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who for forty years have been indefatigable in his service? Does he thus for one offence exclude them from the promised land, to the possession of which they had looked forward with such ardent desire and assured expectation ?” But we are soon silenced with that unanswerable question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right ?” We are very incompetent to determine, what it becomes the Divine Majesty to do. But though we are not to sit in judgment on his dispensations,
we may with propriety inquire into the reasons of them, if only we do so with a view to vindicate his ways, and to gain that instruction which they are intended to convey. Let us then, whilst contemplating the exclusion of Moses and Aaron from the land of Canaan, consider, I. The offence they committed
Slight as it may appear to us, it was a complicated offence
There was in it a mixture of, 1. Irreverence
[“God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of his saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about hima." But on this occasion Moses and Aaron seem to have forgotten that they were in the presence of God, or that there was any necessity to lead the murmurers to a becoming affiance in him. They should have reminded the people of his past mercies, and shewn them how to secure the continuance of his favours by penitence and prayer. But, notwithstanding “ the glory of the Lord appeared unto them,” they omitted, as he complains," to sanctify him in the eyes of the children of Israel. This was a great offence. They should have remembered, that Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, had been devoured by fire before the Lord for irreverently offering common fire in their censers, instead of the fire that was burning on the altar : and that God on that occasion had said, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh unto me, and before all the people I will be glorified.” There would therefore have been no ground to arraign the justice of God, even if he had smitten them in like manner on this occasion. Their exclusion from Canaan, though grievous, was less than their iniquity deserved.] 2. Anger[A certain kind of anger is allowable: nor is it wrong to a Ps. lxxxix. 7.
b Lev. x. 3.
testify that displeasure in words: but it must not be such an anger as transports us into unbecoming actions or vehement invectives. The expressions used by Moses on this occasion, shew, that his anger was by no means duly moderated. It did not terminate on the offence, but struck at the person of the offenders; towards whom nothing but pity, joined with faithful remonstrances, should have been exercised. Doubtless, his indignation was very hot, when he addressed the people, “ Ye rebels:" and in this it is evident that Aaron also was a partaker with him. How sinful this was, we may judge from that declaration of our Lord, that “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Here then again we see that their exclusion from Canaan was justly merited.] 3. Disobedience
[God had commanded Moses to " speak to the rock:” but Moses, in the paroxysm of his anger, smote it, yea “smote it twice.” Had Moses forgotten how strict God's injunctions had been respecting the furniture of the tabernacle, that every the smallest vessel or pin should be“ made according to the pattern shewn to him in the mount?" Had he forgotten that, when bounds were set round Mount Sinai, even a beast, if he should pass them, was to be pierced through with a dart? Had he and Aaron forgotten how strictly every the minutest service of the sanctuary was enjoined on the pain of death? How then could they dare thus to violate the divine commands ? God himself complains of this as an act of direct rebellion against him. Who then can wonder that God saw fit to mark it with a testimony of his displeasure ? It is not improbable that God, in ordering Moses to speak to the rock, intended to reprove the Israelites, when they saw the rocks themselves more obedient to the divine command than they. But the disobedience of Moses altogether defeated this intention : yea, it was calculated to convey a most erroneous idea to those who understood the mystical import of this dispensation. The rock that had been smitten nine and thirty years before was a type of Christ, from whom, as smitten for our offences, the waters of life and salvation flowe But Christ was not to be smitten twice : “ he was once offered to bear the sins of many:" and it is henceforth by speaking to him, and addressing him in prayer and faith, that we are to receive renewed communications of his grace
and mercy. But Moses and Aaron overlooked all this, (for what will not people forget, when under the influence of passion ?) and justly brought upon themselves this severe rebuke.]
Compare ver. 10,11. with Matt. v. 22.
[Of this in particular God accuses them; " Ye believed me not, to sanctify me.” Whether they doubted the efficacy of a word, and therefore smote the rock; or whether they acted in their own strength, expecting the effect to be produced by their own act of striking the rock, instead of regarding God alone as the author of the mercy, we cannot say: we rather incline to the latter opinion, because of the emphatic manner in which they addressed the Israelites; “Ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of this rock?” In either case they were under the influence of unbelief: for, distrust of God, or creature-confidence, are equally the effects of unbelief: the one characterized the conduct of those Israelites who were afraid to go up to take possession of the promised land; and the other, those who went up in their own strength, when God had refused to go before them. This was the offence which excluded the whole nation from the promised land: “they could not enter in because of unbelief." no wonder therefore, that, when Moses and Aaron were guilty of it, they were involved in the common lot.]
What has been said may suffice to shew that their offence was not so light as it may at first sight appear to be: but its enormity will be best seen in, II. The punishment inflicted for it
The sentence denounced against them was, that they should die in the wilderness, and be denied the privilege of leading the people into the promised land.
