the Fifth Week of Lent
Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Aaron; Atonement; God Continued...; Intercession; Israel; Jesus, the Christ; Miracles; Plague; Thompson Chain Reference - Mediator; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Boldness, Holy; Christ, the Mediator; Desert, Journey of Israel through the; High Priest, the; Plague or Pestilence, the;
Verse Numbers 16:48. He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague, c. — What the plague was we know not, but it seems to have begun at one part of the camp, and to have proceeded regularly onward and Aaron went to the quarter where it was then prevailing, and stood with his atonement where it was now making its ravages, and the plague was stayed; but not before 14,700 had fallen victims to it, Numbers 16:49.
IF Aaron the high priest, with his censer and incense, could disarm the wrath of an insulted, angry Deity, so that a guilty people, who deserved nothing but destruction, should be spared; how much more effectual may we expect the great atonement to be which was made by the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Aaron was only the type! The sacrifices of living animals pointed out the death of Christ on the cross; the incense, his intercession. Through his death salvation is purchased for the world; by his intercession the offending children of men are spared. Hence St. Paul, Romans 5:10, says: If, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved THROUGH HIS LIFE, i. e., by the prevalence of his continual intercession. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19: "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation."
By the awful transactions recorded in this chapter, we may see how jealous God is of the sole right of appointing the way and means of salvation. Had any priesthood, and any kind of service, no matter how solemn and sincere, been equally available in the sight of Divine justice and mercy, God would not have resented in so awful a manner the attempts of Korah and his company in their new service. The way of God's own appointment, the agony and death of Christ, is the only way in which souls can be saved. His is the priesthood, and his is the only available sacrifice. All other modes and schemes of salvation are the inventions of men or devils, and will in the end prove ruinous to all those who trust in them. Reader, forget not the Lord who bought thee.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​acc/​numbers-16.html. 1832.
Bridgeway Bible Commentary
Korah, Dathan and Abiram (16:1-50)
In the events recorded in this chapter, two groups combined to rebel against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. One was a group of 250 prominent Levites under the leadership of Korah, who were envious that only Aaron and his family were allowed to be priests. The other was a group headed by two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, who were envious and critical of Moses’ leadership of the nation (16:1-3).
Moses again allowed God to be the judge. He asked both groups to appear before God with him to see who was right. The Reubenites refused but the Levites went, taking a crowd from the camp with them in support (4-15). The Levites were to burn incense in firepans, or censers (which, as a rule, only Aaron and his sons were allowed to do), so that God might show his approval or otherwise (16-19).
God threatened to destroy the whole camp, and although Moses and Aaron knew he had the right to do so, they begged him not to (20-24). He responded to their prayer by destroying only those who actually took part in the rebellion. Korah, Dathan, Abiram and some of their chief supporters were swallowed up by the earth in the sight of the camp, but the 250 Levites suffered a different fate. They had wanted to burn incense before God; now they were burnt by fire from God (25-35).
Neither the fire nor the firepans used by the rebellious Levites could be used again. Eleazar the priest emptied the firepans and had them beaten into a bronze plate to cover the altar, where it was a constant reminder that only the family of Aaron could burn incense before God (36-40).
The people blamed Moses and Aaron for the death of the rebels and gathered at the tabernacle in a hostile demonstration against the leaders (41). Again God threatened to destroy the people (42-45), and again Moses and Aaron begged him not to. But God’s judgment in the form of a deadly plague had already begun, and it was stopped only when Aaron made atonement for them by burning incense. This emphasized once more that only the priests could take fire from the altar and offer it with incense before the Lord (46-50).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bbc/​numbers-16.html. 2005.
Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
A striking proof of the efficacy of that very Aaronic priesthood which the rebels had presumed to reject. The incense offering which had brought down destruction when presented by unauthorised hands, now in the hand of the true priest is the medium of instant salvation to the whole people. Aaron by his acceptable ministration and his personal self-devotion foreshadows emphatically in this transaction the perfect mediation and sacrifice of Himself made by Christ.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​bnb/​numbers-16.html. 1870.
Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
48.And he stood between the living and the dead. If you understand that the living were everywhere mingled with the dead, you may conjecture that God’s wrath did not so fall upon one part of the camp, as to destroy all that came in its way without exception, as had been the case in the other revolt, but that He selected those who had sinned most grievously. But it is probable that Aaron proceeded so far as to leave behind those who still remained uninjured, and, in the very place where the destruction had occurred, encountered the wrath of God, and arrested its course. Hence it was that both the fervor of his zeal might be the better perceived, and his office of appeasing God was more fully confirmed by its actual success. For what more evident miracle could be required, than when the slaughter, which had both begun to rage suddenly, and then to proceed in a course no less rapid than continuous, was stopped by the arrival of Aaron, exactly as if a hedge had been set up against it? The efficacy of the priesthood in propitiating God, is therefore both clearly and briefly set before us; and hence we are taught, that though we are so dose to the reprobate when they perish, as that their destruction should reach to ourselves, still that we shall be safe from all evil, if only Christ intercede for us.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​cal/​numbers-16.html. 1840-57.
Smith's Bible Commentary
Now we get to chapter sixteen and this guy Korah, who is brought into mention in the book of Jude, has gotten the conspiracy together. He is of the tribe of Levi and he said, "Hey Moses, you take too much upon yourself. You've got the whole thing tied up with your family. You've appointed your brother as the high priest. Look, we're Levites and we have just as much right to offer the sacrifices to the Lord as does Aaron and we want to have a part in the service to God, more than just carrying this tent around." So Moses said, "All right. You get your little band together, two hundred and fifty guys, and you get your incense burners and you bring them with fire in them tomorrow and incense and we'll see what the Lord will do."
Well, Korah stirred up the Israelites. He gathered a big crowd around and the people were all, you know, "incensed". Yeah, Moses taking too much upon himself, whole family deal. He's just, you know, putting his family in there and all. And they were really gathered against Moses and Aaron again. And Korah the Levite was the leader of this insurrection and rebellion. And there were a couple of other fellows that Moses commanded to come and they said, "We're not gonna do it. We don't have to obey you." Dathan and Abiram.
We'll not come up ( Numbers 16:11 ):
Is it a small thing that you brought us out of Egypt and you haven't brought us up into the land? We're not in the land; this is a wilderness place? You didn't keep your word. You think we're gonna listen to you now? We don't have to come up. And so there was a real mutiny, rebellion in the camp. Korah and Abiram and all, and so Moses gathered the congregation of Israel together and he said, "Okay, you guys. You don't want to come out you just stand there in your tents with your families and kids. And all of you that want to go along with this you just stand over there. If this thing be of the Lord, then let the Lord do a new thing. Rather than you guys going on and dying natural deaths, let the Lord open up the earth and swallow you alive right down into the pit." And no sooner had Moses said it then the earth opened up and Korah and the whole rebellious troop went right down into the pit. The earth closed up again and a great fear came upon Israel.
