Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
We now enter upon the narrative of the third and last stage of the journey of Israel from Sinai to the Promised Land: this narrative is given in this and the following chapter. This part of the journey commenced at Kadesh, was continued round the land of Edom (Numbers 21:4), and ended at the heights of Pisgah, in the country, or fields of Moab (Numbers 21:20), near the Dead Sea and the Jordan. The events of the Journey seem to be arranged “rather in a classified order than in one that is strictly chronological.” Thus the attack upon Israel by the Canaanitish king of Arad (Numbers 21:1-3) was made during the march from Kadesh to Mount Hor. Chronologically Keil and Del. would place the brief narrative between the first and second clause of Numbers 20:22 of chap. 20.
Numbers 20:1. The whole congregation. Probably during the time of their penal wanderings, nearly thirty-eight years, “the congregation” was to some extent broken up and scattered abroad in the wilderness of Paran, so as to facilitate the pasturage of the flocks and herds. Now “the whole congregation” again assembles in the same locality where the sentence of the wandering had been passed upon them.
The desert of Zin (see notes on chaps. Numbers 12:16; Numbers 13:21).
In the first month, of the fortieth year from the Exodus (comp. Numbers 20:22-28 with Numbers 33:38).
Kadesh (see notes on Numbers 13:26).
Numbers 20:3. When our brethren died before the Lord. It is uncertain to what deaths they refer. Knobel supposes that the reference is to Korah and his company. Keil and Del. say that “the reference is to those who had died one by one during the thirty-seven years.”
Numbers 20:6. They fell upon their faces (comp. chaps, Numbers 14:5; Numbers 16:4).
The glory of the Lord appeared unto them (comp. chaps. Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:19).
Numbers 20:8. Take the rod. “Not the budding rod of Numbers 17:7, but that with which the miracles in Egypt had been wrought, and which had been used on a similar occasion at Rephidim, Exodus 17:5, sqq.”—Speaker’s Comm.
The rock. “The word always used for ‘the rock’ of Kadesh, in describing the second supply of water, is ‘sela’ or ‘cliff,’ in contradistinction to the usual word ‘tzur’—‘rock,’ which is no less invariably applied to ‘the rock’ of Horeb—the scene of the first supply. It may be difficult to determine the relative meaning of the two words. But it is almost certain that of the two, ‘sela,’ like our word ‘cliff,’ is the grander and more abrupt feature.”—Stanley. Sinai and Pal.
The rock before their eyes. “To the first rock in front of them, and standing in their sight.” M. Nachmanides.
Numbers 20:9. Moses took the rod from before the Lord. The rod seems to have been laid up in the sanctuary, hence it is said to be taken “from before the Lord.”
Numbers 20:10-11. This miraculous supply of water from the “cliff” is different from that from the rock (Exodus 17:1-7). “The first happened in the first year of the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt; this, when their journey was about to terminate, thirty-nine years after their departure. The first was an occasion to Moses of obeying punctually the orders of God; this is narrated as a sorrowful period, in which this legislator lost sight of the great motives which ought to have induced him to believe what God had spoken. The first happened in the desert of Sin on the mountain of Horeb; this in the desert of Zin on the frontier of Idumea.”—Saurin.
Numbers 20:10. Hear now, ye rebels, &c. (comp. Psalms 106:33).
Numbers 20:12. Because ye believed Me not, &c. “What was the offence for which Moses was excluded from the Promised Land? It appears to have consisted in some or all of the following particulars:
1. God had commanded him (Numbers 20:8) to take the rod in his hand, and go and SPEAK TO THE ROCK, and it should give forth water. It seems Moses did not think speaking would be sufficient, therefore he smote the rock without any command so to do.
2. He did this twice, which certainly in this case indicated a great perturbation of spirit, and want of attention to the presence of God.
3. He permitted his spirit to be carried away by a sense of the people’s disobedience, and thus, being provoked, he was led to speak unadvisedly with his lips: ‘Hear now, ye REBELS’ (Numbers 20:10).
4. He did not acknowledge GOD in the miracle which was about to be wrought, but took the honour to himself and Aaron: ‘Must WE fetch you water out of this rock?’ Thus it plainly appears that they did not properly believe in God and did not honour Him in the sight of the people; for in their presence they seem to express a doubt whether the thing could be possibly done. As Aaron appears to have been consenting in the above particulars, therefore he is also excluded from the Promised Land.”—A. Clarke, LL.D.
Numbers 20:13. Meribah, i.e., strife. In Numbers 27:14, it is spoken of as “Meribah in Kadesh,” to distinguish it from Meribah in Horeb (Exodus 17:7).
He was sanctified in them. He vindicated His own sanctity by putting to shame the unbelieving murmuring of the people by the miraculous supply of water, and by punishing Moses and Aaron for their unbelief.
Numbers 20:14. Thy brother Israel. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob or Israel.
Numbers 20:16. Sent an angel. “Cf. Exodus 14:19. The term is to be understood as importing generally the supernatural guidance under which Israel was.”—Speaker’s Comm. Knobel interprets it as signifying the pillar of cloud and fire. “In it was present ‘the angel of God’ (Exodus 14:19), i.e., the Divine presence, personally; in it appeared ‘the glory of Jehovah’ (Exodus 16:10; Exodus 40:34; Numbers 16:42). It was an elementary appearance, made use of by Him who appointed and rules the elements, to signify to His people His immediate presence and guardianship.”—Alford on Exodus 13:21.
Kadesh, a city, i.e., Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 32:8). It is probable that Barnea was the older or original name of the town, and that it was called Kadesh because of the events which took place there, and are recorded in chaps. Numbers 13:26-33, or of those which are recorded in this chapter (Numbers 20:7-13), and that in those instances in which we find the name Kadesh in earlier portions of Scripture history it is applied proleptically, or by anticipation. “The nearest approximation which can be given to a site for the city of Kadesh, may be probably attained by drawing a circle from the pass Es-Sufa, at the radius of about a day’s journey; its south-western quadrant would intersect the wilderness of Paran, or Et-Tih, which is there overhung by the superimposed plateau of the mountain of the Amorites; while its south-eastern one will cross what has been designated as the wilderness of Zin. This seems to satisfy all the conditions of the passages of Genesis, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which refer to it. The nearest site in harmony with this view which has yet been suggested (Robinson, 2:175), is undoubtedly the Ain el-Weibeh.”—Biblical Dict.
Numbers 20:17. Let us pass through thy country. The entrance to Canaan from the South was very difficult by reason of the intervening mountains. which were lofty and steep. Moses, therefore, proposed to enter it from the east, across the Jordan. “In order to gain the banks of the Jordan by the shortest route they had to march nearly due east from Kadesh, and pass through the heart of the Edomitish mountains. These are lofty and precipitous, traversed by two or three narrow defiles, of which one (the Wady Ghuweir) only is practicable for an army. Hence the necessity of the request, Numbers 5:17.”—Speaker’s Comm. Ain el-Weibeh “is nearly opposite the Wady Ghuweir, the great opening into the steep eastern wall of the Arabah, and, therefore, the most probable ‘highway’ by which to ‘pass through the border’ of Edom.”—Biblical Dict.
The King’s high way. Heb. “the King’s way,” i.e., “the public high road. which was probably made at the cost of the state, and kept up for the king and his armies to travel upon, and is synonymous with the ‘sultan’s road’ (Derb es Sultan) or ‘emperor’s road,’ as the open, broad, old military roads are still called in the East.”—Keil and Del.
Numbers 20:19. I will only, without, &c. Heb. “lit. ‘it is nothing at all; I will go through with my feet:’ i.e., we want no great thing; we will only make use of the high road.”—Ibid.
Numbers 20:20. And Edom came out against him. “The Israelites without awaiting at Kadesh the return of their ambassadors, commenced their eastward march. At the tidings of their approach the Edomites mustered their forces to oppose them; and on crossing the Arabah they found their ascent through the mountains barred. The notice of this is inserted here to complete the narrative; but in order of time it comes after the march of Numbers 5:22.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 20:22. Mount Hor. Heb. lit. “Hor the mountain.” הֹר Hor, “is an old form for הַר,” Har.—Fuerst. So that the meaning of the name is simply “the mountain of mountains.” “It is one of the very few spots connected with the wanderings of the Israelites which admits of no reasonable doubt. The proofs of the identity of Jebel Harûn, as it is now called, with Mount Hor, are—
(1) The situation ‘by the coast of the land of Edom,’ where it is emphatically ‘the mountain’ (Hor) Numbers 20:23.
(2) The statement of Josephus (Ant. IV. iv. 7), that Aaron’s death occurred on a high mountain enclosing Petra.
(3) The modern name and traditional sanctity of the mountain as connected with Aaron’s tomb. The mountain is marked far and near by its double top, which rises like a huge castellated building from a lower base, and on one of these is the Mahometan chapel erected out of the remains of some earlier and more sumptuous building over the supposed grave.”—Stanley. Sinai and Pal.
“It is almost unnecessary to state that it is situated on the eastern side of the great valley of the Arabah, the highest and most conspicuous of the whole range of the sandstone mountains of Edom, having close beneath it on its eastern side—though strange to say the two are not visible to each other—the mysterious city of Petra.… Its height, according to the latest measurement, is 4800 feet (Eng.) above the Mediterranean, that is to say, about 1700 feet above the town of Petra, 4000 above the level of the Arabah, and more than 6000 above the Dead Sea.”—Biblical Dict.
Numbers 20:26. Strip Aaron of his garments (comp. Leviticus 8:7-9).
THE DEATH OF MIRIAM
Two preliminary points are suggested by the assembling of “the whole congregation in the desert of Zin”:
First: The loss that sin inflicts upon a people. After nearly thirty-eight years the entire nation is congregated in the place where the sentence of penal wandering had been passed upon them. For all these years the sin of the rebellious people arrested their national history. Sin, whether in the individual or the nation, checks progress, and inflicts loss and injury.
Second: The control of God over human history. When the time fixed in the Divine purposes for the re-assembling of the people arrives, they again gather themselves together. The hand of the Lord is on the affairs of men, directing, restraining, overruling them for good. “His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure.”
The death of Miriam suggests the following observations—
I. Death terminates the most protracted life.
Assuming that Miriam was 10 or 12 years old when Moses was born (and her conduct as watcher over her infant brother [Exodus 3:4-8] indicates that she was of fully that age), she must have been at the time of her death 130 years old. Hers was a long life; but death closed it. He whose life-pilgrimage is longest, reaches the end of his journey at last “Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told: do not all go to one place?” (a)
II. Death terminates the most eventful life.
Very eventful had been the life of Miriam.
1. The girl watching over the life of her infant brother (Exodus 3:4-8). When we reflect upon the destiny marked out for her brother by God, how important was her duty at that time!
2. The experienced woman sharing in the interest and action of the stirring events which led to the great emancipation from Egypt. It appears to us a moral certainty that those events awakened her deep interest and aroused her to earnest effort.
3. The prophetess leading the exultant songs and dances of a triumphant people (Exodus 15:20-21).
4. The envious woman aspiring after equality with, and speaking against her greater brother (Numbers 12:1-2). She was of a noble nature, yet she was capable of meanness, detraction, &c. Here is the blot upon her otherwise fair reputation.
5. The guilty woman smitten with leprosy because of the sin (Numbers 12:9-10). Her distinguished position and gifts could not avert from her the just punishment of her sin.
