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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
In this chapter we have the history of the rebellion of Korah and his company. The time and place of this event are not recorded. It is probable that it occurred in one of the early years of their penal wanderings.
Numbers 16:1. Korah was a Kohathite, and cousin to Moses and Aaron (Exodus 6:16-21). Dathan and Abiram.… and On were Reubenites; and were probably discontented because the rights of primogeniture were taken from their tribe, and the tribe of Judah placed before them. Moreover the camps of Reuben and of the Kohathites were pitched on the same side of the tabernacle (chaps. Numbers 2:10; Numbers 3:29); thus the two families were conveniently situated for conspiring together. On is not mentioned hereafter: he probably withdrew from the conspiracy, or took only a very subordinate part in it.
Took men. The word “men” is not in the original; and the verb “took” is in the singular number. But it is not uncommon in Hebrew when the verb begins the sentence (as it does here) for it to be in the singular, even when the nominative case which follows is plural. So Gesenius would translate, And Korah.… and Dathan and Abiram.… took and rose up against Moses &c. Keil and Del. follow Gesenius here. The Jerusalem Targum supplies “counsel” after “took.” If this be adopted the translation will be, And Korah.… took counsel apart with Dathan and Abiram, &c. The Hebrew literally translated is, “And Korah, son of Yizhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, took both Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peleth, sons of Reuben; and they rose up,” &c. In this way Bp. Patrick, Drs. A. Clarke, Gill, and others construe the verse. It is suggested in the Speaker’s Comm. that “probably the whole difficulty is due to an after insertion of the mention of Dathan and Abiram, and of their insurrection against Moses, into the original narrative of the sedition of Korah. This narrative would run naturally as follows: ‘Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, took of the children of Israel two hundred and fifty,’ &c. In it, moreover, Korah and his company would be naturally represented as gathering themselves together against Aaron as well as against Moses (Numbers 16:3). But in the expansion of this narrative with a view of making it comprise the account of the proceedings of Dathan and Abiram, it became important to mark that the outcry of the latter was directed against Moses alone; hence the introduction of the opening words of Numbers 16:2.”
Numbers 16:2. Famous in the congregation. Keil and Del.: “ ‘Called men of the congregation,’ i.e., members of the council of the nation which administered the affairs of the congregation (cf. Numbers 1:16).”
Men of renown. Keil and Del.: “ ‘Men of name’ (see Genesis 6:4). These two hundred and fifty men appear to have belonged to the other tribes; this is implied in Numbers 27:3.”
Numbers 16:3. Ye take too much upon you. Margin: “It is much for you.” Dr. A. Clarke: “The original is simply רַב לָכֶם, ‘too much for you.’ ”
Numbers 16:4. Comp. Numbers 14:5.
Numbers 16:7. Ye take too much upon you. Moses gives back to them their own words, רַב לָכֶם.
Numbers 16:9. Seemeth it but a small thing unto you. The words, “seemeth it but” are not in the original. Keil and Del. translate, “Is this too little for you?”
Numbers 16:11. “The words of Moses in his wrath are broken. Literally the verse runs: ‘Wherefore against the Lord (not against Aaron) thou and all thy company who are gathered together, and Aaron, what is he, that ye murmur against him?’ Cf. the parallel reproof of Ananias by St. Peter (Acts 5:3-4).”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 16:13. A land that floweth with milk and honey. Thus insolently they apply to Egypt the very words by which Moses had described the Promised Land.
Except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us? Keil and Del.: “That thou wilt be always playing the lord over us?”
Numbers 16:14. Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men. Margin as in Heb.: “bore out,” or dig out; “i.e., ‘blind them to the fact that you keep none of your promises,’ equivalent to ‘throw dust in their eyes.’ ”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 16:19. The glory of the Lord appeared, &c. Comp. Numbers 14:10.
Numbers 16:24. Tabernacle of Korah. Heb.: מִשְׁכַּן, dwelling of Korah.
Numbers 16:29. Die the common death of all men. Margin: “Die as every man dieth,” i.e., a natural death.
Numbers 16:30. Make a new thing. Margin: “Create a creature.” בָּרָאבְרִיאָה, create a creation; i.e., work an extraordinary miracle: do such a thing as was never done before. So Dr. A. Clarke, Keil and Del. et al.
Numbers 16:32. And all the men that appertained unto Korah. “Appertained,” is not in the original; when that is omitted the A. V. in a literal translation of the Hebrew. This does not mean his children; for it is written, “Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not” (Numbers 26:11); and the celebrated Korahite choir were descendants of his. Keil and Del. say that, “ ‘all the men belonging to Korah,’ were his servants.” The Speaker’s Comm.: “All belonging to him who associated themselves with him in this rebellion.”
It appears that Korah was not swallowed up with Dathan and Abiram. “Korah himself,” says Bishop A. C. Hervey, “was doubtless with the 250 men who bare censers nearer the tabernacle (Numbers 16:19), and perished with them by the ‘fire from Jehovah’ which accompanied the earthquake. It is nowhere said that he was one of those who ‘went down quick into the pit’ (comp. Psalms 106:17-18), and it is natural that he should have been with the censer bearers. That he was so is indeed clearly implied by Numbers 16:16-19; Numbers 16:35; Numbers 16:40, compared with Numbers 26:9-10.” (See a somewhat full and carefully-compiled consideration of this question in Cobbin’s Evangelical Synopsis on this verse.)
Numbers 16:35. Comp. Leviticus 10:1-2.
Numbers 16:37. Out of the burning, i.e., from the midst of the men that were burned.
Scatter thou the fire yonder, i.e., scatter far away the burning coals in the censers.
They are hallowed. See the next ver.: “For they offered them before the Lord,” &c., and comp. Leviticus 27:28.
Numbers 16:38. Sinners against their own. souls, or lives. Because of their sin their lives had been suddenly cut off. Comp. Proverbs 20:2; Habakkuk 2:10.
Numbers 16:45. And they fell upon their faces. Comp. Numbers 16:4; Numbers 16:22; and Numbers 14:5.
Numbers 16:46. A censer. “Rather ‘the censer;’ i.e., that of the High-priest which was used by him on the Great Day of Atonement; cf. Leviticus 16:12; Hebrews 9:4.”—Speaker’s Comm.
THE REBELLION OF KORAH AND HIS COMPANY
“The former rebellions had been mere popular tumults; but this was a regular conspiracy, headed by persons of consequence, abetted by many of the princes, and favoured by most of the congregation.” In endeavouring to expound that portion of the narrative selected as our text, we take two main divisions.
I. The base rebellion of Korah and his company.
1. The leaders of the rebellion. “Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, took both Dathan,” &c. Korah was a Levite, engaged in sacred services in connection with the temple and worship of the Lord, and ought therefore to have set an example of loyalty to the rightful rulers. He was also cousin to Moses and Aaron, and he ought to have found in that an additional reason for rendering to them prompt and zealous support. Yet he seems to have been the instigator and leader of the rebellion. Dathan and Abiram were leading men in the tribe of Reuben, who joined Korah in the insurrection. And with them were two hundred and fifty of the most distinguished and influential men of the nation. “A very dangerous conspiracy,” says Trapp; “for as in a beast the body follows the head, so in that bellua multorum capitum, the multitude. Great men are the looking-glasses of the country, according to which most men dress themselves; their sins do as seldom go unattended as their persons; height of place ever adds two wings to sin, example and scandal, whereby it soars higher and flies much further.” It is ill with a nation when its leaders are misleaders.
2. The nature of the rebellion. It was an organized effort to depose Moses from his position as the head of the civil life, and Aaron from his position as the head of the religious life of the nation. It was “against both magistracy and ministry.” The rebels would have equal authority with Moses and Aaron; they would either ascend to the same level as that occupied by the two great chiefs, or they would drag the two chiefs down to their level. In its essential features this rebellion has had many successors. (a)
3. The cause of the rebellion.
(1) The ostensible cause. “They gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you,” &c. They alleged that Moses and Aaron had usurped the position which they now held and the authority which they wielded. An outrageous assertion when we consider how often the Lord God had manifested His presence with Moses, and used him as the instrument of His power. They also alleged that, as the worshippers of the Lord God, all the congregation were holy, and had, therefore, the right to officiate as priests, and to exercise equal authority with Moses in the government. Their position will not bear examination. It is true that “the whole congregation of Israel were holy in a sense, as being taken into covenant with God; but that which was a national privilege, shared by the meanest Israelite, gave no claim to the magistracy or the priesthood, which He had bestowed according to His pleasure.” There is a sense in which all men are equal before God, yet to some He gives greater abilities and position and authority than to others. But let us mark here two things. First: The tendency of man to seek to justify himself in evil conduct. Korah and his company tried to make their case appear just and good. Men try to justify their evil conduct partly with a view of securing the co-operation, or avoiding the condemnation of others. They do it also in order to quiet their own consciences, by persuading themselves that their course of conduct is reasonable and righteous. But this attempt to justify evil is to add sin to sin. Second: The best of men in this world are liable to reproach and slander. Very few, if indeed any, abler and holier men than Moses have ever lived. And his credentials, as to his being called of God to his high position, were of the clearest and most convincing character; yet he is accused of being a domineering usurper, &c. Count it not a strange thing if you are reviled, &c. Comp. Matthew 10:25.
(2) The real cause. Envy and ambition seem to have been the root of the rebellion. Korah was envious of Aaron and the priests, Dathan and Abiram envied the tribe of Judah its first rank amongst the tribes, and the two hundred and fifty princes envied Moses because of his place and power. (b) All these men were ambitious of higher rank and wider authority. “Pride, envy, ambition,” says Babington, “was in their hearts, and that bred discontentment; discontentment, insurrection. If a man should call out all carpenters, none would come but such; but call for all that think themselves wise and able to govern, who will not come?” (c)
II. The noble conduct of Moses in the rebellion.
“And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face,” &c. (Numbers 16:4-7). Notice:
1. His all-sufficient resource in trouble. “When Moses heard it, he fell upon his face.” By prayer he endeavoured to compose his spirit, and sought help of God. The good man may ever seek and obtain direction and help from God by prayer. Comp. Hebrews 4:16; James 1:5.
2. His sublime confidence in God. This confidence is manifest in—
(1) His bold proposal for settling the question raised by the rebels. “This do, Take you censers, Korah, and all his company,” &c. (Numbers 16:6-7). Moses must have been directed to this expedient in answer to prayer: he would not have ventured on so daring a measure without the sanction of God.
(2) His assurance that God would vindicate both Aaron and himself. “He spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to-morrow the Lord will show who are His,” &c. (Numbers 16:6). Moses was convinced of the Divine authority of his own mission and the mission of Aaron, and that God would manifest to all in a manner not to be mistaken that He had chosen and called them to their respective offices.
3. His calm rebuke of the rebels. “Ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.” The rebuke was deserved. They were leading a most wicked rebellion. The rebuke was appropriate. They were impugning the arrangements of the all-wise God: surely that was to take too much upon them.
(a) Democracy, we are all well aware, what is called “self-government” of the multitude by the multitude, is in words the thing everywhere passionately clamoured for at present. Democracy makes rapid progress in these latter times, and ever more rapid, in a perilous accelerative ratio; towards democracy, and that only, the progress of things is every where tending as to the final goal and winning-post. So think, so clamour the multitudes everywhere. And yet all men may see, whose sight is good for much, that in democracy can He no finality; that with the completest winning of democracy there is nothing yet won,—except emptiness, and the free chance to win! Democracy is, by the nature of it, a self-cancelling business; and gives in the long-run a net result of zero. When no government is wanted, save that of the parish constable, as in America with its boundless soil, every man being able to find work and recompense for himself, democracy may subsist; not elsewhere, except briefly, as a swift transition toward something other and farther. Democracy never yet, that we heard of, was able to accomplish much work, beyond that same cancelling of itself. Rome and Athens are themes for the schools; unexceptionable for that purpose. In Rome and Athens, as elsewhere, if we look practically, we shalt find that it was not by loud voting and debating of many, but by wise insight and ordering of a few, that the work was done. So is it ever, so will it ever be. The French Convention was a Parliament elected “by the five points,” with ballot boxes, universal-suffrages, and what not, as perfectly as Parliament can hope to be in this world; and had indeed a pretty spell of work to do, and did it. The French Convention had to cease from being a free Parliament, and become more arbitrary than any Sultan Bajazet, before it could so much as subsist. It had to purge out its argumentative Girondins, elect its Supreme Committee of Salut guillotine into silence and extinction all that gainsayed it, and rule and work literally by the sternest despotism ever seen in Europe, before it could rule at all. Napoleon was not President of a Republic; Cromwell tried hard to rule in that way, but found that he could not. These, “the armed soldiers of democracy,” had to chain democracy under their feet, and become despots over it, before they could work out the earnest obscure purpose of democracy itself! Democracy, take it where you will in our Europe, is found but as a regulated method of rebellion and abrogation; it abrogates the old arrangement of things; and leaves, as we say, Zero and vacuity for the institution of a new arrangement. It is the consummation of No-government and Laissez-faire. It may be natural for our Europe at present; but cannot be the ultimatum of it. Not towards the impossibility, “self-government” of a multitude by a multitude; but towards some possibility, government by the wisest, does be wildered Europe struggle. The blessedest possibility: not misgovernment, not Laissez-faire, but veritable government.—Thomas Carlyle.
(b) For Illustrations on Envy see pp. 206–208.