And all of Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: Lest the earth would swallow them up also. And fire came up from the LORD, and consumed these two hundred and fifty guys with their incense burners ( Numbers 16:34-35 ).
These guys that were wanting to offer incense and all, the fire of the LORD wiped them all out. So Moses said, "All right, now take these little incense burners that were made of brass and flatten them out into plates and use these brass plates to cover the altar as a constant reminder that no one intrudes into the office of the priesthood except he be anointed and called of God." And so those brass plates over the altar were a continual reminder to the people that God had anointed and appointed the family of Aaron to the priesthood and no man takes that office unto himself or presumptuously. That is to just keep men from rising up and saying, "Well man, I'm priest over you. Now I'm the spiritual one and the holy one and I have an inside track with God".
Now in the New Testament there was to be no priesthood at all. That whole system was abolished by Jesus Christ who has become our great High Priest and has entered into heaven for us and has opened the door for all of us to have free access unto God through Him. And in the church of Ephesus, the Lord commended them in that they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which was the establishing of the priesthood laity in which the Lord said, "I hate" to the church of Pergamos rebuked them because that which was rejected by the church of Ephesus was accepted by the church of Pergamos. Thou hast there the deeds of the Nicolaitans and the Lord again declared his hatred of it. Why? Because Jesus died to make free access for every one of you to come into heaven and each of you are equally close to God.
God's ear is open to your prayer and to your cry just as readily as He is to my prayer or my cry. I am no closer to God than you. I am no more spiritual than you. I have no more access to God than you. I have no privileges that you do not have. We are all one together in Jesus Christ; equally privileged, equally blessed and equal opportunities for each of us to come before God at any time. And that's a glorious thing to me that God has broken down any kind of barriers that would hold men back and away from God. And I feel that it is dangerous in the church to set up a spiritual hierarchy, whether we call it priesthood or shepherding or anything else. Where I say to the person, "Now look, I'll go to God for you and I'll tell you what God wants you to do with your life. Now don't you trust in yourself, you trust in me and I'll get God's word and God's direction for you. So if you wanna, you know, buy a new car you come to me first and I'll tell you whether or not you should and all".
Hey I feel like Moses, Lord I didn't conceive all these people, I can't handle all that kind. I wouldn't want to carry that kind of a load. I don't want to shepherd or lord over you. I'm your servant. I'm here as God's ambassador to declare God's love and God's truth and God's Word to you. I'm here to serve you not to lord over you, not to tell you or not to try to direct your life but to tell you, "hey, you seek the Lord. You seek guidance from him." Cause I might tell you something that's absolutely wrong and then you come back and say, "You told me to do that and, man, look what happened". I've counseled too many people who've come back and said, "Man, you told me this and ooh boy. I really messed up, you know. It's just rotten, you know." That's why I don't like to counsel anymore. Man, I don't like that kind of responsibility. You seek the Lord and you let God guide you.
And so they made these plates and they were a memorial that no stranger which is not of the seed of Aaron should come near to offer incense before the LORD that they be not like Korah, and his company: [verse forty] And on the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and said, You have killed the people of God ( Numbers 16:39-41 ).
Oh at this point I would have said, "Forget it!" Now they come to Moses said, "You've killed the people of the Lord" because the earth had opened up and swallowed these guys and the fire came out and consumed them. Now they're trying to blame Moses. Oh, oh, oh, oh, I couldn't take it. And so, boy the anger of God was really kindled against the people at this point. Moses and Aaron went in before the Lord and Moses said to Aaron, "Hey, get the incense and go out because the plague has already started. The people are beginning to drop like flies and you stand between the living and the dead and make intercession." So Moses grabbed the incense and he went out and he stood between the living and the dead to stop the plague of God that was wiping out these people for their murmuring.
There's a beautiful picture of intercession; standing between the living and the dead. And we as Christians often do this, our intercession for those that are lost.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​csc/​numbers-16.html. 2014.
Dr. Constable's Expository Notes
The rebellion of Korah and his followers ch. 16
"As the laws increase and the constraints grow, the people seem less willing or less capable of following them. At this point in the narrative we see that the whole order of the priesthood is thrown open to direct confrontation. God’s Word revealed at Sinai, which at first seemed so final and authoritative, is now being challenged on every side." [Note: Ibid.]
"In Num 16:1-17:28 (Eng. Numbers 16:1 to Numbers 17:13), three stories illustrate the need for and legitimacy of the Aaronic priesthood [i.e., Numbers 16:1-35; Numbers 16:36-50; and ch. 17]. As there had been challenges to Moses’ leadership in chs. 11-14, so here there are challenges to Aaron’s." [Note: Ashley, p. 295.]
It is not possible to determine from the text where or when during the 38 years of wandering this incident took place. This story ties in with what precedes in that Korah and his companions failed to appreciate their calling and became discontented. The tassels on their garments should have reminded them of their high calling and privilege. It was not the "rabble" or even the ordinary Israelites who instigated this rebellion but some of the Levites (cf. Numbers 8:5-26).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​numbers-16.html. 2012.
Dr. Constable's Expository Notes
The Lord created another visual aid to remind the Israelites that offering incense was a ministry of the priests only. The priests overlaid the altar of burnt offerings with a second layer of bronze that they hammered out of the rebels’ censers (cf. Exodus 27:2). [Note: See Jonathan Magonet, "The Korah Rebellion," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 24 (October 1982):3-25.]
"As we think about the notion of the ’holy,’ we recognize that things are made holy in Scripture, not because people are holy, but because the things are presented to the Lord, who is holy. Since these wicked men presented their censers to the Lord, the censers are holy, despite the men’s own wickedness." [Note: Allen, p. 843.]
God’s judgment of Korah’s company did not cause the congregation as a whole to submit to God’s will through Moses and Aaron. The people charged Moses and Aaron with killing their leaders (Numbers 16:41). On the contrary, Moses had been responsible for God sparing the nation through his intercession on several occasions. The fact that the people called Korah’s company "the LORD’s people" (Numbers 16:41) shows how they failed to appreciate what it really meant to be His people (cf. Numbers 11:29; Judges 5:11; 1 Samuel 2:24; 2 Samuel 1:12; 2 Samuel 6:21; 2 Kings 9:6; Ezekiel 36:20; Zephaniah 2:10).
