Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 11

Kelly Commentary on Books of the BibleKelly Commentary

Verses 1-10

It is impossible to look at this book ever so cursorily without feeling the difference of the atmosphere from that of Leviticus. And this is so much the more striking because it cannot be fairly doubted by a believer that they were both the production of the same inspired author. Nothing therefore illustrates more clearly the way and measure in which the object of God gives the tone to the book in which He is communicating His mind to His people; for although there is quite enough to show the same human hand that He employed, the fulness of divine wisdom is equally manifest, as also the special forms which it thought fit to adopt for the purpose of enforcing the truth on our careless minds.

Now the specific object of Numbers is to set out the journeyings of Israel through the wilderness, and this typically as usual in scripture. It is no longer access to God. This we have seen in Leviticus, where the tabernacle stood in the foreground, out of which Jehovah caused His communications to be given to Moses, as well as to Aaron, or even to the people through Moses. In the book of Numbers the Spirit of God has the desert before Him, rather than the sanctuary. We shall find of course the sanctuary, but the question here is not one of drawing near to God as far as this could be then, but of the walk of the people of God on the earth. I say the earth, because it does not always set before us the earth as it now is a wilderness, but the earth even as it shall be when the Lord Jesus takes the kingdom. We shall find the importance of this remark before we have done with the book of Numbers. Still it is everywhere the earth as the scene through which the redeemed of the Lord are passing.

Hence the first thing brought before us is that we are now to look on and learn the varied trials whereby Israel were about to be proved, where occasional foes met them, where there were always dangers and difficulties, where the people might and as we know did manifest their lack of dependence on God, even to the point of rebellious and flagrant and fatal sin against Him.

It was needful in God's wisdom that the census of the children of Israel should be taken. The primary object that is presented to us in the early chapters is a reckoning of the males that were fit for war; but we shall find that the numbering goes beyond this, and that there are other considerations and objects than for war and warlike purposes. In short, whatever might be the particular aim in various parts of the book, God impresses upon us this the care and the interest that He takes in everyone that belongs to Him. It is a very simple truth, but certainly full of comfort to the soul; and this, it will be observed, for the earth.

We can all understand the sweetness of being numbered for heaven, and to that the heart of most people generally turns; but even those who have the greatest comfort in looking at the counsels of God securing them for eternity are apt to forget the present interest which the Lord takes in all our movements, ways, conflicts, and trials. This is the first thing with which the book opens.

After this numbering of the people attention is drawn to the exception of the tribe of Levi. Thus it is said, "Thou shalt not number the tribe of Levi neither take the sum of them among the children of Israel: but thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle and all the vessels thereof; and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle." The two things are true; and the comfort of both (which at first sight might seem to be so opposed as to be incompatible with each other) the Lord would surely give us to taste. In the one case the census relates to those whom God has put in the place of trial and provocation (not yet, no doubt, the fullest form of conflict, which is reserved for the book of Joshua). Nevertheless conflicts there are, with trial of patience always, in the wilderness for the people of God. But then there is another truth which we need also to apprehend, which has no less consolation for our souls: we are not only God's own people, every one of us counted up by Himself as those on whom He reckons, whatever may be the march, with whomsoever we may have to fight in passing through the wilderness; but we have to do with serving Him, and, above all, in reference to the sanctuary. In this point of view numbering as of a host would be out of season. The object is to stamp on service an unearthly character; yet undoubtedly it is while we are going through the earth. At the same time the exclusion from this census in the case of Levi was just as important as His interest in reckoning Israel up one by one in the midst of trials. For the Levites taken quite apart are thus viewed as out of all this reckoning and simply exempted for the service of God, without need of any such method of impressing God's care on them.

Both truths were intended to be brought before us as having distinct and combined meaning in the Christian. Accordingly the very same persons who in one aspect are typified by the numbered tribes of Israel in another are Levites not numbered as yet because they belong to God simply and exclusively. This then is the double aspect. It would not be easy to adduce an instance which shows us more the importance of a right handling of the types, because the natural mind would be continually prone to set the two things in opposition, and to conclude that, as the Levites were contrasted with the other tribes of Israel, so what either represents must occupy each a wholly different position now. As this does not follow à priori, so the reverse is true in fact; and the types indicate different relations of the same antitypical persons. The truth is, when we think of a Christian, we have to remember the words of the Spirit of God in the New Testament: "All things are yours." It does not matter whether it be the numbering of Israel or the absence of numbering of the Levites, both are true of the Christian not, of course, in the same aspect, but in distinct relationships equally true.

In the second chapter is laid down the arrangement of the camp; and here we have another important principle brought before us. The tabernacle has a central place: the tribes are all ranged in reference to it. "Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house." And then we find, "On the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch their armies: and Nahshon the son of Aminadab shall be captain of the children of Judah." God insists always on His own order. "And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred. And those that do pitch next unto him shall be the tribe of Issachar: and Nethaneel the son of Zuar shall be captain of the children of Issachar. And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were fifty and four thousand and four hundred. Then the tribe of Zebulun: and Eliab, the son of Elon shall be captain of the children of Zebulun." Again we find that Judah comes before us. "On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben," and again of Simeon. After all this we are told, "The tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp: as they encamp, so shall they set forward, every man in his place by their standards" (verse 17). Then follow on the west Ephraim's standard, and on the north Dan's.

Thus the tabernacle is surrounded by the Levites for the purpose of asserting their special and exclusive absorption in the service of God, instead of being left for purposes of war, or any object on the earth other than God's own sanctuary. They hold the central place, with six on one side and six on the other. Such was the order of the march. Indeed the same arrangement appears when they encamp. We shall find however a subsequent modification of this; but I do not speak more of it until it comes in its own place. Then we are told as a summary that "These are those which were numbered of the children of Israel by the house of their fathers. All those that were numbered of the camps throughout their hosts were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty. But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel, as Jehovah commanded Moses. And the children of Israel did according to all that Jehovah commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward every one after their families according to the house of their fathers."

In the third chapter we come to more particulars of that which has a still nearer interest to us not now the general order of the host of Israel, but more especially what concerns the service of the Levites This specially connects itself with our walk here below. Priesthood is just as remarkable in the book of Leviticus as Levite service is in the book of Numbers. In that respect Leviticus is by no means a happy name for the book. The truth is that much the greater part of the detail as to the Levites is found in Numbers, and not in Leviticus. We must remember that the name "Leviticus" is not given by divine inspiration: it is merely a name taken from the Greek version; in short it is a human name. I do not hesitate therefore to make the remark. The Hebrew mode of reference to these books was the mere citation of the first word in each book. In the book of Numbers then, where we have the walk on earth set forth, service finds its capital seat. In the book which develops access to God priesthood is as prominent as here Leviteship. A remark applies as to priesthood exactly similar to what we found true of Leviteship; namely, that the Christian, who in one point of view is of Israel and in another a Levite, is no less a priest. Only priesthood sets forth the drawing near to God Himself in the heavenly sanctuary no longer the figure, but the true the antitype; whereas Levitical service has to do with the service of the sanctuary whilst the people of God are passing through the earth. It is clear from this that the priestly functions of the believer have a very much higher character than his Levitical service, if we would express ourselves in the language of types. In the one case we have to do with God Himself; we draw near in the sense of what Christ is to Him as well as to us. In the other we have that which is a holy duty; nevertheless it is a duty which has to do with man and the earth in our passage through this world. It is of this latter that we are about to hear more particulars.

The third chapter accordingly brings before us the names of the sons of Aaron, who had the highest place among the Levites "Nadab the first-born, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar." "These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest's office." Then the death of the two former, Nadab and Abihu, is mentioned, Eleazar and Ithamar remaining to minister in the sight of Aaron their father.

Next follows the object for which this is introduced. "Jehovah spake with Moses, saying, Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him." It is clear that gospel service is not the point; and the reason is manifest. Service in the gospel is not merely in but to the world. Here it is service in the world, but by no means the making known to the world the grace of God. The time was not come for this. It is characteristic of Christianity, and could not be set forth fully until the great work of redemption was done. Hence we do not find, except in a mere vague and general principle, anything that could properly set forth the service of the gospel; but there is a vast deal of other service which has and ought to be rendered while we are passing through the earth. This is represented by the different families of the tribe of Levi.

But the first and chief point to lay hold of in the type is the connection of the service with the High Priest with Christ Himself. Separate ministry in any form, divorce the service of the saints from Christ, Himself in the presence of God, and it is falsified and degraded. Even were this not complete, the precious spring of comfort is weakened. Thus the all-important point is what the Spirit of God first of all brings before us; that, although priesthood and ministry are in themselves essentially distinct, we must always bear in mind that ministry is a gift of God in the closest connection with Him who is the type of the great High Priest. It is for His honour, and for the accomplishment of what is connected with Him. What has to be done on the earth can only be rightly done in subjection to Him, and depends on His place as High Priest. The false principle which has ruined service here below is that men have naturally connected it with the church, instead of with Christ I do not hesitate to say that this is always fatal, though not in the sense that there may not be good done, as men say, by those that minister. Neither would one deny refreshment to souls. Also we must particularly bear in mind the remark already made, that proper gospel ministry is not contemplated here.

But when we think not merely of man, of souls getting help, etc., when we think of the glory of God, the severing it from Christ, the One to whom it really belongs and to whom it is given of God, and the putting it in subjection to the church, completely ruin all testimony to His will and glory here below. Consequently service becomes either a selfish thing, turned perhaps into a mere worldly profession, or a matter of corporate sectarian vainglory. It allows of the love of a great following, or the desire after power and influence all of them abominable forms of flesh or world to which it has been perverted by the wiles of the devil In any case, to say the least, ministry deprived of its relation to Christ is stripped of its own proper dignity, as it ceases to subserve His glory.

When cut off from Him and connected with an earthly stock, it is taken out of that which alone secures its true, holy and heavenly character. It becomes more or less dependent on the world by ceasing to be immediately linked with Christ Himself, the One to whom God has given it. Even if it be placed under the church, instead of kept in the hands of Christ, it invariably opens a door for pleasing self or pleasing others; and thus for worldly motives or selfishness in every possible form. Hence we see the all-importance of the truth as here typified: "And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given to him out of the children of Israel And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death."

But there is a further truth from the 12th verse: "And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine; because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am Jehovah." That is, we find them in a very special manner taken by Jehovah as the formal substitute for the firstborn of Israel who were spared when Egypt was visited by the destroying angel. They were redeemed by blood, and counted emphatically to belong to Jehovah. In lieu of Israel's firstborn He accepted the Levites "They shall be mine." They are thus made the standing witness of the firstborn due to Jehovah from man as well as beast. The grace of God had exempted those to whom they answered in the time of judgment. Consequently the Levites, being thus identified with mercy the great distinguishing mercy which rescued Israel from the doom of Egypt, were so much the better fitted to do the service of the sanctuary. Who can presume to undertake the service of God without knowing that God has accepted him on the ground of redemption? Salvation precedes ministry, if we listen to God and dread the solemn warning of the Lord and His apostle. (Matthew 7:22; 1 Corinthians 9:27)

But there is something far more precise than this. "Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them. And Moses numbered them according to the word of Jehovah, as he was commanded." Now we have their special numbering for the place assigned to each family. Here they are numbered (apart from Israel, but still numbered) from infants of days, designated to service long before it could begin. (Compare Galatians 1:15) Strength is given before service is claimed; but from their earliest days they are reckoned apart according to the grace and intentions of God. There were three principal houses Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. They with their sons have each a line of service given into their hands in Numbers 4:1-49, where they are afresh numbered from thirty years old and upward. This also is of great moment. There is nothing practically more important than that each servant of God should know the work He has given him to do; and that when known he should stick to it. Be assured also that it is of no small importance never to interfere with another's service. The Lord is sovereign in this. He divides according to His own will. This on the one hand we are bound to respect; while on the other there is nothing more lovely than mutual subjection according to the grace and in the fear of God. This very principle ought to make us jealous of trenching on that which we ourselves could not properly enter into. I hold it to be a certain truth, that every saint of God has a work to do entrusted by the Lord, which nobody else can do so well. The great business is, that we should find what it is, and that we should cherish unqualified confidence in God in carrying it out as now redeemed to Him. After all, this must be a secret between Him and ourselves, however we may be helped perhaps by the wisdom of others to find it out; for there are many ways in which we arrive at the conviction of the work God has given us to do.