(c) Ambition, that high and glorious passion which makes such havoc among the sons of men, arises from a proud desire of honour and distinction; and when the splendid trappings in which it is usually caparisoned are removed, will be found to consist of the mean materials of envy, pride, and covetousness. It is described by different authors as a gallant madness, a pleasant poison, a hidden plague, a secret poison, a caustic of the soul, the moth of holiness, the mother of hypocrisy, and by crucifying and disquieting all it takes hold of, the cause of melancholy and madness.—R. Burton.
The same sun which gilds all nature, and exhilarates the whole creation, does not shine upon disappointed ambition. It is something that rays out of darkness, and inspires nothing but gloom and melancholy. Men in this deplorable state of mind find a comfort in spreading the contagion of their spleen. They find an advantage, too; for it is a general popular error to imagine the loudest complainers for the public to be moat anxious for its welfare. If such persons can answer the ends of relief and profit to themselves, they are apt to be careless enough about either the means or the consequences.—E. Burke.
WICKED AMBITION FAITHFULLY REBUKED
Moses now addresses Korah and the other rebellious Levites, probably with a view to convince them of their error and sin before the case should come on for the Divine adjudication. For Moses knew that if their audacious claims were put to the test on the morrow “before the Lord,” as he had proposed, it would be at their dread peril, and that a similar fate to that of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 3:4) would probably befall them. By this remonstrance he seeks to prevent this.
In this appeal Moses makes it clear to Korah that he detected the real motives which actuated him in this movement. The enquiries, “Seek ye the priesthood also?” and “What is Aaron that ye murmur against him?” would leave no doubt on the mind of the leader of the rebels that Moses was cognisant of his real feeling and aims. Notice:—
I. The greatness of the privileges conferred upon the Levites.
“Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation,” &c. (Numbers 16:9-10). Matthew Henry’s notes are so excellent in themselves and in their arrangement that we cannot do better than quote them. “He reminds them how great the honour was to which they were preferred, as Levites.
1. They were separated from the congregation of Israel, distinguished from them, dignified above them; instead of complaining that Aaron’s family was advanced above theirs, they ought to have been thankful that their tribe was advanced above the rest of the tribes, though they had been in all respects upon the level with them. Note, It will help to keep us from envying those that are above us duly to consider how many there are below us. Instead of fretting that any are preferred before us in honour, power, estate, or interest, in gifts, graces, or usefulness, we have reason to bless God if we, who are less than the least, are not put among the very last. Many perhaps who deserve better are not preferred so well.
2. They were separated to very great and valuable honours.
(1) To draw near to God, nearer than the common Israelites, though they also were a people near unto Him: the nearer any are to God the greater is their honour.
(2) To do the service of the tabernacle. It is honour enough to bear the vessels of the sanctuary, and to be employed in any part of the service of the tabernacle. God’s service is not only perfect freedom, but high preferment.
(3) To stand before the congregation to minister unto them. Note, Those are truly great that serve the public, and it is the honour of God’s ministers to be the Church’s ministers; nay, which adds to the dignity put upon them.
3. It was the God of Israel Himself that separated them. It was His act and deed to put them into their place, and therefore they ought not to have been discontented; and He it was likewise that put Aaron into his place, and therefore they ought not to have envied him.”
II. The unrighteousness of the ambition cherished by them.
Their ambition involved—
1. The disparagement of their present privileges. Their privileges “seemed but a small thing unto them.” Great as they were, they did not satisfy them. “Ambition,” says Trapp, “is restless and unsatisfiable; for, like the crocodile, it grows as long as it lives.” And M. Henry: “Those who aspire after and usurp the honours forbidden them put a great contempt upon the honours allowed them.” (a)
2. Interference in the Divine arrangements. “Seek ye the priesthood also?” It was by the express arrangement and command of God that Aaron and his sons were separated to the duties and emoluments of the priesthood; and, therefore, in seeking the priesthood for themselves, Korah and the Levites who were united with him were endeavouring to set aside the arrangements of the Lord God. Their insatiable ambition had dethroned their judgment, and, for a time, mastered their conscience; it was both unreasonable and unrighteous.
III. The heinousness of the rebellion in which they engaged.
Moses points out to them concerning their rebellion that—
1. It was unreasonable. “What is Aaron that ye murmur against him?” The high-priest was merely an instrument in the hand of the Lord. Aaron was not self-appointed. He was a servant called of God to his office, with his duties and his privileges clearly apportioned unto him. How unreasonable, then, was it to murmur at him for being high-priest!
2. It was exceedingly sinful. “Thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord.” “Those resist the prince who resist those that are commissioned by him.” Comp. Matthew 10:40; John 13:20; Acts 9:4.
1. Let us crush every rising of ambition which is not in harmony with wisdom and righteousness. It is of such that Shakespeare says, and says wisely—
“Fling away ambition: By that sin fell the angels; how can man then, The image of his Maker, hope to win by’t?” (b)
2. Let us seek to give to our ambition a righteous and noble direction. (c)
“The true ambition there alone resides,
Where justice vindicates, and wisdom guides;
Where inward dignity joins outward state,
Our purpose good as our achievement great;
Where public blessings public praise attend,
Where glory is our motive, not our end.
Wouldst thou be famed? Have those high acts in view;
Brave men would act, though scandal would ensue.”—E. Young.
(a) There is a curtain, but it is lifting, it is lifting, it is lifting; and when it is lifted, what do I see? The spirit world! ’Tis death that lifts the curtain; and when it is lifted, these present things will vanish, for they are but shadows. The world of eternity and reality will then be seen. I would summon a jury of the spirits that have passed that curtain; and they would not be long debating about the question whether Christ is worth the winning. I care not where you select them from—whether from among the condemned in hell, or from among the beatified in heaven. Let them sit—let even those who are in hell sit, and judge upon the matter, and, if they could for once speak honestly, they would tell you that it is a dreadful thing to despise Christ; now that they have come to see things in a true light—now that they are lost for ever—now that they are crushed with knowledge and feeling which have come too late to be profitable—now they wish that they had listened to the ministrations of truth, to the proclamations of the Gospel. Ah! if they could have a sane mind back again, they would shriek, “Oh! for one more Sabbath. Oh! to listen once more to an honest preacher, though his words might be clumsy and uncouth. Oh! to hear a voice once more say, ‘Come to Jesus while the day of mercy lasts.’ Oh! to be once more pressed to come to the marriage feast—once more bidden to look to Jesus and to live!” I tell you, sirs, some of you who make so light of Sundays, and think preaching is but a pas-time, so that you come here to hear us as you would go to hear some fiddler on a week-night—I tell you, sirs, the lost in hell reckon these things at a very different rate, and so will you ere long, when another preacher, with skeleton fingers, shall talk to you upon your deathbed. Ah! then you will see that we were in earnest and you were the players, and you will comprehend that what we said to you demanded earnest, immediate attention, though, alas! you would not give it, and so played false to your own soul, and committed spiritual suicide, and went your way like a bullock to the slaughter, to be the murderers of your own spirits.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) How, like a mounting devil in the heart, Rules the unrein’d ambition! Let it once
But play the monarch, and its haughty brow
Glows with a beauty that bewilders thought
And un thrones peace for ever. Putting on
The very pomp of Lucifer, it turns
The heart to ashes, and with not a spring
Left in the bosom for the spirit’s lip
We look upon our splendour and forget
The thirst for which we perish.
N. P. Willis.
(c) There are few men who are not ambitions of distinguishing themselves in the nation or country where they live, and of growing considerable with those with whom they converse. There is a kind of grandeur and respect which the meanest and most insignificant part of mankind endeavour to procure in the little circle of their friends and acquaintance. The poorest mechanic, pay, the man who lives upon common alms, gets him his set of admirers, and delights in that superiority which he enjoys over those who are in some respects beneath him. This ambition which is natural to the soul of man, might, methinks, receive a very happy turn; and, if it were rightly directed, contribute as much to a person’s advantage as it generally does to his uneasiness and disquiet.—J. Addison.
“Ambition is the vice of noble souls!”
If ’tis a vice, then let those souls beware.
Thrice noble though they be, and passing fair
In the world’s eye, and high upon the scrolls.
Her favour’d minions where the world enrolls.
Lest it conduct to shame! Be thine the care,
Soldier of Christ, that nobler strife to dare,
Which the rash spirit of the world controls,
And makes ambition virtue! Be it thine
To win thy bright unfading diadem
By works of love! Around his brows shall shine
In heaven from glory’s source the purest beam,
Whose aspect here, with beauty most divine,
Reflects the image of the GOOD SUPREME.
THE SIN OF USURPING THE OFFICE OF THE PRIESTHOOD
“Seek ye the priesthood also?”
The Papists say that Korah, Dathan and Abiram are like unto Protestants, and that as they perished for their rebellion against Moses and Aaron so Protestants for leaving “the Catholic Church,” as they call it, will perish for ever in hell. But High Church clergy and writers of like kind compare Korah and his company to the Dissenters; they say that like as Korah, Dathan and Abiram rebelled against Moses and Aaron, so Dissenters presuming to have preachers of their own establish a mock ministry different from that which has the apostolic commission. What a perverting of the truth! So far from it being true that Protestants or Dissenters are shadowed forth, it is not difficult to perceive rather that it shadows forth themselves. What was the crime of Korah, Dathan and Abiram? It was an attempt to put themselves in the place of Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron were mediators between God and Israel, and therefore types of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Moses as lawgiver and Aaron as priest were types of Jesus; their office was sacred and peculiar to themselves; no man could, with God’s permission, perform the duties of their office but themselves. No man on any consideration was to usurp the office of priest; no, not even Jesus Christ Himself, as you see in Hebrews 5:4-5. So sacred was the office of priest that not even Jesus Himself might take it until called to it by God Himself. This was the very crime of Korah and his company.… Now what is the conduct of the Papists and of High Church clergy? Is it more like the conduct of Korah and his company, or is that of Dissenters or Protestants more like it? Surely, it requires very little sense to see which are like unto Korah and his company. High Churchmen say that they are priests, that they offer sacrifices, that in the Supper of the Lord they really do present the body of Christ to God, that they are sacrificing priests between God and the people; this is the great point which they maintain. Whereas there is known in the Bible but one priest, in that sense, in the present dispensation, namely Jesus, the great High Priest, who has gone to appear in the presence of God to present His sacrifice and offer His intercession. He carries the blood and presents the incense on behalf of His Church.
The wickedness of claiming to be a priest is seen more plainly when we consider the effect of it; it is absolutely to set Jesus Christ aside, and shut a man out from salvation. This illustration very plainly shows this. Notice, first, that the priest offered the blood of the sacrifice; and what was that blood offered for? It was God’s chosen means whereby He would avert punishment and deliver from danger. If they had done wrong and provoked Him to punish them, or if they were brought in the providential dealings of God, into danger of enemies or other evil; if they shed the blood of the sacrifice and presented it before the mercy seat, or at the altar, it would be accepted, judgment averted, and evil removed. That was the national character of the Jewish religion; “without shedding of blood there was no remission;” and national mercies were given in consequence of their observing their national rites, and national evils were removed because of the offering of that blood. But, mark, the priest alone was to offer it; it would have been in vain if any other man had attempted to present the blood, God would not have accepted it, and the punishment would have been poured out. It was the priest who confessed the sins of the people and presented the sacrifice, and then mercy was vouchsafed. Now, what was done by the priest for Israel is what is now actually done by our High Priest for the Church. Observe how it is asserted that one was typical of the other (Hebrews 10:11-12). Thus you see Christ is both priest and victim, as it is again in Hebrews 9:11-12. How great then the office of Christ!.… How awful the iniquity for any miserable man calling himself a priest to thrust Christ aside, and take upon himself the very work which here we read in God’s holy Word Jesus is exalted to heaven to carry on!
Again observe, under the Old Testament law, the priest offered the incense also; it was not acceptable to God if offered by any other man. Christ’s intercession was typified by the burning incense going up in a cloud of smoke together with the prayers and praises of the people; and no man might offer that except the priest. In like manner it is Jesus, and Jesus alone, who intercedes in the presence of God for His people (Romans 8:34). Hence we offer prayer “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” “through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” Just as under the old law no man might offer incense himself but must give it to the priest, so in this dispensation no prayer is acceptable to God but by and through Jesus Christ. “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” How great then the wickedness of those who would presume to put themselves in the place of Christ, the great High Priest, and say that they are mediators through whom the prayers of the people are to be offered! What says the Holy Ghost again on this point of incense by the mouth of the beloved Apostle? 1 John 2:1.… It may be well indeed that ministers should pray for their people, and people for their ministers; but it is not well that ministers should pretend to put themselves as mediators between God and the people, and represent themselves as successors of the Jewish High Priests; in a word, supplanting Jesus Christ Himself; this is not well.
Trust to the only Priest. Have confidence in that Man who because “He continueth ever hath an unchangeable priesthood.”—R. W. Dibdin, M.A.
AUDACITY IN WICKEDNESS
Having finished his address to Korah and the Levites, Moses sent messengers to Dathan and Abiram, who during that address seems to have departed to their own tents, to call them to appear before him. With outrageous insolence they not only refused to obey his summons, but preferred the most unjust and impudent charges against him. Their audacity in wickedness is manifest—
I. In their defiance of the authority of the ruler appointed by God.
They absolutely and daringly refused to obey the summons of Moses. Twice they said, “We will not come up.” “They denied his power,” says Gill, “despised his authority, and would not obey his orders, and therefore refused to come up to the tabernacle, or to the tent of Moses, or to the Court of Judicature, wherever it was; perhaps the first is best.” “Sturdy rebels,” says Trapp, “ripe for destruction.” See Proverbs 29:1.