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces when they heard God’s intention to judge the whole congregation with death (Numbers 16:43; Numbers 16:45). Since incense symbolizes prayer in Scripture (cf. Exodus 30:8; Psalms 141:2; Luke 1:10; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4), Aaron apparently moved among the people interceding for them. The plague (Numbers 16:46) was obviously a divine judgment involving sudden death, but more than this Moses did not reveal. A total of 14,700 people died (Numbers 16:49).
Why did Moses not intercede again here?
"All the motives which he had hitherto pleaded, in his repeated intercession that this evil congregation might be spared, were now exhausted. He could not stake his life for the nation, as at Horeb (Exodus 32:32), for the nation had rejected him. He could not longer appeal to the honour of Jehovah among the heathen, seeing that the Lord, even when sentencing the rebellious race to fall in the desert, had assured him that the whole earth should be filled with His glory (chap. Exodus 14:20 sqq.). Still less could he pray to God that He would not be wrathful with all for the sake of one or a few sinners, as in chap. Exodus 16:22, seeing that the whole congregation had taken part with the rebels. In this condition of things there was but one way left of averting the threatened destruction of the whole nation, namely, to adopt the means which the Lord Himself had given to His congregation, in the high-priestly office, to wipe away their sins, and recover the divine grace which they had forfeited through sin,-viz. the offering of incense which embodied the high-priestly prayer, and the strength and operation of which were not dependent on the sincerity and earnestness of subjective faith, but had a firm and immovable foundation in the objective force of the divine appointment." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:112.]
Another explanation is that the writer did not record Moses’ prayer of intercession and God’s reply in the text in this case.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​dcc/​numbers-16.html. 2012.
Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible
And he stood between the dead and the living,.... The plague beginning at one end of the camp, and so proceeded on, Aaron placed himself between that part of it wherein it had made havoc, and that wherein yet it was not come; the Targum of Jonathan is,
"he stood in prayer in the middle, and made a partition, with his censer, between the dead and living;''
in this he was a type of Christ, the Mediator between God and man, the living God and dead sinners; for though his atonement and intercession are not made for the dead in a corporeal sense, nor for those who have sinned, and sin unto death, the unpardonable sin, nor for men appointed unto death, but for the living in Jerusalem, or for those who are written in the Lamb's book of life; yet for those who are dead in sin, and as deserving of eternal death as others, whereby they are saved from everlasting ruin:
and the plague was stayed; it proceeded no further than where Aaron stood and offered his incense, and made atonement: so the consequence of the atonement and intercession of Christ is, that the wrath of God sin deserves comes not upon those that have a share therein, the second death shall not seize upon them, nor they be hurt with it; for, being justified by the blood of Christ, and atonement for their sins being made by his sacrifice, they are saved from wrath to come.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​geb/​numbers-16.html. 1999.
Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible
41 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 the LORD. 42 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 the LORD appeared. 43 And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation. 44 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 45 Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces. 46 And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a 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 the LORD; the plague is begun. 47 And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed. 49 Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah. 50 And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed.
Here is, I. A new rebellion raised the very next day against Moses and Aaron. Be astonished, O heavens, at this, and wonder, O earth! Was there ever such an instance of the incurable corruption of sinners? On the morrow (Numbers 16:41; Numbers 16:41) the body of the people mutinied. 1. Though they were so lately terrified by the sight of the punishment of the rebels. The shrieks of those sinking sinners, those sinners against their own souls, were yet sounding in their ears, the smell of the fire yet remained, and the gaping earth was scarcely thoroughly closed, and yet the same sins were re-acted and all these warnings slighted. 2. Though they were so lately saved from sharing in the same punishment, and the survivors were as brands plucked out of the burning, yet they fly in the face of Moses and Aaron, to whose intercession they owed their preservation. Their charge runs very high: You have killed the people of the Lord. Could any thing have been said more unjustly and maliciously? They canonize the rebels, calling those the people of the Lord who died in arms against him. They stigmatize divine justice itself. It was plain enough that Moses and Aaron had no hand in their death (they did what they could to save them), so that in charging them with murder they did in effect charge God himself with it. The continued obstinacy of this people, notwithstanding the terrors of God's law as it was given on Mount Sinai, and the terrors of his judgments as they were here executed on the disobedient, shows how necessary the grace of God is to the effectual change of men's hearts and lives, without which the most likely means will never attain the end. Love will do what fear could not.
II. God's speedy appearance against the rebels. When they had gathered against Moses and Aaron, perhaps with a design to depose or murder them, they looked towards the tabernacle, as if their misgiving consciences expected some frowns thence, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared (Numbers 16:42; Numbers 16:42), for the protection of his servants, and the confusion of his and their accusers and adversaries. Moses and Aaron thereupon came before the tabernacle, partly for their own safety (there they took sanctuary from the strife of tongues, Psalms 27:5; Psalms 31:20), and partly for advice, to know what was the mind of God upon this occasion, Numbers 16:43; Numbers 16:43. Justice hereupon declares that they deserve to be consumed in a moment,Numbers 16:45; Numbers 16:45. Why should those live an other day who hate to be reformed, and whose rebellions are their daily practices? Let just vengeance take place and do its work, and the trouble will soon be over; only Moses and Aaron must first be secured.
