of the conduct of Providence towards sinners in general. They begin with delivering a plain message in the name of their Master. Being repulsed, they proceed to argue and expostulate. A deaf ear being turned to the voice of reason and humanity, they have recourse to more extraordinary proofs of the weight and authority of their commission ; proofs which, indeed, mark an Almighty arm; but an arm stretched out to convince, not to crush. A bold defiance being given to Omnipotence, what other method of working conviction and of procuring respect is left, but to let it fall with all its dreadful weight on the head of the defier ?
It happened to Israel as it often does to men struggling to get free from the pressure of calamity, their efforts only serve to plunge them deeper in the mire; and it happened to Moses and Aaron, as it sometimes befalls men actuated by a similar good intention, but with less title and encouragement, their interference hurts those whom it was meant to serve; and they have the mortification of seeing the miseries of their poor brethren cruelly increased, through what might be deemed their own zeal and officiousness. The inflexible tyrant avenges himself, for the freedom taken with the king of Egypt by persons so low and contemptible, upon the bleeding shoulders of thousands of wretches, who could not redress themselves, and who durst not complain. Miserable condition indeed! where the caprice of one man determines the fate of millions ! Happy the nation where not men but laws govern!
Providence, in this instance, seems resolved to try how far savage cruelty and patient suffering can go; but ready to interfere in both, when they have come to the extreme. Israel is not prepared for salvation, till the cup of woe is full, and deliverance is despaired of from every quarter save Heaven : and Pharaoh feels not the rod of God's anger, till having filled up the measure of his iniquity, hardened his heart against God and against man, poured contempt upon mercy, and braved infinite justice, he exalts himself into an awful monument to every impenitent sinner, of the desperate madness of fighting with his Maker. Moses is ready to sink afresh, under this cruel disappointment.
The reproaches of the unhappy sufferers, called, forced, lashed into labour, beyond what their strength could bear, cut him to the heart, and again he shrinks from the task which was imposed on him: and in these desponding words, he ventures to pour out the anguish of his soul before the Lord; “Wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name he hath done evil to this people, neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.”
Thus far has flowed the angry tide of proud, imperial passion : and thus low has ebbed the trembling, retreating stream of baffled expectation. And now, sit is time, Lord, that thou work ?" To the one he saith, “ Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." To the other, “ Return, and fill all thy channels, and overflow all thy banks."
The Angel of the Lord begins with reassuring Moses himself, by a recapitulation of the tenour of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, under the sanction of his name as the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. In all these wanderings, weaknesses and distresses they had been encouraged to trust in a Being, omnipotent to protect them, all-sufficient to supply their wants. But their posterity were henceforth to know him by another name, and under a new description, even the incommunicable, unutterable name which denotes eternal, unchangeable self existence; deriving nothing from any, but conferring upon all, life, and breath, and all things; who is above all
, through all, and in all; "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever :" and, of consequence, true to his word, faithful in keeping covenant, unalterable in his decrees !
Under the seal of that most tremendous, most animating and inspiring name, Moses is again dispatched to the people, with the assurance of a speedy, an instantaneous appearance in their behalf. But alas ! their spirit is broken by the long continuance and accumulated weight of their calamities. They have been disappointed so often, that they can believe, can hope no longer; and the message delivered by Moses is like a charming song upon the ear of a deaf or a dead man. He is sent from the people to Pharaoh, with a repetition of the demand of Heaven upon him. But alas! the messenger himself has caught the desponding spirit of the unhappy men whom he had been last visiting ; and the heart of Pharaoh bas not in the least relented. Heaven seems to have interposed somewhat too late ; the cause appears lost. Let us judge nothing rashly; let us not judge before the time. Let us humbly and patiently wait the issue, and then condemn if we dare, if we can.
-Moses at the bush saw God, under the appearance of a flame of fire ; but no man can see God and live. “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” The deliverer of Israel needed himself to be nurtured and prepared for the discharge of his high office; but a Saviour of a lost world entered upon the execution of his infinitely more arduous task, every way qualified to bring it to a happy conclusion. The Jewish lawgiver stood himself condemn
ed by the law, and was a partaker with others in guilt and transgression; the Christian Leader was "holy, harmless and undefiled.” Moses undertook the work assigned to him, slowly and reluctantly; but, O with what readiness did the friend of mankind press forward to the perfecting of his kind design ;. ** Lo I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, O my God : yea, thy law is within my heart."* " I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished ?"+ yet there was no shame, no pain, no cross in the way of Moses; whereas the Captain of salvation was to be " made perfect through sufferings ;” nevertheless, he advanced undismayed to the combat. “ With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer."| Moses frequently recoiled from the conflict, shrunk from the difficulty and danger, failed in the hour of trial ; but our great Leader and Commander went on conquering and to conquer;"? turned not back; desisted not from doing and from suffering, till he could say, " It is finished.” The Sun of righteousness shineth in his strength, let every star hide his diminished head. To him be glory forever and ever, Amen.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS VI. 1.
Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do unto Pharaoh ; for with a strong
hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. The history of the divine conduct is the best illustration of the nature of God. Do we desire to know what the Supreme Being is? We have but to consider what he does. Are we anxious to be satisfied of the truth of the declarations made by the great Jehovah concerning himself in his word ? Let us compare them with the history and experience of men in every age. The proofs of the divine goodness and mercy are written in characters so fair, and are so frequently presented to our view, that not to observe them must argue the grossest stupidity and inattention; and not to acknowledge, love and adore the glorious source of that unbounded goodness, must argue the blackest ingratitude. When the Lord makes himself known by the judgments which he executes, we see him advancing, to use the ideas and the language of men, with slow and reluctant steps. When misery is to be relieved, benefits conferred, or sins forgiven, the blessing outruns expectation, nay, even desire. But when the wicked are to be punished, justice seems to regret the necessity under which it is laid, to maintain itself, and the sinner is not destroyed till, to his own conviction, his condemnation is acquitted of unrighteousness, and till every thing around him calls for vengeance. The wickedness of the old world was so great, that God is said to have
* Psalm xl. 7, 8.
I Luke xii. 50.
Ib. xxii. 15.