6. The leprous woman healed in answer to the prayer of the brother whom she had spoken against (Numbers 12:13-15). The most stirring and eventful life is closed by death, as well as the quiet and monotonous one.
III. Death terminates the most distinguished life.
1. Miriam was distinguished by her gifts. Prophetic gifts are ascribed to her. “Miriam, the prophetess,” is her acknowledged title (Exodus 15:20). “The prophetic power showed itself in her under the same form as that which it assumed in the days of Samuel and David—poetry, accompanied with music and processions” (comp. Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 5:0; 1 Samuel 10:5). Death spares not even the most richly gifted of our race. (b)
2. Miriam was distinguished by her position. A very high position is given to her in the Sacred Scriptures. In Micah 6:4, she is spoken of as one of the three deliverers of the enslaved people: “I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” “How grand was her position is implied in the cry of anguish which goes up from both her brothers” when she was smitten with leprosy. “Alas, my lord!… Let her not be as one dead,” &c. (Numbers 13:11-13). “And it is not less evident in the silent grief of the nation. ‘The people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.’ ” It is manifest also in the national mourning on account of her death; for, according to Josephus (Ant. IV. iv. 6), “they mourned for her thirty days.” Death brings down persons of the most exalted rank, and lays them low as those of the meanest station (comp. Job 3:13-19). (c)
IV. Death, by reason of sin, sometimes terminates life earlier than it otherwise would have done.
Miriam was not of the faithful few who entered the Promised Land. She sinned in murmuring and speaking against Moses; and, therefore, she must die and find a lonely grave in the desert of Zin. How many lives are cut short in our day by violation of sanitary laws, by gluttony, and by drunkenness!
V. Death sometimes terminates life with suggestions of a life beyond.
It was so in the case of Miriam. Can we think that the gifts with which she was so richly endowed, and the treasures of experience which in her long and eventful life she had gathered, were all lost at death? This would be in utter opposition to the analogy of the Divine arrangements in the universe. In nature we can trace no sign of waste; the most scrupulous economy may be observed in all the provinces of the material realm. Can we imagine that, under the rule of the same Divine Being, there exists in the spiritual realm such waste as would be involved in the extinction of those who are gifted in mind, ripe in experience, and holy in character? The Israelites did not leave Miriam in the desert of Zin: her body only remained there; her spirit, herself, passed swiftly to the great and glorious fellowship of the good “beyond the vail.” (d)
“The dead are like the stars by day,
Withdrawn from mortal eye;
But not extinct, they hold their way
In glory through the sky.
Spirits from bondage thus set free
Vanish amidst immensity,
Where human thought, like human sight,
Fails to pursue their trackless flight.”
Since death is inevitable, it is the duty and interest of every one so to live that it shall be the door of admission into endless and blessed life. (e)
(a) All forms recipient of life die sometime. Some few may be privileged to survive the rest, even for thousands of years, as happens with certain trees, but the same death which in regard to the children of men, while it surprises many, skips not one, at last overpowers the most tenacious. “Come like shadows, so depart,” is the law of the entire material creation,—in fact, as great a law as that it lives.… Birth, growth, and arriving at maturity, as completely imply decay and death as the source of a river implies the termination of it, or as spring and summer imply cornfields and reaping. Hence, whatever the vigour and the powers of repair that may pertain to any given structure, whatever resistance it may offer to the shocks of Ages, Time, sooner or later, dissolves it;—careful, however, to renew whatever it takes away, and to convert, invariably, every end into a new beginning. There is not a grave in the whole circuit of nature that is not at the same moment a cradle.—L. H. Grindon.
(b) Take up the learned man’s skull, and what is the difference between that and the skull of the merest pauper that scarcely knew his letters? Brown, impalpable powder, they both crumble down into the same elements. To die in a respectable position, what is the use of it? What are a few more plumes on the hearse, or a longer line of mourning coaches? Will these ease the miseries of Tophet? Ah! friends, you have to die. Why not make ready for the inevitable? Oh! if men were wise, they would see that all earth’s joys are just like the bubbles which our children blow with soap; they glitter and they shine, and then they are gone, and there is not even a wreck left behind.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(c) Death comes equally to us all, and makes us alt equal when it comes. The ashes of an oak in a chimney are no epitaph of that, to tell me how high, or how large that was; it tells me not what flocks it sheltered while it stood, nor what men it hurt when it fell. The dust of great persons’ graves is speechless too; it says nothing, it distinguishes nothing. As soon the dust of a wretch whom thou wouldest not, as of a prince whom thou couldest not look upon, will trouble thine eyes if the wind blow It thither; and when a whirlwind hath blown the dust of the churchyard into the church, and the man sweeps out the dust of the church into the churchyard, who will undertake to sift those dusts again, and to pronounce, ‘This is the patrician, this is the noble flour, and this the yeoman, this the plebeian bran?”—Dr. J. Donne.
(d) We notice frequently over cemetery gates, as an emblematic device, a torch turned over, ready to be quenched. Ah! my brethren, it is not so, the torch of our life burns the better, and blazes the brighter for the change of death. The breaking of the pitcher which now surrounds the lamp and conceals the glory will permit our inner life to reveal its lofty nature, and ere long even the pitcher shall be so remodelled as to become an aid to that light; its present breaking is but preparatory to its future refashioning. It is a blessed thought that the part of us which must most sadly feel the mortal stroke is secured beyond all fear from permanent destruction. We know that this very body, though it moulders into dust, shall live again; these weeping eyes shall have all tears wiped from them; these hands which grasp to-day the sword of conflict shall wave the palm-branch of triumph.—C. H. Spurgeon.
“Because I live, ye shall live also.” That is the end of trouble. Now sorrow is crowned with hope! Now the gate is thrown open! Now the angel sits upon the stone! Now the emergent Christ walks forth, light and glorious as the sun in the heavens! Now the lost is found! Now all the stars hang like gems, and jewels, and treasures for us! Now, since Christ says that out of all these experiences He shall bring forth life, even as his own life was brought forth out of the tomb, what is there that we need trouble ourselves about?—H. W. Beecher.
(e) We shall all die! Do not let us post pone the intimation of our need of the Son of God until we are so faint that we can only receive him at the side of our death-bed. Do let us be more decent, more courteous, more civil. We shall all die! That is a fact that men have never been able to reason out of human history. If they could come to me and say, “We will guarantee you shall never die, you shall always be as you are—young, and strong, and active, and prosperous,” then I might incline an ear to their reasonings more deferentially than I am disposed to do at present. But when they are talking to me against religion and against the deeper life, against faith and spiritual love and service of the unseen, what do I behold? Oh, this: Over their shoulder a grim, ghastly spectre alled Death!—Joseph Parker, D.D.
Be ready, minister, see to it that thy church be in good order, for the grave shall soon be digged for thee; be ready, parent, see that your children are brought up in the fear of God, for they must soon be orphans; be ready, men of business, you that are busy in the world, see that your affairs are correct, see that you serve God with all your heart, for the days of your terrestrial service will soon be ended, and you will be called to give account for the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or whether they be evil. O may we all prepare for the tribunal of the great King with a care which shall be rewarded with the commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE PRIVATIONS OF MAN AND THE RESOURCES OF GOD
I. There are privations in the pilgrimage of human life.
“And there was no water for the congregation.” Man is a dependent creature. Every human being has to endure privation in some form or another. Even the wealthiest of men find that there are some desirable things which wealth cannot purchase. But in the case before us the Israelites were suffering from want, not of the luxuries or comforts of life, but of one of its great necessities: there was a great lack of water. In our pilgrimage we are often without things which we have regarded as essential to our life. One man thinks that without health his life would be worthless; yet he has to submit to its loss for a time. To another man prosperity seems essential; to another, friendship, or some one friend or relative; yet of these they are sometimes deprived. Life, in our view, has many privations. This characteristic of our pilgrimage is for wise and gracious ends. Privation should remind us that we are pilgrims—incite us to confide in God—and discipline our spirits into patience and power.
II. The privations in the pilgrimage of life sometimes develop the evil tendencies of human nature.
“And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people chode with Moses,” &c. (Numbers 20:2-5). Here privation is made the occasion of an outrageous rebellion. The conduct of the people was—
1. Unreasonable. Why should they blame Moses and Aaron? Why chide Moses? He was not responsible for the lack of water. And as their leader, he was acting under Divine direction. It was neither reasonable nor fair to assail Moses and Aaron as they did.
2. Cruel. Moses and Aaron are of sorrowful heart because of the death of their distinguished sister; they need sympathy and consolation from the people; but instead thereof, they are unjustly and bitterly assailed. The feelings of our common humanity should have effectually restrained the people from treating their bereaved and sorrowing leaders after this fashion.
3. Ungrateful. The many and great mercies which God had bestowed upon them seem to be all and utterly lost sight of in their present trial. Not one word of thankfulness, but many words of complaint do they give utterance to. (a)
4. Degraded. “Wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us unto this evil place? It is no place of seed, or of figs,” &c. How unspeakably mournful is the degradation of manhood when human beings estimate “figs” more highly than freedom! They prefer slavery with figs and vines and pomegranates than liberty without them. Such a preference indicates their lack of true manhood, and the serfdom of their spirits. (b)
5. Audaciously wicked. How awful is the impiety to which they gave expression in their insolent interrogations! To wish that they had died by the stroke of God’s judgment (Numbers 20:3); to falsely impute the wickedest design to their true-hearted and God-appointed leader (Numbers 20:4); to resent the emancipation which the Lord so graciously and gloriously wrought for them (Numbers 20:5)—how atrociously wicked is all this!
The trials of life never leave us as they find us. Unless they, by the grace of God, are the occasion of blessing to us, they will lead, as in the case of these rebellious Israelites, to deterioration of character by the development of its evil attributes. They will lead either to increased patience and acquiescence in the will of God, or to increased fretfulness and rebellion against His will, &c. (c)
III. The privations in the pilgrimage of life, and the evils which are sometimes occasioned by them, impel the good to seek help of God.
“And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces.” In their trial they betook themselves to God in prayer. Their action in this is very suggestive. It implies—
1. Consciousness of need. They felt their inability to deal with the disaffected and rebellious people; they sought the direction of Heaven, &c.
2. Faith in the sufficiency of the Divine help. The promptitude with which they resorted to the tabernacle, and cast themselves down in prayer to God, indicates their confidence in Him as their Helper. They believed in His wisdom for their guidance, &c.
3. Faith in the efficacy of prayer to obtain the Divine help. Moses and Aaron had proved convincingly the power of prayer on several occasions. “Ask, and it shall be given you,” &c.
4. Faith in the efficacy of unspoken prayer. There is no record of any words addressed by them to God. The probability is, that their feelings and desires were too deep and strong to be expressed in words. There may be true and effective prayer without speech. The holiest and profoundest longings of our souls cannot be expressed. In this respect they resemble the prayers of the Divine Spirit who “maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Here, then, at the throne of Divine grace, is the refuge of the godly soul in time of trial. This refuge is
(2) all-sufficient, &c.
IV. The privations in the pilgrimage of life are sometimes removed in answer to the prayer of the good.
“And the glory of the Lord appeared unto them, and the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod,” &c. (Numbers 20:6-11). Thus in answer to the prayer of Moses and Aaron, the privation of the people was removed by this copious supply of water. Concerning this supply of water, notice—
1. It was Divine. In a special sense it was the gift of God. Before it was given His “glory appeared;” He directed His servant what to do to obtain it; He bestowed it.