III. The intercession which Moses and Aaron made for them. Though they had as much reason, one would think, as Elias had to make intercession against Israel (Romans 11:2), yet they forgive and forget the indignities offered them, and are the best friends their enemies have. 1. They both fell on their faces, humbly to intercede with God for mercy, knowing how great the provocation was. This they had done several times before, upon similar occasions; and, though the people had basely requited them for it, yet, God having graciously accepted them, they still have recourse to the same method. This is praying always. 2. Moses, perceiving that the plague had begun in the congregation of the rebels (that is, that body of them which was gathered against Moses), sent Aaron by an act of his priestly office to make atonement for them, Numbers 16:46; Numbers 16:46. And Aaron readily went and burned incense between the living and the dead, not to purify the infected air, but to pacify an offended God, and so stayed the progress of the judgment. By this it appeared, (1.) That Aaron was a very good man, and a man that had a true love for the children of his people, though they hated and envied him. Though God was now avenging his quarrel and pleading the cause of his priesthood, yet he interposes to turn away God's wrath. Nay, forgetting his age and gravity, he ran into the midst of the congregation to help them. He did not say, "Let them smart awhile, and then, when I come, I shall be the more welcome;" but, as one tender of the life of every Israelite, he makes all possible speed into the gap at which death was entering. Moses and Aaron, who had been charged with killing the people of the Lord, might justly have upbraided them now; could they expect those to be their saviours whom they had so invidiously called their murderers? But those good men have taught us here by their example not to be sullen towards those that are peevish with us, nor to take the advantage which men give us by their provoking language to deny them any real kindness which it is in the power of our hands to do them. We must render good for evil. (2.) That Aaron was a very bold man--bold to venture into the midst of an enraged rabble that were gathered together against him, and who, for aught he knew, might be the more exasperated by the plague that had begun--bold to venture into the midst of the infection, where the arrows of death flew thickest, and hundreds, nay thousands, were falling on the right hand and on the left. To save their lives he put his own into his hand, not counting it dear to him, so that he might but fulfil his ministry. (3.) That Aaron was a man of God, and ordained for men, in things pertaining to God. His call to the priesthood was hereby abundantly confirmed and set above all contradiction; God had not only saved his life when the intruders were cut off, but now made him an instrument for saving Israel. Compare the censer of Aaron here with the censers of those sinners against their own souls. Those provoked God's anger, this pacified it; those destroyed men's lives, this saved them; no room therefore is left to doubt of Aaron's call to the priesthood. Note, Those make out the best title to public honours that lay out themselves the most for public good and obtain mercy of the Lord to be faithful and useful. If any man will be great, let him make himself the servant of all. (4.) That Aaron was a type of Christ, who came into the world to make an atonement for sin and to turn away the wrath of God from us, and who, by his mediation and intercession, stands between the living and the dead, to secure his chosen Israel to himself, and save them out of the midst of a world infected with sin and the curse.
IV. The result and issue of the whole matter. 1. God's justice was glorified in the death of some. Great execution the sword of the Lord did in a very little time. Though Aaron made all the haste he could, yet, before he could reach his post of service, there were 14,700 men laid dead upon the spot, Numbers 16:49; Numbers 16:49. There were but few comparatively that died about the matter of Korah, the ring-leaders only were made examples; but, the people not being led to repentance by the patience and forbearance of God with them, justice is not now so sparing of the blood of Israelites. They complained of the death of a few hundreds as an unmerciful slaughter made among the people of the Lord, but here God silences that complaint by the slaughter of many thousands. Note, Those that quarrel with less judgments prepare greater for themselves; for when God judges he will overcome. 2. His mercy was glorified in the preservation of the rest. God showed them what he could do by his power, and what he might do in justice, but then showed them what he would do in his love and pity: he would, notwithstanding all this, preserve them a people to himself in and by a mediator. The cloud of Aaron's incense coming from his hand stayed the plague. Note, It is much for the glory of God's goodness that many a time even in wrath he remembers mercy. And, even when judgments have been begun, prayer puts a stop to them; so ready is he to forgive, and so little pleasure does he take in the death of sinners.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​mhm/​numbers-16.html. 1706.
Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible
The High Priest Standing Between the Dead and the Living
October 21, 1860 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed." Numbers 16:47-48 .
We have attentively read the passage which contains the account of this transaction. The authority of Moses and Aaron had been disputed by an ambitious man belonging to an elder branch of the family of Levi, who had craftily joined with himself certain factious spirits of the tribe of Reuben, who themselves also sought to attain to power by their supposed rights through Reuben the firstborn. By a singular judgment from heaven, God had proved that rebellion against Moses was a mortal sin. He had bidden the earth open its mouth and swallow up all the traitors, and both Levites and Reubenites had disappeared, covered in a living grave. One would have imagined that from this time the murmurings of the children of Israel would have ceased, or that at least even should they have daring enough to gather in little mutinous knob, yet their traitorous spirit never would have come to so great a height as to develops itself in the whole body openly before the Lord's tabernacle. Yet so was it. On the very morrow after that solemn transaction, the whole of the people of Israel gathered themselves together, and with unholy clamours surrounded Moses and Aaron, charging them with having put to death the people of the Lord. Doubtless they hinged this accusation upon the fact, that whenever Moses prayed God heard him; then would they say, "Had he prayed upon this occasion the people would not have been destroyed; the earth would not have opened her mouth, and they would not have been swallowed up." They would thus attempt to prove the charge which they brought against these two great men of God. Can you picture the scene now in your mind's eye. There is the infuriated mass of people; the spectacle of such a crowd as I see before me in this hall is overpowering, and were all this multitude in tumult against two men, the two might have sufficient cause for trembling, but this would be but as a grain of sand compared with that inconceivable number who were then gathered. A large part of those three millions would come up in one vast tumultuous host; whatever was proposed by any leader of the mob would no doubt have instantly been carried into effect, and had it not been for the awful majesty which surrounded the person of Moses, no doubt they would have torn him to pieces on the spot. But just as they are rushing up like the waves of the sea, the cloudy pillar which hung above the tabernacle descends, and envelopes in its fold, as with a protecting baptism, the whole of the sacred place. Then in the center of this cloud there blazed out that marvellous light called the Shekinah, which was the indication of the presence of Him who cannot be seen, but whose glory may be manifest. The people stand back a little; Moses and Aaron fall upon their faces in prayer; they beg of God that he would spare the people, for they have heard a voice coming out of the excellent glory, saying, "Get thee up from this people, that I may destroy them in a moment." This time God's blow goes forth with his word, for the destroying angel begins to mow down the outer ranks of the vast tumultuous host, there they fall one upon another; Moses with his undimmed vision, looking over the heads of the people, can see them begin to fall beneath the scythe of death. "Up," saith Aaron, up, and take with thee thy censer; snatch fire from off the holy altar, and run among the people, for the plague has begun." Aaron, a man of a hundred years of age, fills his censor, runs along as if he were a youth, and begins to swing it towards heaven with holy energy, feeling that in his hand was the life of the people; and when the incense is accepted in heaven, death stops in his work. On this side are heaps upon heaps of corpses slain by God's avenging angel, and there stand the crowd of living people, living only because of Aaron's intercession; living simply because he had waved that censor and burned that incense for them; otherwise, had the angel smitten them all, they would all have lain together as the leaves of the forest lie in autumn dead and sear. I think you can now in your imaginations picture the scene. I desire to use the picture before us as a great spiritual type of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for that erring multitude of the sons of men, who "like sheep have gone astray, and have turned every one to his own way." We shall look at Aaron this morning in a five-fold character. The whole scene is typical of Christ; and Aaron, as he appears before us in each character is a most magnificent picture of the Lord Jesus. I. First, let us look at Aaron as the LOVER of the people. You know who it is to whom we give that name of "Lover of my Soul." You will be able to see in Aaron the lover of Israel; in Jesus the lover of his people. Aaron deserves to be very highly praised for his patriotic affection for a people who were the most rebellious and stiffnecked that ever grieved the heart of a good man. You must remember that in this case he was the aggrieved party. The clamor was made against Moses and against Aaron, yet it was Moses and Aaron who intercede and saved the people. They were the offended ones, yet were they the saving ones. Aaron had a special part in the matter, for no doubt the conflict of Korah especially was rather against the priesthood, which belonged exclusively to Aaron, than against the prophetical dispensation which God had granted to Moses. Aaron must have felt when he saw Korah there and the two hundred and fifty men, all of them with their censors, that the plot was against him; that they wished to strip from him his mitre, to take from him his embroidered vest, and the glittering stones that shone upon his breast; that they wished to reduce him to the position of a common Levite, and take to themselves his office and his dignity. Yet, forgetting himself, he doth not say, "Let them die; I will wait awhile till they have been sufficiently smitten." But the old man with generous love hastened into the midst of the people, though he was himself the aggrieved person. Is not this the very picture of our sweet Lord Jesus? Had not sin dishonored him? Was he not the Eternal God, and did not sin therefore conspire against him as well as against the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit? Was he not, I say, the one against whom the nations of the earth stood up and said, "Let us break his bands asunder, and cast his cords from us." Yet he, our Jesus, laying aside all thought of avenging himself, becomes the Savior of his people.