1. An awful sentence
[How distressing it was to them, we may judge from the prayer of Moses, who sought to have the sentence reversed:
O Lord God, I pray thee let me go over and see the good land!” But, as Moses himself tells us, “ God was wroth with him, and would not hear him.” How loudly does this speak to us! If we reflect on the length of time that they had served the Lord; the exemplary manner in which they had conducted themselves; (oftentimes at the peril of their lives expostulating with the people, and seeking to avert the wrath of God from them ;) and that this, as it respected Moses at least, was almost the only fault that he had committed: if we at the same time consider, how grievous the disappointment must have been to them to have all their hopes and expectations frustrated, now that they had nearly completed the destined period of their wanderings; truly we cannot but see in this dispensation the evil and bitterness of sin; and feel the importance of that Heb. ii. 19.
8 Deut. üi. 23–26.
admonition, “Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into God's rest, any of us should seem to come short of ith.”
We know indeed that this sentence of exclusion did not extend to the Canaan that is above: and it is probable that many others who died in the wilderness, were therefore “judged and chastened of the Lord, that they might not be condemned with the worldi: " nevertheless the record of their failure is “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are comek:” and as the great body of the nation were “examples unto us, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted,” so may the example of Moses in particular teach us, that “if the righteous turn away from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned; in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die!” Indeed this is the very lesson which St. Paul himself inculcates from the exclusion of the Israelites at large, and which is doubly forcible when arising from the failure of Moses; “ Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall m” Were a man as eminent as Paul himself, it would behove him to use the same vigilance as he;" keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others, he himself should be a castaway".' Not he that “runneth well for a season,” but “ he that endureth to the end, shall be saved.”] 2. An instructive sentence
[Besides the general idea above suggested, there are several very important things prefigured in this dispensation. First, it intimated the insufficiency of the moral law to justify
Moses, the meekest of all the human race, had once “ spoken unadvisedly with his lipso;" and for that one trespass was excluded from the promised landp. Now, if we consider the typical nature of the whole Mosaic economy, we shall not wonder, that he, whose whole office and ministry were typical, was ordained to instruct us even by his death. In fact, he was himself a comment on his own law: that denounced every one “ cursed, who continued not in all things that were written in the book of the law to do them;" and he, for one offence, was doomed to die among the unbelieving Israelites, and thereby to shew, that "by the deeds of the law should no flesh be justified."
Let this be remembered by us: the law condemns us as truly for one offence as for a thousand": it is of excellent use to lead us through the wilderness; but it never can bring us into
k 1 Cor. x. 11. n 1 Cor. ix. 27.
h Heb. iv. 1.
i 1 Cor. xi. 32. 1 Ezek. xviii. 24. m 1 Cor. x. 12. o Ps. coi. 33.
p Deut. xxxii, 48–51. 9 Rom. iii. 20. Gal. iii. 10, 16.
r Jam. ü. 10.
Canaan: and, if ever we would be saved at all, we must trust, not in our own obedience to the law, but in Him who fulfilled it, and redeemed us from its curses.
Next, it instructs us in the transitory nature of the ceremonial law. Before the sentence was to be executed on Aaron, he was to go up to the top of Mount Hor, and there to be stripped of his priestly garments, which Moses was to put upon Eleazar his son. By this transfer of the priesthood it was shewn, that this typical priesthood was not to endure for ever, but to be be transferred from one generation to another, till at last it should be superseded by Him, who was to be “a Priesi for ever after the order of Melchizedec.” This is no fanciful construction: it is the very idea suggested by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews; who tells us, that the law was disannulled for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof: the priests, its ministers, being unable to continue by reason of death, yielded up their office to “ Him who liveth for evermore:” and thus the whole legal economy, not being able to make any one perfect, gave way to that better hope which doesu. Thus, I say, Aaron's death illustrated the weakness of the ceremonial law, as the death of Moses did that of the moral law. Neither could introduce any one to the land of Canaan; but the one " waxed old and vanished away=;" and the other remained only to curse and to condemn all who were under its powery.
The last truth which this dispensation preaches to us is, that Christ is the appointed Saviour of the world. Moses and Aaron, being doomed to die in the wilderness, and Miriam having already died at the commencement of this fortieth year, the people were by God's command committed to the care and government of Joshua. He was to subdue all their enemies before them, and to put the Israelites into a complete possession of the promised
land. Who does not recognise in him the Lord Jesus Christ. Their very names are precisely the same in the Greek language: and their offices are the same. Jesus is “the Captain of our salvation :” God has given all his people into his hands, that he may give eternal life unto as many as the Father hath given hima. Know then, all ye who are going towards the promised land, to whom you must look for direction, support, and victory. Jesus is “ given to be a Leader and Commander to his people:" and they who fight under his banners, shall be “ more than conquerors." In a word, the moral “ law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ;" and the ceremonial law was a visible representation to shadow him
& Rom. viii. 3. and Gal. jii. 13.
t ver. 25-28.