Real Christian service cannot be settled in the simple external fashion in which it was appointed to Israel. Like all else in Christianity, it depends on faith, not on family, or birth-connection, as was true of Israel, a people after the flesh. But what was true of them in a fleshly sort is no less true of us in a spiritual way. Now we have to bear this in mind; and I believe that you will find the great value therefore first of all of settling between your souls and the Lord what the work is in which you prove His power with you, and His blessing on you. Surely now is the appointed time, the time of labour and of service, while you are passing through the world. Thanks be to God, we have a still better place, even the sanctuary where all is founded on the mighty work of redemption, whereby we rest in peace with God and in the communion of His love, as we draw near in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In virtue of this we have our true worship while here below; but with this, as we have seen, Leviticus has more to do than Numbers.

But besides the privilege of worshippers, we have our work, and it is of the utmost possible moment for the glory of God that we should be found simple-hearted, devoted, respecting each other, not hindering but helping on in brotherly love. Grace no doubt teaches us what is due one to another, while earnestly and sedulously seeking that we should each discharge that in which God is with us. This seems very plain in the expressed directions which the Spirit of God lays down as to the sons of Levi. And we shall see how careful He is in His own sovereign choice; for man's will has nothing to do with the matter. It was no question at all of picking out those who might seem best for carrying the boards and the curtains, or the vessels of the sanctuary. God arranged it all, taking it completely out of man's hands: He chose suited men Himself. Where is anything happy unless in the simple carrying out of the will of God? Nothing else is so sweet. Our Lord Jesus has shown us this. It was His meat to do the will of His Father, and it should be ours.

These Levites then show us the special service framed, and the instruments arranged, by the will of our God: we find also certain positive directions laid down for all. "These are the families of the Levites according to the house of their fathers. Of Gershon was the family of the Libnites, and the family of the Shimites: these are the families of the Gershonites. Those that were numbered of them, according to the number of all the males, from a month old and upward, even those that were numbered of them were seven thousand and five hundred. The families of the Gershonites shall pitch behind the tabernacle westward. And the chief of the house of the father of the Gershonites shall be Eliasaph the-son of Lael. And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation shall be the tabernacle (the outward frame) and the tent, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords of it for all the service thereof."

Then we hear of Kohath. "And of Kohath was the family of the Amramites, and the family of the Izeharites, and the family of the Hebronites, and the family of the Uzzielites: these are the families of the Kohathites." Their number is given; and these were to be on the side of the tabernacle southward. All was laid down with the greatest possible care. God would avoid confusion in the service of the tabernacle, and also room for human will. He would make it to be the humblest thing on earth a matter of simple obedience. Their charge we gather was to be a most honourable service, even "the ark, and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister, and the hanging, and all the service thereof. And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be chief over the chief of the Levites, and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary."

Then come the Merarites, under whose guardianship were to be the boards of the tabernacle (ver. 36). "And under the custody and charge of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and the sockets thereof, and all the vessels thereof, and all that serveth thereto." Thus it is plain all was fairly portioned according to God's mind.

What has been here pointed out it is of all possible consequence to apply practically. You will find that in the service of the children of God in those, for instance, that minister in the word, without confining it to them these distinctions turn up constantly. There are those whose blessed place it is to dwell on Christ Himself, who delight in dwelling on His grace, who have the deepest admiration for His person, His divine glory, His perfect devotedness to the Father. I need not say there is no ministry possessed of a higher character than this: what indeed has one so high? On the other hand there are those who are more particularly occupied with that which displays the Lord to men. It is clear that the curtains, the tabernacle, all the outward part, do not so much set forth Christ before God as before man. The former sort of ministry contributes largely to a spirit of worship. The latter is adapted more to the wants of man. The difference may be better understood by this, that in the former it is a question more of the value of Christ, in the latter of His ways; in the one more what He is and does for God than what He appears before the eyes of man below, the means of a meeting between God and man, and consequently of a gracious supply for man's necessities.

It is evident that those who drove in their wagons the tabernacle, with its tent and coverings, had the Gershonite service, as compared with those who carried the precious vessels of the sanctuary. And again there was somewhat between the two namely, what maintained the curtain. This therefore did not seem to represent so external a work as the Gershonite service; on the other hand, it does not suppose such intimate communion with Christ and His offices as belonged to the Kohathites. All this may serve to show that what is set forth in the service of these different families of Levites has an obvious bearing on different forms and shades and characters of ministry in the word here below.

But the same thing is also more widely true; for we must not limit ministry to the word, although this comparatively has the highest character. But there is also ministry in prayer, in watchful love and care for others, in lowly interest in all that pertains to the Lord and those that are His. These things must not be forgotten. There is many a soul that never appears as a workman in man's eye, but who, I am persuaded, carries on a most important function for the good of those that do appear, bearing up and strengthening before God those who have to do more with the din and brunt and fag of the war that must be carried on as long as the enemy is in force here below.

All these things then we may well seek to understand. Above all, when we do understand, let us not content ourselves with this; for what is the value of truth, if we are not walking in it to the glory of the Lord? Is it not rather for such the deepest condemnation? Therefore there are none for whom one may justly dread so much as for ourselves for you and me, if careless. The more simply God has led us outside the mere reign of dreary tradition, with all its darkening and blinding effects, the more He has brought us in presence of His own word, and given us to bow to the free action of the Holy Ghost, that we may enjoy the grace and truth of Christ the greater the danger, shame, and pain, when we either act unworthily in our own persons, or take lightly in others that which dishonours the Lord Jesus. Such indifference, if it exist along with a better knowledge of the word of God, makes all the more sad the contrast with that precious expression of His own grace. Nevertheless be sure that there is not only the same danger of slipping as for others, but when those who have the better knowledge do trip, they are apt to fall lower with less shame than such as know less with more conscience. When such unseemliness appears, many not understanding this are scandalised. They wonder how it can be that those possessed of better knowledge of God's word can so grievously turn aside. The truth is that the cause is painfully simple. Not a few go on decently in the religious world through love of reputation, and a desire to stand well one with another. With little power of godliness, they have the highest value for position and their interests. Can any one doubt who knows the general state of things that this exercises immense power of a low kind? But it is not so where the Lord has distinctly led them out into a platform practically Christian. There nothing is allowed of God to pass in the long run but the power of the Spirit; and the danger is like Peter's, when he was no longer in the ship (where he was safe enough comparatively), but went out to Jesus walking on the waters. Then it is Christ who sustains, one way or another, or sinking is inevitable. Undoubtedly it was the place of true honour, but faith alone could avail itself of the divine power; for that reason the lack of it exposed him the more because of his ardour, though the Saviour was immediately in sight to extricate from peril and sorrow. Nothing but dependence on Christ can rightly keep the Christian I do not mean from drowning so much as from dishonouring the Lord.

In order to this the sovereignty of God in service must be felt, learned, applied, and walked in. And the same feeling which maintains it as a matter of faithfulness to God will also respect it in others. Be assured that these things always go together. This must suffice for the distinctive service of the Levites in contrast, so to speak, with the common character of the priest's work and position. In drawing near to God all differences disappear. Who and what are we in His presence? The one person that fills the scene is the Lord. And this is more manifestly true and known to us now, because the veil is rent. Hence therefore the immediateness of the presence of God is incomparably more felt in Christianity shall even the types of Judaism could possibly express.

The chapter closes with fresh calls from Jehovah to Moses: first, to number the firstborn males of Israel from a month old and upward, and to take the Levites for them; secondly, as the number of the firstborn exceeded that of the Levites by two hundred and seventy-three, to take redemption-money for this residue (five shekels apiece) to be given to Aaron and to his sons.*

*It is grievous to think how the ignorant or careless statements of good men furnish weapons to the ill-minded against the word of God. Bp. Patrick, if I mistake not, inferred from the ratio of the first-born to all the males that each Jewish family must have consisted of forty-two boys on the average, though he afterwards reduced it more than half. Such a mistake has been greedily re-echoed by rationalists abroad and at home, especially by Bishop Colenso in Pt. i. chap. xiv. But these reckoners, so ready to impugn Scripture, have overlooked several elements which the record itself furnishes, so as to reduce the number to an average of at most eight children, boys and girls, in each family, which no man can pretend to be excessive. For, first, the heads of families first-born fathers, grandfathers, or great grandfathers are clearly not included here any more than in the death of the first-born throughout Egypt, but only those who were unmarried members of the house. Secondly, those numbered were not merely eldest sons, but strictly first-born males. Supposing the daughter to be the first-born in equal ratio, this would reduce the number one half, as the former would to one-third. Next, there is a further reduction necessary when we take the mean number of children who survive to the twentieth year; for ordinarily not a few of the firstborn die before then. Lastly, the first-born under a month must be excluded. Hence, instead of forty-two sons, the first reduces (say in round numbers) to fourteen; the second to seven; the third and fourth to less than four, if we rate the first-born surviving at two-thirds for the whole period, and take the first-born under a month into account. The reader will find the minute proof of this drawn out in "The Exodus of Israel," chap. 6.

In Numbers 4:1-49 we come to another important point the carrying of the vessels of the sanctuary through the wilderness; for now what the Kohathites had to do is taken up particularly. It was the highest form; it was what brought the service closest to Christ. Outwardly it did not look so well, as we shall find afterwards. It does not at all follow that the service which makes the greatest show or noise among men has the most honourable character in the eyes of God. This is important. We often mistake as to what really has the weightiest place. This is the one sure test of value; it is always Christ. Whatever brings one nearest to Christ, and brings out Christ most, is always the best. This seems to be the case typically with the sons of Kohath in their service. But if we look closer, you will find special ways in which their service is brought before us.

Thus they were told first of all, "When the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering veil, and cover the ark of testimony with it: and shall put thereon the covering of badgers' skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof." This was, of all the vessels of the sanctuary, the fullest and the highest representation of God Himself, as displayed in Christ. The ark, as we know, was for the holiest of all. It was that which set forth Christ, and Christ not as He met the need of man in the world, but as He is seen in the presence of God Christ in the highest display of His glory and of divine righteousness on high. In this case the veil was that which covered it. It is not merely therefore the type of the Son of God as such, but as having taken humanity into union with His own person. I trust that my reader believes and knows that the Son of God 'was from all eternity; but what the ark covered with the veil represented is the Son after He took manhood into union with Himself.