II. In their reviling the ruler appointed by God.
They proceed to charge Moses with—
1. Having injured them in their circumstances. “Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey?… Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.” The statement concerning Egypt was not truthful. Moreover, as Bp. Patrick observes, “nothing could be more insolent and ungrateful than to describe Egypt in the very same language in which God had often spoken of the Land of Promise.” Their deliverance from Egypt, instead of being resented as an injury, should have been regarded by them as a priceless blessing. And whose fault was it that they were not in possession of the Promised Land? They charge Moses with that for which they alone were to blame.
2. Attempting to tyrannise over them. “Thou make thyself altogether a prince over us.” They speak as though Moses were in the habit of lording it over them as a usurping tyrant, when he was really devoting himself to their service.
3. Endeavouring to deceive them. “Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?” They insinuate that Moses was trying to blind the congregation as to the true character of his doings and designs.
4. Aiming at their destruction. “Thou hast brought us.… to kill us in the wilderness.” Farther than this injustice and falsehood surely cannot go. If they were doomed to fall in the wilderness it was because of former rebellions of their own. As for Moses he had sought their good, and only their good. Is not the audacity of their wickedness terrible?
III. In the solemn appeal to God which their conduct called forth from the ruler which He had appointed.
“And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the Lord, Respect not Thou their offering,” &c. Notice:
1. His righteous anger. “Moses was very wroth.” Anger is not always sinful. “Be ye angry, and sin not.” There are times when it would be a sin not to be angry. There is a deep principle of wrath in the Divine nature. Our Lord looked upon the wicked Pharisees “with anger” (Mark 3:5). In proportion as we regard holiness with affection we must regard wickedness with indignation. There is much in this world at present to awaken wrath in godly souls. The anger of Moses was a righteous thing: it was the antagonism of his pure and noble soul against the base wickedness of Dathan and Abiram. (a)
2. His truthful self-vindication. “I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.” “Moses was not one of them,” says Trapp, “that follow the administration of justice as a trade only, with an unquenchable and unconscionable desire of gain. This is but robbery with authority, and justifies the common resemblance of the courts of justice to the bush, whereto while the sheep flies for defence in weather, he is sure to lose part of his fleece.” Moses could truthfully appeal to the Lord that although he was their ruler he had taken no tribute whatever from them or oppressed them in any way or degree. Comp. 1 Samuel 12:3.
3. His solemn prayer. “Moses said unto the Lord, Respect not Thou their offering.” Comp. Genesis 4:4-5. It may at first sight appear that in this request Moses manifests an unworthy spirit. But really “he craveth of God no more than to show and make manifest his own innocency and uprightness, which was to be decided by that offering.”
1. That man, having entered upon an evil course, unless arrested by some restraining force, proceeds to greater daring in and deeper depths of wickedness. So Dathan and Abiram grew bold and insolent in sin. “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse,” &c. Character is never stationary. It grows either towards perfection or towards perdition. In the case of the wicked their dread progress in wickedness is not difficult of explanation.
(1) The heart becomes hardened; less susceptible to good influences; less amenable to conscience, &c. (b)
(2) The propensity to evil increases in power. As the soul falls the momentum with which it falls increases.
(3) The circumstances into which they bring themselves by sin urge them onward. One sin seems to make other sins necessary. Shakespeare clearly expresses the idea in Macbeth—
“I am in blood Stept in so far, that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” (c)
Guard against entering on wicked, or even questionable, courses.
2. The best of men are liable to the vilest misrepresentations. There was not the shadow of reason for these charges against Moses. He was the last man to play the lord over any people. “Those often fall under the heaviest censures who have merited the highest applause.”
3. The good man when suffering from misrepresentation can carry his cause to the Great Vindicator. Moses appealed to God from the misrepresentations of Dathan and Abiram. So did Job from the false charges of his “miserable comforters.” So did David from the slanders of his enemies. Comp. Job 14:19; Job 23:10-12. So may we when falsely accused. “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass. And He shall bring forth Thy righteousness as the light, and Thy judgment as the noon-day.”
(a) There is a great difference between the sin of one who is angry, and the cruelty of one who holds another in hatred. For even with our children are we angry; but who is ever found to hate his children? Among the very cattle, too, the cow, in a sort of weariness, will sometimes in anger drive away her suckling calf; bat anon she embraces it with all the affection of a mother. She is in a way disgusted with it when she butts it; yet, when she misses it, she will seek after it. Nor do we discipline our children otherwise than with a degree of anger and indignation; yet we should not discipline them at all but in love to them.
So far, then, is every one who is angry from hating, that sometimes one would be rather convicted of hating if he were not angry; for suppose a child wishes to play in some river’s stream, by whose force he would be like to perish. If you see this and patiently suffer it, this would be hating—your patient suffering him in his death. How far better is it to be angry and correct him, than by not being angry to suffer him to perish! Great is the difference, indeed, between one’s exceeding due limits in some words through anger, which he afterwards wipes off by repenting of it, and the keeping an insidious purpose shut up in the heart.—Augustine.
There is an anger that is damnable: it is the anger of selfishness. There is an anger that is majestic as the frown of Jehovah’s brow: it is the anger of truth and love. If man meets with injustice, it is not required that he shall not be roused to meet it; but if he is angry after he has had time to think upon it, that is sinful. The flame is not wrong, but the coals are.—H. W. Beecher.
High and gusty passions that sweep through the soul are sometimes like fierce summer storms that cleanse the air, and give the earth refreshment by strong winds and down-pelting rains. Men are better for knowing how to be angry, provided the sun does not go down on their wrath, and provided it is justified by the occasions of it.—Ibid.
(b) Wilful disobedience to God’s commands tends most powerfully to harden the heart; for after we have once disobeyed, it becomes more easy to repeat the disobedience. But this is not all. If you disobey, you must assign some excuse to justify your disobedience, or your conscience will reproach you, and render you uneasy; if no plausible excuse occurs, you will seek one; if none can readily be found, you will invent one. And when God proceeds to enforce His commands by frowns and threatenings, and to press you with motives and arguments, you must fortify your minds against their influence, and seek other arguments to assist you in doing it. This also tends most powerfully to harden the heart. A man who is frequently employed in seeking arguments and excuses to justify his neglect of religion, soon becomes expert in the work of self-justification. He is, if I may so express it, armed at all points against the truth; so that in a little time, nothing affects him, no arrow from the quiver of revelation can reach his conscience. Urge him to what duty you will, he has some plausible excuse in readiness to justify himself for neglecting to perform it. But if, as is sometimes the case, his excuses prove insufficient, and his understanding and conscience become convinced that he ought to hear God’s voice to-day, he can avoid compliance only by taking refuge in an obstinate refusal, or by resolutely diverting his attention to some other object, till God’s commands are forgotten, or by a vague kind of promise that he will become religious at some future period. Whichsoever of these methods he adopts, the present impression is effaced, and his heart is hardened. He has engaged in a warfare with his reason and conscience, and has gained a victory over them. He has resisted the force of truth, and thus rendered it more easy for him to resist it again. In a word, he has less religious sensibility; he has become more inaccessible to conviction, and less disposed to yield to it than before.—E. Payson, D.D.
(c) It is somewhere fabled in ancient literature that a certain stag and horse were at variance; they battled for some time fiercely with each other. At length the strength of the horse failed him, and he sought the help of a man. The man complies, gets on his back, and chases the stag to death. So far the noble steed overcame the difficulty of his position, and gained his point; but the very means he adopted placed him in a far worse position afterwards. With a bit in his mouth and saddle on his back, he continued to the end of his days the slave of the man whose assistance he obtained. It is thus with those who seek to overcome a difficulty or avoid a danger by recourse to immoral expedients. This, alas! is often done. In business a man contracts obligations. He finds that his credit, reputation, and position are in danger unless they are fully met. The hour comes when those obligations heavily press upon him. He struggles honourably with them for a time. At length he gives way, and has recourse to forgeries, falsehoods, or some other wicked device. For the moment he seems to succeed; but the immorality he called in to serve him for the hour becomes his master and his tyrant, uses him as the man did the horse in the fable—as a wretched beast of burden, the victim of the bit, the saddle, and the spur.—The Clerical Year Book.
THE REBELLION MAINTAINED IN THE VERY PRESENCE OF GOD
I. The test proposed by Moses to the rebels.
“And Moses said unto Korah, Be thou and all thy company before the Lord,” &c. (Numbers 16:16-17). Moses here repeats the challenge which he had previously made (Numbers 16:5-7), with this addition, he states that Aaron also shall be there, and submit to the test. The test includes three clauses, or articles.
1. That Korah and his company shall assemble at the tabernacle and burn incense. This was a function reserved to the priesthood: they had claimed equality with the priesthood: thus let their claim be put to proof.
2. That they should burn incense in sight of God. All things transpire beneath His eye (Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 4:13); but Moses gives special prominence to the fact that the trial of their claims was to take place “before the Lord.” In this renewal of the challenge he twice mentions this solemn fact (Numbers 16:16-17). Will they dare the awful experiment in His holy presence?
3. That they should burn incense in the sight of God with a view to His interposition for the settlement of the question which they had raised. This was the great object which they had in view in this business, and was clearly stated by Moses when he first proposed this method of testing their claims. Truly a very serious, and indeed awful proposal. How will the rebels treat it?
II. The test accepted by the rebels.
On the morrow “they took every man his censer, and put fire in them,” &c. (Numbers 16:18-19). Notice:
1. The awful presumption involved in their conduct. It was but recently that they had witnessed Nadab and Abihu burnt to death by fire from the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, and yet they presume with unconsecrated hands and in a rebellious spirit to burn incense in the door of the tabernacle before the Lord. Terrible is their sinful hardihood! (a)
2. The infatuation of Korah in sin. He “gathered all the congregation against them unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.” He seems entirely confident of success. Not a grain of prudence seems left to him. Quos Deus vult perdere dementat prius. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
III. The interposition of the Lord God.
“And the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation. And the Lord spake,” &c. (Numbers 16:19; Numbers 16:21). The interposition of the Lord was characterised by—
1. The manifestation of His glory. “The glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation.” (See notes on Numbers 14:10, p. 248.)
2. The declaration of His judgment. He called upon Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation that He “may consume them in a moment.” By rallying to the tabernacle at the call of Korah the people had made common cause with the rebels and become sharers in their guilt, and God threatens to destroy them instantly.
3. His care for His faithful servants. He “spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, Separate yourselves from among this congregation,” &c. Excellent are the notes of Trapp on this: “Good men are taken away from the evil to come. When God pulls away the pillars, what will become of the building? Lot was no sooner taken out of Sodom, but Sodom was taken out of the world.” Comp. Genesis 19:22-25. (b)
IV. The intercession of Moses and Aaron for the congregation.
“And they fell upon their faces, and said, O God,” &c. (Numbers 16:22).
1. Its object. The aim of the intercession of Moses and Aaron was to avert the threatened destruction of all the congregation.
2. Its pleas. These are—
(1) The relationship of God to man. “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh.” God is the creator and sustainer of human life. “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” “The Father of spirits.” Will He not then have mercy upon these misguided spirits, of which He was the author and preserver? “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth,” &c. (Psalms 103:13-18). “Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of Thine own hands.” Comp. Isaiah 64:8-9. (c).
(2) The justice of God. “Shall one man sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation?” As compared with Korah, the author of the rebellion, the great multitude of the people were almost innocent. Would God sweep them all away in the same judgment? Comp. Genesis 18:23; Genesis 18:25.
Mark the magnanimity of Moses and Aaron in thus interceding for the people. The people were ever ready to join in any rebellion against their leaders, yet those leaders were ever ready to entreat God for them. “The good man,” says a Hindoo epigram, “goes not upon enmity, but rewards with kindness the very being who injures him. So the sandal-wood while it is felling, imparts to the edge of the axe its aromatic savour.”
(a) Every presumption is properly an encroachment, and all encroachment carriage in it still a farther and a farther invasion upon the person encroached upon. It enters into the soul as a gangrene does into the body, which spreads as well as infects, and with a running progress carries a venom and a contagion all over the members. Presumption never stops in its first attempt. If Cæsar comes once to pass the Rubicon, he will be sure to march farther on, even till he enters the very bowels of Rome, and breaks open the Capitol itself. He that wades so far as to wet and foul himself, cares not how much he trashes farther.—Robert South, D D.
(b) “No doubt,” said the Rev. J. Brown, of Haddington, “I have met with trials as well as others, yet so kind has God been to me, that I think if He were to give me as many years as I have already lived in the world, I should not desire one single circumstance in my lot changed except that I wish I had less sin. It might be written on my coffin, ‘Here lies one of the cares of Providence, who early wanted both father and mother and yet never missed them.’ ”—“The Sunday School Teacher.”
(c) The Creator is faithful. He abides by His creation, neither deserting, nor repudiating it. Though nature has become a madhouse of fierce passions and deadly strife, His devotion to it knows no abatement. He will not fail nor be discouraged until He has put down all evil, and established righteousness, even “everlasting righteousness.” “A faithful Creator” involves the idea of a tender Redeemer.—John Pulsford.
God never loses sight of any one thing. He has created, and no created thing can continue either to be, or to act independently of Him. His eye is upon every hour of my existence. His spirit is intimately present with every thought of my heart. His inspiration gives birth to every purpose within me. His hand impresses a direction on every footstep of my goings. Every breath I inhale is drawn by an energy which God deals out to me. This body, which, upon the slightest derangement, would become the prey of death, or of woful suffering, is now at ease, because He at this moment is warding off from me a thousand dangers, and upholding the thousand movements of its complex and delicate machinery. His presiding influence keeps by me through the whole current of my restless and ever-changing history. When I walk by the way-side, He is along with me. When I enter into company, amid all my forgetfulness of Him, He never forgets me. In the silent watches of the night, when my eyelids have closed and my spirit has sunk into unconsciousness, the observant eye of Him who never slumbers is upon me. I cannot fly from His presence. Go where I will, He tends me, and watches me, and cares for me; and the same Being who is now at work in the remotest domains of nature and of Providence, is also at my right hand to eke out to me every moment of my being, and to uphold me in the exercise of all my feelings and of all my faculties.—Thomas Chalmers, D.D., LL.D.