"Down from the shining seats above, With joyful haste he fled; Entered the grave in mortal flesh, And dwelt among the dead."
Oh! generous Christ, forgetting the offenses which we have committed against thee, and making atonement by thine own blood for sins which were perpetrated against thine own glory! Well, you note again, that Aaron in thus coming forward as the deliverer and lover of his people, must have remembered that he was abhorred by this very people. They were seeking his blood; they were desiring to put him and Moses to death, and yet all thoughtless of danger, he snatches up his censer and runs into their midst with a divine enthusiasm in his heart. He might have stood back, and said, "No, they will slay me if I go into their ranks; furious as they are, they will charge this new death upon me and lay me low." But he never considers it. Into the midst of their crowd he boldly springs. Most blessed Jesus, thou mightest not only think thus, but indeed thou didst feel it to be true. Thou didst come unto thine own, and thine own received thee not. Thou didst come into the world to save a race that hated thee, and oh, how they proved their hatred to thee, for they did spit upon thy cheeks; they did cast calumny and slander upon thy person; they did take the heir, and said, "Come, let us kill him that the inheritance may be ours." Jesus, thou wast willing to die a martyr, that thou mightest be made a sacrifice for those by whom thy blood was spilt. Jesus transcends Aaron; Aaron might have feared death at the hands of the people, Jesus Christ did actually meet it, and yet there he stood even in the hour of death, waving his censer, staying the plague, and dividing the living from the dead. Again, you will see the love and kindness of Aaron, if you look again; Aaron might have said, "But the Lord will surely destroy me also with the people, if I go where the shafts of death are flying they will reach me." He never thinks of it; he exposes his own person in the very forefront of the destroying one. There comes the angel of death, smiting all before him, and here stands Aaron in his very path, as much as to say, "Get thee back! get thee back! I will wave my incense in thy face; destroyer of men, thou canst not pass the censor of God's high priest." Oh thou glorious High Priest of our profession, thou mightest not only have feared this which Aaron might have dreaded, but thou didst actually endure the plague of God, for when thou didst come among the people to save them from Jehovah's wrath, Jehovah's wrath fell upon thee. Thou wast forsaken of thy Father. The plague which Jesus kept from us slew him, "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." The sheep escaped, but, "his life and blood the Shepherd pays, a ransom for the flock." Oh, thou lover of thy church, immortal honors be unto thee! Aaron deserves to be beloved by the tribes of Israel, because he stood in the gap and exposed himself for their sins; but thou, most mighty Savior, thou shalt have eternal songs, because, forgetful of thyself, thou didst bleed and die, that man might be saved! I would again for one moment, draw your attention to that other thought which I have already hinted at, namely, that Aaron as a lover of the people of Israel deserves much commendation, from the fact that it is expressly said, he ran into the host. I am not just now sure about Aaron's age, but being older than Moses, who must have been at this time about ninety years of age, Aaron must have been more than a hundred, and probably, a hundred and twenty, or more. It is no little thing to say that such a man, clad no doubt in his priestly robes, ran, and that for a people who had never shown any activity to do him service, but much zeal in opposing his authority. That little fact of his running is highly significant, for it shows the greatness and swiftness of the divine impulse of love that was within. Ah! and was it not so with Christ? Did he not haste to be our Savior? Were not his delights with the sons of men? Did he not often say, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." His dying for us was not a thing which he dreaded. "With desire have I desired to eat this Passover." He had panted for the moment when he should redeem his people. He had looked forward through eternity for that hour when he should glorify his Father, and his Father might glorify him. He came voluntarily bound by no constraint, except his own covenant engagements,; and he cheerfully and joyfully laid down his life a life which no man could take from him, but which he laid down of himself. While I look with admiration upon Aaron, I must look with adoration upon Christ. While I write Aaron down as the lover of his race, I write down Jesus Christ as being the best of lovers the friend that sticketh closer than a brother. II. But I now pass on to take a second view of Aaron as he stands in another character. Let us now view Aaron as THE GREAT PROPITIATOR. Wrath had gone out from God against the people on account of their sin, and it is God's law that his wrath shall never stay unless a propitiation be offered. The incense which Aaron carried in his hand was the propitiation before God, from the fact that God saw in that perfume the type of that richer offering which our Great High Priest is this very day offering before the throne. Aaron as the propitiator, is to be looked at first as bearing in his censer that which was necessary for the propitiation. He did not come empty-handed. Even though God's high priest, he must take the censor, he must fill it with the ordained incense, made with the ordained materials, and then he must light it with the sacred fire from off the altar, and with that alone. With the censer in his hand he is safe; without it Aaron might have died as well as the rest of the people. The qualification of Aaron partly lay in the fact that he had the censer, and that that censer was full of sweet odours which were acceptable to God. Behold, then, Christ Jesus as the propitiator for his people. He stands this day before God with his censor smoking up towards heaven. Behold the Great High Priest! See him this day with his pierced hands, and head that once was crowned with thorns. Mark how the marvellous smoke of his merits goeth up for ever and ever before the eternal throne. 'Tis he, 'tie he alone who puts away the sins of his people. His incense, as we know, consists first of all of his positive obedience to the divine law. He kept his Father's commands; he did everything he should have done; he kept to the full the whole law of God, and made it honorable. Then mixed with this is his blood an equally rich and precious ingredient. That bloody sweat the blood from his head, pierced with the crown of thorns, the blood of his hands as they were nailed to the tree; the blood of his feet as they were fixed to the wood; and the blood of his very heart richest of them all all mixed together with his merits these make up the incense an incense incomparable an incense peerless and surpassing all others. Not all the odours that ever rose from tabernacle or temple could for a moment stand in rivalry with these. The blood alone speaketh better things than that of Abel, and if Abel's blood prevailed to bring vengeance, how much more shall the blood of Christ prevail to bring down pardon and mercy! Our faith is fixed on perfect righteousness and complete atonement, which are as sweet frankincense before the Father's face. Besides that, it was not enough for Aaron to have the proper incense. Korah might have that too, and he might have the censor also. That would not suffice he must be the ordained priest; for mark, two hundred and fifty men fell in doing the act which Aaron did. Aaron's act saved others; their act destroyed themselves. So Jesus, the propitiator, is to be looked upon as the ordained one called of God as was Aaron. Settled