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This is a most interesting Chapter, not merely as an historical relation of man's rebellion and GOD'S awful judgments following, but principally as herein we behold as glorious a representation, typically considered, as perhaps the Old Testament scripture contains of JESUS, represented by Aaron exercising his priestly office of intercessor, and by his person and righteousness making atonement for the sins of his people. In the perusal of this Chapter throughout, let the Reader remember our motto, Moses wrote of JESUS. The Chapter contains the rebellion of Korah and his company, in contending for the priesthood: the awful inference of GOD: the dreadful visitation on the rebels, by the LORD'S doing a new thing and causing the earth to open her mouth and swallow up the insurgents; and by fire at the same time consuming those that had dared to take upon them the priestly office of burning incense. The Chapter further relates, that these judgments having tended to harden the minds of the rebels, and their ill-conduct breaking out afresh, the LORD smote them by pestilence. Aaron is commanded by Moses to offer incense for the people until the plague was stayed.
Korah was head of a family as well as Dathan and Abiram; and as they were joined by no less than 250 princes of the assembly of the highest order of the people, the rebellion became of consequence the more formidable. Alas! in the rebellions of our nature against the LORD and his righteous government, how often do we discover or may discover, that our highest faculties are engaged on the side of sin. The prophet was commissioned by the HOLY GHOST to sketch the character of the church, in this prostitution of divine gifts to the very reverse of what they ought to have been dedicated to, when she ascribed to the gift of her sinful lovers and not to the LORD her husband, her water, and wool, and flax, and oil, and drink. See the prophet's account of it: Hosea 2:5-8 .
What an awful state must that mind be given up to, that in the very moment of daring sin fancies itself holy! JESUS describes the church of Laodicea in this dreadfully deluded state, as counting herself to be rich and needing nothing, when in reality she was wretchedly poor and miserable before GOD. Oh! how exceedingly is it to be feared, that many, very many professing churches of our day are in this awful state! Revelation 3:14-17 .
What a convincing view at once was this of Moses' mind! So LORD, let me fall before thy throne of grace, whenever Satan accuseth or the reproaches of the ungodly make me afraid. If the Reader would improve this subject, he may learn under the divine teachings, a sweet lesson suited in Psalms 31:0 .
It should seem that there is somewhat more of doctrine in this subject, than at first view might be supposed. If the congregation be everyone of them holy they need no Mediator. And if they need no Mediator then might each approach in his own righteousness. Moses therefore refers this decision to the LORD, and calls upon Korah and his company to do the same. It is as if he had said, Make the experiment and do you take the censers of your own righteousness, instead of that appointed by the LORD your GOD. Pause, my soul, over this state of the case. Ask yourself whether you would venture to draw nigh in this manner. What a beautiful view doth the subject at once seem to open to us of the preciousness of JESUS, whom Aaron typified? For, let it never be once forgotten through the whole of the Levitical dispensation, Aaron, in all he did and all he represented, was called of GOD to the service; and it was this appointment which alone gave efficacy to his ministration. Hebrews 5:4 .
I humbly conceive in this expostulation of Moses, and his mention of Aaron in so humiliating a manner, What is Aaron that you murmur against him? that the man of GOD pointed thereby to the infirmity of the man, as if to convince them that the acceptance of Aaron could not be for anything in himself, but must have arisen wholly from the LORD'S own pleasure. I do not presume to say, that Moses saw so much of gospel in the appointment of Aaron to the priesthood, that he beheld JESUS as typified and represented in every rite and ceremony Aaron ministered in. But I do venture to believe that Moses saw enough in the dispensation, to discover that Aaron never was or could be accepted for himself and for the people, in consequence of any merit or righteousness of his own. What is Aaron, that ye murmur against him? As if he had said, is not this the same Aaron that transgressed, in the instance of the golden calf? Exodus 32:1-6 .
It is astonishing to observe in the daring confidence of sinners, how they sacrifice truth to resentment. What a perversity must there have been in the minds of these men, to talk of being brought up out of the bondage of Egypt, as the being taken from a land flowing with milk and honey.-But pause, my soul, and consider whether there is not cause enough for thee to take shame to thyself, in the recollection how often thou hast preferred the slavery of sin to the freedom of salvation by JESUS. Oh! for more of that spirit of faith which was in Moses, who esteemed the reproach of CHRIST greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. Hebrews 11:25-26 .