Besides this, there is the covering of badgers' (or tachash)* skins the figure, it would seem, of that which absolutely shut out all that was offensive. Such repellent power could only be represented thus, not in the intrinsic way in which it belongs to Christ. The form in which the figure expresses this power of moral guard is by a skin capable of warding off what was disagreeable. Badger's skin therefore was fitly chosen in every case when it was a question of representing power that sets aside evil and forbids its smallest contact with the object so covered. Then over this type of His separation from sinners was a cloth wholly of blue, because, whatever might have been in our Lord Jesus Christ as just said, whatever might be the power that rejected evil, there was another aspect of Him pre-eminently presented to the believer: He was "the heavenly" One. (1 Corinthians 15:1-58) And it is remarkable, too, that several expressions which are used in John 3:1-36 combine these very thoughts. "The Son of man," it is said there rather than the Christ. Thus we find Him shown fully as man the title in which He speaks of Himself here and habitually; but we find also that He is "the Son of Man which is in heaven" This never could be severed from Him when He was here below; it seems to be the allusion meant by the covering of blue. Even John the Baptist was earthly, and spoke of the earth, as did all others; Jesus alone came from above, and was above all He was divine, the Word and Son, whatever He became, and coming from heaven He was above all.

*It matters little comparatively for the typical truth conveyed whether tachash means a seal or a badger. It was certainly an external protective skin, sufficiently strong (as inEzekiel 16:30; Ezekiel 16:30) for women's shoes to be made of it. The Septuagint translate it by ὑακίνθινα , as Aquila by ἰάνθινα , and understood a peculiar colour to be meant. But Gesenius rightly, I think, decides against this, as do most, though it be not clear what animal is meant.

Further, the table of showbread had a cloth of blue, and all the various appurtenances were so covered. Besides this it is said, "And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet,* and cover the same with a covering of badgers' skins, and shall put in the staves thereof." Whereas, on the contrary, with the candlestick there was simply a cloth of blue which covered all, and then the covering of badgers' skins, but no scarlet cloth. What are we taught by this? Wherein lies the difference? Why is it that the Spirit of God directed that in the case of the table of showbread a covering of scarlet should be between the blue and the badgers' skins? And why not in the candlestick? The reason, I conceive, is that scarlet is the well-known sign of His glory, not so much as Son of Man, but as the true Messiah as the one who takes the kingdom of His father David after the flesh. I conceive therefore that this is probably corroborated by the fact of its connection with the table of showbread. At that table were the loaves, which clearly bring before us the twelve tribes of Israel. When the Lord Jesus restores the kingdom to Israel, it is not the covering even of purple I shall show this by and by, but rather the covering of scarlet. The mistake of the Jews when our Lord came here below was that they only looked for His glory as the Christ. Our Lord Jesus was refused as such; but when it was manifest that unbelief rejected Him, then, as we all know, He brings in this further glory as the result of suffering unto death. His death and unbounded glory throughout all the creation go together. (Comp. Psalms 8:1-9 with Psalms 2:1-12)

*The word seems properly to mean crimson. (Cf. Matthew 27:28 John 19:5)

Hence therefore the evidence is plain, and God showed all along, that there never would be the limitation of His glory in connection with the twelve tribes of Israel represented by these twelve loaves, as the Son; He comes of man in all the fulness of power and glory. It would not be merely as of the Son of David, but the infinitely larger glory of the Son of man. But He will not therefore lose His royal rights over Israel as His special people. With this, it appears to me, the scarlet or crimson covering is connected. I shall show presently how the purple comes in; but for this we must wait till it occurs in its place.

In the case of the candlestick of light there is altogether a different thing. Nothing else but blue appears. There is neither scarlet nor purple; nor was there, you will observe, the covering veil. Why is this? Because here we have brought into close juxtaposition the light of divine testimony, which does not refer to the tribes of Israel, but is specially connected with the heavenly calling. Now it is precisely when Israel disappears that the power of the Spirit of God is given, which is the real means of manifesting this heavenly light. Consequently all reduces itself to two ideas: one is the heavenly link, and the other is the power that rejects all impurity. The church of God, as we know, or Christian body, is especially connected with that testimony. In the case of the twelve tribes there will be, when the due time comes for them, a connection through Christ with heaven, the power of holiness; but their hope is Christ in the glory of the kingdom, which He will take as the risen Son of David. This we have already seen in the foregoing type.

Further, it is directed that the golden altar should be covered with blue and badgers' skins; that is to say, in near connection with the light comes the altar of intercession, the altar of priestly grace. How beautifully this applies to a time when not only there is the power of the Spirit of God in giving a testimony for God a heavenly testimony and a holy one, but besides also the power of grace that goes forth in Christ's intercession! We know how both ought to characterize the Christian. These two objects are similar in kind, were found perfectly in Christ, and should be in us. Now is the time to shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life; now to pray always with prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching "hereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. Our God would give us fellowship with Christ in both. As is the heavenly, such are they also who are heavenly. The earthly people will have light arising for them by and by; but it will be for earthly government, and the nation and people that will not serve Zion must perish.

But when we come down to the brazen altar in verse 13, which is the next instrument, it is said, "They shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon." It is plain that the purple must have a close affinity for the crimson or scarlet: nevertheless there is distinction as well as resemblance. The distinction seems this that while both colours agree in bringing in dignity, what seems to belong to the purple is glory in general; and I need not tell you that Christ's royal dignity is connected not so much with His being the Son of man as with the lineage of David. I take it therefore that here we find what belongs to the Lord as suffering on the earth. Here He suffered, and here He is to reign. No doubt He is and could not be other than the means of meeting man where he is, in all his wants, and weakness, and sin, and distance: the blessed Lord never can abdicate that. This is glory pertaining to Him for the earth. At the same time He is and could not be other than the Son of David as viewed here below; as it was said, He was "born King of the Jews." Looking at Him as connected with the earth, this is in part what belonged to Him to reign where He suffered. The proper colour to express this dignity is the covering of the brazen altar. He is more than king, but still He is King, and thus connected with all the earth.

The difference between the brass and the gold in various vessels seems to be this, that, while both show divine righteousness, the one rather looks at man responsible on the earth, the other at God in all His grace who is approached in heaven. Such is the difference. They are both true, both alone found in Christ: nevertheless the one means God's righteousness to whom we draw near; the other means God's righteousness that displays what He is in dealing with man as a responsible creature here below. God can afford to forgive him, but it is simply forgiveness. This takes account, we see, of his responsibility, which concludes by his failure, though divine mercy steps in with plenary pardon on faith. But it is another thing to draw near to God as He is revealed by Christ. This is found in the ark or in the other vessels of the sanctuary, if we did not even look at the highest form.

This was then what the Kohathites had to carry. Accordingly we find the completing of the numbering of the Levites not merely of the children of Israel. But we have now the same sons of Gershon brought distinctly before us, not mixed up with the warlike houses of Israel; but when their service has been distinctly defined, they too are connected with the work, and summed up together.

It will be observed that here again as in Exodus I scout the notion as erroneous, that the most holy place with its furniture sets forth Christ in contra-distinction to the holy place as directly referring only to the works and services of His people, the things to be believed concerning God, and the things to be done by His believing people, which leaves the court as a place where they might personally appear before God, and hold communion with Him as locally present among them. How poor this is, how it leaves out the true antitypical place into which the believer is now brought through the rent veil to hold communion with Him in the holiest (Hebrews 10:1-39), does not call for more words. The Cocceian school was wild and vague; but their prime idea is incomparably better than this exclusion of Christ from His rightful pre-eminence and all-comprehensive functions in the mind of the Spirit. Besides, it does not seem consistent to admit, as these same typologists do, that the tabernacle as a whole sets forth the manifestation of God in Him, and then to allot it in this strange way, giving the innermost shrine no doubt to the blessed Lord, then the middle or holy place to His people, and lastly the outer court to the place of meeting or fellowship for the Lord and them. Having already however explained, in speaking of Exodus, what I believe to be the true bearing of the sanctuary vessels, there is no need of repeating it here. I would only point out the different order in this place, as well as the omission of some: both due to the fact that we are here in presence of God's display of His life in Christ (and consequently in the Christian) on the earth, whether in the days of His flesh or as anticipating His appearing in the kingdom. The golden altar follows the golden table and chandelier, as it again is followed by the altar of burnt-offering. The laver is not mentioned anywhere. It is the difference of design which governs and accounts for all a striking testimony to inspiration.

In Numbers 5:1-31 we enter on another view, on which I must be brief. Defilement, or suspected defilement, is here dealt with; but the principle is always according to the character of the book. It is not now priests, but the camp of Jehovah. He deigns to be with the people, and is there in the very midst of their encampment. They must carefully avoid what was unsuitable for the presence of God. He was dwelling there: it was not merely man's drawing near to Him. This, no doubt, did concern the Israelites, and we find it in the preceding book; but He was dwelling with them, and accordingly this becomes the standard of judgment. So we find the various forms of uncleanness which would unfit for a camp where God dwells. This is the first thought.

In the next place, supposing persons committed any sin, trespassing against Jehovah, and were guilty, the great point insisted on is confession (but more than this, reparation, if possible, by the guilty party); in every case, however, to God Himself. Undoubtedly Christianity in no way weakens this, but rather strengthens it. The grace of God, which has brought in unlimited forgiveness, would be rather a calamity if it did not enforce confession. Can one conceive a thing more dreadful morally, than a real weakening of the sense of sin in those brought nigh to God? It may seem so where there is only a superficial acquaintance with God Where the truth has been hastily gathered and learned on the surface, it is quite possible to pervert the gospel to an enfeebling of the immutable principles of God, ignoring His detestation of sin, and our own necessary abhorrence of it as born of God. Whatever produces such an effect is the deepest wrong to Him, and the greatest loss to us. This is guarded against here.

But there is another case where there was not a trespass, but a suspicion of evil, and this too in the nearest relationship the husband about his wife Now Jehovah had his eye on this. He would not have one hardened. What is more dreadful than to be carrying suspicions? We ought to watch against it. Still there may be circumstances that bring a sense of evil, and yet we can hardly give an account of it. We may struggle, fearing that we are wrong as to the person; still, somehow or another, there is the sense of something wrong against Jehovah. What, then, is to be done? In this we see Jehovah making a special provision for it. He ordered that there should be the administration of what is called here "the waters of jealousy:" The wife was to be brought to the priest; everything was to be done in a holy way. It was not human feeling, but connection with God Himself, and a judgment of that which was unsuitable for His presence. "then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance. And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before Jehovah. And the priest shall take holy water in au earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water: and the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse." Then the charge is given to the woman, after which he says, "Jehovah make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when Jehovah doth make thy thigh to rot," and so on. The priest was to write the curses in a book, and blot them out with the bitter water, and cause the woman to drink the water. The effect of this would be that, supposing the woman was innocent, all would go on so much the better in the family. She would have the manifestation of God's blessing on her.