THE SPIRIT AND THE SOVEREIGN OF MAN
“The God of the spirits of all flesh.”
These words suggest three considerations.
I. The grand distinction of human nature.
The glory of human nature is not in anything physical, e.g., the upright form, the steady and penetrating glance of the eye, &c.; but in the fact of its spirituality. Man is a spirit in a vesture of flesh. “There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” (a). Concerning the human spirit consider—
1. Its attributes.
(1) Unity. The body is composed of an indefinite number of separate and separable parts. But the spirit is one and indivisible. We are conscious of our individuality as thinking, feeling, acting beings.
(2) Voluntary activity. Bodies have no power of spontaneous motion; being at rest, they will remain so for ever, unless acted upon by some power which is not inherent. But the spirit acts independently; man is gifted with volition, he chooses and rejects, &c.
(3) Thought. The body does not think; after the death of the body the brain may remain perfect, but it does not reflect. But the spirit thinks, reflects, compares, judges. How wonderful is this power! and how great and glorious are its achievements!
(4) Sensation. It is not the mere body which feels: when life has departed from it you may subject the body to any treatment whatsoever, but you will not discover in it any sign of sensation. But the spirit feels: it is capable of the deepest, intensest misery, and of the most exquisite and unspeakable joy.
(5) Religiousness. Bodies are incapable of admiration or veneration; but spirits have capabilities of worship and an instinct or instincts for worship. By his very nature man is a worshipper; his spirit wonders, admires, loves, adores. How great, then, are the capacities and faculties of the human spirit! Moreover the spirit acts without weariness. The bodily organs through which in our present state it acts are speedily tired, but the spirit seems untiring in its activities. And further, it appears to be capable of indefinite growth and progress. All the material forms of life with which we are acquainted advance and grow to a certain point, and then begin to decay. But the spirit seems to possess innate capabilities for never-ending growth. How wonderful and sacred are our spirits, possessing, as they do, such attributes as these!
2. Its relationships. It is related—
(1) To angels. With holy angels it has relations. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.” “He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” These holy and heavenly spirits minister to human spirits upon earth. The human spirit has relations with evil angels also. We are one with them in the fact that we are rebellious spirits. These evil angels act malignantly on human spirits; they tempt them to sin; they seek their utter and irretrievable ruin. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers,” &c. (Ephesians 6:12). “The prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”
(2) To God. “God is a Spirit.” “The Lord formeth the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1). He is “the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9). “We are also His offspring” (Acts 17:28). He is “the God of the spirits of all flesh.” We were created in His image. His great redemptive purpose is to renew us into His image again. We may receive communications from Him; may commune with Him; may be “workers together with Him”; may participate in His joy, &c. We are called into this high fellowship through Jesus Christ. He restores the human spirit to those relations to God which sin had ruptured. “No man cometh unto the Father but by Him.” How exalted and august are these relations of the human spirit to God!
3. Its destiny. At death the body “shall return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” From the body the spirit passes into the presence of God as the great Judge; and from His presence it passes to its own place of retribution, either to the Paradise of God or to the prison of the lost. (b)
Here, then, is the grand distinction of man that he is spirit with such wondrous faculties, &c. Amongst all God’s works in this world he stands alone in this; for if we allow a spiritual principle to animals it is greatly and obviously inferior to the human spirit.
Man reverence thy spirit—reverence thyself!
II. The supreme Sovereign of human nature.
“The God of the spirits of all flesh.” God’s relations of Creator and Sustainer of man were most probably present to the mind of Moses in this appeal. We have already spoken of Him as the Creator of spirits. He is also their Sustainer. “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). His sovereignty over human spirits rests upon these relations which He sustains to them, and it is manifest:—
1. In the claims which He makes upon the human spirit. He requires the sincere worship and the supreme affection of man: He claims the throne of our being. Comp. Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; Ezekiel 18:4; Luke 10:27.
2. In the power which He exercises over the human spirit. We have seen that He is its Creator; and its departure from this world is in His hands. He summons the spirit hence when He pleases. Comp. Job 14:5; Job 14:20; Ecclesiastes 8:8; Revelation 1:18.
III. The inspiring hope of human nature.
Because God is “the God of the spirits of all flesh” Moses was encouraged to plead with Him that He would not destroy “all the congregation” because of the rebellion of Korab and his company. For the creatures whom He has created and whom He sustains He must have a kind regard. Towards the spirits of which He is the Father He must be gracious and merciful. “Thou wilt have a desire to the work of Thine hands” (Job 14:15). Comp. Psalms 103:13-18; Psalms 138:8; Isaiah 64:8-9.
From the relations which He sustains to our spirits we have a good hope that He will ever deal graciously with us. Comp. Lamentations 3:31-33.
Should we not leave the future destinies of men (about which so many minds are now much exercised) calmly and confidently to “the God of the spirits of all flesh”? It is absolutely certain that He will deal righteously and kindly with His creatures in this and in all things.
Realise the greatness and dignity of your being. You are a spirit, created in the image of God, redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and destined for immortality. The time comes on apace when you will realise the unspeakable importance of your spirit. Let your great concern be to secure its well-being. (c)
(a) To say there is no such thing as matter would be a much less absurd inference, than to say there is no such thing as mind. The very act of inferring, as we do by reasoning, that the object which effects our senses exists apart from ourselves, is wholly incapable of giving us any knowledge of the object’s existence, without, at the same time, giving us a knowledge of our own that is, of the mind’s existence. An external necessarily implies an internal. That there may be anything beyond or without, there must necessarily be something beyond or without which it is said to exist. That there may be a body which we feel abiding separate from us, namely our own body, one part of which gives us sensations through another part, there must be a WE, an US, that is, A MIND. If we have a right to call spirit, or soul, or mind, a mere negation of the qualities of matter; surely this might just as well be retorted by saying that matter is only a negation of the qualities of mind. But in truth the materialists cannot stir one step without the aid of that mind whose existence they deny.… The truth is that we believe in the existence of matter because we cannot help it. The inferences of our reason from our sensations impel us to this conclusion; and the steps are few and short by which we reach it. But the steps are fewer and shorter, and of the self-same nature, which lead us to believe in the existence of mind: for of that we have the evidence within ourselves, and wholly independent of our senses. Nor can we ever draw the inference, in any one instance, of the existence of matter, without, at the same time, exhibiting a proof of the existence of mind; for we are, by the supposition, reasoning, inferring, drawing a conclusion, forming a belief: therefore, there exists somebody, something, to reason, to infer, to conclude, to believe; that is, WE, not any fraction of matter, but a reasoning, inferring, believing being; in other words, a Mind. If scepticism can have any place in our system, assuredly it relates to the existence of matter, far more than of mind.—Lord Brougham.
(b) Nothing is more difficult than to realise that every man has a distinct soul—that every one of all the millions who live or have lived, is as whole and independent a being in himself as if there were no one else in the whole world but he. To explain what I mean.… When we read history, we meet with accounts of great slaughters and massacres, great pestilences, famines, conflagrations, and so on; and we are accustomed to regard collections of people as single individuals. We cannot understand that a multitude is a collection of immortal souls. I say immortal souls. Each of those multitudes not only had, while he was upon earth, but has a soul, which did in its own sure but return to God who gave it, and not perish, and which now lives unto Him. All those millions upon millions of human beings who ever trod the earth, and saw the sun successively, are at this moment in existence all together. Every one of those souls still lives. They had their separate thoughts and feelings when on earth; they have them now. They had their likings and pursuits, they gained what they thought good, and enjoyed it; and they still somewhere or other live, and what they then did in the flesh surely has its influence upon their present destiny. They live, reserved for a day which is to come, when all nations shall stand before God.… All the names we see written on monuments in churches or churchyards; all the writers whose names and works we see in our libraries; all the workmen who raised the great buildings far and near, which are the wonder of the world, they are all in God’s remembrance—they all live.
Moreover, every one of all the souls which have ever been on earth, is in one of two spiritual states, so distinct from one another that one is the subject of God’s favour, and the other under His wrath; the one in the way to eternal happiness, the other to eternal misery. This is true of the dead, and is true of the living also. All are tending one way or the other; there is no middle or neutral state for any one, though as far as the sight of the external world goes, all men seem to be in a middle state common to one and all. Yet, much as men look the same, and impossible as it is for us to say where each man stands in God’s sight, there are two, and but two, classes of men, and these have characters and destinies as far apart in their tendencies as light and darkness. This is the case even of those who are in the body, and it is much more true of those who have passed into the unseen state.—J. H. Newman, D.D.
(c) Endeavour then, my brethren, to realize that you have souls, and pray God to enable you to do so. Endeavour to disengage your thoughts and opinions from the things that are seen; look at things as God looks at them, and judge them as He judges. Pass a very few years, and you will actually experience what as yet you are called on to believe. There will be no need of the effort of mind to which I invite you. When you have passed into the unseen state, there will be no need of shutting your eyes to this world, when this world has vanished from you, and you have nothing before you but the throne of God, and the slow but continual movements about it in preparation of the Judgment. In that interval, when you are in that vast receptacle of disembodied souls, what will be your thoughts about the world which you have left? How poor will then seem to you its highest aims, how faint its keenest pleasures, compared with the infinite aims, the infinite pleasures, of which you will at length feel your souls to be capable! O, my brethren! let the thought be upon you day by day, especially when you are tempted to sin. Avoid sin as a serpent; it looks and promises well; it bites afterwards. It is dreadful in memory, dreadful even on earth; but in that awful period, when the fever of life is over, and you are waiting in silence for the Judgment, with nothing to distract your thoughts, who can say how dreadful may be the memory of sins done in the body? Then the very apprehension of their punishment, when Christ shall suddenly visit, will doubtless outweigh a thousandfold their gratification, such as it was, which you felt in committing them; and if so, what will be the proportion between it and that punishment, if, after all, it be actually inflicted? Let us lay to heart our Saviour’s own most merciful words. “B, not afraid,” He says, “of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear. Fear Him which after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. Yes, I say unto you, fear Him.”—Ibid.
THE PREPARATION FOR JUDGMENT
In this section of the narrative we have the final steps before the infliction of punishment upon the rebels.
I. The complete separation of the people from the rebels.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram,” &c. (Numbers 16:23-27). ln these instructions we have—
1. A manifestation of the justice of God. In his intercession Moses had pleaded the justice of God; and this is the Divine answer to his prayer. God will not consume all the congregation because of the sin of a portion of that congregation. “All His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.” “The just Lord will not do iniquity: every morning doth He bring His judgment to light, He faileth not” (a)
2. An illustration of the peril of evil associations. The people that were in the immediate neighbourhood of the rebels were in danger of sharing their dread fate. “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men,” &c. (Numbers 16:26). Lot’s residence in Sodom well nigh ruined him. Jehoshaphat’s partnership with the wicked Ahaziah ended in disaster (2 Chronicles 20:35-37). “The companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (b)
3. An illustration of the necessity of human effort in the attainment of salvation. If the people would avoid the doom of Dathan and Abiram they must hasten away from the tents of those wicked men. Lot had to make a speedy departure from Sodom. If the sinner would be saved from the punishment and power of sin, he must “flee for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before him.” (c)
The people obeyed the word of the Lord spoken by Moses: “They gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram on every side.” The instinct of self-preservation would urge them to swift compliance with the Divine instructions. Thus the rebels and their families were separated from the rest of the people.
II. The final statement concerning the decision of the question which the rebels had raised.
“And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me,” &c. (Numbers 16:28-30). It has been well said by Dr. Kitto: “From the beginning of the world unto this day, no man ever made so bold and noble an assertion of Divine approval, or subjected his claims in the presence of a nation to a test so immediate and so infallible.” And Matthew Henry: “The judgment itself would have been proof enough of God’s displeasure against the rebels, and would have given all men to ‘understand that they had provoked the Lord’; but when it was thus solemnly foretold and appealed to by Moses beforehand, when there was not the least previous indication of it from without, the convincing evidence of it was much the stronger, and it was put beyond dispute that he was not only a servant but a favourite of Heaven, who was so intimately acquainted with the Divine counsels, and could obtain such extraordinary appearances of the Divine power in his vindication.” How extraordinary and sublime was the confidence of Moses in all this! Calmly he makes this remarkably bold declaration, and leaves the issue in the hands of the Lord God. He knew well that he was not seeking his own in any respect; that his great aim was to promote the glory of God in the service to which He had appointed him; and, therefore, he could confidently leave the issue with his great Lord.
