Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries




Numbers 5:29-30

"This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and defiles herself while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her."

Many tests for marital unfaithfulness have been devised by man; but they are all superstitious, delusive, cruel, and unjust. But there has been one established by God himself, which was open to no objection. It was appointed for the satisfaction of any who might conceive themselves injured by their wives. The jealous husband might bring his wife to a tribunal, at which the heart-searching God was to be both witness and judge.

The process was this: he was to bring his wife to the priest; and with her an offering, not of fine wheat flour, but of barley meal; and that without either oil or incense; (the offering being intended to mark her humiliating and afflicted state.) He was then to take some holy water out of the laver, and to mix with it some dust from the floor of the tabernacle; and to repeat to the woman a form of imprecation; to which the woman was to say, 'Amen, so be it,' in token of her full consent to every part of it. This curse was then to be written in a book, and washed off again into the vessel that held the water; so that the water might be, as it were, impregnated with the curse. Then the offering was to be waved before the Lord, and part of it to be burnt upon the altar, in token that an appeal was made to God. Then the water was given to the woman to drink; and immediately it was seen whether she had been justly or unjustly accused.

If she had been guilty of unfaithfulness to her marriage vows, the curse she had imprecated upon herself came upon her; instantly her belly began to swell, and her thigh to rot; and her shame became visible to all.

If, on the contrary, she was innocent, the water she had drunk produced no such effect, but rather a blessing from God came upon her.

"Such was the law of jealousy," as set forth in the chapter before us. But it is not on the provisions of this law, nor on its sanctions, that we intend to dwell; it is sufficient for us to know that such and such things were done, and that such and such effects were produced. It is to the uses of this law that we would direct your attention; and they will be found replete with interest and instruction.

Its use was two-fold; political, and moral:

I. Political.

Many of the Jewish laws were adapted exclusively to that people, and were wholly inapplicable to any other nation. The Jews lived under a Theocracy. God himself was their temporal, no less than their spiritual, Governor. Doubtful causes were referred to his decision; and there were means appointed for the manifestation of his will respecting them. Of this nature was the trial of a suspected wife; it was conducted by a direct appeal to God. This singular institution was of great national utility:

1. As a guardian of domestic peace.

It must almost of necessity happen, that some husband, either through the perverseness of his own temper or the indiscretion of his wife, should feel "a spirit of jealousy" arising within him. Wherever such a thought is indulged, it corrodes, and eats out all domestic happiness; and, especially among a people so hard-hearted as the Jews, who were ever ready to put away their wives on the slightest occasions, it would lead to almost an immediate dissolution of the nuptial bonds. The miseries consequent on such hasty divorces may be more easily conceived than described. But when a man had the means of redress in his own hands, he would be less willing to indulge suspicion; or, if it arose, he would not suffer it to rankle in his bosom; he would either dismiss it from his mind, or bring it to an issue at once; that if it were justly founded, he might be released from his marital connection; or, if unfounded, be delivered from his painful apprehensions.

Thus the law in question would retard the rise of jealousy, diminish its force, and facilitate its extinction; at the same time that it would prevent unjust divorces, and reconcile the mind to any which the circumstances of the case might require.

2. As a preservative of public virtue.

It is the hope of concealment that gives an edge to temptation. A thief will not steal, if he knows that he must infallibly be detected; nor will the adulterer lay his plans of seduction, if he knows that he cannot possibly conceal his guilt. Now, the remedy being in the hands of the injured party, and the outcome of a trial certain, men would be cautious how they subjected themselves to such tremendous consequences as they had reason to expect.

Women too would be upon their guard, not merely against the actual commission of sin, but against the smallest approximation towards it. The impossibility of escape would be a fence to their virtue, a barrier which no temptation could force. From their earliest days they would feel the necessity of being reserved in their habits, and circumspect in their conduct; and of abstaining, not only from evil, but from even the appearance of evil. For though they should not be found criminal to the extent that the jealousy of their husbands had led them to imagine, few would wholly exculpate them, or think that they had not given some grounds for suspicion; and the consciousness of this would make the trial itself extremely formidable even to those who had nothing to fear on account of the ultimate decision.

Hence then it is manifest, that the existence of this law would give a beneficial check to the passions of mankind, and operate in the most favorable manner on all classes of the community.

