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HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS XV, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27.
And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah ; for they were bitter :
therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, what shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweel : there he made for them a statute and an ordi. nance, and there he proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and will do that which is right in his sight, and will give ear 10 his commandments, and keep all his statutes ; I will put none of these diseases upon thee which I have brought upon the Egyptians : for I am the Lord that healeth thee. And they caine to Elin, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm-trees ; ard they encamped there by the waters.
Unless the mind be under the regulating power of religion, it will be perpetually losing its balance, and changing its tenor : at one time accelerated into indecent and dangerous speed, through the impulse of desire, ambition, or revenge; at another it is chilled into languor and inaction, through fear, despondency and disappointment. We shall behold the same person now believing things incredible, and attempting things impracticable; and anon staggering at the shadow of a doubt, and shrinking from the slightest appearance of difficulty and danger. Insolent, fierce and overbearing in prosperity, the unsteady creature becomes grovelling, dispirited, and mean in adversity. “It is a good thing," therefore, “ that the heart be established by grace:" grace, that calm, steady, uniform principle, which veers not with every wind of doctrine; rises not, nor falls, like the Mercury in the tube, with every variation of the atmosphere, according to the alternate transition of disappointment and success, censure and applause, health and sickness, youth and age. In the day of prosperity, religion saith to the soul where it dwells, “ Rejoice," and in the day of adversity, “ Consider ;" for a wise and a merciful God hath set the one over against the other. This divine principle corrects immoderate joy, saying to the happy, "Be not high minded, but fear;" it consoles and supports the miserable, by breathing the sweet assurance, that the “light affiction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."*
The want of this balance of the soul, and the dangerous consequences of that want, are strikingly exemplified in the history of the chosen people, whom Providence, by a series of miracles, undertook to conduct from Egypt to Canaan. Elated or depressed by the aspect of the moment, we find them haughty in the hour of victory, and sunk into despair, by a defeat. The deepness of the waters of the Red Sea, and their miraculous separation, afford matter of triumph to-day; the bitterness of the waters of Marah causes universal dişcontent and dejection to-morrow. But alas! we need not reçur to
» ? Cor. iv. 17
distant periods of history for an example of the ruinous effects produced by a destitution of religious principle, and of the fatal power of unbelief. The history of every man's own experience is illustration sufficient. To what must we ascribe the envy, jealousy, rage, pride, resentment, timidity, diffidence and dejection, which successively and unremittingly agitate the human mind ? Men walk by sight, not by faith. They feel the powers of the world that is, and are insensible of that which is to come. They look at things temporal," and neglect those which “ are unseen and eternal.” They stand in awe of the creature, and despise the Creator. While then we discover, deplore and condemn a selfish, a perverse and discontented spirit, and an unbelieving heart in others, let us study, by the grace of God, to reform the same or like dispositions in ourselves.
What a magnificent concert filled the shores of the Red Sea, after Israel was passed over ! Every thing was suited to another. The words were adaptcd to the occasion, the music to the words, the performers to the music. There Moses, leading the bolder, rougher notes of manly voices; here Miriam, the prophetess, his sister, in sweet accord, blending the softer harmony of female strains with the notes of the timbrel, in praise of their great Deliverer. Never surely did such music strike the vault of heaven, and never shall again, " till the rausomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads; when they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away:"* never, till the song of Moscs be closed with the song of the Lamb.
At length they quit the scene of their terror and of their triumph; for the world aduits not of a long continuance of either; and they advance three days march into the wilderness. Escaped effectually and forever from the oppression of Egypt, no more opposed in front by an unsurmountable barrier, nor hemmed in on either side by irnpassable mountains, nor pursued by a numerous and well disciplined army; but the sea, once their hindrance, now their defence; every foe subdued, and the road to Canaan straight before thein, what can now give disturbance ? On how many circumstances does life and the comfort of it depend! The failure or disagreeable quality of one ingredient corrupts and destroys the whole. In Shur they found no water ; in Marah they find water, but it is bitter. The unavoidable condition of a wilderness state! Always too little, or too much! Here there are children and peuury; there atiluence and sterility. This year there is drought parching and consuming every plant of the field ; the next, an overflowing flood sweeping every thing before it; and unhappy mortals are eternally augmenting the necessary and unavoidable evils of human life, by peevishness and discontent.
Oblige an ungrateful person ever so often, and disappoint or oppose him once, and lo, the memory of a thousand benefits is instantly lost. All that Moses, all that God has done for Israel is forgotten, the moment that a scarcity of water is felt. For it is with this spirit as with that of ambition : nothing is attained in the eye of ambition, while there is yet one thing to be attained. All the favour of Ahasuerus avails laman nothing, while Mordecai the Jew sits in the king's gate. So ingratitude says nothing is granted, while one thing is denied me. One scanty meal in Shur, or one unpalatable beverage at Marah, has obliterated all remembrance of the recent wonders of Egypt, and the more recent miracles of the Red Sea. And as one evil quality is ever found in company with its fellows, we here find ingratitude and impiety toward God blended with unkindness and unreasonableness toward man. And cowardice pitifully levels its kcen arrows at the servant, not daring to attack the master.