This I do not doubt to be a type, whether of Israel or of Christendom; but for moral profit individually it is all-important. It may be very painful for us to be suspected, but when we are, let us never resent it in the pride of our hearts. Alas! evil is possible, and it is a good thing to evince by the very patience of whatever may be that which is laid to our charge that we are above it. It is always a sign of weakness at the least, very often of guilt, when there is a restless desire to extenuate and deny; and the fiercer the denial the more certain the guilt as a rule. But there may be weakness which sometimes gives an appearance of wrong where it does not really exist. Where flesh is not thoroughly judged, there will be a tendency to resent the smallest imputation. Now here it is where we have this bringing in of the water of death. What is there which so admirably meets everything as the taking the place of death to all that is here below? It is very evident a dead man does not resent an injury. It is the bringing in the practical power of death into the soul which enables one then to bear it. Whatever it may be, let it take its course let us humble ourselves to have, as it were, bitter water administered to us; and most assuredly where the heart, instead of refusing or in a fleshly way merely repelling an insinuation out of the pride of our nature, is willing that all should be thoroughly tested in the presence of God, the result is that the Lord espouses the cause of the one causelessly suspected, and makes all to flourish as never before. Whereas, on the other hand, if there is a trifling with God, with His name, with His nature, then indeed bitter is the curse which falls on such a one. Thus we see it was an invaluable thing, and it is as true now in principle as ever it was in outward type. I do not hesitate to say it is true in a deeper and better sense now than it was then; only it needs faith. It needs self-judgment however; nothing less will carry us through. For although there may be the most genuine faith, still if there is not the willingness to be nothing the willingness to take the bitter draught, the waters of separation or waters of jealousy, it is because there is a power of flesh hindering us a want of faith to take the place of death. Where we are upright, yet submit to it, who can measure the fruitful blessing which results through the grace of God?

In Numbers 6:1-27 comes a type of positive blessing. It is not defilement, but special severance to the Lord. This is what Israel ought to have been, but alas! was not; for Israel defiled themselves for the dead; and this is precisely the place which the godly remnant in Israel was willing to take, as we find inActs 2:1-47; Acts 2:1-47. They owned themselves defiled to death; and for what? As it is said here, "When either a man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto Jehovah: he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husks." It is separation not only from what was defiling, but from what was the best in nature. Not that nature is condemned; which is never right in a Christian. We are bound to maintain the honour of God in the creature to the last. It is always deplorable where man weakens what is due to God in anything that He has made; yet there is no reason why we should deny the power that lifts us above it.

But this last is what the Nazarite shadowed. It is not an assault on God, or anything He has made. Creation as God made it was worthy of His hand; and natural affection is ever sweet. The Lord looked on a man that enquired of Him, though without an atom of faith in Himself; but his character was lovely, and as such the Lord loved him. This is all right; and we ought to do the same. Depend on it that there is a wrong measure if in this we venture to differ from Christ. Just so the Lord took a child in His arms, put His hands on it, and blessed it. Do you think He had not a special interest in a little child? The disciples were far from His thoughts and feelings. Do you suppose He did not look at what God made, were it but the lilies of the field? Never did the Lord give the least sanction to the pseudo-spirituality some of us have talked as to this. No; from His lips never fell a word of slighting thought and feeling for a single creature. Who admired as He every blade of grass that came from His Father's hand? Who so delighted in His care of a sparrow? Who so marked and told out to others the interest that tells itself out in numbering the hairs of the head of those who belong to Him? Christ never denies the claims of nature, never weakens the sense of its beauty, fallen as man may be, and the world ruined by him yes, ruined not by God, but by him who yielded to Satan's wiles.

Yet that same blessed Saviour in gracious separateness foregoes all enjoyment of what was found here below severing Himself in special vindication of God from it all. The creature was good. How could it be otherwise, coming from the hands of such a God? He knew better than any the state into which it had fallen, but He did not forget whose wisdom and goodness made it all. At the same time He is separate to Jehovah; He preserved His Nazariteship. Israel understood not, but the godly remnant followed His steps. By the grace of God they took the place of confessing the defilement for the dead. This seems to be the very thing illustrated at Pentecost Those who received the word took the place of repentance. Christ abode separate to God always. The repentant Jews in living faith acknowledged what their hands had done what they themselves had been what their fathers as well as themselves and their children. They bowed to God, and owned the ruin and death that had come into the world through sin. This is the only way of deliverance from it. They were set on a new ground of Nazariteship unto God from that very moment. They had begun as the outward people of God, separate from the nations, but their standing had been all spoilt and lost by defilement. The death of the Messiah brought out their defilement to the uttermost; but that very death which was their greatest sin became in grace the sole means by which they could renew their Nazariteship on a ground that could not give way. And there we follow. More than that, the door is left open for the remnant in the latter day. They will be Nazarites too. They will not refuse to own their sinfulness, and look from every other hope to the dead and risen Saviour; and they will close their proper place of separation to God in the joy and liberty of the millennial kingdom, when the Nazarite may drink wine.

But a few words more as to the Nazarite may be acceptable here. It was not merely that there was the refusal of the best of what God gives (for natural joy here below was represented, I suppose, by the wine); but further, "all the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head." It is plain that this was not the ordinary condition of a man. Long hair did not become him, though it is in character with the woman. Long hair is the sign of subjection to another; subjection is not God's order for the man, who is meant to be the image and glory of God. But in the Nazarite the rule was altogether special. There was a giving up of man's natural rights, of the place of dignity which God gave him in nature. Further, there was the refusal to make himself unclean for his father, or mother, or brother, or sister, when they died, "because the consecration of his God was upon his head :" nothing was more imperative than to beware of defilement by death. It has been already referred to. This is only found in the new creation, we having been sinful men, who turned back to God in repentance and faith; and always excepting the Lord Jesus who stood, but stood alone, in His own intrinsic purity.

Nazariteship is only for a time. This is stamped upon it. "All the days of his separation," it is said, "he is holy unto Jehovah." And then we find, either, if the Nazarite law were broken, how he had to begin afresh, or, if the days were complete, how it terminated. For this too was carefully noted in offerings of joy, and gladness, and communion. This is what is found here. "And he shall offer his offering unto Jehovah, one he-lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt-offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin-offering, and one ram without blemish for peace-offerings, and a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat-offering, and their drink-offerings." All these were to be brought; "and the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace-offerings. And the priest shall take the sodden shoulder of a ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of his separation is shaven; and the priest shall wave them for a wave-offering before Jehovah;" and so on.

Again, Nazariteship is never supposed to be permanent, but an institution for the wilderness. It comes in by the way on earth, and is peculiar to Numbers.

Thus I apprehend that whatever might be the special separateness either of Israel in responsibility, of the church now, of the Christian by grace, or of Christ Himself, the only One absolutely and perfectly so, whatever might be even these various applications, they all terminate in joy and glory. To watch in self-renunciation will not always be called for. There is a day coming when the Nazarite drinks wine a time of gladness and ease; and thanks be to God for the hope of it! Then all will be changed; no longer must we go forward with girt loins because of passing through a world where not only evil is, but the best may be a defiling snare. The day comes when all things in heaven and earth shall be only for Gods glory, all regulated and used according to the mind and heart of Christ. In that day Nazariteship shall be no more; even he drinks wine then. We shall dwell at ease; we shall rest from sorrow and Satan; we shall all be glad in the joy of the Lord. Then too it will not be merely heavenly worship and praise, but the earthly ones shall rejoice for ever and ever.

Am I wrong in taking it that this is the reason why the blessing of the high priest is brought in immediately after? It is in strict connection with the conclusion of the Nazarite's vow. "Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee: Jehovah make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them." Such will be really and literally the fact when the Nazarite's term shall have come in every sense; and it will end in the joy and gladness without bound of the millennial reign.

On Numbers 7:1-89 a very few words will suffice. We have here the gifts of love and free-will, of hearty devotedness, which the chiefs of the people offer for the service of the sanctuary. The one point to which attention need now be drawn is an offering, particularly for the service of the Levites; but remarkably enough these offerings did not affect the Kohathites. The Kohathites, whatever others might receive, carry the vessels entrusted to them upon their own shoulders. The sons of Merari and the sons of Gershon are presented with oxen and chariots; the Kohathites receive none. There is no such principle as that of God balancing matters, and keeping men in good temper by giving all the same portion. If it were, there would be an end of practical grace. On the contrary, what puts faith and love to the test is, that God arranges every one of us in a different place according to His wise and sovereign will. There is no such thing as two alike. The consequence is that this, which becomes an awful danger for flesh, is the sweetest exercise of grace where we are looking to the Lord. What gracious man would feel sore with another because he was unlike himself? On the contrary, he would take an honest and hearty joy in that which he saw of Christ in another, which he did not himself possess. Now this is what seems to me is called into exercise by the provision for the carrying out of the service of the Levites. The least of them had the most oxen and the most chariots. At the same time, those who had the highest and the most precious charge of all had to bear the vessels on their shoulders. They had much less noise and appearance among men, but the best place giving rise to the highest exercises of faith. The Lord make us rejoice, not only in what He has given to us, but in what He has withheld from us and entrusted to others!

In Numbers 8:1-26 (where again I must be very brief) we have some final words, after the order about lights is announced, in a very particular way, namely, that the priesthood alone keeps up the lights. It is not Levite service, but the link with Christ in the sanctuary in the presence of God on which they depend. This really, though in secret, keeps up the true light of testimony.

In the next place we find another fact. Although the Levites were separate to the priesthood, and were particularly excepted from the numbering of the people as belonging to the services of the sanctuary, none the less were they connected in the most interesting way with every Israelite. In short, at the consecration of the Levites, the Israelites laid their hands on the heads of the Levites. Jehovah had clearly shown before that He was the One to whom the Levites belonged; but it would have been a sad loss indeed, if the people had not felt so much the deeper interest because they were Jehovah's servants. Thus, we see, Jehovah maintained His own place and appointment and sovereign disposal of the Levites. If we are His people, let us not forget that the people of Israel signified their acquiescence and joy; took their part in it too by thus identifying themselves with the Levites that were then set apart for Jehovah. How happy, when on the one hand we thoroughly recognise the rights of the Lord, and on the other find our own portion so much the better. We find ourselves not impoverished because it is the Lord's, but so much the richer, because His things are ours.

Then comes in Numbers 9:1-23 a special provision in case of any impurity by passing through the wilderness which might hinder the passover to be taken at the right season. It is the resource of grace, and is only found here. It might be acted on, as in fact it was at a later day. The principle of it may be seen in the historical books, but it was a province growing out of the condition by the way. We see Jehovah would not lower His end or His ways. On the one hand the passover must be kept the remembrance of the death of Christ is necessary everywhere. There is no pathway out of the world without the death of Christ which was kept in Egypt. Nor could they have left Egypt without the passover. They could not have been delivered across the Red Sea without the blood of the Lamb first. The death of Christ is the necessary and only possible foundation for any blessing from God; but besides, when they are in the wilderness, the death of Christ is just as necessary. Where indeed is it not necessary? When we enter Canaan, there we find the passover meets us in the foreground. (Joshua 5:1-15) Everywhere the death of Christ is essential as for God's glory, so for man's blessing. On the other hand, supposing they were not in a fit condition through defilement, Jehovah here makes a special provision for it. He would not lower the passover by dispensing with its absolute obligation; but at the same time He would pitifully consider the circumstances of the way which might hinder its practicability.

The end of the chapter brings before us another provision of goodness the people's call to unlimited dependence on the Lord's guidance. This was represented first of all by the cloud, their guide by day, as the pillar of fire was by night. And mark this: no circumstances, no times, no difficulties, lessen the necessity for Jehovah's guidance. Supposing night comes with its darkness: what then? The guidance of God is only so much the more conspicuous. Can we doubt that the light was rather brighter by night than by day? I speak not of it intrinsically, but in the eyes of man. Whatever may be the trial, the Lord will be with us, if we really look to Him; and the greater the need, so much the more manifest will be His guidance. All we want is that the heart be really simple in dependence on Him. At His command therefore they rest; at His command they journey. If it stopped but for a little while, so did they; if it abode longer, so they rested; but they were ever to be at Jehovah's commandment. They were privileged to expect His bidding continually. Blessed dependence! May it be ours!