III. The final opportunity afforded to the rebels of turning from their evil course.
The warning which was given to the people to separate themselves from the tents of the rebels, and the final statement of Moses as to the settlement of the question in dispute, afforded the rebels another opportunity of desisting from their rebellion, acknowledging the authority of their rightful leaders, &c. The Lord is slow to anger. He affords to the greatest sinners many opportunities of turning from their sin, before He smites them in wrath. The Divine mercy in this case is the more conspicuous, inasmuch as Dathan and Abiram having refused to go to Moses and the elders, Moses and the elders go to them. Dathan and Abiram may yet be saved if they will. How great is the longsuffering of God! (d)
IV. The persistent and terrible audacity of the rebels.
“Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children.” “As outfacing Moses,” says Trapp, “and scorning the judgment threatened. Hardened sinners make no more of God’s dreadful threatenings than Behemoth doth of iron weapons, which he esteemeth as straws.” “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”
(a) Here we open the Bible, in which we find that to whom much is given, from him shall much be required, and that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for nations which enjoyed a fuller revelation of Divine purpose and requirements. The heathen are a law unto themselves. Five talents are expected to produce more then two. The Divine plan of judgment, therefore, is not arbitrary, but moral. If we lose hold of this principle, we shall see confusion where we might see the order of righteousness. First of all, and last of all, it must be our settled and unalterable conviction that God must do right or He is no longer God. Everything must perish which opposes this law. We are not, however, to look at incomplete cases, and regard them as final criteria by which to test the wisdom and righteousness of the Almighty. In many cases we shall have to repress our impatience, and calmly to wait until fuller light is granted.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) Be cautious with whom you associate, and never give your company or your confidence to persons of whose good principles you are not certain. No person that is an enemy to God can be a friend to man. He that has already proved himself ungrateful to the Author of every blessing, will not scruple, when it will serve his turn, to shake off a fellow-worm like himself. He may render you instrumental to his own purposes, but he will never benefit you. A bad man is a curse to others; as he is secretly, notwithstanding all his boasting and affected gaiety, a burden to himself. Shun him as you would a serpent in your path. Be not seduced by his rank, his wealth, his wit, or his influence. Think of him as already in the grave; think of him as standing before the everlasting God in judgment. This awful reality will instantly strip off all that is now so imposing, and present him in his true light, the object rather of your compassion and of your prayers than of your wonder and imitation.—Bp. Coleridge.
(c) If a man knew that the ship in which he and his family were sailing, and which contained all his property, was leaking day and night, do you suppose he would be careless about it? Would he not be constantly baling out the water lest it should sink the vessel with its precious freight? If a man understood that a spark from the flue of the furnace had set fire to the timber of his dwelling, and that, smothered, it was creeping along and charring the wainscoting and partition, do you suppose he would content himself merely with saying, “I have no doubt that this house is on fire, and that it is dangerous?” Would he not do something? Many men read the Bible, and say, “My dear children, we are all sinful; we are sold in sin; may God lead us out of our sinfulness, and draw us toward Him!” and yet put forth no effort to reform their lives. Meanwhile their sinfulness increases, and envelops them and consumes them. Thousands and thousands of men have died in that way, and been utterly destroyed. If a man is wise, no sooner does he have the slightest intimation that there is fire threatening the destruction of his house and all that are in it, than he calls for men, and sets them to work to put an end to the mischief. And when a man is touched by the Spirit of God, and he is made conscious that the fires of hell are in him, with what earnestness does he enter upon a course of repentance! How does he say, “God have mercy on me. Help me; teach me; lead me!”—H. W. Beecher.
(d) He doth often give warning of judgments, that He might not pour out His wrath. He summons them to a surrender of themselves, and a return from their rebellion, that they might not feel the force of His arms, He offers peace before He shakes off the dust of His feet, that His despised peace might not return in vain to Him to solicit a revenge from His anger. He hath a right to punish the first commission of a crime, but He warns men of what they have deserved, of what His justice moves Him to inflict, that by having recourse to His mercy H, might not exercise the rights of His justice. God threatens Nineveh, by the prophet, with destruction, that Nineveh’s repentance might make’ void the prophecy. He fights with men by the sword of His mouth, that He might not pierce them by the sword of His wrath. He threatens, that men might prevent the execution of His threatening; He terrifies, that He might not destroy, but that men by humiliation might lie prostrate before Him, and move the bowels of His mercy to a louder sound than the voice of His anger. He takes time to whet His sword, that men may turn themselves from the edge of it. He roars like a lion, that men, by hearing His voice, may shelter themselves from being torn by His wrath. There is patience in the sharpest threatening, that we may avoid the scourge. Who can charge God with an eagerness to revenge, that sends so many heralds and so often before He strikes, that He might be prevented from striking? His threatenings have not so much of a black flag as of an olive branch. He lifts up His hand before He strikes that men might see it and avert the stroke (Isaiah 26:11).—Charnocke.
THE DUTY OF SEPARATION FROM THE WICKED
The statement of this duty needs to be very guarded.
This duty is different from the self-righteousness of the Pharisee described by our Lord in Luke 18:11-12. Comp. Isaiah 65:5.
This duty is not binding as regards the legitimate transactions of business with wicked men. “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”
This duty does not preclude association with the wicked with a view to their spiritual good. As followers of Jesus Christ it is our duty to endeavour to turn the wicked from his wickedness.
But it is our duty to avoid all voluntary and friendly association with the openly and defiantly wicked, all such association as may appear to countenance their wickedness. The testimony of the Sacred Scriptures on this question is unmistakable. See Psalms 1:1; Proverbs 1:10-16; Proverbs 4:14-15; Proverbs 9:6; Acts 2:40; 2 Corinthians 6:17-18; Revelation 18:4.
Moreover, our text insists on the thoroughness of this separation. “Touch nothing of theirs” We must separate ourselves from their
(4) customs, &c. In enforcement of this duty consider, that by friendly association with such wicked persons—
I. We countenance them in their sins.
It is the duty of every man to discourage evil; to wage determined and incessant warfare against wickedness; to agree to no truce with the devil. If we would discourage wickedness, we must separate ourselves from notorious evil-doers; we must not allow them any reason to suppose that we consent even by silence to their sins. Comp. 1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:14. (a)
II. We are in peril of being drawn into their sins.
The contagion of their example may take hold upon us. Friendly association with the wicked is full of danger to our own spiritual health. Comp. Isaiah 52:11. Such association also makes us partakers of their sins. Comp. 2 John 1:10-11 (b)
III. We are in peril of the judgment which will fall upon them for their sins.
This was the peril of the congregation about the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They must speedily get away from those tents “lest they be consumed.” This was the peril of Lot in Sodom. “A companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Comp. Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:45; Revelation 18:4.
(a) Every person is most sacredly bound, in times of prevailing degeneracy, to act an open, firm, and decided part in favour of virtue and religion; and resolutely endeavour, by his example, to discountenance vice and impiety in every shape. In an especial manner should he avoid the very appearance of those evils which are most prevalent around him, and practice with double care and diligence those virtues which are most generally neglected and despised.… It has been justly remarked, that when God confers on us the power to do good and repress evil, He lays us under an obligation to exert that power. Agreeably, the Apostle informs us, that to him who knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. Hence it follows that we are accountable for all the good which we might, but have not done; and for all the evil which we might, but have not prevented. By conniving at the sins of others, therefore, we make them our own. If the name of God be profaned, if His holy day be dishonoured, if a fellow-creature by intemperance render his family wretched, spread a snare in the path of his children, destroy his health, and finally plunge himself into eternal ruin, when we, by proper exertions, might have prevented it, a righteous God will not hold us guiltless, nor will rivers of tears, shed in secret over these sins, wash out the guilt thus contracted.—E. Payson D D.
(b) There is but one resource for innocence among men or women, and that is, an embargo upon all commerce of bad men. Bar the window! bolt the door! nor answer their strain, if they charm never so wisely! In no other way can you be safe. So well am I assured of the power of bad men to seduce the erring purity of man, that I pronounce it next to impossible for man or woman to escape, if they permit bad men to approach and dally with them.—H. W. Beecher.
Let no young man or woman go into a social circle where the influences are vicious or hostile to the Christian religion. You will begin by reproving their faults, and end by copying them. Sin is contagious. You go among those who are profane, and you will become profane. You go among those who use impure language, and you will use impure language. Go among those who are given to strong drink, and you will inevitably become an inebriate. There is no exception to the rule. A man is no better than the company he continually keeps. It is always best to keep ourselves under Christian influences. It is not possible, if you mingle in associations positively Christian, not to be made better men or women. The Christian people with whom you associate may not be always talking their religion, but there is something in the moral atmosphere that will be life to your soul. You choose out for your most intimate associates eight or ten Christian people. You mingle in that association; you take their counsel; you are guided by their example, and you live a useful life and die a happy death, and go to a blessed eternity. There is no possibility of mistaking it; there is not an exception in all the universe or ages—not one.—T. de Witt Talmage, D.D.
CHRIST’S DEATH A PROOF OF HIS DIVINITY
We wish simply to take the fact that an uncommon death, a “visitation, which is not after the visitation of all men,” was made a sign or evidence of the Divine mission of Moses. We wish to see whether a precisely similar sign or evidence may not be urged for the Divine mission of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We mean to assert that our blessed Saviour did not “die the common death of all men;” and from and by this very circumstance we strengthen our belief in His having been the Son of God; yea, God as well as man. We wish you to well examine whether there were not powerful indications in the mode in which our Lord and Saviour submitted to His last sufferings, that He did not die as an individual man, but as a sacrifice for the sins of this creation.
Three out of the four Evangelists make express mention of Christ’s crying with a loud voice, immediately before He gave up the ghost. And this loud cry preceding almost instantaneously His decease, produced in the centurion who stood by, the persuasion that Jesus was indeed the Son of God (Mark 15:39). Now let us see what it was which thus wrought on the centurion. There was before him a Being nailed to a cross, dying in a manner as lingering as it was painful. The thing to be expected was that the victim would gradually sink, growing weaker and weaker, until exhausted nature gave way and the soul escaped from the body. Since this mode of executing malefactors was ordinarily so tedious that the legs of the sufferers were broken in order to hasten their dissolution, we must conclude that no crucified person would have naturally died, unless through the slow process of exhaustion, life having ebbed away as though drop by drop, till there was nothing more for the torture to exact. It was therefore quite unnatural that our Lord should have had strength to utter a loud cry at the very moment of the separation of the soul from the body. He showed that there was nothing like an exhaustion of nature; and yet the mode of death was such, that it was only through exhaustion of nature that dissolution could take place. Indeed, we have additional testimony that Christ’s dying as He did might justly be called unnatural, for He died long before those who were crucified with Him—in a time so unusually short, that when Joseph of Arimathea applied for leave to take the body, Pilate marvelled if he were already dead, and would not believe it till he had called the centurion and obtained certain information. Our Lord, though crucified did not die in strict truth through the effects of crucifixion: He did not die, as the thieves did, through any necessity of nature, or because His enemies had been able to reach the citadel of life. And it was the manifest voluntariness of the death of Christ which overcame the centurion. He could not but perceive that, through some mysterious ordinance or prerogative, our Lord had His life entirely in His own keeping; so that in place of being subjected to death, He seemed to have literally the lordship over life. Comp. John 10:17-18. It may sound like a paradox, but it is nevertheless a truth, that death had no power over Christ even when He died. He breathed His last only because choosing to suspend that animation, of which, as Himself alone the author, Himself alone could be the destroyer. And if, then, Christ did not “die the common death of all men,” who can wonder that the centurion was confounded at the spectacle, or that he broke into an exclamation which showed that he felt the Sufferer was something more than a mere man? “Of a truth this Man was the Son of God.”
But now let us take a wider survey, and accompany our Redeemer through the scenes of His agony. We have on other occasions pointed out to you the striking and almost inexplicable contrast between the deportment of Christ, and that of numbers of His followers, as the hour drew nigh of departure from earth. It is a contrast which seems all in favour of the disciple rather than the Master; for whilst there has been tranquility, and even triumph, in those who have been dying in the faith of the Redeemer, there was perturbation and anguish in that Redeemer Himself. The bold defender of truth has gone up to the stake or the scaffold rejoicing in being thought worthy to suffer for his Lord, and cheered by bright glimpses which he caught of immortality. How different was the demeanour of Christ when anticipating death from the hands of His enemies! I see Him casting Himself on the ground, praying that “if it be possible the cup might pass from Him;” &c. I hear Him uttering the most touching and thrilling complaints, as though His spirit were sorely disquieted and actually deserted of God. Yes, Christ is evidently not dying “the common death of all” Christians.
But let us see whether on this very account there be not reason for concluding Him to be God’s own Son. For what are the causes which commonly make death terrible to men? In the first place, to a perfectly righteous individual nothing would make death so terrible as uncertainty with respect to the immortality of the soul. To the good man the thought of annihilation would be utterly insupportable.
But now let us view Christ as nothing more than an eminently righteous man who is about to submit to death to confirm the doctrines which he had taught. Died there ever the man so certified of the great truth of the soul’s immortality? Had He not been Himself the preacher of that truth? (2 Timothy 1:10).… But what are we to say when we behold Him literally overcome with terror, manifesting a perturbation which could not be exceeded if the future were all darkness, or there were even a knowledge that the soul perished with the body? Oh! we can only say that the agony of the Mediator proves Him less than man, or more than man. It is what no mere man, at least no mere Christian man, passing from one world to another, with just his own account to make up and his own pains to undergo, ever had, or could have, to sustain. We think ourselves warranted in calling upon you to apply the reasoning of our text; and to conclude that God had sent Christ as a propitiation for sin, forasmuch as He does not “die the common death of all men;” and is not “visited after the visitation of all men.”
We go on to observe, that however assured a man might be as to the soul’s immortality, he might be harrassed with doubts as to his acceptance with God; and this would necessarily produce a painful shrinking from the act of dissolution. In ordinary cases it is just herein that the distressing thing lies. This is true in the case of the righteous. We cannot be surprised if they are sometimes daunted as they view death at hand.