in eternity as being the predestinated propitiation for sin, he came into the world as an ordained priest of God, receiving his ordination not from man, neither by man, but like Melchisedec, the priest of the Most High God, without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, he is a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Stand back, sons of Korah, all of you who call yourselves priests. I can scarce imagine that any man in this world who takes to himself the title of a priest, except he take it in the sense in which all God's people are priests, I cannot imagine that a priest can enter heaven. I would not say a thing too stern or too severe; but I do most thoroughly believe that an assumption of the office of priest is so base an usurpation of the priestly office of Christ, that I could as well conceive of a man being saved who called himself God, as conceive of a man being saved who called himself a priest; if he really means what he says, he has so trenched upon the priestly prerogative of Christ, that it seems to me he has touched the very crown jewels, and is guilty of a blasphemy, which, unless it be repented of, shall surely bring damnation on his head. Shake your garments, ye ministers of Christ, from all priestly assumption; come out from among them; touch not the unclean thing. There are no priests now specially to minister among men. Jesus Christ, and he only is the priest of his Church, and he hath made all of us priests and kings unto our God, and we shall reign for ever and ever. If I should have any person here so weak as to depend for his salvation upon the offerings of another man, I conjure him to forego his deception. I care not who your priests may be. He may belong to the Anglican or to the Romish church. Ay, and to any church under heaven. If he claimeth to be anything of a priest more than you can claim yourself away with him he imposes upon you; he speaks to you that which God abhors, and that which the Church of Christ should abhor and would detest, were she truly alive to her Master's glory. None but Jesus, none but Jesus; all other priests and offerings we disdain. Cast dirt upon their garments, they are not and they cannot be priests; they usurp the special dignity of Jesus. But let us note once more in considering Aaron as the great propitiator, that we must look upon him as being ready for his work. He was ready with his incense, and ran to the work at the moment the plague broke out. We do not find that he had need to go and put on his priestly garments; we do not find that he had to prepare for performing the propitiatory work; but he went there and then as soon as the plague broke out. The people were ready to perish and he was ready to save. Oh, my hearer, listen to this, Jesus Christ stands ready to save thee now; there is no need of preparation; he hath slain the victim; he hath offered the sacrifice; he hath filled the censor; he hath put to it the glowing coals. His breastplate is on his breast; his mitre is on his head; he is ready to save thee now. Trust him, and thou shalt not find need for delay. Rely upon him, and thou shalt not find that he hath to go a day's journey to save thee; "He is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." Ye who know not Christ, hear this! Ye are lost and ruined by the fall. Wrath is gone out from God against you. That wrath must consume you to the lowest hell, unless some one can propitiate God on your behalf. You cannot do it. No man can do it; no prayers of yours; no sacraments, nay, though you could sweat a bloody sweat, it would not avail; but Christ is able to make propitiation. He can do it, and he alone; he can stand between you and God, and turn away Jehovah's wrath, and he can put into your heart a sense of his love. Oh, I pray you, trust him, trust him. You may not be ready for him, but he is always ready to save, and indeed I must correct myself in that last sentence, you are ready for him. If you be never so vile, and never so ruined by your sin, their needs no preparation and no readiness. It was not the merit of the people that saved them, nor any preparation on their part; it was the preparedness of the high priest that saved them. He is prepared. He stands on the behalf of those who believe on him. Would that thou wouldst now believe on him and trust thy soul in his hands; and oh, believe me, thy sins which are many shall be all forgiven; the plague shall be stayed, nor shall God's wrath go out against thee, but thou shalt be saved. III. Let me now view Aaron as THE INTERPOSER. Let me explain what I mean. As the old Westminster Annotations say upon this passage, "The plague was moving among the people as the fire moveth along a field of corn." There it came; it began in the extremity; the faces of men grew pale, and swiftly on, on it came, and in vast heaps they fell till some fourteen thousand had been destroyed. Aaron wisely puts himself just in the pathway of the plague. It came on, cutting down all before it, and there stood Aaron the interposer with arms outstretched and censor swinging towards heaven, interposing himself between the darts of death and the people. "If there be darts that must fly," he seemed to say, "let them pierce me; or let the incense shield both me and the people. Death," saith he, "art thou coming on thy pale horse? I arrest thee, I throw back thy steed upon his haunches. Art thou coming, thou skeleton king? With my censor in my hand I stand before thee; thou must march over my body; thou must empty my censer; thou must destroy God's High Priest, ere thou canst destroy this people." Just so was it with Christ. Wrath had gone out against us. The law was about to smite us the whole human race must be destroyed. Christ stands in the forefront of the battle. "The stripes must fall on me," he cries; "the arrows shall find a target in my breast. On me, Jehovah, let thy vengeance fall." And he receives that vengeance, and afterwards upspringing from the grave he waves the censer full of the merit of his blood, and bids this wrath and fury stand back. On which side are you to-day, sinner? Is God angry with thee, sinner? Are thy sins unforgiven? Say, art thou unpardoned? Art thou abiding still an heir of wrath and an inheritor of death? Ah! then would that thou wert on the other side of Christ. If thou dost believe on Christ, then let me ask thee, dost thou know that thou art completely saved? No wrath can ever reach thee, no spiritual death can ever destroy thee, no hell can ever consume thee, and why? What is thy guard, what thy protection? I see the tear, glistening in thine eye as thou sayest, "There is nothing between me and hell save Christ? There is nothing between me and Jehovah's wrath save Christ? There is nothing between me and instant destruction save Christ? But he is enough. He with the censor in his hand God's great ordained Priest he is enough." Ah, brothers and sisters, if you have put between you and God, baptisms and communions, fastings, prayers, tears and vows, Jehovah shall break through your refuges as the fire devours the stubble. But if, my soul, Christ stands between thee and Jehovah, Jehovah cannot smite thee; his thunderbolt must first pierce through the Divine Redeemer ere it can reach thee, and that can never be. My dear hearers, do you perceive this great truth, that there is nothing which can save the soul of man, save Jesus Christ standing between that soul and the just judgment of God? And oh, I put again the personal enquiry to you, are you sheltered behind Christ? Sinner, are you standing to-day beneath the cross? Is that thy shelter? Is the purple robe of Jesus' atonement covered over you? Are you like the dove which hides in the clefts of the rock? Have you hidden in the wounds of Christ? Say, have you crept into his side, and do you feel that he must be your shelter till the tempest be overpast? Oh, be