* Isai. xxxv. 10.
" The people murmured against Moses.” A worldly mind under distress either flies to the creature for help, or accuses the creature as the cause of its woc. Piety leads the soul directly to God; it views the calamity as his appointment; and finds its removal, its remedy, or its compensation in the divine mercy. Israel tastes the bitter water, desponds, and charges Moses foolishly. Moses cries to God, and is enlightened.
Observe the goodness and longsuffering of God. Readier to listen to the entreaties of Moses than to punish the perverseness and unbelief of the people, he instantly directs to a cure for the nitrous quality of the waters of Marah. “ The Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet."
Of little consequence is it to inquire, because it is impossible to determine, whether the wood of this tree had in it an inherent virtue which naturally corrected the brackish taste of the water; or, whether the sweetening quality were preternaturally communicated to it to fulfil the present design of Providence. Whether I see water sweetened by a log of wood cast into it, or issuing from the flinty rock, or flowing naturally in the brook ; whether I see Israel ted with bread from heaven, or Moses and Christ subsisting forty days without bread at all; or mankind in general supported by bread growing gradually out of the ground ; I still behold but one and the same object; “good gifts coming down" but in so many different ways " from the Father of lights.” The wise man, in the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, has made a happy use of this passage, to inculcate the necessity of using appointed means in order to obtain success. The Lord (says he) hath created medicines out of the earth, and he that is wise will not abhor them. Was not the water made sweet with wood, that the virtue thereof might be known ? and he hath given men skill, that he might be honoured in his marvellous works. With such doth he heal men, and taketh away their pains. My son, in thy sickness be not negligent ; but pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole.”
A fondness for allegory has represented the effect produced by this tree cast into the waters, as emblematical of the virtue of the cross, in sweetening and sanctifying affliction to the believer, and taking the sting out of death. Undoubtedly, when an object so important and a doctrine so instructive can by whatever means be impressed upon the heart, we ought not too squeamishly to reject application and illustrations of this sort. In order to promote the ends of true piety, what though we relax a little of the laws of rigid criticism ? if imagination serve as an handmaid to virtue and devotion, let men be as fanciful as they will. If a serious soul be edified or comforted, shall I mar his joy and disturb his tranquillity, by forcing him to comprehend the meaning of Greek and Hebrew particles ? Whether it be warrantable or not to give this evangelical turn to the passage before us, its moral intention and import will hardly be disputed. It exhibits the reluctance which men feel to encounter affliction, their impatience and unreasonableness under it, the wise design of Providence in afflictive dispensations, namely, to “prove men, whether they will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord their God, and do that which is right in his sight.” And finally, it illustrates the power, wisdom and goodness of God, in counteracting one natural evil by another evil; making poison serve as an antidote to poison, and healing the greater plague of sin by the less, that of suffering.
Some commentators have conjectured, that it was about this very spot that Hagar was relieved and supplied with water, she and her son, by the angel of the Lord, when they were banished from Abraham's house; and they reprove the incredulity of the Israelites by the example of her faith. After all, it was undoubtedly a very severe trial; whether we consider how much water, sweet water, is connected, not merely with the convenience and comfort, but with
We pass on
the very existence of human life; the immense quantity necessary for the support of such a vast multitude of men and women, besides cattle ; or the
peculiar demand occasioned by a vertical sun and a parched soil. from Marah as men, and as the inhabitants of more favoured regions, praising God, “ who walks upon the clouds,” and refreshes us from heaven above; gushes upon us in a thousand streams of limpid comfort from the earth beneath, and gently flows through every field in a tide of delight; and as christians we flee for refuge and refreshment to that wonderful Man, described in prophetic vision in such beautiful figures as these ; " A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest: as rivers of water in a dry place; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."* Gold, silver, and precious stones, are produced in small quantities, and are of difficult and dangerous investigation. And happily the life of man consists not in such things as these. Whereas the things which really minister to human comfort, and constitute the real support of human life, are poured down upon us with unbounded profusion. The choicest blessing which ever was bestow
upon the world, is common and free to all as the water in the stream, as the light and air of heaven.
But though the bitter waters are sweetened for present use, Israel must not think of continuing encamped by them. They are to be but the transient refreshment of the wayfaring man, not the stated supply of the land of promise. Whatever we have attained, whatever we enjoy, the voice of Providence still summons us away, saying, “ Arise ye and depart, for this is not your rest.'