2. It was miraculous. Speaking to a cliff, or smiting it with a rod, were not natural means for obtaining water. But this water was supernaturally given. The miracle was manifest and indisputable. It was wrought in the presence of the assembled people. Spiritual blessings transcend nature. Redemption is supernatural in its origin, supernatural in its great Agent, &c.
3. It was unmerited. This murmuring, rebellious congregation did not deserve any benefit at the hand of God. He blessed them because He is “rich in mercy.” Mankind did not merit redemption. “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” How great are our demerits! yet God blesses us with the treasures of His grace, &c.
4. It was abundant. “The water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts.” How abundant are spiritual blessings! God “abundantly pardons”; He “makes all grace abound,” &c. (1 Corinthians 9:8; 1 Corinthians 9:11). (d)
5. It was free. The water, without any charge or any restriction, was available to all. An emblem of the blessings of salvation. “Ho, every one that thirsteth,” &c. (Isaiah 55:1). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (e)
6. It was bestowed in answer to prayer. Moses and Aaron sought His help in their extremity, and He stilled the rebellious people by removing the privation from which they suffered. And in all the privations of the pilgrimage of our life, if we seek Him in prayer He will either remove the privation, or give us grace to endure it patiently; He will either lighten our burden or increase our strength. His resources are adequate to all the necessities of our pilgrimage. He is ever ready to communicate freely of these resources to all who seek Him.
“Am I thirsting? He will guide me
Where refreshing waters flow;
Faint or feeble, He’ll provide me
Grace for every want I know.”
1. Guard against the sin of which Israel was guilty. In time of trial, do not murmur; be patient, &c.
2. Believe in and make use of the efficacy of prayer. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee,” &c.
3. Exercise constant trust in God. “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”
“Then, my soul, since God doth love thee,
Faint not, droop not, do not fear;
Though His heaven is high above thee,
He Himself is ever near.”
(a) But we must cease to wonder at them, and learn to confess our own corruption of heart, and proneness to yield and fall down in time of temptation, unless we be stayed up by the mighty hand of God. For albeit He be most gracious and merciful unto us, hedgeth us round about with many blessings, and compasseth us with riches of grace on every side, yet we forget them all if any one cross do any way lie upon us. If the Lord touch us with sickness, as with His little finger; with losses, with crosses, with poverty, or any misery, such is our impatience, that we always dwell upon the meditation of that want, we look upon it with our eyes, we handle it with our hands, we toss it in our minds, and never remember the multitude of His mercies, the peace of a good conscience, the loving countenance of the Lord, the seal of our adoption, the assurance of our salvation, the sweet taste of His love shed in our hearts by the Holy Ghost; so that one trouble doth more daunt us and strike us to the heart than many blessings can comfort and refresh us. But God, taking away outward blessings, giveth spiritual to His children, and doth sweeten the bitterness of the cross with inward consolation, and doth recompense it with heavenly grace, whereby we gain more in the spirit than we lose in the flesh.—W. Attersoll.
I remember in our Baptist martyrology the story of one of the Baptists of Holland escaping from his persecutors. A river was frozen over, and the good man crossed it safely, but his enemy was of greater bulk, and the ice gave way under him. The Baptist, like a child of God as he was, turned round and rescued his persecutor just as he was sinking beneath the ice to a certain death. And what did the wretch do? As soon as ever he was safely on the shore he seized the man who had saved his life, and dragged him off to the prison from which he was only taken to be put to death! We wonder at such inhumanity; we are indignant at such base returns—but the returns which the ungodly make to God are baser far. I wonder myself as I talk to you—I wonder that I speak so calmly on so terribly humbling a theme; and, remembering our past lives, and our long ingratitude to God, I marvel that we do not turn this place into one vast Bochim, or place of weeping, and mingle our tears in a flood, with expressions of deep shame and self-abhorrence for our dealings towards God.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) There are others who seek how much they can call their own, by whatever means; of how much benefit they can hold a monopoly; from how large a place in God’s universe they can keep other men off, and how much envy they can rouse in rivals and neighbours. These have never mastered their baser and greedier instincts, and so far have never known the Divine joy of being blessed for their benefactions, and have never tasted of the peace that passeth understanding. Very often God punishes as by letting us have what we seek.…
To the seekers of mere material and selfish comfort, one serious consideration is presented by the progress of history. That kind of search is sinking. Every new day that breaks into the sky degrades it; both because new lights are stationed about it, in our educational and industrial wakefulness, to show its shame, and because the practical tendencies of the time force upon materialism a more and more hard and sottish character. In more imaginative periods, romance threw about idolatry at least the graces of fancy, and made it poetical. Now it is either shrewd or stolid. It is the idolatry of the arithmetic, the stock list, and the palate; not of fable and heroism. The noblest element has vanished. It is bare gluttony. If you are going to worship the animal, then return to the inventions of Egyptian and Grecian genius—“the fair humanities of old religion.” Give us back at least the simplicity of fetishism with its sensuality. Rebuild the Pantheon. Relight the fires on Pagan altars. Repeople the woods with dryads, and the water with nymphs. Anything rather than the gross surfeit of appetite, and the clinking creed of dollars! And if you cannot do that, take it as a sober hint that God’s providence does not mean to have materialists in the world at all. Seek something worthier of your humanity.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(c) Many men are distressing themselves, when they think of their trials, by imagining that they have done something wrong, or God never could have sent such afflictions to them personally, or to their household. That is a mistake. There are trials that are simply tests—not punishments; trials of faith and patience—not rods sent to scourge men because they have been doing some particular evil thing. God’s people are tried. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” The honour is not in the trial; it is in the spirit in which the trial is borne. Take the trial impatiently, with murmuring against God, and we shall be the worse for our trial, the poorer for our suffering. Take the trial as a veiled angel sent by our Father to say things to us which no other messenger could so suitably convey, then even the rod shall be precious to us, and the herald’s utterances of God shall have music in them that shall comfort, and revive, and cheer the heart.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(d) Stand still awhile, and contemplate the abundant mercy of our blessed God! A river deep and broad is before you. Track it to its fountain head, see it welling up in the covenant of grace, in the eternal purposes of infinite wisdom. The secret source is no small spring, no mere bubbling fount; it is a very Geyser, leaping aloft in fulness of power; the springs of the sea are not comparable therewith. Not even an angel could fathom the springs of eternal love, or measure the depths of infinite grace. Follow now the stream; mark it in all its course. See how it widens and deepens, how at the cross foot it expands into a measureless river! Mark how the filthy come and wash, See how each polluted one comes up milk-white from the washing! Note how the dead are brought to be bathed in this sacred stream, and mark how they live the moment they touch its wave. Mark how the sick are laid upon the bank, and if but the spray of the river falls upon them, they are made whole! See how on either bank rich verdure clothes the land! Wheresoever this stream cometh all is life and happiness. Observe along the margin the many trees whose leaves never wither, and whose fruits in season are always brought to maturity; these all draw their life from this flood, and drink from this river of God, which is full of water. Fail not with gladsome eye to note the thousand barques of fairest sail, which scud along the mighty river with colours flying, each vessel laden with joy. Behold how happily they are borne along by the current of mercy to the ocean of infinite felicity! Now we reach the mighty main of mercy, dare you attempt with wings of faith to fly over that glassy sea? No shore gives boundary to that great deep, no voice proclaims its length and breadth, but from its lowest deeps, and all along its unruffled bosom, I hear a voice which saith, “Herein is love.”—C. H. Spurgeon.
(e) Freely, that may be lavishly, ungrudgingly, with fulness and overflow, yet without upbraiding. Or, freely may mean without price or tax, without money as the air is given, without price as the sunlight is poured forth. So “freely given to us of God.” Why this is most God-like wholly. No good thing doth he withhold from them that walk uprightly. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for as all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things,”—ALL things,—ALL things! “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” God “giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.”—Joseph Parker, D.D.
THE SIN OF MOSES
The facts recorded.
I. What there was sinful in Moses.
1. There was disobedience to the Divine command.
2. There was immoderate heat and passion.
3. There was unbelief.
4. It was all publicly done, and so the more dishonouring to God.
II. What we may learn from this tragical story.
1 What a holy and jealous God He is with whom we have to do.
2. The Lord’s children need not think it strange if they get abundance to exercise that grace in which they most excel.
3. Let us not be surprised to see or hear the saints failing even in the exercise of that grace wherein they most excel.
4. Never think yourselves secure from falling till ye be at the end of your race.
5. What need we have to guard constantly our unruly passions, and put a bridle on our lips.
6. Though God pardons the iniquity of His servant, yet He will take vengeance on their inventions (Psalms 99:8).
7. If God punishes His children thus for falling into the snare, how shall they escape who lay the snare for them?
8. Observe the ingenuousness of the penmen of the Holy Scripture—Moses records his own fault.—T. Boston.
THE ROCK AT KADESH, AN EMBLEM OF CHRIST
(Numbers 20:11, and 1 Corinthians 10:4, last clause.)
Jehovah is frequently spoken of by the Sacred Writers as a Rock (Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:31; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 22:2; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 38:1; Psalms 31:2; Psalms 42:9; et al.). And St. Paul, referring to the rock at Horeb, and probably to this one at Kadesh also, says, “That Rock was Christ”—i.e., a type of Christ. This rock is an emblem of Christ—
I. In its characteristics.
1. Permanence. How firm and stable are the rocks! Generations of men come and go; but the grand old cliffs remain. Of all earthly things they are the most abiding. “The Son abideth for ever.” “Christ abideth for ever.” “He ever liveth to make intercession.” “I am alive for evermore.” Jesus Christ is the “sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 1:0; 1 Corinthians 1:0. Pet. Numbers 2:6-7). (a)
2. Unchangeableness. Geologists tell us of changes even in the rocks; but apparently and to the ordinary observer they are immutable. They are the best symbols on the earth of the unchangeable. How unchangeable is our Lord and Saviour! “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”
II. In the water which flowed from it.
Christianity and its blessings are frequently compared to pure water in the Bible (comp. Isaiah 55:1; John 4:14; John 7:37-38; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:17). There are several points of analogy between this water and Gospel blessings. Both are—
1. Necessary. Water is essential to life. Spiritual life is impossible apart from Christ (1 John 5:12). (b)
2. Pure. This water was from a cliff, not from a pond: it had been filtered in the hills, and streamed forth pure and bright to the thirsty multitude. The blessings of Christianity are both pure and purifying.
3. Refreshing. Mark how water refreshes the parched earth; how it revives the fading, drooping plant or flower; how it re-animates the pilgrim exhausted by thirst. “A Man shall be as rivers of water in a dry place.” (Comp. Isaiah 35:6-7; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 44:3). (c)
4. Abundant. (On this and the following points see on Numbers 20:2-11). (d)
5. Free. (e)
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” &c.
(a) Here is simple existence, with no note of beginning or end. Our Lord says not, “Before Abraham was, I was,” but “I am.” He claims pre-existence indeed, but He does not merely claim pre-existence; He unveils a consciousness of Eternal Being. He speaks as one on Whom time has no effect, and for Whom it has no meaning. He is the I AM of ancient Israel; He knows no past, as He knows no future; He is unbeginning, unending Being; He is the eternal “Now.”—Canon Liddon.