There is but one other topic we may fittingly refer to before coming to a proper halt in this book of journeys. Following the directing cloud, we find the prescribed use of the trumpets (Numbers 10:1-10). This clearly is a character of testimony of rather more marked features, more loudly dealing with the people than the simple indication of the cloud or the pillar of fire. There are different ways in which Jehovah signified His will. It might not always be with the same emphasis which the trumpets naturally imply. There were two trumpets of silver, and they were to be blown by the priests, as we are told here. The sons of Aaron had this as their task according to certain distinct principles explained to us.

In the first case of direction the people looked to the manifest sign of God's presence; in the latter, as just seen, the signal was given by those who had intimacy of communion with God, for this is clearly what was represented by the priests. Now the Lord does guide in various ways. There may be times, and there are things, in which we have no means which suppose such intimacy as could be represented by the priestly trumpets of silver. But Jehovah is always adequate to guide His people, no matter what the means or the circumstances may be. Even were one alone, Jehovah is superior to all difficulties. On the other hand, surely it is wise and well to avail ourselves of what spiritual help we can procure, of available testimony where the case admits of it; above all, of God's own word to deal with ourselves as well as our difficulties.

So accordingly we find here that on various occasions the trumpets had to sound. The most general use was to assemble Israel together. But the trumpet was not so much a question of the journey; this had to do more particularly with the cloud. But the blowing of the silver trumpets was to assemble the people at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. They were called thus to draw near to the presence of God. Again, supposing the enemy at hand, there was an alarm blown. "When ye blow an alarm, then the camps that lie on the east parts shall go forward. When ye blow an alarm the second time," then the rest were to move. All is carefully ordered of God. "But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm." Thus, it is seen, that there were in particular these two cases. The trumpets were blown for gathering to the joy of communion; and there was also the alarm trumpet sounded by God's own testimony in the presence of the enemy. The erect was to be this: the people would be comforted with the thought that, when the silver trumpets blew an alarm, it was God after all that dwelt in the camp. He who directed heard the sound. Not merely were they reminded that God was there, but that He would act for and in them against all adversaries. The trumpets of the sanctuary blown by the priest called them against the enemy. Might they not boldly say, The Lord is our helper: why fear? what can man do?

Verses 1-35

The previous portion of the Book of Numbers, viewed as a history, has evidently a prefatory character, however important and divinely wise. It is in a great measure preparatory for that which we have now to look at, the proper journeying of the children of Israel and the instruction which Jehovah gives founded on their path through the wilderness. We have had the numbering of the people, and the ordinances in view of service, special defilement and special devotedness, and other provisions of grace, for heart and conscience, for eye and ear, marked for the journey through the wilderness.

From verse 11 of Numbers 10:1-36 the history of the actual journey begins, and a very remarkable fact is at once brought before us, and one that must strike every rational mind, though it ought not so much to surprise the child of God. It may seem somewhat embarrassing that, after having laid down the place of the ark in the centre of the house of Israel (and we can all understand how becoming it was that Jehovah should thus be in the midst of His people whether encamped or marching), now when they go forth there should be a change.* What drew out the difference was that Moses counted on the kindly help of his father-in-law. Man fails as always: God is invariably true to His word. Nevertheless He does not bind Himself that He shall not go beyond His stipulation. To my own mind this is admirably according to the perfection of God; for it is not a question this of God forgetting what was due to His own name. The ordinance that He had laid down at the beginning shows the affection that He bore to His people, the place that was suitable to His majesty, as having been pleased to come down and be in their midst; but the want of His people, the anxiety of His servants, the failure of what had been reckoned upon to meet the difficulties of the way, at once drew out His grace I will not say with the cords of a man, but according to that infinite goodness which bends to the necessities of the way, and which feels for every perplexity, great or small, in the hearts of His servants.

*Let me here cite one of those coincidences which are so natural in a writer who was himself an eye-witness, but wholly improbable for a mere compiler, however upright, to think of at a later day; for the more minute, the less is the likelihood that such details would be noticed. "In the second chapter of the book of Numbers the writer describes the divisions of the twelve tribes into four camps, the number of each tribe, and the total number in each camp. He fixes the positions each was to take round the tabernacle, and the order of their march; and he directs that the tabernacle, with the camp of the Levites, should not set forward between the second and third camps. But in the tenth chapter occurs what seems at first a direct contradiction to this; for it is said that after the first camp had set forward, then the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon, and the sons of Merari, set forward, bearing the tabernacle, and afterwards the second camp, or standard, of the children of Reuben. But this apparent contradiction is reconciled a few verses after, when we find that though the less sacred parse of the tabernacle, the outside tent and its apparatus, set out between the first and second camp; yet the sanctuary, or holy of holies, with its furniture, the ark and the altar, did not set out till after the second camp; as the direction required. And the reason of the separation is assigned, that those who bore the outside tabernacle might set it up, and thus prepare for the reception of the sanctuary against it came. Would a forger or compiler who lived when these marches had wholly ceased, and the Israelites had fixed in the land of their inheritance, have thought of such a circumstance as this?" (Dean Graves' Works, ii. p. 49.)

It is this which accounts for the difference. Jehovah felt for Moses and felt for the people too. And so the ark, which according to the strict rule was entitled to the place of chiefest honour in the midst of the host that moves forward, now deigns to do the work of a courier, if I may so say, for the people, not only finding the way for them, but acting as an advanced guard to the host. How characteristically this displays the unchanging goodness of God! On the one hand, the ordinance marked what was due to God, on the other was seen in this the gracious consideration which surrendered ritual for love. What real consistency God maintains with Himself. There is always this where grace reigns. The word of God may seem to be wanting for a little, but God never departs in the smallest thing which has the character of an ordinance, but to bring out His character far more perfectly than if all had been rigidly carried out.

The unerring word of God gives us both facts, by the same scribe and in the same book. There was no forgetfulness of His mind, but a tender solicitude about His people a fine fruit of the same divine grace which all our hearts can well appreciate. Alas! it was very different with the people. If the need of the people drew out greater grace on God's part, the people are found complaining with bitter ingratitude in the scene just after. Jehovah heard it: His fire burned amongst them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. The people cried out, but first of all to Moses. And when Moses prayed unto Jehovah, a further scene ensues; for even divine wrath failed to act permanently on their souls. But here we find the result of that mixed multitude which had come out of Egypt with them. Proof was soon given that there is no departure from the mind of God which does not produce a sad harvest in days to follow. The strangers who were mixed up with them fell a-lusting; and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, "Who shall give us flesh to eat?" This was worse than the complaining just before. It was contempt of signal grace. There was utter blindness to the goodness of God. "We remember," said they, "the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely. But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna. And when Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent, the anger of Jehovah was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased."

This is followed by the remarkable passage between Jehovah and His servant. Moses himself is downcast through sorrow and distress of circumstances, and confesses that he is not able to bear with His people. Then Jehovah bids him gather to him seventy men of the elders of Israel. Was this really according to the full mind of the Lord? or did the Lord not take Moses at his word, and, as the result, share his singular honour with these elders? Jehovah came down, it is said, in a cloud and spake to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him and gave it unto the seventy elders; and it came to pass that when the Spirit was upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. And this gave occasion also to the haste of Joshua, who was somewhat indignant for his master. Neither was this well. It was weakness in Moses that he could not trust Jehovah to care for His people; but it was yet more in Joshua to be over jealous for Moses' sake. The singular distinction with which God had honoured Moses ought to have raised Joshua above such feeling. "Envies" thou for my sake?" said Moses. "Would God that all Jehovah's people were prophets, and that Jehovah would put his spirit upon them."

Blessed anticipation of that which God was going to do another day the very day in which we are now brought to God, and in which He has gathered us together in one! Do we understand this day of ours? Are our hearts in the secret of it? Are we misled by Joshua's feeling? or do we share the mind of Moses? Undoubtedly it is an hour of feebleness but withal of blessedness, of infinite peace and joy in the Lord. But we find even more.

Jehovah then listened to the complaint of His people in despising the bread that came down from heaven, and gave them what they sought after. How grave a consideration for our souls! Not only a believing prayer may have its answer from God, but an unbelieving one; and a miserable thing where the heart is not humble, and does not betake itself at once to God. Happy would it have been for Israel had they checked their murmuring, and rebuked their own souls before God! Surely, if the answer had brought them on their knees, and into the dust before God, it would have been better with Israel; but they were practically far from God. They chose to be their own purveyors, and distrusted Him who loved them. We shall soon find that this spread still farther.

And is it not a serious thought, my brethren, that we are reading but the starting-point of the journey, according to this book the very object of which is to show the journeyings of the people of God? Yet, on the one hand, we have seen the incomparable grace of the Lord that has always streamed out to meet the wants of His people, that knows how to exceed, who never gives less, and never will bind Himself not to give more. Such is God. On the other hand, the people were only constant in rebelliousness of heart. It begins too with those who ought to have known better, but too soon fell under the enticements of the strangers who could not appreciate the goodness of their God. Thus, when a descent or fall comes, it is invariably that which is most carnal which carries the day. It was not that the mixed multitude slipped unperceived into the thoughts of Israel, but that Israel sank down to their lowest desires and contempt of what came from Jehovah.

Alas! we find failure everywhere with the very lawgiver himself. But the fault of his too eager servant recalled him to the grace he felt. He delighted in the goodness of God, even though it might seem to involve somewhat taken away from himself; but he did not think of self but of God. It was right assuredly, when the people greedily fell under the degrading wishes of the mixed multitude of Egypt, that Jehovah should then rise up in His displeasure and smite them at the time when they flattered themselves with His answer to their cry. But His was an answer of grief; it was an answer that brought its own deep penalty along with it not only leanness into their souls, but an indignant rebuke from God Himself. And it is said, His "wrath was kindled against them ere the flesh was chewed, and Jehovah smote the people with a very great plague."

But we have not yet done with the painful phases of unbelief. It must be proved everywhere. What is man? "And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses." And for what? Avowedly because of the type of still richer counsels which their hearts never appreciated "Because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, Hath Jehovah indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And Jehovah heard it. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)" So much the worse for them. Had Moses defended his own cause, I am persuaded God had not so dealt with Aaron and Miriam. Supposing a person were ever-so much in the right, still the want of faith which fights for self always thwarts the activity of grace.

Here therefore as everywhere, when the thing is simply committed to Him, the Lord takes it up; and nothing is more serious for the adversary. "Jehovah spake suddenly unto Moses;" for now it was an incomparably graver thing than the complaints and murmurs and lustings of the mixed multitude, or even Israel. In proportion to the blessings that grace has given is the grievousness of that which is contrary to God, and therefore does He speak suddenly unto Moses and to Aaron and to Miriam, "(dome out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation." They do His bidding; "And Jehovah came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam:" It was in the presence of Moses; but Jehovah had to do with them. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

"And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I Jehovah will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches: and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold; wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of Jehovah was kindled against them; and he departed." But not without the mark of His hand, not without the judgment that dealt in the way most painful to her who evidently was the chief in this stroke of insubjection. For, "behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous. And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned. Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb. And Moses cried unto Jehovah" how blessed the place of intercession! "Moses cried unto Jehovah, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee. And Jehovah said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again. And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again."