Their next journeying is from Marah to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the
In the preceding station, their provision was partly from nature, partly from the kindness of a gracious Providence. Nature furnished the substance, a miracle endowed it with the suitable qualities. But at Elim, nature seems to do the whole, with her " threescore and ten palm-trees, and twelve wells of water.” And what is nature, but the great Jehovah performing the most astonishing wonders in a stated and regular course? Water issuing from a rock when smitten by a rod, is not in itself a whit more miraculous than the continually supplying one little stream from the same spring. Being arrived at Elim, they encamped “ by the waters.” The word “ Elim” standing in our version untranslated, is generally considered as the proper name of a place; but it is by some, and with a great appearance of reason, rendered, “the forests.” This is supported by a passage of Strabo,t the famous geographer and historian of Cappadocia, to this purpose ; that "at five days journey from Jericho there is a forest of palm-trees, which is held in great veneration throughout all that country, on account of the springs of water which are found there in great abundance." The numbers twelve and seventy in the sacred text, instead of signifying a determinate quantity, may undoubtedly denote indefinitely, according to a license common in all languages, a large abundance. And then the account of Strabo, and the narration of Moses, will naturally confirm and strengthen each other. Two writers of no less eminence and credit than Tacitust and Plutarchș plainly allude to this passage, when they say that “the Jews, being ready to perish with thirst, happily discovered springs of running water.'
But, instead of settling the geography of the spot, and the import of the word Elim, let us look into the fact recorded, and through it into ihe volume of human nature. “ They encamped there by the waters." The selssame spirit which murmured at the taste of a bitter stream, disposed them to seek repose by the side of one that was sweet and placid. Mistaken in both, a
* Isa, xxxii. 2.
Hlist. Lib. v.
Tom. II. Sympos. Lib. IV.
carnal mind is easily unhinged and soon satisfied.—Like children, they are put out of humour with a straw, aud presently pacified they know not why; and behold unbelief lying at the root of both one and the other. Now, eager to get home before the time; by and by drowning all thoughts and hopes of it in the bauble of the present hour. See Israel at one time disconcerted and chagrined to find that the wilderness did not produce everything to a wish ; at another, ready to forego the prospect of Canaan for Egypt, and to accept the land of dates and water for that flowing with milk and honey. Never did any good come of sitting down contentedly in temporal possessions. No sooner do men become easy and comfortable in their circumstances, than they grow capricious and fantastical in their wishes and desires. If Providence visit them not with scarcity, or unpleasantness of water : their own restless apperite shall visit them with an absurd and unreasonable craving for flesh. The fruit and shade of the palm-tree, and the deliciousness of a fresh spring, please not long. Put an end to novelty, and farewell delight. But a month and fourteen days have elapsed, since with so much joy they quitted the house of bondage: and they are weak and wicked enough to wish themselves thither again. And why? because, in a march of a few short weeks at most, through a wild and desert country, they wallowed not in the profusion of Egypt, which they were obliged to purchase at the price of their liberty and blood.
When we hear of such an universal mutiny, for it was not the murmuring of a few factious discontented spirits, but of the whole congregation of Israel, what have we not to fear fro.n the just resentment of a holy and righteous God, thus insulted by mistrust and unbelier ?' We find him immediately taking up the cause, and, in a manner peculiar to himself. Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, 0 earth. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold I will rain”—what? Fire and brimstone from heaven, upon this generation of incorrigible rebels, until they be utterly consumed ? No, but I will rain bread from heaven upon you.” Is this thy manner with men, O Lord God ? Surely, “it is of thy mercy we are not consumed, because thy compassions fail not.”
The historical fact which follows, as the accomplishment of this promise, is one of the most singular upon record ; and so mixes itself with the leading objects of the New Testament dispensation, that it well merits a separate and particular consideration.
Being arrived at another of the great epochas, or periods of ancient history the going out of Egypt; we shall make a brief recapitulation of the whole, from the beginning. The first great period of the history of the world, is from the creation down to the deluge ; containing the space of one thousand six hundred and fifty-six years; and a succession of eight lives, from Adam, to the six hundredth year of Noah. The second is, from the flood to the calling of Abraham, and contains four hundred and twenty-seven years; and a succession of ten lives, from the hundred and eighth year of Shem, the son of Noah, to the seventy-fifth of Abraham, the father and founder of the Jewish. nation : six of the patriarchs, after the flood, being now dead, Noah, Phaleg, Rehu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah; and four of them still living, Shem, Arphaxe ad, Salah, and Heber. So that one life, that of Shem, connects the antediluvian world, and the call of Abraham. For he was ninety-eight years old before the flood came ; and lived till Abraham was one hundred and fifty, and Isaac fifty years old. The third grand period of the world, containing four hundred and thirty years, commences on the fifteenth day of the month Abib, which answers to the end of our April, or the beginning of May. And some learned chronologists have undertaken to prove, from the scripture history and astronomical calculations, that Abraham departed from Haran, the paschal Vol. 111.