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"God would speak the word, and that great might be the company of such preachers!!"]
2. The effect of it
[How wonderful! No sooner does the cloud of incense arise from Aaron's hands, than the plague is stayed! On the day before, two hundred and fifty censers full of incense had been offered at the tabernacle, and had brought instantaneous destruction on the offerers: now the incense from one single censer averts destruction from all the congregation of Israel. The plague was spreading its ravages with such rapidity, that already, notwithstanding Aaron's haste, fourteen thousand seven hundred persons had died of it: but the moment he reached the spot, the arm of justice was arrested, and the sword fell from the hand of the destroying angel. It proceeded irresistibly till it came to Aaron; but could not advance one hair's breadth beyond him. On the one side of him all were dead; on the other, all remained alive. What a testimony was this to Aaron's divine appointment! What a refutation was here of the accusations brought against him! and, above all, what an encouragement was here given to all future generations to abound in prayer and intercession! O! what might not be effected for the souls of men, if all ministers were men of prayer, and all who profess themselves the servants of the Lord would interpose between the living and the dead! O that "a spirit of prayer might be poured out upon us" all! If only we took our fire from off the altar of burnt-offering, the smoke of our incense should come up with acceptance before God: "We might ask what we would, and it should be done unto us."] As a history this passage is instructive: but it is no less so,
II. As an emblematic record
They who read the Scriptures merely as a history, read them like children. The Old Testament, as well as the New, contains the deepest mysteries: and, to understand it aright, we must consider it not only "in the letter, but in the spirit." Now the passage before us has undoubtedly an emblematic import: it was intended to shadow forth,
1. The means by which God's wrath is to be averted
[Aaron himself was a type of Christ; and the atonement which he now made for the people was typical of that great atonement which Christ himself was in due time to make for
f Ps. lxviii. 11.
g John xv. 7.
the sins of the whole world. There was indeed no animal slain; for there was now no time for sacrifice: but the fire taken from off the altar of burnt-offering, whereon the sacrifices were consumed, was considered on this occasion in the same light as "an atonement:" and the incense burnt on this occasion typified the intercession of our great High-Priest. By these two, the sacrifice and intercession of Christ, the whole world is to be saved. To this the whole Scriptures bear witness. What can be clearer than the prediction of the prophet Isaiah; "He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors?" What more express than the declaration of the beloved Apostle; "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins?" The one intent of the Epistle to the Hebrews is to establish and illustrate this glorious truth.
Let us then look beyond Aaron and the rebellious Israelites, to Christ and a rebellious world. Let us see with what eager desire for our welfare HE left the bosom of his Father, and came into the midst of us, not at the risk of his life, but on purpose to "make his soul an offering for sink." Let us hear too with what compassion he interceded for his very murderers; "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Let us look through the shadow to the substance. Then shall we have a right understanding of the history when we view it shadow of good things to come."]
66 as a
2. The efficacy of them for the end proposed
[Death was arrested in its career, and could proceed no further. And to what is it owing that our rebellious world has not long since been consigned over to destruction? "Not unto us, O Lord Jesu Christ, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise:" thou by thine atoning blood hast made reconciliation between God and us; and by thy prevailing intercession hast procured for us the mercies we so greatly need. Can we doubt whether this statement be true? St. Paul expressly tells us that Christ is "our Peace:" and, in that view of him, exultingly exclaims, "Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who also maketh intercession for us:" and he tells us further, that "Christ is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us m."
Here then again let us view the history in its proper light : and let us learn, Whither to look, and, In whom to hope, whensoever our sins have raised the divine displeasure against Let us learn too the force of that apostolic argument, so weak in logic, but so sound in theology, "If the censer in k Isai. liii. 10.
h Isai. liii. 12. Rom. viii. 34.
i 1 John ii. 1, 2. m Heb. vii. 25.
Aaron's hand prevailed for the preservation of one rebellious people from temporal death, how much more shall the atonement and intercession of Christ prevail for the everlasting salvation of our souls, yea, for the souls of the whole world" !"] From the whole of this subject let us LEARN the duties, 1. Of faith
[In the case before us, the benefit was conferred on account of Aaron's faith, just as our Lord afterwards healed the paralytic on account of the faith of those who brought him: but in the great concerns of our souls, nothing can be obtained but through the exercise of our own faith. Notwithstanding our great High-Priest has performed the whole of his office, no benefit will accrue to us, unless we believe in him. In this respect we are to resemble the Israelites when bitten by the fiery serpents; we must look unto the brasen serpent in order to be healed; or, in other words, we must regard the Lord Jesus Christ as our Advocate and propitiation: we must renounce every other hope, and "flee for refuge to him as to the hope set before us." On the one hand, we must not construe the forbearance of God as an approbation of our ways, as though we had no ground for fear: nor, on the other hand, should the greatness of our guilt or the multitude of our provocations make us despair, as though there were no ground for hope: but, viewing Christ as the appointed Mediator between God and us, we should "go to God through him," trusting to his promise, that "he will in no wise cast us out."]