Then comes another incident. It was not merely the working of a spirit of repining and distrust of Jehovah which infected the whole people even to those that were nearest to Moses; but we have grave unbelief as to the land to which they were journeying. Here however it is clear that Jehovah allowed the wish to be carried out: "Send thou men." We know from elsewhere how this originated that it was not in faith, but unbelief. Nevertheless Jehovah, as we have seen, lets them prove the principle. That is, not only does He lay down what is according to His own mind, not only may He in gracious care and consideration for His people go beyond it; but, further, He may allow that to be carried out which was not originally of Himself, and yet everywhere secure His own glory. So here spies are sanctioned; and we shall see the result of it. "Moses sent them to spy out the land of Caanan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward." And so they did, and came back with one cluster of grapes so large that they bore the branch between two on a staff. They brought also pomegranates and figs. And they returned from searching the land after forty days. And this was the report. "We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan."

Unbelief itself could not deny the goodness of the land, nor ignore the magnificent specimen they carried between them. But they thought of the men that dwelt there, and not of God. And what had God brought them out of the land of Egypt for? Had He said that there were no children of Anak there? Had He represented the land to be a desert region where the sons of men did not dwell? Never. Jehovah had fully stated who were to be there hundreds of years before. It was a plain forgetfulness of their distinctive glory and blessedness. Is this a strange thing? Let us remember that we too are in the place of our trial. Let us never forget that we have a better salvation, founded on a better redemption, and with better hopes Nor have we a less dangerous wilderness than Israel had to pass through; but for us it is not external power, nor the governmental goodness of Jehovah, but our God and Father, yea, as Jesus knew Him; not only in all the love that rested on Him when here below, but in all the faithfulness to which He binds Himself now to us in virtue of redemption itself.

And how is it that we treat Him how trust Him? Let us read the book at any rate as the true picture of that which we are apt to be To believe that we are in danger is the very way to be preserved from it. To believe that He is caring for us in love is the surest way to enjoy all through the faithfulness and the strength of His love. It was not so with these spies. Nevertheless there is always a witness for God; there is a remnant even among the spies. "And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we."

All their thoughts were "God is not." That which is so sadly true of the unbeliever was evidently yielded to by His own people. "They are stronger than we." And where then was God? They brought up an evil report of the land. This was an advance in evil; and the allowance of evil always brings in a worse. "They brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land through which we have gone to search it is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof, and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants, and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." And what did this matter, if God was for them? Alas! "the congregation lifted up their voice again and cried, and the people wept that night." But they were tears of unbelief, not of sorrow. "And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses, and against Aaron, and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God that we had died in this wilderness!" They were just as unbelieving about the glory that was before them, the land of Canaan as the type of it, as they were about Egypt which they had left, and about the wilderness through which they were passing.

The consequence was judgment; and no wonder. For they say, "Let us make a captain, and let us return unto Egypt." This is the sure result. The heart that refuses to go on with God goes back to Egypt in its desires. "Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb," the two who had brought the good report, "rent their clothes; and they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land which we passed through to search it is an exceeding good land." Let us not forget this. We owe it to our God to give a good report of the land which lies before us. "If Jehovah delight in us, then he will bring us into this land and give it us a land, which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against Jehovah, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and Jehovah is with us. Fear them not. But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of Jehovah appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel." This was Israel Israel in the wilderness Israel in presence of the goodly land and of the earnest which had been set before their eyes.

The glory of Jehovah appears accordingly, and then He speaks to Moses. "How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have showed amongst them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they." What is the effect now? How does Moses answer this offer? God was willing to begin again to make a fresh start. As with Abraham, so He would take Moses as a fresh stock to work from. He was willing to make him such a name as Moses otherwise could not hope for. The heart of Moses answered to the heart of God. He would not hear of it. The offer was to bring out the love that held to what God can afford to be to His people. What He might do for Moses he would not now think of. And Moses said unto Jehovah, "Then the Egyptians shall hear it." How blessed to hear a man feeling for Jehovah's name and glory! "Then the Egyptians shall hear it (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them); and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou, Jehovah, art among this people, that thou, Jehovah, art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because Jehovah was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness. And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken" (verses 13-17).

Thus Moses could not bear Jehovah's character to be compromised, and so he holds Him tenaciously, as it were, to His own word, saying, "Jehovah is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people, according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now." He cleaves to the word of God and to His ways to the love that He had so often proved, even to the faithless people whom He knew so well from the first. If He had borne with them before, surely He would not turn from them now. "And Jehovah said, I have pardoned according to thy word: but as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah" (verses 20, 21).

Observe how at the same time that Jehovah pronounces judgment, He acts according to the very word to which Moses had tied Him in his faith. If his faith did not rise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their absolute and unconditional promises, it went back to the governmental pledge of Jehovah, and to this Jehovah adheres. Consequently that generation was dealt with and purged away, according to the terms of His own proclamation. He would surely hold fast His mercy, but He would by no means clear the guilty. Pardon there was, otherwise Israel had not gone into the land, but He would "by no means clear the guilty;" and so that generation fell. Thus God preserved His character intact, and His hand made good what His mouth had uttered. Another day a deeper evil would make it necessary to fall back, not on what God had said in the wilderness, but what He had promised to the fathers. In the prophets we constantly find that there is a going back in faith, not to what was brought out provisionally during the wilderness, but to what was promised at the beginning (i.e. to the fathers). Thus the end will be the accomplishment of the beginning. The law comes in by the by; and the governmental dealings that accompanied it, instructive then and for all times morally and typically, share in themselves its tentative character.

There is another thing to remark here. In this evil state of things Israel had taunted their children, or rather God about them, as if they were exposed to inevitable death. Unbelief had thus fastened on the little ones, as if it was vain to expect that such as they could pass through the desert safely, and enter the land in face of the enemy. The very people that yielded to such unbelieving doubt of Jehovah's care did themselves reap the consequences; while the children, who, as they thought, could not possibly be preserved through the horrors of the wilderness, were the only ones brought in with the two men who vindicated «oaf and held fast to His word, Caleb and Joshua. Alas! as we know, even Moses and Aaron passed away. There arose that which needed their removal as the discipline of Jehovah in their case. Caleb and Joshua, who gave God credit for a good land, and for a hand mighty enough to bring the weakest in, entered Canaan in due time; and so did the little ones, who, if their fathers were to be believed, must surely fall by the way. But God alone is worthy of trust; and we see how perfect He is in His ways, and how sure and good is the end. But we see too how dangerous it is to allow the complaints and murmurings of unbelief, lest the Lord hear and deal with us according to our folly.

If the latter part of the chapter sets before us a burst of courage, it was merely of the flesh, and received a rebuke from Jehovah. The people, heretofore so unwilling to go, are now too ready; but they went without Jehovah, and the Amalekites and Canaanites turned round on them, indicting a severe defeat. They were discomfited even unto Hormah (verses 40-45).

A chapter (Numbers 15:1-41) follows which might seem extraordinary at first sight. It is a sample of that apparent disorder in the word of God which is only an example of a higher and divine order. God does not arrange things according to man. If we have only patience and faith to believe that He never sinks below His own glory, we shall prove this, and know Him better in due time. We need not wait for it till we get to heaven; we may count on seeing what is according to His will for us here. Impossible that the heart could truly desire from God what He would keep back from it. So, after all this miserable history, universal unbelief working among the people of God, and in presence of this calamitous defeat, to the shame of Israel, before their foes that hated them, Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you, and will make an offering by fire unto Jehovah," which was duly prescribed a fresh pledge of bringing them into Canaan. And this is exactly the force of it. So again it is repeated in the middle of the chapter. "Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land whither I will bring you." This was His answer to the unbelief which thought that all must perish a double witness that God would surely bring them in. Unbelief along the way did not turn aside His love, nor unbelief about the end, for they despised the pleasant land. God holds calmly here to His purpose, though only He knew of the rebellion just about to break out and all that was to follow. He speaks of their future offerings of sweet savour with the drink-offerings of wine in the land of promise; and this for the stranger just as for the Israelite. For here the grace of God runs over, presumptuous sin alone being fatal, as we shall now see.

For as the next lesson we learn that God in no way bound Himself not to judge what was contrary to His glory by the way. "And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the seventh day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation." And here comes out a very important principle what is to be done where we have not a distinct word of the Lord so far as we know. There is always one great safeguard, namely, to wait. Never be in a hurry in devising a remedy, or in exercising a discipline, without the word of the Lord. What is done cannot be undone. It is better to wait and take the place of ignorance, but at the same time of ignorance that is confident that the Lord hears and cares for us. This is exactly what they did. And they were right. "And Jehovah said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death. All the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp." Thus, whatever might be the solemnity of the sentence, the children of Israel had a fresh proof that God entered into their difficulties and took the greatest interest in what concerned them. Never can souls wait upon the Lord and be confounded.

But there is more than that. Jehovah speaks again unto Moses, saying, "Speak unto the children of Israel. and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a riband of blue: and it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: that ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God."

It is not only that God graciously waits on the people that wait upon Him, and appears for them, and knows how to give them what they have never learnt before; but He deigns to use a means, and a very weighty means, of reminding them of His word. And what is this? The riband of blue was a continual means of reminiscence for the people of the Lord. And have we nothing to remind us? Indeed we have, and there is one grand means, I am persuaded, while we are in the wilderness, of putting us in mind of His will and the walk proper to us. There is nothing that better enables us to walk on earth than the consciousness that we are of heaven. Is not this the meaning of the riband of blue?

But after such comforting thoughts as these there comes out something still more tremendous than ever inNumbers 16:1-50; Numbers 16:1-50. It is not complaint now, nor murmuring; it is not merely unbelief because of the difficulties of the wilderness, nor is it the casting of a bad character on God's gift and choice in the land which their unbelief was reluctant to go up and take in the name of Jehovah. There is a conspiracy under the fairest pretensions possible. This does not mend matters. The basest things sometimes put on the most pious guise. No man should be deceived by sound. The Christian is meant to judge things according to God. The men who did so were not by any means such as we should have thought most likely to have joined themselves rebelliously against Jehovah. "Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi" (the most honourable portion among those who had the direct service of the sanctuary), "and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men." That is, there were those who belonged to the ministering class, and those that were chief men in the congregation, generally representatives of what people would call in modern days leading men in church and state. "And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown. And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and Jehovah is among them. Wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of Jehovah? And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face."

It is a good thing when the haughtiness that Satan knows so well how to excite brings out nothing but lowliness and humiliation of our souls before God. Haughtiness is apt to provoke haughtiness, and flesh to irritate flesh; but it was not so with Moses. "And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even tomorrow Jehovah will show who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him. This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company; and put fire therein, and put incense in them before Jehovah tomorrow: and it shall be that the man whom Jehovah doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi: Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of Jehovah, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?" Unbelief shows itself constantly in this very form. If God puts an honour on a man, and he does not take it from Him, it is only a stepping stone for despising the God who gave it to him while grasping after that which He has never given. There is nothing that produces such dissatisfaction as the heart's not estimating aright what God has allotted to us. Whatever is His will alone secures real joy and strength, and happy results to the glory of the Lord. Now in this case these men were not satisfied with their position either as princes of the congregation on the one hand, or as Levites on the other. They sought to be as Aaron and Moses.