But now, can you think that there ever lived the man so persuaded of the favour of God, so secure of happiness at death, as Jesus of Nazareth? Had He not been pure in thought, and word, and deed; so that there could be no place for repentance, as there had been none for sin? And was He not thoroughly certain that He was about to enter on a recompense such as had never been awarded to any created being? (Hebrews 12:2). Who then shall meet death composedly—who triumphantly—if not Jesus Christ?.… But how is the expectation answered? That afflicted and agitated Man, prostrated on the ground, trembling and astonished and convulsed—is this the Being who has everything in His favour, and over whom we have felt it impossible that death could exert any terrifying power?.… What account do we give of this? This should make you feel that He must be sustaining some lofty and responsible character—that in the scene which is so counter to expectation. He has to bear some vast burden which that character entails. We contend that the doctrine of the atonement—the doctrine that Christ died as a sin-offering and propitiation for the offences of the world—furnishes the only explanation of the anguish and the horrors of the sufferer.
Blessed be His name! we may meet death with confidence, because He met it in terror; for “by His stripes we are healed.” He took away the sting of death, but it was by bearing that sting in His own soul; He scattered the darkness of the grave, but it was by Himself enduring the eclipse of the face of His Father.—Henry Melville, B.D.
THE EXECUTION OF JUDGMENT
These verses warrant the following observations:—
I. That God vindicates the character of His faithful servants from the misrepresentations by which they may be assailed.
By this stern judgment on the rebels, Jehovah fulfilled the word of His servant Moses, and splendidly vindicated the character and calling of both Moses and Aaron. By it He also honoured the extraordinary confidence which Moses had exercised in Him, in the calm and unshaken declaration which he made that God would manifest in a certain miraculous manner whether He had commissioned him or not. God always honours the faith of His servants; and they may confidently leave the vindication of their character and call to Him. Such vindication may be delayed, but it is certain. Comp. Psalms 37:5-6.
II. That the Divine threatenings are certain of fulfilment.
“And it came to pass, as He had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder under them,” &c. The declarations of His judgment against sin are spoken not merely in terrorem. His threatenings are as true as His promises. If any soul will persist in rebellion against God he will find to his cost that the punishment denounced against sin will be inflicted, (a)
III. That everything in the universe may be employed by God as the instrument of His judgments.
In this history we find that the earth and the forces that are at work within it were the instruments of His judgment upon Dathan and Abiram, and the fire upon Korah and the two hundred and fifty who burnt incense. (b)
IV. That the wicked often involve those who are innocent of their sins in the consequences of such sins.
“The earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods,” &c. (Numbers 16:32-33). Thus these rebels brought destruction upon others. Some of the penalties of sin seldom fall merely upon the sinner. One man sins, and others suffer by reason of his sins. (See notes on this point on pp. 34 and 264.) This fact—
1. Shows the heinousness of sin.
2. Should act as a restraint from sin.
V. That hardened rebels are prone to cry out when the judgment of God falls upon them.
When the judgment of God fell upon them the rebels cried out so lamentably that the people who were round about fled in alarm lest the same judgment should overtake them. A little while ago they were bold and defiant; now they are terror-stricken. “Who may stand in Thy sight when once Thou art angry?”
1. Their cries were selfish. They were the expression of terror, not of repentance.
2. Their cries were too late. They should have cried before, while mercy might have been obtained; but now their cries are utterly in vain. Comp. Proverbs 1:24-31. (c)
VI. That the judgments of God occasion alarm amongst men.
“And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.” “Others’ ruins should be our warnings.” Generally the alarm which is awakened by the Divine judgments speedily passes away (as it did in this case) and leaves no good result. “Law and terrors do but harden.”
Here is very solemn warning to impenitent sinners. “Because there is wrath, beware lest He take these away with His stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee.” (d)
(a) Is God all-mighty, all-mighty? Then do not imagine you can escape His judgments. His lightnings find us out. His sharp spear penetrates our secrecy. You have evaded Him now fifty years, and you think you can do it fifty more. Believe me as speaking the word of the Lord. you cannot. Has the ox that has been driven into the fat pasture escaped the knife? Look at the nob’e animal there. Look at the rich grass or clover, and see the sunshine falling upon the scene, and the ox says, “I am at rest, I have escaped the knife of the slayer,” not knowing that the pasture is on the way to the slaughter-house, and that next to its death stands the rich blessing of its life. There are many oxen that are being prepared for the slaughter when they little think.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) Mark here, how all creatures obey their Creator, and are at His commandment: when God willeth the earth to open her mouth, it openeth: when He willeth it to swallow, it swalloweth up: when He willeth it to close again, it closeth: when He willeth the fire to come down, it cometh: and to consume, it consumeth. The sounding of the rams’ horns threw down the high walls of Jericho at His commandment. The waters of the Red Sea stood still, and Jordan fl d back at His word. The fire could not burn, nor the lions devour when it pleased the Almighty. Acknowledge therefore His infinite power for our instruction; and let us rest upon it in all dangers for our consolation.—Attersoll.
God is not confined to one method of punishment. He toucheth a man’s bones, and they melt; He breathes upon a man’s brain, and henceforth he is not able to think. He comes in at night-time, and shakes the foundations of man’s most trusted towers, and in the morning there is nought but a heap of ruins. He disorganizes men’s memories, and in an instant they confuse all the recollections of their life-time; He touches man’s tongue, and the fluent speaker becomes a stammerer. He breaks the staff in twain, and he who was relying upon it is thrown down in utter helplessness,—Joseph Parker, D.D.
For another illustration on this point see p. 252.
(c) Now these rebels begin to cry, but they cry out and howl when it is too late: they should have cried unto God for mercy and forgiveness while it was time and pardon was offered. Thus no doubt did many men of the old world cry out when they were in the water, but then the acceptable time was past; they should have watered their hearts with the tears of repentance when Noah preached unto them. The Sodomites no doubt cried out when fire and brimstone was come down upon them, but they should have cried to God when He cried to them by Lot whom He sent among them. But then was the time of judgment; the time of mercy was gone and past. So it was with Esau, when he had sold his birthright, and lost his blessing, he cried with a great cry and a bitter, but it was too late. Hebrews 12:17; Genesis 27:38. So did the rich man, being in hell in torments, Luke 16:23; then he called for mercy, but; mercy was departed from him. Here is time and place for mercy, but there is no mercy to be had in hell. The earth is the school of instruction; hell is the house of correction. There the reprobate cry and yell, where is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth, but it is without ease, without end, without profit. They that could shed never a tear to God in this life, shall be constrained to shed abundance of tears in the pit of destruction. The tears of repentance that we pour out ascend up unto heaven, and are kept in a bottle of remembrance; but the arstuat are wrung from the reprobate in hell, are never gathered up, nor regarded of God, and are utterly unprofitable to ourselves. Let it therefore be our wisdom to make use of the time of God’s mercy and patience, and know that there is no place of repentance after this life.—Attersoll.
(d) When the death-thirst is in your throat, what do you think you will do without God? To die in God’s presence, is simply to let life blossom into something better than life; but to die without God must be horrible! You will not want your boon companions then. The drink will not pacify you then. Music will have no charms for you then. The love of a tender and gentle wife can yield you but sorry comfort then. You may have your money bags at your side, but they will not calm your palpitating heart then. You will hear the booming of the waves of the great sea of eternity; you will feel your feet slipping into the dreadful quicksand; you will clutch about for help, but there will be none! Instead thereof invisible hands shall begin to pull you down and down through the dark sea you must descend to those darker depths, where dread despair will be your everlasting heritage.—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE JUDGMENT OF KORAH
A reference to the words of Moses recorded in Numbers 16:29-30, will show that the death of these men was a supernatural event. Moses foretells the exact manner in which it should take place; he calls it “a new thing;” he stakes his Divine commission upon it—“Hereby shall ye know that Jehovah has sent me.” It was new as the dividing of the Red Sea had been new, or the standing still of the sun in after days in obedience to the command of Joshua, and was as miraculous as either of those events God alone could have given such an attestation to the mission of a man; the death of Korah was an emphatic and terrible answer to the charges which had been brought against Moses; and its following so immediately upon his words adds another supernatural element to the event. We may learn from it and from what led to it—
1. That the human character which most approaches perfection, and the most qualified leader of men, may be falsely accused by those to whom he is a blessing. Probably Moses never had a superior either in character or ability, yet to him it was said, “Ye take too much upon you” (Numbers 16:3).
2. It must depend upon the character and not upon the number of the people whether their voice is to be taken as the voice of God. Nearly all Israel, it appears (Numbers 16:21), were with Korah and his associates, yet Moses, although almost alone, had God and right on his side.
3. That God will, sooner or later, vindicate those of His servants who have been falsely accused. False charges have rested upon many for centuries, and at the end of that time the truth has come to light. There is to be a day which shall “declare it” (1 Corinthians 3:13). The Son of God lived and died under false accusation, but He was vindicated by His resurrection; and when He shall be revealed from heaven “with ten thousands of His saints” (Jude 1:14), He will bring to light men’s hidden motives, and make manifest the counsels of the heart.—From “Outlines of Sermons on the Miracles and Parables of the Old Testament.”
A MEMORIAL OF JUDGMENT
These verses teach the following important truths:—
I. That things appropriated to religious uses should be reverently regarded.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, speak unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, that he take up the censers out of the burning; for they are hallowed … for they offered them before the Lord; therefore they are hallowed.” Comp. Leviticus 27:28. For notes and an illustration on this point, see pp. 56, 57. (a)
II. That the designs and doings of wicked men are overruled by God for the accomplishment of His purposes.
“The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar.” In this way “God’s altar was protected by the means which had been used to violate its sanctity.” “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee.” We have a striking illustration of this in the sins of Joseph’s brethren, and the way in which they were used by God for the carrying out of His gracious designs. Comp. Genesis 1:20.
III. That he who Sins against God injures himself.
“These sinners against their own souls,” or, “against their own lives.” By sin man injures himself physically. When the laws of health are violated disease and misery follow. By sin man injures himself morally. Sin blunts the spiritual sensibilities, stifles the aspirations, and quenches the hopes of the soul, &c. “He that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul.” “Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.” (b)
IV. That the judgments of God should be remembered and heeded.
These broad plates for a covering of the altar were to “be a sign unto the children of Israel.… a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah, and as his company.” Man is prone to think that he may sin, and escape the punishment of his sin, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence against such a notion; hence the importance of memorials such as this. The sternest judgments of God are speedily lost sight of by those who most need to keep them in mind; therefore this memorial was fitted to answer a useful end in reminding the people of this judgment, and so deterring them from sin. “All these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition.” “Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
Seeing that God is so concerned to guard us against sin, it surely behaves us to flee from it as from our worst foe.
(a) The Christian dispensation, although it is a dispensation of universality, and bases all its promises and sanctions upon the fact of spiritual service, has not annulled the seemly and the sacred in connection with the worship of God. The false pride of Gerizim is humbled by its superior light. The haughtiness which would build an exclusive altar at Jerusalem is rebuked by every word of its inspired lips. It proclaims that everywhere where need compels, and where hearts prompt, and where the wealth of love constrains the offering, man may build a temple and look for acceptance and blessing. But it nowhere approves the idea that all places are equally sacred, or that God has ceased to visit Zion, and to dwell in its tabernacles with His manifestations of peculiar regard. There is a sentimental devotion that has become very fashionable now-a-days, a sort of spurious spirituality, minced out commonly from the lips of most unspiritual people—a kind of domestic pantheism, whose flame of devotion is too subtle to be kindled in houses made with hands. They tell us—and it is true—that the heart which God has touched will find Him every where, in every gracious prodigality of nature, and in every bounteous ministry of life; that to His tuned spirit the wild heatherbells sing Sabbath knells. Well, it is true; but it is true also—a profounder truth in theory and a commoner experience in fact—that God has special honour’s for the places that are devoted to His worship; and it is true, too, that the spirit tuned to the music of the sanctuary is the keenest in its recognition of those tremulous airs of worship-song which are floating all the universe around.—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.
(b) You have heard of the Spartan youth who concealed a stolen fox under his garment, and although it was eating into his bowels, he would not show it, and therefore died through the creature’s bites. You are of that sort, sinner; you are carrying sin in your bosom, and it is eating out your heart. God knows what it is, and you know what it is. Now, you cannot keep it there and be unbitten, undestroyed. Why keep it there? Oh, cry to God with a vehement cry, God save me from my sin! Oh, bring me, even me, to the foot of Thy Son’s cross, and forgive me, and then crucify my sin, for I see clearly now that sin must perish or I must.—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE COVERING OF THE ALTAR, AND ITS TEACHINGS
Let us inquire what these plates on the altar would teach the people.
I. How futile it is for any one to oppose God, and how God can make the opposition of men helpful to His cause.
How easily God brings down the pride of man! No weapon that is formed against Him can prosper. (Job 9:4.) “He is wise”—man cannot outwit Him: “He is mighty in strength”—man cannot overcome Him. To oppose Him is only to place thorns and briers before a consuming fire: the attempt is foolish, fruitless, and destructive. Angels rebelled, and it was their ruin. Pharaoh opposed God, and he was destroyed. It was the same with the people in the Wilderness. These plates would be lasting witnesses of the madness and the futility of opposing God.
Further, they teach that God can make use of the very opposition, and turn whet was meant to be destructive to be helpful to His cause. These censers were designed to be rivals to those of Aaron; the avowed object of the rebels was to take the priesthood from the family of Aaron and to make the altar common property. What did God do? He caused these very censers to be made into plates for a covering of the altar, so as to preserve it from the action of the fire that was ever burning on it. God permits evil, but He ever controls it (Psalms 76:10). We should never tremble for the success of God’s work. As a matter of fact no opposition has ever hurt His work. “The blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the Church.” In all history we see Him working out His own wise, great, and good purposes from the tangled web of human life.