(b) Yonder shipwrecked man has constructed a raft, and far out on the wild expanse of pitiless waters he has floated wearily day after day, sighing for a friendly sail or for sight of land; what would he not give for a little water, for water has become the essential of his life; his tongue is like a firebrand, and his mouth is as an oven, and he himself all dried and parched, sighs and cries to heaven, hoping that perhaps a merciful shower may drop refreshment upon Him. Now, Jesus Christ is the water of life, and the bread of life, to such as live unto God. It is absolutely necessary for the continuance of their spiritual life that they should live upon Him; and as they do live upon Him, their thirst is quenched, their hunger is removed, and their spirit rejoices with a “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Life and the food that sustaineth life are among the most precious things man can possess, and these are for your souls stored up in Jesus.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(c) Water typifies the Gospel by its refreshment. How different you feel after you get a glass of cool water, or after you have plunged into the bath! On a hot summer day there is nothing that so soon brings you back from a bad temper or a disturbed spirit, and puts you into a happy frame of mind and body; as cold water. Blessed be God for water! I love to hear it fall in the shower and dash in the cascade, and to see it rush from the ice-pitcher into the clear glass. Thank God for water! Clear water! bright water! beautiful water! But I have to tell you there is a better refreshment even than that. There was a time when you were hounded of convictions. Sinai thundered. The wrath of God cried, “Fly!” Justice cried, “Fly!” Your own fears cried, “Fly!” Mercy said, “Come! Come!” and you plunged like a hart into the waterbrooks, and out of that flood your soul came up cool, and clean, and radiant; and you looked around and said, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what He hath done for my soul.” There came a time of perplexity in your heart. You lost your property. The gold eagles took wings and flew away. Death, like a black hawk, swooped upon the family brood, and the children were gone. You measured your life from groan to groan, from loss to loss, from tear to tear. You said from your distressed spirit, “Oh! that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest.” From the depths of your fevered soul you called out, “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Is His mercy clean gone for ever? Hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” As when you have been walking in a thick wood on a hot summer day you heard the dash of fountains, and your spirit was cheered; so, while you were listening for the answer, the promise of God dropped cool and fresh and sparkling from the Throne: “There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” You rejoiced at the thought of the fountain. Your fevered soul thrilled with the cool touch, and you cried, “Eureka! Eureka! I have found it. Water! cold water! bright water! everlasting water! bursting from the Throne!”—T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.
(d) Water typifies the Gospel because of its abundance. When we pour the water from the pitcher into the glass we have to be careful or the glass will overflow, and we stop when the water has come to the rim. But when God, in summer, pours out His showers, He keeps pouring on, and pouring on, until the grass-blades cry, “Enough!” and the flowers, “Enough!” and the trees, “Enough!” but God keeps pouring on and pouring on until the fields are soaked, and the rivers overflow, and the cisterns are all filled, and the great reservoirs are supplied, and there is water to turn the wheel, water to slake the thirst of the city, water to cleanse the air, water to wash the hemisphere. Abundance! And so with this glorious Gospel. Enough for one; enough for all. Thousands have come to this fountain, and have drank to the satisfaction of their souls. Other thousands will come; and yet the fountain will not be exhausted.
Just after the battle of Antietam, with some of the other members of the Christian Commission, I went down to help look after the wounded; and on the afternoon of a very hot day I came to a pump of water. I saw a soldier, with musket, guarding the pump. I put out my cup, and he filled it about a quarter full with water. I said, “Why do you not fill my cup?” He replied, “Water is scarce! Here is a great army, and we do not know where to get water after this is gone; and I have orders to give no more than that.” What a poor supply for a thirsty man on a hot day! But, glory be to God! that in this Gospel fountain there is water enough for all the armies of the earth, and for all the armies of heaven. You cannot drink it dry. I stand this evening offering this Gospel to all who are here, with just as much confidence that there is enough for them as though there were only two or three persons present.—Ibid.
(e) Water typifies the Gospel by its freeness. On this hot Sabbath, after the cows break through the alders into the meadow to drink, how much do they pay for that which they drink? The humming-bird drinks from the wine glass of the honeysuckle. How much is it a glass? There is a tax on the city water, but no tax upon the great rivers that roll in perpetual volume to the sea. How much will the world pay for all the showers that this summer refreshed the cornfields? Nothing. It is free, and so is this glorious gospel. It is free in its pardon, hope, and salvation, to all who will accept it. Here is a man who says, “I will pay for it, or I will not have it. I am an independent man; and I will give so much to have my soul redeemed. I will endow a college; or I will establish a school; or I will build a church, and in that way purchase my salvation!” Or he says, “I will do some grand, good works; and God, I know, will accept them.” God says. “Away with your good works as a purchase for salvation! Take this Gospel for nothing, or never take it. If is free.” “Without money and without price” is this Gospel fountain.—Ibid.
THE SINS OF HOLY MEN AND THEIR PUNISHMENT
The sin of Moses and Aaron seems to have included—
First: Want of faith. “And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed Me not.” “It seems to have been,” says Dean Stanley, “a feeling of distrust. ‘Can we bring water out of the cliff?’ (Numbers 20:10; LXX μὴ ἐξάξομεν, ‘surely we cannot’)” The smiting of the cliff twice does not indicate the calmness of faith, but the presence of doubt rather, “as if the promise of God ‘would not have been fulfilled without all the smiting on his part.’ ” There was not, we believe, positive unbelief or distrust of the Divine word; but, on the other hand, there was not the full assurance of faith which they should have manifested.
Second: Irritation of spirit. The impatience of Moses is manifest in his speech,—“Hear now, ye rebels;” and in his action,—“He smote the rock twice.” Worn out by the repeated and aggravating perversities of the people, the man of God breaks down, and for a moment his long patience is overborne by petulance. (Comp. Psalms 106:32-33). (a)
Third: Departure from Divine directions.
(1) They fell short of the Divine orders in not speaking to the cliff. “Speak ye unto the cliff before their eyes,” said the Lord; but they did not do so.
(2) They went beyond the Divine directions in speaking to the people, and smiting the rock. The directions of God never exceed His requirements. If His commands are particular and in detail, He requires that our obedience also shall be particular and in detail.
Fourth: Assumption of power. The question, “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” does not give honour to God. It is such as they might have asked if by their own unaided efforts they were about to obtain water for the people.
Fifth: The publicity of the whole. “Ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel.” It was an aggravation of their offence that it was committed in the presence of the assembled congregation. They occupied an eminent position; they were the representatives of Jehovah to the people, the eyes of the people were fixed upon them; they should therefore have been more careful to honour God before the people. On a former occasion Moses had been guilty of unbelief towards God (Numbers 11:22-23), and God rebuked him for his sin. That however was in private; while this was in public, and accordingly meets with severer punishment from the Lord.
The text leads us to consider—
I. The liability of the good to sin.
Moses was one of the holiest and noblest men that ever lived, yet here he sins against God. “In him there was a rare combination of intellectual and moral excellences. In no man did the force of principle reach a higher ascendancy, and in no man can we discover a truer majesty of character. It stands out in bold and impressive relief. His was a noble heart; one purer or truer never beat within a human bosom. Noble by nature, he was nobler still by the height and force of his virtue.” But he was not infallible: while he remained in this world he was exposed to temptation, and liable to fall into sin. And under the strain of the provocation of these perverse and rebellious people, he did, alas! fall into sin. Let the great and good be warned. You are safe only as you exercise constant watchfulness, humility, and trust in God. (b)
II. The danger of good men failing in those excellences which most distinguish them.
Moses was pre-eminent for meekness (Numbers 12:3); but here his meekness fails, and he is petulant and stern. Abraham was celebrated for his faith in God (Romans 4:11; Galatians 3:9); yet upon two occasions his faith failed for a time (Genesis 12:12; Genesis 20:2; Genesis 20:11-13). Elijah was one of the most fearless and heroic of men; yet he fled from the threatened vengeance of Jezebel in a very panic of alarm, and remained for some time in a state of deep dejection (1 Kings 19:1-4; 1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 19:14). Peter was unquestionably courageous; yet the charges of a maid-servant reduced him for a time to an utter coward (Luke 22:55-60). Guard well the strong points of your character; for there the greatest danger often is. This seems paradoxical; nevertheless it is true. The points of our character which we know are weak we watch and fortify; in our strong points we feel so secure that we deem it unnecessary to exercise vigilance concerning them; and this sense of security leads us sometimes to fail in those strong points—in those virtues which are most fully ours. (c)
III. The impartiality of the administration of the Divine government.
Moses and Aaron were both greatly honoured of God—Moses especially so; yet God punishes them for sin, as well as others. “Because ye believed not Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I gave them.” Surely, this was no slight punishment. After all their brilliant and fondly-cherished hopes of possessing the “good land,” after all they had done and borne as leaders of the rebellious people, the honour of leading them into the land shall not be theirs; they shall not even enter therein. “Thou wast a God that forgavest them, and Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” If a saint of God violate His laws, he must bear the penalties which he has incurred. The dark crimes which stained the spirit and life of the man after God’s own heart never ceased to trouble him in after days. “Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.” (d)
IV. The great guilt of those who by their wickedness occasion sin in the good.
If Moses and Aaron be “thus punished that sin by other men’s occasions, how much more shall they be punished that are the occasions, or give the occasions! Moses and Aaron had never thus offended had the people not murmured; and many a sin should be daily uncommitted did not some allure, tempt, and provoke, or by some means give occasion thereof.”—Babington.
“Woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” He who not only sins himself, but by temptation or otherwise occasions sin in others, shall be “beaten with many stripes.”
V. The means which God uses to deter men from sin.
“This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the Lord, and he was sanctified in them.” The name was changed from Kadesh-barnea to Meribah-kadesh as a memorial of the sin of the people, and of Moses and Aaron, that others might take warning and shun sin. Many are the means which God uses to keep man from sin; memorials of human sins and Divine judgments, expostulations with the sinner, warnings against sin, encouragements and aids to obedience, are all so employed. By the voice of history, by the Law from Sinai, by the Gospel of His Son, by the Cross of Jesus Christ, by the influences of His Spirit, God is ever crying to the sinner, “Oh! do not this abominable thing that I hate.”
Let Christians guard against temptation; let them cultivate a watchful and prayerful spirit. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” “Be sober, be vigilant,” &c. (e)
(a) If anger arises in thy breast, instantly seal up thy lips, and let it not go forth; for like fire when it wants vent, it will suppress itself. It is good in a fever to have a tender and smooth tongue; but is better that it be in anger; for if it be rough and distempered, there it is an ill sign, but here it is an ill cause. Angry passion is a fire, and angry words are like breath to fan them together; they are like steel and flint, sending out fire by mutual collision.—Jeremy Taylor.
(b) Humanity has its weaker side, and when assailed by temptation and the force of evil, is liable to yield, and thus to be overcome. No degree of moral excellence or of spiritual attainment places us beyond the possibility of declension. Imperfection and error attach to us so long as we are in the flesh, and through the weakness and the waywardness of our nature, our highest joys may be marred and limited. If our will could be brought into perfect harmony with the will of God—if we were at all times to move and act in strict conformity with the Revelation of His infinite mind—if there were no contrariety between our inclination and His revealed intimations, deep, and full, and inexpressible would be our joy. It is when our will comes into opposition to His will—it is when we deviate and depart from that which He has prescribed, that our conduct becomes a source of disquietude; and the consciousness that we have preferred our own line of action to the Divinely-prescribed method not only introduces a great disturbing element into our nature, but robs us of purer joy and profounder peace.—R. Ferguson, LL.D.