of good cheer; he for whom Christ is the intercessor, is a rescued man. Oh, soul, if thou art not in Christ, what wilt thou do when the destroying angel comes? Careless sinner, what will become of thee when death arrests thee? Where wilt thou be when the judgment trumpet rings in thine ears, and sounds an alarm that shall wake the dead? Sleepy sinner, sleeping to-day under God's Word, will you sleep then, when Jehovah's thunders are let loose, and all his lightnings set the heavens in a blaze? I know where then you shall seek a shelter! You shall seek it where you cannot find it, you shall bid the rocks fall upon you, and ask the mountains to hide you, but their stony bowels shall know of no compassion, their hearts of adamant shall yield you no pity, and you shall stand exposed to the blast of vengeance and the shower of the hot hail of God's fury, and nothing shall protect you, but as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed from off the face of the earth, so must you be destroyed, and that for ever and ever, because ye believed not on Jesus Christ, the Son of God. IV. But we cannot tarry longer here; we must again pass to another point. We have viewed Aaron in three characters as the lover, the propitiator, and the intercessor; now, fourthly, let me view him as THE SAVIOR. It was Aaron Aaron's censor, that saved the lives of that great multitude. If he had not prayed the plague had not stayed, and the Lord would have consumed the whole company in a moment. As it was, you perceive there were some fourteen thousand and seven hundred that died before the Lord. The plague had begun its dreadful work, and only Aaron could stay it. And now I want you to notice with regard to Aaron, that Aaron, and especially the Lord Jesus, must be looked upon as a gracious Savior. It was nothing but love that moved Aaron to wave his censor. The people could not demand it of him. Had they not brought a false accusation against him? And yet he saves them. It must have been love and nothing but love. Say, was there anything in the voices of that infuriated multitude which could have moved Aaron to stay the plague from before them? Nothing! nothing in their character! nothing in their looks! nothing in their treatment of God's High Priest! and yet he graciously stands in the breach, and saves them from the devouring judgment of God! Oh! brothers and sisters if Christ hath saved us he is a gracious Savior indeed. Often as we think of the fact that we are saved, the tear falls down our cheek; for we never can tell why Jesus hath saved us.
"What was there in you that could merit esteem! Or give the Creator delight? 'Twas 'Even so, Father!' you ever must sing 'Because it seemed good in thy sight.'"
There is no difference between the glorified in heaven and the doomed in hell, except the difference that God made of his own sovereign grace. Whatever difference there may be between Saul the apostle and Elymas the sorcerer, has been made by infinite sovereignty and undeserved love. Paul might still have remained Saul of Tarsus, and might have become a damned fiend in the bottomless pit, had it not been for free sovereign grace which came out to snatch him as a brand from the burning. Oh, sinner, thou sayest "There is no reason in me why God should save me," but there is no reason in any man. Thou hast no good point, nor hath any man. There is nothing in any man to commend him to God. We are all such sinners, that hell is our deserved portion; and if any of us be saved from going down into the pit, it is God's undeserved sovereign bounty that doth it, and not any merits of ours. Jesus Christ is a most gracious Savior. And then again, Aaron was an unaided Savior. Even Moses did not come with Aaron to help him. He stood alone in the gap with that censer that one solitary stream of smoke dividing between the living and the dead. Why did not the princes of Israel come with him? Alas! they could have done nothing, they must have died themselves. Why did not all the Levity come with him? They must have been smitten if they had dared to stand in the place of God's High Priest. He stands alone, alone, alone! and herein was he a great type of Christ, who could say, "I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with me." Do not think, then, that when Christ prevails with God, it is because of any of your prayers, or tears, or good works. He never puts your tears and prayers into his censor. They would mar the incense. There is nothing but his own prayers, and his own tears, and his own merits there. Do not think that you are saved because of anything that you have ever done or can ever do for Christ. We may preach, and we may be made in God's hand the spiritual fathers of thousands of souls, but our preaching doth in no way help to turn away the wrath of God from us. Christ doth it all, entirely and alone, and no man must dare to stand as his helper. Sinner, dost thou hear this, thou art saying, "I cannot do this or that." He asks thee not to do anything, thou sayest, "I have no merits." Man, he does not want any, if thou wouldst help Christ thou wilt be lost, but if thou wilt leave Christ to do it all, thou shalt be saved. Come now, the very plan of salvation is this, to take Christ to be thine all in all; he will never be a part-Savior; he never came to patch our ragged garments; he will give us a new robe, but he will never mend the old one. He did not come to help build the palace of God, he will quarry every stone and lay it on its fellow, he will have no sound of hammer, or help in that great work. Oh that this voice could ring through the world while I proclaim again those words, the deathblow of all Popery, legality, and carnal merit, "Jesus only, Jesus only." "There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Nor doth he need a helper; "He came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." "He is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by him." He was, then, you will perceive, a gracious Savior, and all unaided one; and, once more, Aaron as a Savior was all-sufficient. Death came up to the very feet of Aaron; there lay a dead man, there lay a mother, a child, a prince, a hewer of wood, a drawer of water, there they lay. There stood a strong man in his agony, and implored that he might not die, but he fell backward a corpse. There stood up a prince of Israel and must he die? Yes, he must fall. All-devouring death, like a hungry lion, came howling onward, amidst the screams and shrieks of the people, but there he stood; that censer seemed to say, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further." What a miracle that the censer should stop the reign of death. Up to this mark the waves of that shoreless sea are flowing; there men stand on the terra firma of life. Aaron stands, and as God's High Priest with that censer alone, he puts back grim death; the whole host of Israel, if they had been armed and had carried bows, could not have driven back the pestilence; nay, all the hosts of armed men that ever stained the earth with blood could not have driven back God's plagues. Death would have laughed at them, yea, he would have trodden in among their ranks and cut them in pieces, but Aaron alone is enough, fully sufficient, and that through the burning of the incense. Oh sinner, Christ is an all-sufficient Savior, able to save; you cannot save yourself, but he can save you. Oh sinner, all sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; it mattereth not how base and vile you may have been, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." Though the remembrance of thy sin bring scarlet into thy face, dost thou blush to think what a wretch thou hast been, has thy life been foul adultery, has it been blasphemy, lying, hatred of God's people, and what not, I add to this another, if thou wilt, or lasciviousness, debauchery, murder, if all these