II. That God wishes one age to learn from another.
His treatment of men is not only punitive, but educational. These plates were for a memorial; they were to “be a sign,” &c. God did not want the event to be forgotten. He teaches us through human life. The Bible to a great extent is made up of biography—brief records of human lives. God shows us how one prospers, and where another fails; and He means one age to learn from another. The wrecks we meet with in society, by drunkenness, gambling and other sins (as with these plates), God holds them up to “be a sign unto” us.
III. That sacred things must be treated reverently.
“They offered them before the Lord, therefore they are hallowed.” God was then teaching the people by practical illustrations, and not by the mere announcing of principles. Thus here He taught them and us the importance of dealing reverently with sacred things. There is need of this lesson in the present day; for there is a tendency to “pooh pooh” many things which our fathers held sacred. Human reason is enthroned: Divine things are brought to its bar, and are very freely and irreverently handled. It is so in respect of the Bible, the Lord’s day, the fundamental truths of Christianity, &c. “Hands off” these sacred things! they are hallowed to the Lord; let us not treat them as if they were ordinary things.
IV. That the sinner ever injures himself.
God speaks of these men as “sinners against their own souls,” or lives. They had brought ruin on themselves. These plates would teach the people that “the way of transgressors is hard,” and “the soul that sinneth it shall die,” and “he that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul.” Sin robs God, does harm to others, but it ruins none but the doer of it. Every sin of man is a wrong to his own nature: we see it so physically, mentally, and morally. Every sin is a transgression of some law, and the broken law insists on its penalty. Sin hardens the soul, deprives it of good, alienates it from God, defiles it, shuts it from heaven, makes it only fit for hell, and exposes it to the eternal curse. Through these plates God cries to the sinful, “Do thyself no harm.”
1. What folly is a life of sin! The Biblical definition of a sinner is—a Fool.
2. To obey God and to please Him is true wisdom. He ever seeks our good, knows what is best for us, so in obeying Him we do ourselves the greatest possible good.—David Lloyd.
THE AGGRAVATED REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE, THE EFFECTUAL INTERCESSION OF THE GOOD, AND THE JUSTICE AND MERCY OF GOD
I. The aggravated rebellion of the people
“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.” In this fresh outbreak of rebellion we have—
1. Terrible disregard of Divine warnings. These people had witnessed judgment after judgment because of rebellion; only yesterday they had seen Dathan and Abiram swallowed up by earthquake, and Korah and his company consumed by fire from the Lord, yet today they break out into rebellion again. Warnings seem to be utterly lost upon them. “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck,” &c. (Proverbs 29:1).
2. Base ingratitude to Moses and Aaron. “They murmured against Moses and against Aaron,” &c. It seems as if the people believed “that Moses and Aaron had used some cunning in this business, and that the earthquake and fire were artificial; else, had they discerned the hand of God in this punishment, could they have dared the anger of the Lord in the very face of justice?” Their charge against Moses and Aaron was utterly unjust and basely ungrateful. It was owing to the intercession of these holy men (Numbers 16:22) that the whole congregation was not consumed; yet, &c.
3. Profane characterization of the wicked as the people of God They speak of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their confederates, as “the people of the Lord.” Thus they justify the ungodly; they canonise the most stout hearted rebels as saints of the Lord. This rebellion seems to us the worst which has arisen in the history of this rebellious people. The time of its occurrence—immediately after most awful judgments; the form which it assumed, this malicious charge against Moses and Aaron; and its reason, their sympathy with hardened rebels whom God had destroyed, render this rebellion one of fearful aggravations How powerless are the sternest judgments to change men’s sinful hearts, or effectually to restrain from sin! Only the grace of God can do this.
II. The speedy interposition 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 the Lord appeared,” &c. (Numbers 16:42-45). Thus God interposes by:—
1. The manifestation of His glory. “The cloud covered the tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord appeared.” “As the cloud rested continually above the tabernacle during the time of encampment (Numbers 9:18 sqq.; Exodus 40:38), we must suppose that at this time the cloud covered it in a fuller and much more conspicuous sense, just as it had done when the tabernacle was first erected (Numbers 9:15; Exodus 40:34), and that at the same time the glory of God burst forth from the dark cloud in a miraculous splendour.”—Keil and Del. This was done for—
(1) A security to His servants.
(2) A check to the rebeis.
2. The declaration of the desert of the rebels. “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment.” Had they been so consumed, who could have questioned the righteousness of their doom?
III. The effectual intercession of Moses and Aaron.
When God spake to Moses about consuming the congregation, he and Aaron “fell upon their faces” in humble and earnest prayer to Him for the guilty people. Moses discovered that the plague had begun; he directed Aaron to “take a censer and put fire therein from off the altar,” &c. (Numbers 16:46-48). Notice here:—
1. The kindness of Moses and Aaron. The congregation had risen up in rebellion against them; this plague was the punishment inflicted by God because of the rebellion; yet Moses and Aaron entreated God to spare the rebellious people. Freely they forgive them. Their conduct reminds us of Him who prayed, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (a)
2. The courage of Aaron. He feared neither the excited people who were embittered against him, nor the pestilence which was smiting down the people by thousands; but “ran into the midst of the congregation,” &c.
3. The zeal of Aaron. He was now an old man, yet he “ran into the midst,” &c. An example for Christian ministers.
4. The success of Aaron. “The plague was stayed.” His intercession was accepted by God, and it availed to arrest the advance of the pestilence. In this we have very striking confirmation of his priesthood. “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.”
How great is the power of prayer! (James 5:16-18). (b)
If God thus respected the sacrifice and intercession of Aaron, how great must be the efficacy of the sacrifice and intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ!
IV. The exercise of the justice and mercy of God.
1. Here is an impressive display of Divine justice. “They that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred.” (c)
2. Here is an encouraging manifestation of Divine mercy. Notwithstanding the aggravated and oft-repeated provocations of the people, they were not all destroyed. It was of the Lord’s mercies that they were not all consumed. (d)
1. The heinousness of sin.
2. The great value of a faithful ministry.
3. The readiness of God to forgive sin.
(a) A forgiving spirit is a noble, generous Christian virtue. It takes its rise in that love of God and man which is the fruit of the Spirit and the fulfilling of the law; it is made up of love and forbearance, united with the tenderness of compassion towards those who have injured us, and fortified by some just sense of our own sinfulness and need of forgiveness from God. In the full sense of the thing itself, it consists of the inward spirit of forgiveness and the outward act of reconciliation. It belongs to the heart, just as every other grace has its seat in the inner man. In this view of it, it is the opposite of revenge, which angrily seeks redress for injuries by inflicting injuries in return. It is the inward exercise of kindness and goodwill towards our enemies and those who have wronged us. It is an abhorrence of their wrong, yet a kind regard for the wrongdoer. It cannot be genuine unless it be accompanied by these benevolent emotions, and at a great remove from all bitterness and wrath. God requires that we forgive from the heart. This inward spirit ought to be always in exercise, whatsoever may be the character of those who have injured us, and whatever their present and future conduct. We may feel benevolently towards them, without at all committing ourselves in favour of their conduct or character. They may repeat the injury they have done us every day of their lives, but this does not warrant in us the spirit of malignity or unkindness. We should love them still, and do them good as we have opportunity.—Gardiner Spring, D.D.
(b) The conduct of the eminent and justly celebrated Francke, in the establishment of the hospital and school for the poor, at Halle, near Glaucha, in Saxony, is well known. Having no permanent funds to meet the expenses, it may be easily supposed that the good man would be frequently reduced to great difficulties; at such times the interpositions of the Providence of God were truly remarkable. About Easter, 1696, he knew not where to obtain money for the expenses of the ensuing week; but when their food was reduced to the very last morsel, one thousand crowns were contributed by some entirely unknown person. At another time, all their provisions were exhausted, and the good minister wisely presented his requests to the God of mercy, who careth even for the ravens when they cry. When prayer was over, just as he was taking his seat, a friend from a distance arrived with fifty crowns, which was shortly followed by twenty more. At another period, the workmen wanted thirty crowns, when he remarked that he had no money, but that he trusted in God; scarcely had he uttered the sentence, when, in this moment of necessity, the precise sum arrived. “Another time,” says Francke, “all our provision was spent; but in addressing myself to the Lord, I found myself deeply affected with the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us this day our daily bread;’ and my thoughts were fixed in a more special manner upon the words ‘this day,’ because on the very same day we had great occasion for it. While I was yet praying, a friend of mine came before my door in a coach, and brought the sum of four hundred crowns.”—R. Arvine, A M.
(c) Goodness may punish; nay, it must punish the ill-deserving. A good law punishes; a good judge punishes; and the more certainly because they are good. However inclined to forgive the Divine Lawgiver may be, and however strongly moved to acts of mercy by the tenderness of His own kind nature, justice has claims as well as clemency and compassion. And what shall countervail these righteous demands? Reason cannot; conscience dare not. The whole history of the Divine government is proof that sin cannot go unpunished. The nature of the Deity forbids it; because He is just and righteous as well as good and kind. His law forbids it, and stands forth a pledge to the universe that it knows no such thing as impunity for crime. It is essential to the character of God as Law-giver, that wherever the claims of the law are violated. His authority be enforced by the infliction of its penalty; otherwise it is no longer law, and He no longer Lawgiver.—Gardiner Spring. D D.
(d) The Scriptures everywhere magnify the mercy of God, and speak of it with all possible advantage, as if the Divine nature, which does in all perfections excel every other thing, did in this perfection excel itself. And of this we have a farther conviction, if we but lift up our eyes to God, and then, turning them upon ourselves, begin to consider how many evils and miseries that every day we are exposed to, by His preventing mercy are hindered, or, when they were coming upon us, stopped or turned another way. How oft our punishment has He deferred by His forbearing mercy; or, when it was necessary for our chastisement, mitigated and made light! How oft we have been supported in our afflictions by His comforting mercy, and visited with the light of His countenance, in the exigencies of our soul, and the gloominess of despair! How oft we have been supplied by His relieving mercy in our wants, and, when there was no hand to succour, and no soul to pity us, His arm has been stretched out to lift us from the mire and clay, and, by a providential train of events, brought about our sustenance and support! And, above all, how daily, how hourly, how minutely we offend against Him; and yet, by the power of His pardoning mercy, we are still alive! For, considering the multitude and heinousness of our provocations, “it is of His mercy alone that we are not consumed, and because His compassions fail not. Who so is wise will ponder these things, and He will understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.”—Archbishop Tillotson.
THE SIN OF MAN AND THE SALVATION OF GOD
“Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Israel’s judgments were recorded for our warning; Israel’s mercies, for our encouragement. What Israel was, we are; what Israel suffered, we deserve; what Israel enjoyed, in the way of mercy, we may hope for.
The principle of all this is very plain. Human beings placed in the same circumstances act very much in the same manner. They have the same hopes and the same fears, they display the same obduracy and the same guilt; and they can only be saved in the same mysterious manner. And, accordingly, God’s methods of grace towards them are essentially the same in all ages. The censer and the incense and the atonement of Aaron may fitly remind us of the work and intercession of our great High Priest.
I. There is an awful controversy between a holy God and a rebellious world.
“There is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” A sentence of death has been passed upon every soul of man. Many have already perished, &c. The world some of us deem so fair and happy, is nothing better than the camp of Israel;—a scene of mercy, it is true; but yet a scene of misery, terror, and death. Our sin resembles theirs in many aspects, and has the same aggravations.
1. As it directly strikes against the authority and the grace of God, whatever be the form it assumes. Israel professedly murmured against Moses and Aaron, but God viewed it as rebellion against Himself. How different often is sin from what sin appears. “Ye have killed the people of the Lord;” but it was not Moses that killed them, but God Himself.… God struck a blow which no human arm could have inflicted to punish them for their murmurings, and in a moment fourteen thousand and seven hundred die of the plague by His omnipotent hand.
Learn that all sin, whatever form it assumes, is in reality committed against God. When the undutiful child rises against his parent, he rebels against God. When we complain of our circumstances and lot in life, we rebel against God. When we refuse the messages of His mercy, and neglect the great salvation, we rebel against God If the office of Moses and Aaron were so much to be regarded, how much more the work and office of God’s beloved Son! Comp. Hebrews 12:25.
Often when we complain of second causes in our afflictions we sin against God. We must take heed how we push God out of His own world. He will be acknowledged in our afflictions as well as in our mercies. Comp. Job 36:24. Israel failed here. In reality they justified Korah and his companions in their rebellion, and secretly condemned the judgment of God against them as severe and harsh. But God will be justified when He speaks, and be clear when He judges. He will be acknowledged in the judgments that desolate our families and wring our souls with anguish, as in the mercies which yield unmixed gladness and delight.
2. As it is often committed in the face of frequent and awful warnings. Many deem it hard to believe this obduracy of Israel, and would think it almost too bad to be true. But the man who knows himself believes it all. Which of us has not despised His warnings, trembling one day at His judgments and making light of them the next? in the hour of sickness binding ourselves by solemn vows to His service, and upon the return of health rising to greater heights of iniquity than before?
3. As it is heightened by the experience of God’s preserving and upholding mercy.
II. There is at hand a prescribed and Divinely approved remedy.
When wrath was gone out from God, Moses was quick-sighted to discern it, and as prompt to apply the remedy. Yet observe, Moses does not take upon him this reconciliation; he calls upon Aaron to do so. I know not which to admire more, the courage or the mercy of Aaron.
1. That our only escape from threatened wrath is through the mediation and advocacy of our High Priest. As the trembling Israelites found in Aaron an interposer and deliverer, so may we find in Christ a Saviour.