What makes this so solemn a chapter is, that the Spirit of God distinctly applies it to the anticipated course of Christendom. We all need its warning. In the epistle of Jude the beginning, way, and end are perfectly brought before us. "The way of Cain" is the great departure at the beginning of this world's moral history, where brother slew brother, jealous of his acceptance with God, as well as of the righteousness which rebuked his own want of it. "The error of Balaam" is the clerical evil of turning the name of God into a means of earthly honour and gain, not without hypocrisy. The last we have now before us, "the gainsaying of Core," and here those that depart from God perish. For this is not merely the selfish diversions of the truth to a means of aggrandisement according to the covetousness of the heart, bad as it was, but open, deliberate insurrection against the rights of Christ Himself. Moses was the apostle of the Jewish profession, as Aaron was its high priest. Christ is the apostle and the high priest of our profession; and the assertion and the exercise of a priesthood now for man is a direct invasion of that which can only be carried out exclusively by Jesus Christ at the right hand of God.

There never was a time when such pretensions were put forth more distinctly than at this present moment. Of old it was not exactly so. In earlier days the writings, for instance, of those that are commonly called "the fathers" show that it was rather an insensible slide; but the solemn fact confronts us now that it is on the part of men who have the Bible, and this circulated, read, proclaimed in the very streets an unexampled propagation of the word of God, and of that which is drawn from the word of God, and this even in what are called "Protestant lands." Consequently it takes the shape of an apostacy, accompanied by hatred of the truth of God; and so much the more because there has been in past history the fatal experience of the effects that follow a slip into a human priesthood. But now there is a growing rejection of the truth of God, and despite done to the Spirit who witnesses the grace of Christ. The attempt once more is to return to naturalism from grace and truth, after both have been fairly brought before the minds of men. No wonder therefore the Spirit of God says that they shall perish in the gainsaying of Korah.

But Jehovah acts in His most solemn vindication of His will against the adversaries, as described in this chapter. They perish too. "And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also. And there came out a fire from Jehovah, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense."

And then was marked the choice of God and the value of the high priest that had been despised. For it is said, "Speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning, and scatter thou the fire yonder; for they are hallowed. The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar: for they offered them before Jehovah, therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel. And Eleazar the priest took the brazen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar: to be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before Jehovah; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as Jehovah said to him by the hand of Moses. But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of Jehovah. And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of Jehovah appeared. And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation. And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take the censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from Jehovah; the plague is begun. And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people."

Thus God was not content with an immediate and final judgment executed on the leaders of the rebellion, but the people whose hearts went with it were judged by the plague. We find here Moses and Aaron yet more remarkable for their earnestness of purpose than for the activity of divine affection in the endeavour that the grace of the Lord should appear for the guilty people. "Moses stood," it is said, "between the dead and the living, and the plague was stayed." Thus was proved doubly what God thought of the presumption of these Levites: on the one hand the judgment of the presumptuous Levite and his party, with the after-clap of the plague among the people; on the other hand the efficacy and grace of the priesthood whom pride and unbelief had sought to supplant under pretence of due honour to all the people of Jehovah.

But there is more than this in Numbers 17:1-13. God would turn it to a practical and a permanent account; and this in a gracious way now, not to call up the remembrance of a sorrowful and humbling judgment. He tells them to speak to the children of Israel that each of them should take a rod "according to the house of their fathers, and of all their princes according to the house of their fathers, twelve rods: write thou every man's name upon his rod. And thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi." And these were put in the tabernacle, before the testimony, where Jehovah met with Moses when He made manifest His mind. The answer was soon given. "And it came to pass that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded,. and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds. And Moses brought out all the rods from before Jehovah unto the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod." It was not only an indisputable sign of choice of the person, but a most significant token of the true place of priesthood, which was here in type founded on death and resurrection. Plainly there is no bearing of fruit except according to the priesthood which Jehovah chose for them. It was not merely to be the means of staying the plague in the presence of an evident divine judgment, but the habitual witness that real fruit-bearing fit for the sanctuary of God springs only from the priesthood that Jehovah has chosen. There is the expression, no doubt, of authority; but that authority is by grace, and for gracious ends. The rod was the figure; at first the dead rod, which quickly proves the vigour of life imparted in the grace of God, and brings forth fruit for His sanctuary. Strange to say, the children of Israel are more alarmed, if possible, at the witness of the gracious power of God than at the plague which had devoured them just before. "We die," say they; "we perish; we all perish." There is nothing so blind as unbelief. Daring in the presence of a pestilence, which in itself followed an unprecedented judgment, they are fearful even unto death in the presence of the sign of all-overcoming grace in life and fruit-bearing.

In Numbers 18:1-32 we have the connection of Aaron with the tribe of Levi, which will not demand more than a few passing words. It is of the utmost importance that the external service should never be severed from the priesthood which enters within. This is exactly what seems set forth here (verses 2, 4). The tendency of ministry, when it does not presumptuously set up to priestly honour, is always to content itself with a place without, and thus to get severed from Christ on high. It never can be so without the deepest loss. Whenever ministry becomes a mere human institution, founded on education and chosen by man, instead of depending on the sovereign call of the Lord Jesus, who uses those called for His own glory, how deplorable the descent to the minister, how dishonouring to the Lord, and how ruinous the result to all concerned! The dependence of ministry then on Christ in the presence of God is what is taught, as it appears to me, by the Levite, the sign of him that is engaged in the service being given to Aaron. It was a remarkable arrangement, the force of which has not always been seen. God would thus keep up the connection of that which goes without with what passed within the veil.

The priests had all the offerings and sacrifices of which man might partake; the Levites had the tithes from all Israel: the one fed from within, the other from without; but both received from Jehovah, for He was their inheritance. Otherwise they were miserable: what else had they?

In Numbers 19:1-22, which follows, we have another most instructive ordinance of God, peculiar to the book of Numbers. "This is the ordinance of the law which Jehovah hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke." What the great atonement-day is to the centre of the book of Leviticus, the red heifer is to the book of Numbers. Each seems characteristic of the book wherein they are given, which shows how systematic are the order and contents of Scripture.

Thus we have here a provision distinctly for the defilements which are met with as we journey through this world. This is of vital moment in practice. There is many a soul disposed to make the atonement do, as it were, all the work. There is no truth more blessed than the atonement, unless it be His person who gives that work its divine value; but we must leave room for all that our God has given us. There is nothing which so tends to make a sect as to take truth out of its proportions, treating a part as if it were the whole mind of God. It cannot be too much insisted upon, that the Bible is the book which delivers from all petty exclusiveness. What does it matter to have good thoughts here and right ways there, if there be along with this the essential vice of settling down contented with a part of God's mind to the rejection of the rest? Our place is carrying out the Lord's will, nothing but His will, and all His will, as far as we know it. Less than this gives up the glory of Christ. It is impossible to be sectarian where His word governs all; and there is no way of being unsectarian without it. Our being in this position or that will never make us individually and really unsectarian. The seeds of error go along with wretched self, from which there is no deliverance except by walking in the power of Christ dead and risen. This too applies here, where we have not merely the wrong of sectarianism, but the evil of thus abusing the most precious truths of God. When used exclusively, they will ere long turn into an excuse for sin, whatever the high assumptions of an earlier stage.

It will not do to confine the saint then even to Christ's atoning work, which has for ever abolished our guilt before God; not even if we add to this that we know now that in Him risen we are placed in an entirely new position, a life where evil never enters. Both most true and precious; but are these the whole truth? Certainly not; and there is no course more dangerous than to construe them as the whole truth. They are as precious as they are needed for the soul; but there is really no part of truth which is not needed, and this largeness and openness to all truth is precisely what we have to insist on. Indeed I am persuaded that this is after all what is most peculiar to avoid peculiarities and pet subjects, welcoming all truth by the grace of God. Not that one can say much if the question be, How far we have made it our own? but it is truly of God to be in a position where all truth is open to us and we to it, and which does not exclude a single fragment of God's mind and will. It will be impossible, I am assured, save on the ground of the assembly of God, to find a place which will not shut out truth, and perhaps much which is evidently most precious. It is well to guard sedulously another thing that we do not simply satisfy ourselves that we are on right ground according to God, but that our hearts earnestly desire to turn what He has given us always and only to the account of His glory.

The red heifer teaches the children of Israel on the surface of it that the work of the day of atonement had not so completely dealt with all sin that they might treat daily defilements as immaterial. It is impossible to exaggerate the value of the shedding of Christ's blood for our sins. It does give no more conscience of sins. We are justified by His blood; yea more, with Christ we have died to sin; and we are alive to God in Him. But though this is all quite true (and was then set forth imperfectly as far as figure could, when we look at an Israelite), such grace is the strongest motive why we cannot tamper with what is defiled. The very fact that we are cleansed perfectly before God is a loud call to us not to endure a blot before men. It was to guard His people from soils by the way that God gave here a provision so remarkable. "A red heifer" was to be brought "without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke," a striking picture of Christ, but of Christ in a way not often spoken of in scripture. The requirement supposes not only the absence of such blemishes as was indispensable in every sacrifice; but here expressly also it must have never known the yoke, that is, the pressure of sin. How this speaks of the antitype! Christ was always perfectly acceptable unto God. "And ye shall give her to Eleazar the priest that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face."

The blood was taken and put seven times before the tabernacle. It was quite right that the connection should be kept up with the great truth of the blood that makes atonement, and that vindicates God wherever the thought of sin occurs. But its special use points to another feature. The sprinkling of the blood is the continual witness of the truth of sacrifice; but the characteristic want follows. "And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn. And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer." Then we find the ashes of the heifer laid up in a clean place. "And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation; it is a purification for sin." In what sense? Simply and solely with a view to communion, i.e. of restoring it when broken. It is not at all a question of establishing relationships (that was already done), but on the ground of the subsisting relation the Israelite must allow nothing by the way which would sully the holiness that suits the sanctuary of Jehovah. This was the point.

Such is the true standard as set forth in this type. It is not merely the law of Jehovah condemning this or that. This shadow of good things demanded separation from anything inconsistent with the sanctuary. The form which this ordinance took was in respect of travelling through the wilderness, where they were exposed constantly to the contact of death. It is death that is here brought in as defiling in various shapes and degrees. Supposing one touched the dead body of a man, he shall be unclean seven days. What was to be done? "He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean." It was not permitted to purify one's self on the first day. Am I wrong in thinking that à priori we might have thought this haste much the best course? Why not at once? It was ordered not for the first but the third day. When there is defilement on the spirit, when anything succeeds in interrupting communion with God, it is of deep moral importance that we should thoroughly realize our offence.