Human nature has never been perfect in all its qualities, energies, and services; the perfection of human nature can be wrought out only by long-continued and severe probation. In choosing instruments for the representation of His will and the execution of His purposes, God has always chosen men who were best fitted on the whole for such ministry, though in some particulars they have disastrously and pitifully failed.
Consider, knowing human nature as we do, bow beneficial a thing it was to the great men themselves to be shown now and again that they were imperfect, and that they were only great and strong as they were good, as they were true to God. To be an illustrious leader, to have power and authority amongst men, always to be in high places, and to be absolutely without a fault of disposition, temper, or desire, is enough to tempt any man to think that he is more than a man: and even to be without actual social fault, that can be pointed out and blamed, is not unlikely to give a man a false notion of the real state of his own nature. We may learn quite as much from our failures as from our successes. I have seen more truly what I am by my faults than by my graces, and never have I prayed with so glowing a fervour as when I have seen that there is but a step between me and death and that I have nearly taken it.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(c) Abraham, the great man and prophet of the Lord, shows his littleness by giving way to a cowardly fear that strangely divided his heart with the noblest faith found in the ancient world. His fear in one direction was simply ridiculous and pitiful; when he came amongst a powerful people he was always afraid that they would kill him in order to get possession of his wife. On the face of it the thing would seem to be incredible: here is a man who left his kindred and his father’s house, who braved the hardships of the wilderness, who arose and pursued kings and slew them, and delivered the prey from the hand of the mighty, tottering like a weak old coward when he thinks that he may be killed. He made a mean figure before Pharaoh, and he makes a meaner still before Abimelech. In one sense I am glad that Abraham made such a fool of himself; for had he been without flaw or blemish, perfect and invincible in faith, and complete in the sanctification of his character, he would have awed me by his supernatural respectability, and I should never have thought of him as an example or a pattern.—Ibid.
(d) The punishment of sin is impartial. There is a form of self-deception common to us all, and especially in youth, by which we admit the general law, but try to shirk its personal, its individual, application. It is the old, old story of Eden over and over again in the case of every one of us—the serpent creeping up to us, all glitter and fascination—all dulcet whisper and sinuous lies, and saying to us, “See how fair the fruit is: how much to be desired! Be as God, knowing good and evil. Thou shalt not surely die.” And so the boy and the youth—aye, and in his folly the grown man too, believes that it shall not be so with him; that he will repent; that he is the darling of Providence; that he is the favourite of heaven—he the one who shall sin and shall not suffer. If others handle pitch they shall be defiled. If others take fire into their bosom they shall be burnt; but God will indulge him. And the very spirits of evil laugh at each one going as an ox to the slaughter, when they dupe him into the fancy that, out of special regard for him, that adamantine chain of moral gravitation more lasting and binding than that by which the stars are held in their spheres, will be snapped; that sin, for him only, will change its nature, and at his approach the Gehenna of punishment be transformed into a garden of delight. Is it so, my brethren? Has there ever been any human being yet, since time began, however noble, however beautiful, however gifted, however bright with genius or radiant with fascination, who has sinned with impunity? Ah, no! God is no respecter of persons. Fire burns and water drowns, whether the sufferer be a worthless villain or whether it be a fair and gentle child. And so the moral law works, whether the sinner be a David or a Judas, whether he be a publican or a priest.—F. W. Farrar, D.D.
(e) A child would generally stand on its feet in a gust of wind if he knew it was coming; but when the wind happens to come round a corner furiously, he may be taken off his feet. Mind you are well ballasted by prayer every morning before your vessel puts out to sea, or carrying the quantity of sail you do, you may be blown out upon the waves to your perpetual shipwreck. Watch constantly against those things which are thought to be no temptations. The most poisonous serpents are found where the sweetest flowers grow, and when Cleopatra would have an asp to poison herself, it was brought in a basket of fair flowers. Beware of arrows shot from a golden bow, or by a woman’s hand. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.”—C. H. Spurgeon.
SIN IN THE CHILD OF GOD
The test gives us the reason why Moses and Aaron were kept from going into the land of Canaan, and it suggests to us some lessons about Sin in the child of God. God’s people sin. Not a sinless character in the Bible, but Christ. No Perfectionism on earth taught there. Sin in the child of God is—
I. Very painful to God.
There is a tone of intense grief in the text. God hates sin in all; but most of all in His own children. Our own child falling into sin, and a mere acquaintance doing so—how differently we should feel in the one case from what we should in the other! Nothing hurts God more than sin in His own children.
II. Most inexcusable.
Speaking strictly, no sin can be excused. Sin is a crime, not a misfortune; so there can be no sufficient excuse for it. This is emphatically true of the child of God: he has a higher knowledge of duty; he has experienced the evil of sin, and felt its sting; he has a new principle—the Divine life within him struggling against sin; he has God to help him—a God who is ever accessible, &c. God speaks in the text as if Moses and Aaron had nothing whatever to palliate their conduct.
III. Most disastrous in its results.
God’s name is dishonoured—brought into disrepute. The text shows that God entrusts His character to the keeping of His people. We have to sanctify Him before men; and in the proportion in which we sin we fail to do so. We are the world’s Bible; they learn of God through us; they too often estimate Him from our life. No one can tell the injury which is done by inconsistent professors of religion! The weak stumble; the wicked are encouraged in their sins; the worldly have false impressions of God and His religion. It is an awful thing for a Christian to sin.
IV. Very certain of punishment.
“Be sure your sin will find you out:” this is true of the child of God. His sin will give him pain. None of us shall sin with impunity. Moses was the friend of God (Exodus 33:11), yet God could not pass by his sin. God’s love to us does not blind Him to our faults. There is no weakness in Him towards His children, as there is often in us in our dealings with ours. He has ever visited His people for their sin; and sometimes, as in the text, though He may forgive, they have to suffer for the sin as long as they remain upon earth. The text tells us that sin is a hard and bitter thing in the child of God. Let this incident—
1. Make God’s people more watchful.
2. Lead others to ponder their ways; for if God visits His own children for sin, a fortiori, He will not let the wicked escape.
3. Let none forget that God can forgive sin—all sin—through Jesus Christ.—David Lloyd.
A REASONABLE REQUEST AND AN UNGENEROUS REFUSAL
We have in this paragraph—
I. A reasonable request.
“We are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border: let us pass,” &c. This request was—
1. Reasonable in itself. They desired to enter Canaan from the east, crossing the Jordan; and their direct road to the east of the Jordan was through the land of Edom. If they are not permitted to travel by that way, they must take a very circuitous route (Numbers 21:4). They asked simply for permission to travel “by the king’s way,” and promised neither to depart from that way into the fields or vineyards, nor to make use of the wells of water without payment for the same. Their request was—
2. Urged by forcible reasons.
(1) By the relationship existing between them. “Thus saith thy brother Israel.” The Israelites and the Edomites were descendants of the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. The Israelites desire a renewal of the ancient kindnesses of their ancestors (Genesis 33:1-15). Brotherhood should promote kindness, increase mutual helpfulness, &c. (a)
(2) By the sufferings which the Israelites had endured. “Thou knowest all the travel that hath befallen us: how our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us and our fathers.” The sufferings they had borne at the hand of strangers should have induced their kinsfolk to succour and help them.
(3) By the mercies which God had shown to Israel. “And when we cried unto the Lord, He heard our voice, and sent an Angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt,” &c. The blessings which God had bestowed upon them should have been viewed—(i.) As an indication that it was His will that others should aid them. His will is binding, &c. (ii.) As an example to encourage others to aid them. (iii.) As an indication of His favour towards them, which suggested that it was to the interest of others to aid them. It is perilous to resist those whom God defends; it is prudent to further their designs, &c.
(4) Because Israel would guarantee Edom against any loss. “We will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells,” &c. (Numbers 20:17). “We will go by the highway: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it,” &c. (Numbers 20:19). To nomad chiefs, rich in flocks and herds, wells of water are a most precious and important property. Kalisch: “The possession of a well in arid regions not unfrequently causes strife and warfare between whole tribes, and the protection of his wells is a prominent object of solicitude to an Arab sheikh.” (b) But the Israelites promise to respect these rights of property; and to cause the Edomites no loss or damage. Thus the arguments by which they enforce their request are conspicuously fair and reasonable.
II. An ungenerous resfual.
“And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.… And he said, Thou shalt not go through,” &c. (Numbers 20:20-21). This refusal of the Edomites probably arose from—
1. Fear that if they complied with the request of the Israelites the result might be injurious to them. They did not believe the promises made by the Israelites; and they feared “what so great an army once got in might do; they are not usually so easily removed.” The fear was not unnatural, &c.
2. Envy at the growing power of Israel. The Edomites knew of their deliverance from Egypt; of their victory over the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-13); of their immense number; and of their pretensions in respect to Canaan (Exodus 15:14-17); and they were envious of their increasing strength.
3. Remembrance of the ancient injury inflicted by Jacob upon Esau. “Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing, and now the hatred revived, when the blessing was ready to be inherited.” “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” The nearer the relationship between the offender and the offended, the wider is the breach and the more difficult is the reconciliation. The memory of an injury such as that which Jacob inflicted upon Esau it is perhaps impossible to wipe out; it is handed down from generation to generation, &c. The recollection of that injury imparted resoluteness and severity to the refusal of Edom to grant the request of Israel.
1. Learn that no alienation is so wide and bitter as that between brethren or other near relations. (c)
2. Where such alienation exists, let us seek to bring about reconciliation—a complete healing of the breach. (d)
3. Cultivate brotherly kindness.
4. Respect the rights of others even when the assertion of those rights is carried to an extreme. “Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border; wherefore Israel turned away from him.”
(a) Two days after the terrible battle of Chickamanga. I was passing over the battle-field. In a thick clump of bushes, on the side of a ravine, I saw a young man seated beside a tree with his arm bandaged. Seeing that his arm was badly wounded, I asked why he had not gone to the hospital in the rear. He replied, pointing to a corpse that lay near by, “That is my brother; and I am determined never to leave him until he is buried.” I had the dead max buried, and the wounded brother taken care ch—Memphis Advocate, quoted in Dict. of Illust.