2. That the plan of Salvation by Faith is as efficacious in reality as it is simple in its mode of application.
3. That an immediate application to it is our only protection against certain ruin. “Go quickly.”—The late Samuel Thodey.
AN AWFUL PLAGUE AND A SURPRISING REMEDY
The solemn duties devolving upon the ministers of religion can never be too deeply contemplated by themselves, or too seriously considered by their hearers. It is of consequence to us, that we may clearly apprehend our duty; of consequence to them, that by estimating our responsibility they may judge of their own. If both speakers and hearers could see things now as they must see them very soon, when Death has done his office, when the trumpet shall sound, and the books be opened, and the retributions of eternity shall take place, what a change would be produced both in our ministrations and in your worship. (a)
A very noble spirit displayed by Moses and Aaron. They had been deeply injured, yet, &c.
I. An awful spectacle exhibited.
“There is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun.” It was awful in itself—awful in its causes—its concomitants—its issues; for after death, the judgment. Awful to see the thousands of Israel in high rebellion against God, to see the countenance maddened with rage, suddenly smitten with disease, then convulsed with anguish, then numbered with the dead.
It was the more awful, as it was not a cursory thing following in the ordinary course of events, but it was a direct judgment immediately following the sin—a fearful visitation tremendously signalising the most hardened and obdurate sinners. What a circle is here of sins and judgments! because the people rose up against Moses and Aaron, therefore God consumed them; and because God consumed them, therefore they rose up against Moses and Aaron; and now their third rebellion draws down a more awful visitation. “Though hand join in hand,” &c.
O what has sin done! It has turned angels into demons, man into an heir of wrath, Paradise into a wilderness, &c. Other evils are limited—the destructive forces of nature, the earthquake, the volcano, the deluge, the wide-wasting conflagration, know their bound; they have their period and their issue and their appointed range; but sin has none; it lays waste not here and there a country, but a world. The pestilence fastened only upon the body, and after that had no more that it could do; but sin destroys the soul, by separating it from the Source of Life—nay, it casts both soul and body into hell.
Mark one impressive circumstance. Moses marks the wrath in its very commencement, sees the beginnings of the pestilence, when no other man discerns or suspects it, even as the physician sees disease in what appears to be the ripe bloom of health, or the veteran sailor marks the prelude of the storm before the heavens have lost their brightness. Moses had heard the word of God in the Tabernacle, &c. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” &c.
There are signs in the moral world of the commencement of evil, and the going forth of wrath, which the wise observer cannot mistake. “The plague is begun.” When the man first restrains prayer—when the spirit of the world creeps into the mind of Christians—when they begin to lessen their fear of sin, and to compromise principle, to seek a more accommodating system of religion, to lengthen the creed and shorten the Decalogue—when private prayer is a task, and the minor moralities of life begin to be disregarded—there are fearful symptoms of decay and declension. “The plague is begun.”
II. The surprising remedy found.
“Take a censer,” &c. Where is the physician who would have recommended this as a cure for the plague? Who would have thought that the appearance of a single priest amidst the dying and the dead should have stopped the progress of the pestilence? Yet the incense and the fire and the oblation accomplish that for Israel which all the wisdom of the Egyptians could never have achieved. Who does not, in like manner, rebel against God’s appointed method of pardon? or question the mysterious virtue of Christ’s atoning blood, and doubt the efficacy of faith, repentance, and prayer? Who does not say with Naaman, “Are not Abana and Pharpar” &c.?
Mark the promptitude and self-votion of Aaron. He does not pause, does not cavil at the insufficiency of the means, but thrusts himself into the post of danger. He stands boldly between the living and the dead, as one who will either die with them or have them live with him. Type of Him who on Calvary said, “Father forgive them.” How promptly He came!
Mark the principles illustrated. There is no cure for the evils which sin has introduced but by a sacrifice of atonement. “Without shedding of blood,” &c. And as a new offering could not be presented, he was to take the fire from the altar, the ashes of the morning sacrifice, and put incense upon that in the golden censer. If Aaron’s sacrifice be thus accepted, how much more the offering of the great High Priest? “If the blood of bulls and of goats,” &c. (Hebrews 9:13-14.)
But it is not enough that the sacrifice be presented, but prayer must be offered. Beautiful to see, wherever Aaron moved, Death retire and Hope revive. More so to see the spiritually dead quickened (Ephesians 2:4-6).
III. A practical application demanded.
1. What infinite solemnity attaches to all the offices of religion. Death and life are involved. The two hundred and fifty men that offered incense perished: their spirit was bad. What if we bring strange fire! Aaron’s offering saves life. If awful to preach, so also to hear.
2. How dreadful if the plague be in the heart, and we, unconscious of danger, neglect the remedy. “Examine yourselves.”
3. What need ministers have for the prayers and sympathies of their people. The whole camp looks to Moses and Aaron. We have all the infirmities of which you complain; we are exposed to the infection. &c.
4. Rejoice in the absolute sufficiency of salvation applied by the Spirit.—Samuel Thodey.
(a) I know not what others think of these concerns, but for my own part I am ashamed of my insensibility, and wonder at myself that I deal no more with my own and other men’s souls as becomes one who looks for the great day of the Lord. I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smites me that I have not been more serious and fervent. It is no trifling matter to stand up in the face of a congregation and deliver a message of salvation or damnation as from the living God in the name of the Redeemer: it is no easy thing to speak so plainly that the most ignorant may understand; so seriously that the deadest heart may feel; and so convincingly that contradictory cavillers may be silenced and awakened.—Richard Baxter.
THE HIGH PRIEST STANDING BETWEEN THE DEAD AND THE LIVING
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 man who “like sheep have gone astray, and have turned every one to his own way.”
I. Look at Aaron as the lover of the people.
In this case he was the aggrieved party. The clamour was made against Moses and against Aaron, yet it was Moses and Aaron who interceded and saved the people. The old man with generous love hastened into the midst of the people, &c. Is not this the very picture of our Lord Jesus? Had not sin dishonoured Him? &c. Yet He becomes the Saviour of His people.
“Down from the shining seats above, With joyful haste He fled,” &c.
Aaron in thus coming forward as the deliverer and lover of the people, must have remembered that he was abhorred by this very people. They were seeking his blood, &c. But into the midst of their crowd he boldly springs (comp. John 1:11). 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, &c.
Again, Aaron might have said, “But the Lord will surely destroy me also with the people; if I go where shafts of death are flying they will reach me.” He exposes his own person in the very forefront of the destroying one.… The plague which Jesus kept from us slew Him. “The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.”
Aaron deserves much commendation from the fact that he ran into the host. 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. And was it not so with Christ?.… While I look with admiration upon Aaron, I must look with adoration upon Christ.
II. View Aaron as the great propitiator.
Wrath had gone out from God against the people on account of their sin, &c.
Aaron as the Propitiator is to be looked at as bearing in his censer that which was necessary for the propitiation. Even though God’s high priest, he must take the censer, &c. Behold the Great High Priest! His incense consists first of His positive obedience to the Divine law. Then mixed with this is His blood, &c. Our faith is fixed on perfect righteousness and complete atonement.
Besides that, Aaron 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, &c. Comp. Hebrews 5:4-10. None but Jesus; all other priests and offerings we disdain.
We must look upon Aaron as being ready for his work. The people were ready to perish, and he was ready to save. Oh, my hearer, Jesus Christ stands ready to save thee now. Trust Him.
III. View Aaron as the interposer.
The old Westminster Annotations say upon this passage, “The plague was moving among the people as the fire moveth along a field of corn.” Aaron wisely puts himself just in the pathway of the plague, interposing himself between the darts of death and the people. Just so was it with Christ. Wrath had gone out against us. “The stripes must fall on Me,” He cries. There is nothing between me and hell save Christ. But He is enough. There is nothing which can save the soul of man, save Jesus Christ standing between that soul and the just judgment of God.
IV. View Aaron as the saviour.
It was Aaron, Aaron’s censer, that saved the lives of that great multitude. Aaron, and especially the Lord Jesus, must be looked upon as a gracious Saviour. It was nothing but love that moved Aaron, &c. If Christ hath saved us He is a gracious Saviour indeed. There is nothing in any man to commend him to God, &c.
Aaron was an unaided saviour. He stands alone! And herein is he a great type of Christ, who could say, “I have trodden the winepress alone,” &c. “There is none other name under heaven,” &c.
Aaron as a saviour was all-sufficient. Christ is an all-sufficient Saviour, able to save; you cannot save yourself, but He can save you. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool,” &c.
V. Aaron as the divider.
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.… 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. On which side, then, art thou to-day?
As Christ is the great divider now, so will He be in the day of judgment. He shall divide them the one from the other, &c. Oh! on which side shall I be when all these transitory things are done away with? &c.—C. H. Spurgeon.
AARON STAYING THE PLAGUE
Open with a brief account of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and the awful punishment which befel them from God. The people on the next day as rebellious as before. The plague begun. Aaron’s intercession;—
I. The willingness of Aaron to intercede.
He “ran into the midst,” &c., though at this time of great age, above one hundred years. And this willingness will be more manifest, if we observe that he was—
1. Regardless of the plague; he feared not the contagion.
2. Regardless of the people’s enmity; he dreaded not their malice; and forgave the injuries they had done him.
Show how in these respects Aaron was an eminent type of the Lord Jesus. The plague of sin had laid hold of our race; yet see the willingness of Jesus to come (Psalms 40:7). “Lo, I come.”
1. He shrank not from us because of our pollution (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 2:14-17). Nay, He took upon Him our curse (Galatians 3:13; Isaiah 53:0). Our guilt and perishing condition that which moved His compassion.
2. He did not abandon His work because of our enmity, but though continually despised, rejected, &c., endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself (Hebrews 12:2-3; Romans 15:3), and would not be turned from His purpose of love.
II. The nature of Aaron’s intercession.
He took fire from the altar of burnt offering, where the fire was always burning; and he put incense upon the fire, that a sweet savour of atonement might ascend to God. So Jesus offers the sacrifice of His own most precious blood, and perfumes it with the incense of His all-sufficient merit. The sacrifice of Jesus ever new; the fire always burning. Jesus interposes between the wrath of God and the perishing sinner. “Father forgive them,” &c. “He made intercession for the transgressors.” Enlarge upon the intercession of Jesus,—its constancy, its freeness—spontaneous.
III. The success of Aaron’s intercession.
Aaron’s incense more powerful to procure pardon, than the people’s guilt to call down punishment. The Lord smelled a sweet savour, and turned away His wrathful indignation.
Observe, the plague was stayed. Aaron did not give over interceding until the plague had ceased. So Jesus will never give over interceding for a penitent believer, until the plague of sin is perfectly done away. And will never give over interceding for His Church, until every member of it has entered glory.
1. Let us tremble at the wrath of an offended God. Address the sinner. “Who can stand before this HOLY LORD GOD?” What wilt thou do in the day of visitation? No intercessor then.
2. Let us rejoice in the intercession of our Great High Priest. What need we any other mediators besides Him? Look at Korah and his company; were their intercessions received? And why not? They were not the appointed mediators. Why, then, go to saints and angels—the Virgin Mary?—J. D. Lane, M.A.
THE PLAGUE STAYED
I. The evil.
Murmuring against God. Dissatisfaction with God—His government, &c. Now this is the essence of all sin. Holiness is harmony—agreement with God. Sin, disagreement and murmuring. So it was with the first sin, and every sin since. This leads to irreverence, complaining, and audacious presumption. How these abound—
1. In profane swearing,—horrid imprecations.
2. In Sabbath profanation. Counted as no sin.
3. In gross intemperance.
4. In general profligacy.
5. In scepticism. Denying God’s government, &c.
6. In recklessness—amidst Divine judgments.
What a sight for a holy God to behold! I come back to the first idea:—All sin is contrariety to God—dissatisfaction with God; and hence, rebellion against His government.
II. The punishment.
1. Divine. God did it. No magistrate. No human pain or penalty. God immediately did it. Often sin mediately is its own punishment; but sometimes direct, &c.
2. It was by the plague. We do not know precisely what it was. Some sudden disease, which swept all before it. It was, however, evidently—
(1) Fatal. Destroyed life.
(2) Speedily so. Like a blast of wind, &c.
(3) Invariably so. No one knew of a remedy.
How analogous is the nature and effect of sin!
(1) Sin is the disease of the soul.
(2) It is deadly in three senses—temporal, spiritual, and eternal.
(3) There is for it no human remedy. All human skill, &c. failed.
III. The remedy.
1. In itself, not apparently adapted. Doubtless, the air was charged with death. But the incense was not possibly adapted to decompose, and change, and purify.
2. It was connected with pious intercession. In which there was confession of sin, admission of the justice of God, and the Divine mercy was implored. It was a direct appeal to God.
3. It was intercession grounded on sacrifice. By the priest, in view of the victims presented to God.
4. It was efficient. Completely. At once.
Let us now turn to the great remedy for sin. It is,
(1) Not what human philosophy would have recommended.
(2) It is essentially connected with the priestly work of Christ. His obedience, sacrifice, resurrection, ascension, intercession.
(3) It is effectual. The curse removed, wrath averted, mercy published, life offered. None need now die, no, not one. The connecting link between a guilty world and the remedy is, on God’s part, the preaching of the Word; on our part, believing the Word so preached; by which repentance, humiliation of soul, and devotedness to God, are secured. Learn,—
1. The extreme evil of sin.
2. The riches of the grace of God.
3. The immediate duty of the sinner; to call earnestly on the Lord.—Jabes Burns, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26