Reader! Behold in the instance of Moses, and his meekness for the moment forsaking him, the weakness of poor human nature universally. It was thou only, dearest JESUS! that couldst exercise mercy unrestrained, when in that hour of unequalled suffering on the cross, thou didst pray for thine enemies! Luke 23:34 .
It is really astonishing, considering the badness of their cause, that Korah and his party should have been willing to put things to such an issue. But, Reader! when our hearts are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, what judgments of GOD do we not brave? How often hath my stubborn unsubdued nature gone about to establish my own righteousness, instead of seeking the righteousness of GOD my Saviour?
What an awful moment was it when the Shechinah, the glory of the LORD appeared! GOD was come to judgment. But what an awful moment of the like nature will it be when the LORD JESUS shall be revealed in flaming fire, to take vengeance on them that know not GOD and obey not the gospel of JESUS? In the contemplation of this day, how trifling and unimportant do all earthly concerns appear? Paul's advice to the church under persecution on this subject is very interesting. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 .
Though the LORD knoweth them that are his, and can and will hide them in the day of the visitation of the ungodly, yet the precept is, come out from among them and separate yourselves. See 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 ; Revelation 18:4 .
From the precious comment upon the supplication of Moses by the Psalmist, not only upon this occasion, but another, (Exodus 32:10 .) we have authority to conclude, that in both Moses typified and represented that great and only intercessor, the LORD JESUS CHRIST. And very sweet is it to the soul of every true believer, to behold in those distant ages of the church, how the everlasting and eternal priesthood of the LORD JESUS was shadowed forth and proved to be effectual. See Isaiah 59:16 . Compared with Psalms 110:4 ; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 6:20 .
Reader! may we not without violence to the sacred text, picture to ourselves in this conduct of Moses an infinitely greater than Moses, calling, in all the sweet and persuasive language of the gospel to his people: Come out my people from among the unclean, and be not partakers of their sins. Revelation 18:4 . Reader! do not forget, that grace to keep the believer from sin and its consequences is among the blessings JESUS hath purchased, and the FATHER hath given in the covenant. Jeremiah 32:40 with John 17:11 .
Observe how sin hardens; one should have thought that the rebellious party when deserted by the people, would have taken alarm and humbled themselves before the LORD. I say one should have thought so, if the word of GOD did not teach us, that evil men and seducers wax worse and worse. 2 Timothy 3:13 .
We cannot but be struck with the astonishing degree of faith which Moses manifested upon this occasion. What holy confidence! What a firm assurance did he here display in the faithfulness of GOD? Reader! Oh, may you and I learn from it the sweet and invaluable privilege of the faithful. See similar instances: Genesis 22:3-10 ; Joshua 10:12 ; 1 Samuel 17:37; 1 Samuel 17:37 .
What a tremendous judgment is here! What an answer was it to the whole business! And what a decisive testimony did it afford of the LORD'S approbation of his servants! But, my soul! pause over the review, and ask thyself whether to thy repeated acts of disobedience and rebellion, if the LORD had caused a similar visitation, thou couldst have justly complained. Is it not of the LORD'S mercies that thou art not consumed? Lamentations 3:22 .
If all Israel fled at the cry of the sufferers, think, my soul, with what awakened earnestness wouldst thou flee from the wrath to come, didst thou but see with thine eyes the horrible pit of the damned; or with thine ears hear the doleful shrieks of the everlastingly wretched spirits, who dwell in those regions of misery. What an awful question is that of the prophet: Isaiah 33:14 ?