(b) The special necessity of a supply of water in a hot climate has always involved among the Eastern nations questions of property of the highest importance, and sometimes given rise to serious contention. To give a name to a well denoted a right of property, and to stop or destroy one once dug was a military expedient, a mark of conquest or an encroachment on territorial right claimed or existing in its neighbourhood. Thus the well Beersheba was opened, and its possession attested with special formality by Abraham (Genesis 21:30-31). In the hope of expelling Isaac from their neighbourhood, the Philistines stopped up the wells which had been dug in Abraham’s time and called by his name, an encroachment which was stoutly resisted by the followers of Isaac (Genesis 26:15-33; see also 2 Kings 3:19; 2 Chronicles 26:10). The Kuran notices abandoned wells as signs of desertion (Sur. xxii.). To acquire wells which they had not themselves dug, was one of the marks of favour foretold to the Hebrews on their entrance into Canaan (Deuteronomy 6:11). To possess one is noticed as a mark of independence (Proverbs 5:15), and to abstain from the use of wells belonging to others, a disclaimer of interference with their property (Numbers 20:17; Numbers 20:19; Numbers 21:22). Similar rights of possession, actual and hereditary, exist among the Arabs of the present day. Wells, Burckhardt says, in the interior of the desert, are exclusive property, either of a whole tribe, or of individuals whose ancestors dug the wells. If the well be the property of a tribe, the tents are pitched near it, whenever rain water becomes scarce in the desert; and no other Arabs are then permitted to water their camels. But if the well belongs to an individual, he receives presents from all strange tribes who pass or on camp at the well, and refresh their camels with the water of it. The property of such a well is never alienated; and the Arabs say that the possessor is sure to be fortunate, as all who drink of the water bestow on him their benedictions (comp. Numbers 21:17-18; Judges 1:15).—H. W. Phillott, M.A., in Bibl. Dict.
(c) We see by lamentable experience, that every toy and trifle maketh debate, not only between dearest friends, but between nearest kinsfolk, that they can never be reconciled. And as no band knitteth faster, and bindeth closer than this, while love and liking lasteth; so no contention is so bitter, no hatred so deadly, as that of brethren and others that are near in blood, when the knot is broken and dissolved. The tender glass when it is once broken, will never be set together again. No water proveth so exceeding cold as that which was once heated exceeding hot; so no hatred proveth like to the hatred of brethren, which are often found merciless one toward another, and such as can never be appeased; as we see in the malice of Cain toward Abel. This it is that Solomon pointeth out in Proverbs 18:19 : “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and their contentions are as a bar of a castle.” For as they loved most entirely and dearly before, so when once they grow enemies, they hate one another most extremely, whose hearts are as stony walls that cannot be pierced, and as bars of iron that cannot be broken. Now as the Prophet teacheth, that it is a “good and comely thing for brethren to dwell together in unity;” so it is a noisome and unnatural thing to behold greatest envy and most mortal malice, where the greatest and nearest bands of kindred should kuit together.—W. Attersoll.
(d) A day of reconciliation! A family made one. Brethren coming together again after long separation. It is a beautiful picture. Why should it not be completed, when it needs completion, in our own day amongst ourselves? Ministers sometimes have misunderstandings, and say unkind things about one another, and exile one another from love and confidence for years. Is there never to be a day of reconciliation and Christian forgetfulness of wrong, even when positive wrong has been done? Families and households often get awry. The younger brother differs from his eldest brother; sitters fall out. One wants more than belongs to him; another is knocked to the wall because he is weak; and there comes into the heart bitterness and alienation; and often brothers and sisters never have a kind word to say about one another. Is it always to be so? Don’t merely make it up, don’t patch it up, don’t cover it up; go right down to the base. You will never be made one, until you meet at the Cross, and hear Him say, “He that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is my mother, and sister, and brother.” It is in Christ’s sorrow that we are to forget our woes, in Christ’s sacrifice that we find the answer to our sin, in Christ’s union with the Father that we are to find all true and lasting reconciliation. But who is to begin? That is the wonderful question that is often asked us. Who is to begin? One would imagine that there were some very nice people about who only wanted somebody to tell them who was to begin. They want to be reconciled, only they don’t know who is to begin. I can tell you. You are! That is exactly how it is. But I am the eldest,—yes, and therefore ought to begin. But I am the youngest. Then why should the youngest be an obstinate, pig-headed child? Who are you that you should not go and throw yourself down at your brother’s feet and say, “I have done you wrong, pardon me”? Who is to begin? You! Which? Both! When? Now! Oh! beware of the morality which says, “I am looking for the opportunity, and if things should so get together—” Sir! death may be upon you before you get to the end of your long melancholy process of self-laudation and anti. Christian logic.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
THE DEATH OF AARON
Let us notice—
I. The death of Aaron.
Concerning the death of this distinguished man there are three things which we may profitably consider. (a) He died—
1. As a consequence of sin. His death was not the result of disease, or of the exhaustion of the vitality of his body. It is true that he was an aged man; “Aaron was an hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in Mount Hor;” yet he died not by reason of old age and its infirmities; his death was not in the ordinary course of nature; but was a direct consequence of sin. “Aaron shall be gathered unto his people; for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against My Word at the water of Meribah.” He is distinctly called “the saint of the Lord” (Psalms 106:16); yet now he must die because of his sin, without entering the Promised Land, without even beholding it. God is rigidly impartial in His dealings with His creatures. “There is no respect of persons with God.” If His people sin, they must suffer for their sin.
2. By the appointment of God. There was nothing accidental in the death of Aaron; everything connected with it was arranged by the Lord. He determined the time of his death. “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?” “His days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” “All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.” “Thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away.” “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” “My times are in Thy hand.” The Lord determined the place of his death. “Take Aaron and Eleazar, his son, and bring them up unto Mount Hor; … and Aaron shall die there.” The circumstances of his death were also arranged by the Lord. “Take Aaron and Eleazar, his son, and bring them up unto Mount Hor; and strip Aaron of his garments,” &c. Nothing is left to accident, or chance, or human choice; all was Divinely appointed. Our Lord hath “the keys of Hades and of death.” His people cannot die prematurely or accidentally. All who seek to live in harmony with His will, all who are moving in the line of His purposes, pass hence in accordance with His arrangements. (b)
3. The death of Aaron was his introduction to life and to congenial society. “Aaron shall be gathered unto his people.” “Aaron, though he dies for his transgression, is not put to death as a malefactor, by a plague, or fire from heaven, but dies with ease and in honour. He is not ‘cut off from his people,’ as the expression usually is concerning those that die by the hand of Divine justice, but he is ‘gathered to his people,’ as one that died in the arms of Divine grace.” The expression “gathered unto his people” suggests two ideas:—
(1) Death is the way to life. The expression under consideration cannot be a mere poetical phrase for death; for in many places it is specified over and above the fact of death (see Genesis 25:8; Genesis 25:17; Genesis 35:29; Genesis 49:33; Numbers 20:26; Deuteronomy 32:50). Nor can the expression relate to burial; for in this sense it would not be true of Aaron, nor yet of Abraham, to whom it was also applied, nor yet of Moses. Besides which the fact of burial is in many places specified over and above the being “gathered unto his people” (see Genesis 15:15; Genesis 25:8-9; Genesis 35:29; 1 Kings 2:10; 1 Kings 11:43, &c.). “The only assignable sense, therefore, is,” as Dean Alford says, “that of reference to a state of further personal existence beyond death; and the expression thus forms a remarkable testimony to the Old Testament belief in a future state.” When Aaron died he did not cease to be; but rather entered upon a larger, intenser, fuller life. When his lifeless body lay upon Mount Hor, his living spirit passed to the great assembly of the good in the presence of God. At death the body “returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns unto God who gave it.”
(2) Death is the way to congenial social life. “Gathered unto his people.” Aaron at death passed neither into isolation nor into the uncongenial society of strangers or aliens; but to his own people, to persons of kindred sympathies and purposes and interests. After death men go to their own place, and to their own company. The good pass swiftly to their “Father’s house,” and to the great multitude who are gathered there. O, death is not terrible to the good! It is the way by which they pass to the holy and blessed fellowship of glorified saints, the way to our permanent and joyous home, the way to the presence of our God. “So shall we ever be with the Lord.” (c)
II. The appointment of Aaron’s successor.
“Strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son.… And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son.” The sacred high-priestly vestments were taken off Aaron before his death, that they might not be defiled by contact with the dead. By putting them upon Eleazar, he was invested with the office to which they belonged. In this arrangement I discover—
1. Kindness to Aaron. It assured him—
(1) That his office would be filled; that his work would be carried on, &c. Interested in the religious welfare of the people as he was, this must have been cheering to him.
(2) That this office would be filled by his own son; that the high-priesthood would continue in his own family. This must have been a gratification to the fatherly instincts of his nature.
2. A guarantee of the continuance of the Church of God. Aaron dies; but God has a successor at hand to take Aaron’s place and to carry on his work. Moses dies leaving his great work incomplete, but Joshua, a brave and noble man, is ready to take up the great leader’s enterprize, and carry it onward to a triumphant close. The whirlwind carries the faithful and heroic Prophet of Horeb, as on the wings of some swift and strong angel, to his well-earned rest; but Elisha, a worthy successor even of so distinguished a servant of the Lord, waits to catch the falling of his master’s mantle and to prosecute his master’s mission. And now, good and faithful ministers are gathered to their fathers; but the Lord Christ ever lives, and ever raises up worthy successors to fill the vacant places. The continuance of the Church depends not upon the services of even its most gifted and holy ministers, but upon its Divine Head. This is—
(1) Humbling to our pride. God can carry on His work without our poor services. Our place will soon be filled by another, and perhaps better filled than it ever was by us.
(2) Encouraging to our faith. The work so dear to us will be carried on when we have passed away. Though the human workers die, the Divine Master and Supreme Worker ever lives, and ever carries forward His cause towards its final triumph.
III. The mourning because of Aaron’s death.
“And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” This national mourning suggests—
1. The worth of faithful ministers. Aaron had rendered valuable services to the Israelites; he had rendered essential service in the work of their emancipation from Egyptian bondage; he had entreated God again and again for them in their rebellions; he had stood between the more than fourteen thousand dead, and the living, and by his intercession stayed the progress of the dreadful plague. But now he has gone: he will serve them no more. Well may they weep. The loss of faithful ministers is one of the greatest losses that can befall society. They render the most valuable services, they exercise the most salutary and inspiring influence in society. (d)
2. The appreciation of blessings when they are withdrawn from us, which were not valued when they were ours. While Aaron was with them the Israelites “were often murmuring against him, threatening indeed to kill him, wishing that there was an end of him, speaking against him, and in every way discouraging him in his work. But when he was dead they mourned for him; they found their loss when it was too late to value him. This is but an example of human nature. We very seldom value our chiefest blessings until we are made to feel their worth by the loss of them. It has often happened in the case of the Christian minister and congregation, that he has been undervalued while he was testifying God’s truth, and has been much mourned for when taken away.” (Comp. Ezekiel 33:30-33).
“Like birds whose beauties languish, half-conceal’d
Till mounted on the wing, their glossy plumes
Expanded, shine with azure, green, and gold;
How blessings brighten as they take their flight!”—Young.
Shakspeare also gives luminous expression to this truth:—
“It so falls out, That what we have we prize not to the worth, Whiles we enjoy it; but being lack’d and lost, Why then we rack the value; then we find The virtue that possession would not show us Whiles it was ours.”
Let us appreciate the gifts of Heaven while we have them, &c.
In conclusion, learn—
1. The universality of death. The gifted, the great, the beautiful, the holy, all die. We must die. Let us live that death shall be to us great gain. (e)
2. The imperfection of the Aaronic priesthood (see Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 7:18-19; Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 7:28; Hebrews 8:7; Hebrews 9:25; Hebrews 10:1-4; Hebrews 10:11).
3. The perfection of the Priesthood of Christ (see Hebrews 7:22-28; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:23-28; Hebrews 10:10-14).