This seems the meaning of its being done on the third day. It was to be no mere sudden feeling that one had sinned, and there was an end of the matter. The Israelite was obliged to remain till the third day under a sense of his sin. This was a painful position. He had to reckon up the days, and remain till the third, when he has the water of separation first sprinkled on him. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses" (the well-known provision in every case) "every word shall be established." Thus we see he who had come in contact with death must remain an adequate time to show the deliberate sense of it, and must take the place of one that was defiled before God. A hasty expression of sorrow does not prove genuine repentance for sin. We see something like this with children. There is many a one who has a child ready enough to ask for forgiveness, or even own its fault; but the child that feels it most is not always quick. A child who is far slower to own it may have, and commonly has, a deeper sense of what confession means. However I am not now speaking of the natural character; but I say that it is right and becoming (and this I believe to be the general meaning of the Lord's ordinance here) that he who is defiled (that is, has his communion with God interrupted) should take that place seriously. Of course in Christianity it is not a question of days, but of that which corresponds to the meaning; which is that there should be time enough to prove a real sense of the evil of one's defilement as dishonouring God and His sanctuary, and not the haste which really evinces an absence of right feeling. He who duly purified himself on the third day was in effect purified on the seventh day

Thus first of all he has a sense of his sin in the presence of this grace that provides against it; then he has at last the precious realization of grace in the presence of sin. The two sprinklings are one the converse of the other. They set forth how sin had brought shame on grace, and how grace had triumphed over sin. This seems the meaning, and more particularly for the following reason. The ashes of the heifer express the effect of the consuming judgment of God on the Lord Jesus because of sin. It is not simply blood showing that I am guilty, and that God gives a sacrifice to put it away. The ashes attest the judicial dealing of God in the consumption, as it were, of that blessed offering which came under all the holy sentence of God through our sins. The water (or Spirit by the word) gives us to realize Christ's having suffered for that which we alas! are apt to feel so little if not to trifle with it

There is another thing to notice in passing. The water of purification was not merely wanted when one touched a dead body, but in different modes and measures. That might be called a great case, but the institution shows that God takes notice of the least thing. So should we at least in ourselves. "This is the law, when a man dieth in a tent: all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel, which hath no covering bound upon it, is unclean. And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days." "The bone of a man" might be a much lesser object, but whatever defiles comes into notice, and is provided for in Christ our Lord. Thus God would habituate us to the nicest discernment and the most thorough self-judgment. It is not only grave matters that defile, but little occasions, as men would say, which come between us and communion with our God and Father. At the same time He provides the unchanging remedy of grace for every defilement.

In Numbers 20:1-29 connected truth appears when they are calling out for water. "There was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron." It was really, as we would say, against the infinite grace of our Lord Jesus. This is what answers to it in the antitype. This might seem strong to say of Christians; but whenever we are tried and occupied with circumstances, are we not doing so? Do you think the Lord does not know what troubles us? Do you think the Lord does not send it for our good? It may be bad in another; but the chief point we have to look at is to see the good hand of the Lord, no matter what it is. We are not to be "overcome of evil," but to "overcome evil with good." The true way to do so is to count on the Lord Jesus regulating everything. All power is given to Him on earth and heaven; and why should we not be happy in His ways with us? He it is who deals with us, whatever may be the instrument and whatever the circumstances.

Here the people, having no water, began to chide with Moses, "and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before Jehovah!" There is nothing too base for one even belonging to God when God is not before his eyes. "And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink. 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: and the glory of Jehovah appeared unto them. And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink." And Moses did take the rod from before Jehovah as He commanded him; but when he with Aaron gathered the people, he said to them, "Hear now, ye rebels!" Instead of speaking to the rock he speaks to them. He was not told to do so.

It was disobedience if Moses had done no more; but he goes farther than this, as we shall see. "Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod." Alas! he brought another rod, his own; whereas Jehovah told him to bring "the rod;" that is, the rod of Aaron. It was the rod of priestly grace, with which God wished him to speak to the rock; the rod that told how God could cause life to work where there had been death, and could produce fruit too according to His own marvellous grace; for He knows how to quicken, entirely beyond the thoughts of man or nature. Although Moses brings out "the rod" according to the word of Jehovah, he does not use it according to Him. He strikes with his own rod. What was its distinctive character? His was the rod of authority, and of judicial power. Of old he had used that rod aright (Exodus 17:1-16): it was a question of judgment falling on the rock then only. Just so Christ "once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." Now He ever lives to make intercession for us.

But here Moses, completely losing sight of the infinite grace of God in this wondrous transaction and provision for His people, and falling back on the principle of judgment, misrepresented the God that he had sought to magnify, and whose grace it was his greatest joy to reflect. It was not so now, and hence a grievous failure. It became sin unto death to Moses, for God most of all resents a grave misrepresentation of Himself on the part of one who ought to have known Him well. It was precisely because Moses and Aaron were so near to God, because they had entered (Moses particularly) into the grace of Jehovah, that now under these circumstances total failure on their part became the occasion for setting aside Moses as a vessel that had done its work. He was not fit to lead them into the land the goodly land. It was a sore trial; it was a deep pain, you may be sure, to Moses's heart, though he never distrusted Jehovah after this, I am persuaded, but bowed with beautiful grace to His will, as we shall see in the history that follows. At the same time Moses felt and was meant to feel it all. But it is a sorrow that one who had conducted them so truly according to God, and who had stood so firm in circumstances yet more trying, should have failed, as it were, when close to the very brink of the land when drawing near to the point from which they were to enter on the Canaan of Jehovah's choice. But so it was. Moses failed, departed from the rich grace of God, fell back on judgment; and judgment accordingly dealt with him. Moses did not act according to Jehovah. He lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice. Jehovah did not withhold the supply. The water came out abundantly; but this was to God's own praise, and in nowise an endorsement of Moses's failure. "And Jehovah spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them."

After this (verse 14) we find Moses sending messengers, that they might pass through the land of Edom. Edom refuses; and Jehovah bids Aaron to go up. The time was come for him to pass away, and for Eleazar his son to take his place.

The endeavour to set Deuteronomy 2:29 in opposition to Numbers 20:14-21 is due either to perverse ill-will, or to mere inattention and rashness.* Edom did refuse to let Israel pass through, yet they did pass through at last. The two occasions were quite distinct. The refusal of Edom recorded in the latter scripture occurred at a different time and place from that in which Israel effected the passage through their territory. The messengers were sent from Kadesh, not the district in general but the city, in their uttermost border, it would appear on the north-west; and this before the death of Aaron. But the passage was actually made some time after his death by the south of Edom by the way of the Red Sea, as indeed we may learn from Numbers 21:1-35. SoNumbers 33:36; Numbers 33:36 et seqq. shows Israel leaving Kadesh for Mount Hor, and Aaron goes up into the mountain and dies. From Hor we next hear of their encamping in Zalmonah, when they had turned the southern extremity of Edom, and were advancing northward on the east of the mountainous tract before reaching the border of Moab. Thus, if we compare the previous verses (30-35), we see that the children of Israel first came down from Moseroth in or near Mount Hor on the west of Edom to Ezion-gaber on the Red Sea; thence they went up the Arabah again to Mount Hor (verses 36, 37), when Aaron's death took place; and thence they came down by the same western side of Edom to Ezion-gaber on the Red Sea once more, thus compassing Mount Seir many days before they turned northward. No less than thirty-seven years elapsed from the days in which they came from Kadesh-barnea till they crossed the brook Zered. (Deuteronomy 2:14) The object of that long stay there was in order that the old generation might gradually die off.

*Dr. Davidson's Introd. O. T. i. 70.

It may be added thatDeuteronomy 10:6-7; Deuteronomy 10:6-7 entirely falls in with the routes already indicated, verse 6 showing us the latter part of their upward journey from Ezion-gaber to Mosera in Mount Hor, where Aaron died, as verse 7 traces the subsequent journey down again as far as Jotbath or Jotbatha. Numbers 33:1-56. furnishes us details of this journey southward, but simply the broad facts that they departed from Mount Hor and encamped in Zalmonah on their final northward march by the eastern side of Mount Seir. Derangement in the order of the places named is only in the minds of hasty readers, not in the scriptures when patiently considered.

The only other point that I shall notice, as closing this part of my subject, is given in Numbers 21:1-35; that is, we find Israel in the presence of the Canaanite king of Arad, who at first takes some prisoners. Israel vows to Jehovah that he will utterly destroy them, if He will deliver the people into his hand. Jehovah hearkens, and such destruction ensues that the place is thence called Hormah.

Soon after this, however, occurs a very serious scene of warning for our souls (verse 4 et seqq.). It is no uncommon case: a time of victory has to be watched, lest it be a precursor of danger. A time of defeat, on the other hand, constantly prepares one for a fresh and greater blessing from God so rich is His grace. He knows how to lift up the fallen, but He makes those that are too light with their victory to feel their total weakness and the constant need of Himself. So it was with Israel. They became much discouraged immediately after their great victory, and they speak against God and against Moses. "And Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died." They at once fly to Moses, and ask him to pray to Jehovah for them; and Moses is directed by Jehovah to make a fiery serpent. "Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."

It is important, I think, for our souls to see this that, as connected with the wilderness and with the flesh, there is no life for man. Life is not for man in the flesh. Death is the Lord's way of dealing with fallen humanity. How then is man to live? "I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me," to quote another New Testament application of the truth now before our minds. "I if I be lifted up" it is a Saviour no longer on the earth, but lifted up from it: I do not say in heaven, but a Saviour rejected and crucified. This is the means of divine attraction when sin has been thus definitively judged. There can be no adequate blessing without the cross for man as he is; for thus only is God glorified as to sin. This is what in type comes before us here.

But why, it may be asked, the serpent of brass? Why after that figure? For another most solemn reason. It is not only that a crucified Saviour is the means of salvation to man; but, besides, the figure intimates One "made sin," though in His own person He were the only One who "knew no sin." Had He known sin, He could not have been a Saviour according to divine holiness; had He not been made sin, we had never been really delivered from its judgment. He is, and He was made, exactly what God would have Him to be, and what we most needed Him to be. He is all this for us, and, mark, all for us now. We shall have all the glorious consequences in due time; but, even now, having Himself on the completion of His work, we have to faith all things in Him. So here Israel had all things by the way; they had life, as we see life won by victory over the power of sin and death.

Thus, as we hear just after this, God gives them joy by the way springs of joy and gladness, as we afterwards find the well in the desert which the princes digged. After all not much digging was required: with their staves was quite enough. Such is the goodness of God to us even for the wilderness. The well was not made by dint of hard work on the part of those used to labour. The princes put to their hands with their staves; and they probably did not know much about toil. But it was enough. Over-abounding grace thus gives abundant refreshment for the people as following that which God had before Him the beautiful type which Christ Himself applied to His own bearing the judgment of sin on the cross: once sin is judged, once life is given, what does God not give because of it and in unison with it? "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things."

The rest of the chapter shows us the triumphant progress of the people, with their victories (often alluded to in the law and the psalms) over Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan. Two references are made in the account of this one to a book of that day, the book of the wars of Jehovah (verse 14); the other to certain proverbial sayings or legends then in vogue (verses 27-30). This does not, as the rationalists pretend, give the smallest support to the hypothesis that Moses composed the Pentateuch from a mass of previous material floating among the Israelites of his age and their Gentile neighbours. Written and oral, these foreign traditions are purposely cited with the exceptional end in view of proving from witnesses unimpeachable in the eyes of their most zealous adversaries that the land in debate, when Israel took it by conquest, did not belong to Ammon or Moab, but to the doomed races of Canaan and its vicinity. To the country of the former they had no just claim; that of the Amorite, etc., was given them up by God. The Amorite had taken it from Moab, and Israel from the Amorite, subsequently dwelling in all their cities, from Arnon to Jabbok, in Heshbon and all its villages. A Jewish record of its previous possessors and of their own victories might be disputed as interested by a foe; but a citation from their own current proverbial songs was conclusive; and the Spirit of God deigns to employ an extract to this end. In Judges 11:1-40 we see precisely this ground of recognised fact taken by Jephthah in refuting the claims of the then king of Ammon, and his pretensions proved baseless by the incontrovertible evidence that the Amorite had the disputed territory when Israel made himself master of it, spite of Balak king of Moab and all other rivals. On a somewhat similar principle the apostle does not hesitate to cite heathen testimonies in the New Testament, as no mean confession on their part for the matter in hand. (Acts 17:23; Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1: 22)

Bibliographical Information
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Numbers 11". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wkc/numbers-11.html. 1860-1890.
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