While the LORD'S judgments were manifesting to the rebellious in the camp, the LORD was manifesting himself as a consuming fire to the ring-leaders at the door of the tabernacle. See what an awful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living GOD? But my soul! contemplate with all due reverence the cause. It was for daringly offering incense, assuming the office of the priesthood. The offence was not leveled against Aaron so much as GOD. And yet doth not every man now in the present hour do this, when he presumes to approach GOD in the incense of his own merits and righteousness, and hereby sets at nought the infinitely precious merits and incense of JESUS? Oh! what sparing mercy have you and I found, my brother in transgression, in the survivings we have had amidst multiplied presumptions of this nature. Dearest LORD! give me henceforth to see thee as the beloved apostle did, in this thy most endearing office and character; and cause me to esteem it my highest joy to come under thy blessed influence. Revelation 8:3-4 .
This may serve to teach us how jealous the LORD is of his honour. But chiefly no doubt, with an eye to the everlasting priesthood of JESUS, to point out its vast importance. Dearest LORD! be thou my high priest, and under the censer of thy merits and righteousness my soul will be safe. Hebrews 4:15-16 .
The man that hath not studied human nature very closely, and yet more especially hath not been taught by the HOLY GHOST the great evil of sin, and the plague of his own heart, will be astonished that a mutiny after such a tremendous judgment as had but just taken place, should, again break out. The earth was scarce closed. The fire of GOD was still, as it were, burning before them. The shrieks of the people buried alive were still sounding in their ears. Reader, I pray GOD that such a view of human nature, and the hardness and obduracy of the heart, may in the hand of the LORD teach us, that nothing short of GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT can soften and conquer the soul. Oh LORD! write upon my mind and enforce its observance, that precept of the apostles: Hebrews 3:12-13 .
Observe, the LORD waits not for any longer appeal. Vengeance is mine, JEHOVAH saith, I will recompense. Romans 12:19 . Compared with Deuteronomy 32:35 .
The dying all around convinced Moses, that wrath was gone forth from the LORD.
Here we see Aaron representing the LORD JESUS indeed! For surely there was nothing of holiness in Aaron, that could interpose between an offended GOD and perishing sinners. But beheld with an eye to JESUS, we see one of the most interesting views of the Redeemer in his priestly office putting on the incense of his merits, and running into this world from the tabernacle of glory to do away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Behold the awful ravages of sin! Reader, contemplate, yet more the awful ravages of the first sin, by which death passed upon all men, because all have sinned. It is now nearly six thousand years since Adam's original transgression, and yet the LORD'S anger manifested to sin by death is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. Romans 5:12 ; Isaiah 5:25 .
HERE stand, my soul, and contemplate the melancholy effects of a fallen nature, manifesting itself in such astonishing instances of rebellions, and murmurings, and disobedience, and ingratitude. And when thou hast duly pondered over the awful subject in the dreadful example of Korah and his company, turn thine attention inward to thyself. Alas! are not the same seeds of sin there, and do they not continually break forth and bud, and bring forth the same deadly fruit; and what is the world around thee but evidences of the same? And what the examples of suffering and sorrow, but proofs to the same amount? Full of misery because full of sin.
Precious, precious JESUS! relieve my soul in the view of those things, in turning mine eyes to thee and thy great salvation. Oh! thou almighty Aaron, thou great high Priest and Saviour of thy people, may my soul never cease looking unto and upon thee! Thou camest indeed from thy throne of glory, and didst leave the regions of the blessed to visit our miserable world. The plague of sin and the horrid ingratitude of thy people, even the wrath of thy FATHER issuing forth in fiery indignation in the destruction of sinners, did not stop thy love in prosecuting the wonderful deliverance of thy chosen; but thou didst run in among the people, and didst put on the incense of thy merits, and both by thy blood and righteousness didst make an atonement for them. Thou stoodest then between the dead and the living, and now thou interposest still between dead sinners and the living; GOD; and wilt continue in thine unceasing everlasting priesthood until the plague of sin, hell, death, and the grave is stayed, and thou hast rescued all thy redeemed from everlasting misery. LORD, grant by thy SPIRIT's work in my heart, my soul may be made willing to come under the preserving influence of thy censer; and as the dying Israelites were sheltered by the ascending offering of Aaron's incense, so I may take refuge under the covering of thy blood and righteousness, from all my sin and the sin of this ungodly wicked world, and be found in thee to the praise of the glory of that grace wherein I am made accepted in thee the beloved.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 16". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26