crimes were there, the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, would be able still to cleanse thee from all sin. Though thou had committed every crime in the catalogue of iniquity, sins which we cannot mention, yet "Though thy sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as white as snow." And thou sayest, "How can I partake of this?" Simply by trusting Christ with thy soul. "He that believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved he that believeth not shall be damned." This was Christ's commission to the apostles, he bid them go forth and preach this great truth, and again I proclaim it, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not must be damned." He that believeth not shall be damned, be his sins never so few, he that believeth shall never be lost, though his skis may have been never so many. Trust thou thy soul with Christ, and thy sins are at once forgiven, at once blotted out. V. And now I come to my last point, and that is, Aaron as THE DIVIDER the picture of Christ. Aaron the anointed one stands here; on that side is death, on this side life; the boundary between life and death is that one man. Where his incense smokes the air is purified, where it smokes not the plague reigns with unmitigated fury. There are two sorts of people here this morning, we forget the distinction of rich and poor, we know it not here there are two sorts of people, we forego the distinction of the learned and unlearned we care not for that here; there are two sorts here, and these are the living and the dead, the pardoned, the unpardoned, the saved, and the lost. What divides the true Christian from the unbeliever? Some think it is that the Christian takes the Sacrament, the other not. It is no division, there be men who have gone to hell with sacramental bread in their mouths; others may imagine that Baptism makes the difference, and indeed it is the outward token, the baptismal pool is the means by which we show to the world that we are buried in Christ's grave, in type that we are dead to the world and buried in Christ; we rise up from it in testimony that we desire to live in newness of life by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He who is baptized does in that way cross the Rubicon, he draws the sword and throws away the scabbard, he is the baptized one, and has a sign that can never be eradicated from him. He is dedicated through that baptism to Christ, but it is but an outward sign, for many have there been who have been baptized with water, who not having the baptism of the Holy Ghost, have afterwards been baptized in the fiery sufferings of eternal torment. No! no! the one division, the one great division between those who are God's people and those who are not, is Christ. A man in Christ is a Christian; a man out of Christ is dead in trespasses and sins. "He that believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ is saved, he that believeth not is lost." Christ is the only divider between his people and the world. On which side, then, art thou to-day, my hearer? Come, let the question go individually to you. Young man, on which side are you? Are you Christ's friend and servant, or are you his enemy? Old man, thou with the grey head yonder, thou hast but a little while to live, on which side art thou? Art thou my Master's blood-bought one, or art thou still a lost sheep? And thou matron, thou who art busied, perhaps, even now in thy thoughts upon thy children, think not of them for a moment, on which side art thou? Hast thou believed, hast thou been born again, or art thou still in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity? Ye that stand yonder, let the question penetrate your thick rank now, where are you? Can you take the name of Christ upon your lips, and say, "Jesus, I am thine, and thou art mine, thy blood and righteousness are my hope and trust;" for if not, my hearer, thou art among the spiritually dead, and thou shalt soon be among the damned unless divine grace prevent, and change, and renew thee. Please remember, brothers and sisters, that as Christ is the great divider now, so will he be in the day of judgment. Do you never think of that, he shall divide them the one from the other, as the shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats. It is the Shepherd's person that divideth the sheep from the goats. He stands between them, and in that last day of days for which all other days were made, Christ shall be the great divider. There the righteous clad in white, in songs triumphant glorified with him; and there the lost, the unbelieving, the fearful, the abominable. What divides them from you bright host? Nothing but the person of the Son of Man, on whom they look, and weep, and mourn, and wail because of him. That is the impenetrable barrier that shall shut out the damned from eternal bliss. The gate which may let you in now will be the fiery gate which shall shut you out hereafter. Christ is the door of heaven; oh, dreadful day when that door shall be shut, when that door shall stand before you, and prevent you entering into the felicity which you shall then long for, when you cannot enter into it. Oh! on which side shall I be, when all these transitory things are done away with, when the dead have risen from their graves, when the great congregation shall stand upon the land, and upon the sea, when every valley, and every mountain, and every river, and every sea, shall be crowded with multitudes standing in thick array? Oh! when he shall say, "Separate my people, thrust in the sickle, for the harvest of the world is ripe;" my soul, where shalt thou be? Shalt thou be found among the lost? Shall the dread trumpet send thee down to hell, while a voice that rends thine ear, shall call after thee "Depart from me, depart from me, ye workers of iniquity into everlasting fire in hell, prepared for the devil and his angels." Oh, grant that I may not be there, but among thy people may I stand. So may it be; may we be on the right hand of the Judge to all eternity, and remember that for ever and ever Christ will be the divider, he shall stand between the lost and the saved, he shall interpose for ever between the damned and the glorified. Again I put it to you, give me your ears just for one moment while I speak. What say you, sirs, shall this congregation be rent in twain? The hour is coming when our wills and wishes shall have no forge. God will divide the righteous from the wicked then, and Christ shall be the dread division, I say, are we prepared to be separated eternally? Husband, are you prepared to renounce to-day your wife for ever, are you prepared when the clammy sweat gathers on her brow to give her the last kiss, and say, "Adieu, adieu, I shall never meet with thee again." Child, son, daughter, are you ready to go home and sit down at the table of your mother, and ere you eat, say, "Mother, I now forswear you once for all, I am determined to be lost and as thou art on the side of Christ, and I will never love him, I will part with you for ever." Surely the ties of kinship make us long to meet in another world, and do we wish to meet in hell? Do you wish all of you to meet there a grim company to lie in the midst of the flames. Will you abide in the devouring fire, and dwell in everlasting burning? No, your wishes are that you may meet in heaven, but you cannot unless you meet in Christ, you cannot meet in Paradise unless you meet in him. Oh that now the grace of God were poured upon you, that you might come unto Jesus.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​spe/​numbers-16.html. 2011.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible
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)
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Numbers 16:48". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​commentaries/​wkc/​numbers-16.html. 1860-1890.