(a) Behold then the three persons, Aaron, Moses, and Eleazar, going up the mountain. The first is distinguished by his priestly habit. He is clad in the mitre, the ephod, the fine linen, the Urim and the Thummim, and those bells, which formerly when hoard within the holy of holies told of his life, now seem sounding the signal for Death to meet him on the summit, and their tinkle lessening up the mountain strikes like a death-watch in the ear of the people of the great congregation assembled before their tents to trace the progress and to witness the event, not a murmur or groan heard throughout them all, but millions, it may be, weeping in silence. See with what calm, majestic, uninterrupted and unreverted steps the three pursue their journey, talking perhaps of that Promised Land which one of them is never to see, which another is to see from a mountain in Moab, and which the third only is to enter, or talking of that Better Country to which the first is so near. Mark the eager look cast forward by Aaron toward the top of the hill, as if he expected the Angel of Death to be waiting for him there; but when be gains the summit, lo! all is empty and sternly silent, the victim is there but no wood and no fire for the offering; one mighty sacrificer has arrived, but the other is not yet come to keep the dread engagement. Turn then ere he comes, and see from the mount ten thousand times ten thousand torn, ruptured, rent, serrated and savage hills standing up as witnesses to the covenanted meeting and catastrophe at hand; not a blade of grass or drop of water in view, nothing but a bare and blasted wilderness of sand and atone, and thunder-split crag, as if a flood of fire had crossed, and torn, and tortured it into the similitude of hell; including the vast valley of Arabah which unites the Red and the Dead Seas, both of which are visible, and on its western side the great sandy desert, surmounted in the extreme distance by the Sinaitic range. Mark the last glance cast by Aaron to the camp and the multitude far below, a glance speaking of sorrow and of remorse too, since it is owing to his sin at Meribah that he is dying so soon, and dying so publicly, but speaking still more of submission, confidence, and hope in the mercy of God. See the slow and solemn manner in which the hand of Moses, although the younger brother, tenderly, like a mother her babe at eventide, strips Aaron of his garments. And behold now the high priest clothed only with his long grey hair, as is that ardent sun overhead with his old beams, laying himself down upon the hill, watching with an eye of love and pride his son Eleazar, as Moses arrays him with ephod, and linen, and breast-plate, and mitre; and as the bright rays from the Urim and Thummim flash for the last time upon his dim and dying eye, blessing his noble son whose ornament they are henceforward to be, and blessing the brother with whom he has so long held sweet counsel and united in marvellous achievement; and then fixing his look upward as if waiting for the advent and the dart of his adversary, who comes not; but instead there is heard a “still, small voice,” saying, “Come up hither,” and lo! a dead body lies on the granite of Mount Hor, and a living soul, suddenly clothed by the hands of angels with robes that shall never be stripped away, has joined the great assembly in the heavens—G. Gilfillan, M.A.
(b) We strive, oftentimes almost unconsciously perhaps, to re-arrange or re-ordain particular circumstances, and even whole scenes in our life and in the lives of others. And with a still more importunate and sorrowful eagerness do we seek to have some power in arranging for life’s close. We would not dare to take the key of death in our own hand, but we would touch it while it lies in His. Not now, or not there, or not thus, we are always saying.
“NOT NOW,” we say, when the father is called to leave the family of which he is the whole stay. “Let him live, let a few weeks elapse let his family be provided for, let his work be done!” It is done, is the answer, His fatherless children are provided for; I have taught him to leave them with Me. “The Father of the fatherless, the Husband of the widow, is God in His holy habitation.”
“Not now,” we say, when the mother has heard the home-call, and with a calmness and courage greater than those of the soldier in battle, is rising above all her cares, and becoming a child again, at the threshold of the heavenly home. “Oh, not now! Who will check the waywardness, encourage the virtues, receive the confidences, soothe the little sorrows, and train the loves of those infant hearts? Who will teach the evening prayer, and listen to the Sabbath hymn? Who can give a mother’s care, and feel a mother’s love?” “I,” saith the Shepherd, “I will gather the lambs with mine arm, and carry them in My bosom. I will forget no prayer of the dying mother’s heart. I will treasure in My heart the yearnings of her life over her children, and the unutterable compassions of her dying hour; and when many years have sped, and she has been long in heaven, these children will remember her in their holiest and happiest moments, and by their walk and their work will be proving that she did not live in vain, that she ‘finished the work that was given her to do.’ ”
Or, we say, “Not there, oh, not there! away on the sea—a thousand miles from land—let him not die there, and be dropped into the unfathomed grave, where the unstable waves must be his only monument, and the winds the sole mourners of the place! Or not in some distant city or far-off land—strangers around his bed, strangers closing his eyes, and then carrying him to a stranger’s grave. Let him come home and die amid the whisperings and breathings of the old unquenchable love.” “He is going home,” is the answer, “and going by the best and only way. I can open the gate Beautiful in any part of the earth or sea. I can set up the mystic ladder, the top of which reaches to heaven, in the loneliest island, at the furthest ends of the earth, and your friends will flee to the shelter of My presence all the more fully because yours is far away.”
Or, we say, “Not thus, not through such agonies of body, or faintings of spirit, or tremblings of faith—not in unconsciousness—not without dying testimonies. Let there be outward as well as inward peace. Let mention be made of Thy goodness. Let there be foretellings and foreshadowings of the glory to which, as we trust, they are going. Oh, shed down the light, the fragrancy of heaven upon their dying bed!” The answer is, “They are there, and you are so dull of sense that you perceive them not. Your friend is filled with the ‘peace that passeth understanding,’ and safe in the everlasting arms.”
Thus, brethren, the time, and the place, and the circumstances, are all arranged by the wisdom and the will of Him who holds the keys, and we could not, even if we had our own will and way, make anything better than it is in the perfect plan. Better! everything would be worse—inconceivably worse if we had the keys. Let us trust them, with a loyal loving trust, with Him who graciously says to us, “Fear not;” One who, in this as in all other thing, will treat us and give us according to our faith.—Alex. Raleigh, D.D.
(c) Death is but a going home. A child is away at school, and the vacation is near at band; and you may be sure that the father and mother long to see the child more than the child wants to see father and mother. So, according to the good old custom, the father takes the carriage, and wends his way to the school, perhaps with, perhaps without, intimations to the child of his coming. In the midst of his tasks on the last day, the child is suddenly greeted by the voice and presence of his father; and no sooner are the first salutations exchanged than the father says, “Are your things ready? We go tomorrow.” Wine is not so sparkling as the Joy in the child’s heart. He can neither eat, nor sleep, nor play. The thought that his father has come, and that he is going home to see his mother, and brothers, and sisters, has quite intoxicated him. By such glorious images as this God is pleased to represent our departure from the present life. The Lord Jesus Christ shall come to our poor old weather-beaten school-house in this world, and say to us, “Come home! you are wanted.”
Heaven is not, then, a great bleak shore to which you are driven by the storm, and where you are cast among savage inhabitants. Heaven is a blessed place of rest. It is your home. You have friends there, the chiefest among whom is He that loved you, that gave Himself for you, that has ever watched over you during your earthly pilgrimage, and that soon, very soon, will come for you, as already He has for yours. They are glorious there; and in all their glory, if they could but speak a word to us, would it be such a poor stumbling word as that which they spoke in the hour of death? If they could speak to us from the eternal world, what hope and consolation would they give us!—H. W. Beecher.
(d) Death is, in every case, an event of most momentous consequences.… But the death of a minister of the Gospel, in addition to the consequences which affect his own destiny, involves others which extend to his flock. If he has been faithful unto death, his decease is in mercy to himself, but it must at the same time be in judgment to his church. The testimony of a witness for God to an unbelieving generation is finished—a herald of salvation is withdrawn—an ambassador of Christ is recalled—a light of the world, which has guided many, and might have guided more, into the haven of eternal peace, is extinguished. It is not the death of a friend merely, however valued, or a relative, however dear, whose affection soothed the sorrows of time, and softened the rugged path of life; but it is the removal of one whose solicitude watched for the soul, promoted its salvation, and diffused, or aimed to diffuse, a beneficial influence over its eternal existence. What arithmetic can estimate the greatness of such a calamity? Instead of that living voice which, both by the eloquence of preaching, and the still holier and more elevating eloquence of prayer, often lifted the rapt hearers to heaven, and matured them for its glories, they have nothing now but the cold and silent marble, which perpetuates, with his honoured name, their own incalculable loss.—J. Angell James.
(e) All must die. The fact is so old and every day, that, like the sun, few people think of it or look at it. It is otherwise, indeed, with those who see the solemn reality approaching themselves, and who then, for the first time, feel its strangeness, its importance, its awfulness, and how little prepared they are for it. They resemble one who has fallen asleep on a railway, and, starting up, sees the engine just upon him, and has hardly time, by one wild cry, to commend himself to the mercy of God, ere he is crushed into non-existence. Something like this was the cry of Hoffman, the German writer, who, when after a thoughtless career he felt himself approaching his end, and was told to prepare for death, turned his face away and said, “And must I at last begin to think about God?’ Truly says his biographer, “Sorrowfuller words were never spoken by man.” Far from us be it to say that these cries are never answered—we believe that, when sincere, they always are. But, alas! how foolish to delay their utterance! how foolish to expect that there shall always be time given to utter them! and how much wiser to close with Christ’s offer of mercy now, and now, ere it be too late, to begin to think seriously, lovingly, prayerfully, and hopefully of God!—G. Gilfillan, M.A.
THE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT
I. The common destiny of man.
“Aaron shall be gathered unto his people.” At death the body is gathered to the generations that are gone. One generation is buried in the dust of another, and future generations will be entombed in our dust. When one thinks of this, how worthless appear all the mere secular distinctions of this world! There are “kings and counsellors of the earth,” &c. (Job 3:14-15; Job 3:19). Thither you and I are going. But not as to a final resting place. This Bible assures me that all that ever have left us are living now—thinking, active, conscious; and that the good who are living are living in the conscious presence of Infinite Love—in the heaven of the blest. “I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead,” &c. (Revelation 14:13).
II. The rigorousness of moral law.
Aaron was to die. Why? Because of a certain something which took place at Meribah, Moses and Aaron were both excluded from the Promised Land. The law demands punishment for sin even in a good man. Moral law seems to be as immutable as God Himself. Aaron went up into Mount Hor, and there he died. And his death proclaims in thunder the fact that however distinguished a man may be for his excellencies, however high he may be in the Church of God, his sin shall not go unpunished.
III. The termination of life in the midst of labour.
The work entrusted to Moses and Aaron was to conduct the children of Israel through the wilderness into the Promised Land; and this work was unfinished. We nearly all die with our work unfinished. The farmer dies when he has only half ploughed his field; the merchant dies, &c. We are not surprised when an old tree, though prolific in its day, dies, for it dies by the law of decay; nor are we astonished that an unfruitful tree should be cut down, for it is a cumberer of the ground; but we are astonished that a tree, with its branches full of sap, with its boughs laden with fruit, with thousands reposing under its shadow, should be struck with a thunderbolt from heaven. “Thy path,” O God, “is in the great waters,” &c.
IV. God’s agency in man’s dissolution.
Why did Aaron die? He was not worn out with age. Not because there was disease rankling in his system; not because there was any external violence applied to him. Why, then, did he die? The Great One determines that he shall die, and he dies. This is always the philosophy of a man’s death. Philosophy, the Bible, and reason all say, “man dies because the Great One has determined that he should die.” If God has determined that the frailest organisation shall live for ever, that organisation will live for ever; and so also, if He determines it, the most robust, the strong and vigorous, dies in a moment (see Job 7:1; Job 14:5; Job 14:20; Psalms 90:3; Job 1:21).