2. Of love
[We see not men struck dead around us under any visible marks of the divine displeasure: but we know that "God is angry with the wicked every day," and is summoning multitudes to his tribunal under the weight and guilt of all their sins. What are we then about? How can we behold these things with such indifference? Why do we loiter? Why do we not run, as it were, into the midst of the congregation, in order, if possible, to awaken them from their stupor, and to save their precious souls? Why do we not at all events betake ourselves to prayer? We have, at least, our censers nigh at hand, if only we would take fire from the altar of burnt-offering, and burn incense on them. Let it not be said, "This is the work of ministers:" doubtless it is so; but not of them exclusively: they should lead the way, it is true, and be examples to the flock; but others should imitate their example, and "be followers of them, as they are of Christ;" or rather, should follow Christ, whether they will follow him or not. I call you then,
n See Heb. ix. 13, 14.
every one of you, to forget yourselves, as it were, and your own personal concerns, and to be swallowed up with love and pity for your perishing fellow-creatures. Remember that they are not a whit safer by reason of their delusions. They may call rebels, "the people of the Lord;" but that will not make them the Lord's people. They may cry out against God's judgments as injustice and cruelty; but that will not prevent those judgments from being inflicted, either on others or themselves: yea rather, it will bring down those very judgments the more speedily, and more heavily, upon them. Try then to stir up within you the feelings of men, the feelings of Christians: "Of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh°."]
• Jude, ver. 22, 23.
AARON'S ROD THAT BUDDed.
Numb. xvii. 10. And the Lord said unto Moses, Bring Aaron's rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.
ONE cannot read one page in the Bible without seeing abundant evidence that God delighteth in the exercise of mercy. Judgment is with great truth called, "his strange act:" it is an act to which he never resorts but from absolute necessity: but mercy is his darling attribute; and to that he is inclined, even when the conduct of his enemies calls most loudly for tokens of his displeasure. Of this we have a surprising instance in the chapter before us. competitors with Aaron for the high-priesthood had been struck dead by fire whilst they were in the very act of presenting their offerings to God; whilst their associates in rebellion, with their whole families, were swallowed up by an earthquake. These judgments produced a murmuring throughout the camp; and fourteen thousand seven hundred were swept off by a plague, which was stopped only by the interposition of Aaron. The people now were dumb: but God knew that, though intimidated, they were not so
convinced, but that they would on some future occasion renew their pretensions to the priesthood, and thereby provoke him to destroy them utterly. Of his own rich mercy therefore he proposed to give them a sign, which should for ever silence their murmurings and preclude the necessity of heavier judgments.
In opening this subject we shall shew,
I. What God did to confirm the Aaronic priesthoodHe commanded the head of every tribe to bring a rod or staff to Moses, who inscribed on every one of them the owner's name. These all together were placed before the ark: and the people were taught to expect, that the rod belonging to that tribe which God had chosen for the priesthood, should blossom; whilst all the other rods should remain as they were. On the morrow the rods were all brought forth. The owners severally took their own and Aaron's was distinguished from the rest by the mark proposed; "it was budded, and brought forth buds, and blossomed blossoms, and yielded almonds." The controversy being thus decided, God commanded that Aaron's rod should be brought again before the ark, and "be kept for a token against the rebels.” How long it was preserved, cannot be ascertained; but that it was for a very long period, is certain; because St. Paul speaks of that, and the golden pot that had manna, as known appendages to the ark.a Thus its use was not confined to that generation: it remained to future ages,
1. An evidence of God's decision
[The change wrought upon the rod in one single night, together with its having at once all the different stages of vegetation, "buds, blossoms, fruit," this was sufficient to convince the most incredulous: no room could hereafter be left for doubt upon the subject. Nor do we find from this time even to the days of King Uzziah, that any one dared to usurp again the priestly office.]
2. A memorial of his mercy—
[Justly might the people have been utterly destroyed for their continued murmurings against God. But God here
Heb. ix. 4.