V. The promptitude with which Providence supplies the places of the dead.
Aaron must die, but there is Eleazar standing by his side ready to step into his place. This is the order of Providence. A merchant dies, and another man stands by his side ready to carry on his business. A lawyer dies, &c. A statesman dies, &c. A minister leaves a pulpit, his voice becomes silent in death, and the people mourn; but God has another minister standing by ready to step into the place of the departed, and to carry on his work. Oh, how this encourages my faith in the progress of Divine truth in this world!.…
But it is certainly humbling to our pride. My friend, the world can do without thee. Thou art but a blade in the field; the landscape will bloom without thee.
VI. The trial of human friendships.
Moses and Eleazar were very closely related to Aaron. Moses was more than a brother to Aaron. There was a spiritual kindredship between them. There were mental affinities and spiritual affections. They were devoted to the same great purpose, they had the same plan, they were the children of the same God; and here is their trial—Aaron must die.…
Can it be that the great God of love, who has made us to love, and who has disposed us to give our affections to certain persons, should, by our love, make us so often wretched? There is to be a renewal of real spiritual friendship. The separation which takes place in the death of true Christian friends is more in form than in reality. In truth we become more really friends by the death separation. Death cannot destroy our loving memories of them. Death does not kill—nay, it seems but to intensify our affection. We are one—for ever one.
VII. The painful recognition by society of its greatest losses.
The people “mourned for Aaron thirty days.”
The two greatest blessings on this earth are—the Bible and good men. I need not tell you the value of the Bible, for you know it. Glorious Book for the intellect, for the imagination, for the heart, for the world, for all ages! Blessed be God for the Bible! But next to the Bible, we value good men. Good men are as fountains welling up in the desert through which you are passing; they are lights in abounding darkness; they are salt which counteracts our tendency to corruption. But the Christian minister is the best of all men, and his loss is the greatest of all losses. A man who not only has the spirit of the Bible in him, but who has given his intellect, his genius, his powers of mind to the study of the Word of God, in order to present that Word to all classes of men, dealing out a word in season to each—a word of advice to the enquiring, of counsel to the thoughtless, of caution to the young, of comfort and help to the poor and suffering—I know of no man who is rendering such a service to society and to humanity as he. Such a man was Aaron. He was more; he was an orator. God says, “My servant Aaron can speak well.” But he dies. His eloquent tongue is silent in death; and they wept thirty days.—David Thomas, D.D. Abridged from “The Christian World,” March 28th, 1861.
THE REMOVAL OF A DEVOTED SERVANT OF GOD
In this death there were—
I. The express appointment and arrangement of God.
The departure of God’s servants is never accidental or unforeseen.
II. The last attentions and ministrations of pious friendship.
Such ministrations and attentions are a privilege to—
1. Those about to depart.
2. Those who for a season are to survive.
III. The tokens of Divine favour.
In one respect Aaron’s death was a sign of Divine displeasure, but this displeasure was only partial. He was allowed to go to the place of his death in his robes of office.
III. The pledge of perpetuity to the Divine cause.
A successor was immediately, authoritatively, and unquestionably secured to the office that Aaron held.
V. The prospect of immortal happiness.
Mount Hor was near enough to permit a vision of Canaan.—J. Parsons. From “The Biblical Museum.”
THE SORROWS OF BEREAVEMENT
What an impressive scene is this! a whole nation bowed down by one common grief. The many thousands of Israel are mourning the death of one of the most noble and useful of men.
We too shall soon “be gathered unto our people.” Like waves which chase each other to the shore, or like clouds which on the heels of each other fast travel o’er the face of the blue heavens, are we treading in the wake of “the great departed,” and soon shall arrive at the solemn bourne of our pilgrimage.
“Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.”
The tears of this vast congregation are sadly suggestive. Let us look into the reasons of the mourning of this nation.
I. A great and good man had been removed from their midst.
“Aaron was dead.”
1. He was a holy man. The lustre of his life is clouded by a few imperfections and sins; but he was unquestionably a good man. “Aaron, the saint of the Lord” (Psalms 106:16).
2. He was an eloquent man. “Aaron the Levite—I know that he can speak well” (Exodus 4:14). This great gift he had used in the highest service. It had been employed in obtaining the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage; in speaking unto them words of reproof, counsel, instruction, and exhortation; and in speaking unto God on their behalf.
3. He filled a position of the highest honour and of the greatest importance.
Under God he was the religious head of this nation. To him was granted to approach nearer to the Most High than any man of that age, except Moses. More than once his intercessions had averted the Divine anger from the guilty people. But at the summons of God he has left them for ever. “Aaron was dead.” (a)
II. A great and good man had been removed while toiling for their welfare.
Aaron was not a useless member of this great congregation; he had not become unfit for service; he was fulfilling the important functions of his sacred office. Yet God called him away, and his “purposes were broken off.” And still men are called away by God in the midst of service and usefulness. The statesman, the minister, the author, the physician, the parent, are sometimes thus summoned hence. To us there is much mystery in this. We cannot explain it; but we can reverently bow before it. “Even so, Father; for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.” (b)
III. A great and good man had been removed when apparently his services could hardly be spared.
To our poor mind it seems that Israel could not afford to lose Aaron. We think that they needed his experience to counsel them, his faith to plead with God for them, his brave spirit to encourage them and to assist in leading them to the Promised Land. But God is independent of even the most distinguished and useful men. When such men are removed, here is our encouragement—God ever lives and works; Christ ever lives and works; and “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth.” (c)
IV. A great and good man had been removed, and in his removal many had parted with a true and loving friend.
In that sorrowing nation, I have no doubt, there were not a few who had found in Aaron a kindred spirit, and rejoiced in the friendship of his affectionate heart. And more than this, Moses was his brother, and Eleazar and Ithamar were his sons. But the brother, the sons, the friends of Aaron, must all take their leave of him for ever in this world. The death of a true friend is one of the sorest sorrows that our hearts are called upon to suffer; and wrings from us the bitterest tears.
1. Prize the friends and the great and good men whom God sends amongst us while they are yet with us. Israel did not feel the worth of Aaron until he was taken from them. Let us avoid their error, &c.
2. Be thankful for Christianity. It takes the sting and the bitterness from death. It reveals a blessed immortality, and bestows the title to it. (d)
3. Remember that we too must pass away from this world. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” “Here have we no continuing city.”
4. Live as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Our home is not here; our rest is not here. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” &c. (Matthew 6:19-21). “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” So death will be great gain.
(a) The world can have no greater or richer boon conferred on it than the gift of a great man. The history of the world is but the history of its great men. God carries on society by such. They are the hinges on which it has turned. They measure whole ages for themselves. They are the mountain summits in the great path of human progress—the most towering landmarks of the past, and the hopes of the future. Such, too, are the princes in Israel—great men who are not the property of a denomination but of the Church, with a breadth and richness of intellect, with a nobleness of character, and a devotion to great principles that cannot be confined to the range of one sect, whose movements stir the whole Church of God, and whose departure leaves a mighty gap. We admire and honour such men wherever we find them. We thank God for every great, noble-hearted, and honest servant of Christ. In proportion as the service rendered by such persons is real and valuable, do we learn to think highly of them, to depend on them, and to feel as if we knew not how their loss is to be supplied.—John Riddell.
(b) If we believe in God, in a God of order and wisdom, and especially if we believe in Jesus, the infinite support of our life, we dare not doubt for one moment, that when a great or good man dies, his whole appointed work on earth was done, that Providence had no more for him to do, that all he had to do for the world, or for his family, was completed and summed up. Now a worthy and beloved parent does not cease his influence when he dies; he rules his children still, in many cases with mightier power than by his living voice. Well may we feel that he has left such memories and impressions of his views and principles written on their hearts, and now hallowed to perpetual remembrance by the sanctifying power of death, that he, though dead, shall guide them by their very relation to him. Their very love to him indeed must make them mourn; but still, no loss is irreparable; no human loss is absolute.—Ibid.
(c) Let all this carry up our love, and trust, and loyalty, to Jesus alone. It is the visible mark of inferiority of all others, that they die. However great, they are limited in their greatness. They have had but a certain work to do, a limited power to put forth. They could not serve the continuous wants of the world—they do their little work or their great work, and then they are removed. Their longer continuance might turn out a hindrance. It is the unapproachable distinction of Jesus, that He remains for ever the Prince of Peace, the grand Head of the nation, to whom all earthly princes are subject. He is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” Over him death hath no power; the taint of corruption cannot infect Him. No voice shall bewail His failure, no nation weep His funeral, no cry of a pierced world tell that its hope and star is gone. He liveth and reigneth for ever. He is our refuge still in times of trouble. Friends die and great men disappear from the stage; but the Saviour remains with sympathy to dry up all our tears, with power to sustain under the loss of earthly supports. As the hearts we cling to become still, then He opens all His heart to us, and in contact with it our own heart grows still and calm, and learns that, in taking from us the earthly prop. He was but drawing us nearer Himself.—Ibid.
(d) Life and immortality have been brought clearly to light in the Gospel—in Him who hath Himself risen “the firstfruits of them that sleep.” And hence the Christian alone looks with cheerful hopefulness in death. Others may face it with steadfastness or calm—he alone lies down to sleep in hope. Not only without fear, but in joy he enters the dark valley, and friends lay him in the narrow prison-house, “dust to dust, in the hope of a joyful resurrection.” “For this corruptible must put on incorruption,” &c. (1 Corinthians 15:53-57).
It is this fact of Resurrection which leads the apostle to say that we who remain alive should not sorrow for our dead ones, “even as others which have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Why, indeed, should we thus sorrow, who believe that as “Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him?” They who had no such faith, might well weep as they buried their Dead out of sight, and knew not whether they should evermore see the light of life. But why should we hopelessly weep for those who are resting with the Lord—who have gone before to be for ever with Him? Why, indeed, but for the faintness of our hearts and the weakness of our flesh? Let us sorrow rather for ourselves, that our sight is so dim and our faith so dull—that we are so little able to look beyond things which are “seen and temporal” to those which are “unseen and eternal.” The Living, rather than the Dead, may have a claim upon our sorrowful regard. For the Dead have gone beyond our anxiety. They have entered into their rest. They are asleep in Jesus; while the Living, who are around us, and with us, may be wandering far from Him, may be wounding Him by their sins, may be “crucifying Him afresh and putting Him to an open shame.” It is as if we were to weep for the child resting in its father’s bosom, sheltered in a happy home, rather than for the child who has gone astray in darkness, and cannot find its homeward way. It is as if we were to sorrow for the mariner who has found a safe harbour, and rests in peace, rather than for the storm-tossed sailor in the open main, around whom the billows may be heaving high, and over whom the sky may be darkening to his doom. No, brethren, let us not sorrow for those who are with God, safe in a Father’s house, sheltered in the haven of eternal rest. But let us be anxious and careful for the living, that we may help them, and guide them by God’s blessing in a right way; and for ourselves, that we may “know the things which belong unto our peace, before they are hid from our eyes.”—Principal Tulloch, D.D.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13