Its use, as political, was important; but it was still more so as,

II. Moral.

Minute and trifling as many of the Jewish laws may appear, there was not one but was intended to inculcate some great lesson of morality. This which we are considering was of very extensive benefit. It had a direct tendency,

1. To convince the skeptical.

The general notion of mankind is, that God does not attend to their actions, "The Lord does not see, neither does the Almighty regard it," is the language of every heart, Isaiah 29:15; Psalm 73:11; Job 22:13-14. But a single execution of this law would carry an irresistible conviction to every mind. It is supposed that the crime committed has been so secret, that no human being, except the two guilty people, were acquainted with it. It is supposed also that no clue for the discovery of it could possibly be found. Behold the outcome of this ordeal, and the offending woman justifying that God who had inflicted vengeance on her; could any doubt now remain, whether God sees our actions or not; or whether he will allow sin to pass unpunished?

The most determined atheist (if such a being could be found) must, like the worshipers of Baal, be convinced at such a sight, and exclaim, "The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God!" "Truly there is a God who judges in the earth, Psalm 58:11. Such passages as Psalm 139:11-12 and Job 34:21-22 would now appear to him in their true light!"

2. To reclaim the wicked.

What must be the feelings of a man, who, after having rioted in iniquity, beholds such a scene as this? Must it not bring his own iniquities to his remembrance? Must he not tremble at the thought of appearing before this holy Lord God, and at the prospect of those judgments that shall be inflicted on him? Must he not realize in a measure, that shame which he will be exposed to in the presence of the assembled universe, and that misery which will be coeval with his existence? Yes; methinks he already begins to smite upon his bosom, and cry for mercy; and determines from henceforth to walk in newness of life.

3. To comfort the oppressed.

Where a woman of blameless character was made the victim of her husband's jealousy, with what holy confidence would she drink the appointed cup, and make her appeal to the heart-searching God! In what triumph would she depart from the tabernacle, when God himself had borne a public testimony to her innocence!

From hence then might every one, whose name the breath of calumny had blasted, assure himself that a time was coming, when God would vindicate his injured character, and cause his righteousness to shine as the noonday. David, under the accusations of Saul, consoled himself with this prospect, Psalm 7:3-8; and lived to attest the fidelity of God to those who trust in him, Psalm 18:16-20; and to recommend from his own experience this remedy to others, Psalm 37:4-6.

True, the interposition of God may not, towards others, be so immediate, or so visible, in this world; but, in the world to come, if not before, shall that promise be fulfilled to every servant of the Lord, "Every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn, Isaiah 54:17; Isaiah 66:5."

We cannot conclude the subject without recommending to all,

1. To beware of appealing lightly to God.

It is grievous to hear how carelessly men swear by God, or use the term, 'God knows.' But, however light men make of such appeals, God hears them; and he will, sooner or later, manifest his indignation against all who so profane his holy name. Instantaneous displays of his vengeance are sometimes even now given, in order to check such impiety; but, if he bears with such people for a season, in due time "their sin shall surely find them out!"

2. To stand ready for the final judgment.

This law has ceased; but there is another tribunal, to which all, whether male or female, married or unmarried, shall be summoned. There shall we be brought by our heavenly "Husband," "who is a jealous God, yes, whose very name is Jealous! Exodus 34:14;" and by his infallible decision will our eternal state be fixed.

Think what must have been the frame of a woman's mind on the eve of her trial, when she knew herself to be guilty—must she not be filled with fear and trembling? How then can any of us be mirthful and thoughtless in the prospect of such a judgment as we have to pass! We cannot but acknowledge that we are justly branded as "adulterers and adulteresses, James 4:4." Let us therefore confess our sins with all humility of mind, and wash in that "fountain which was opened for sin and for impurity."




Numbers 6:21

"'This is the law of the Nazirite who vows his offering to the LORD in accordance with his separation, in addition to whatever else he can afford. He must fulfill the vow he has made, according to the law of the Nazirite.'"

The Nazarites, in the best times of the Jewish state, were eminently pious. God himself declares concerning them, that "they were purer than snow, and whiter than milk, Lamentations 4:7." The very order of Nazarites was instituted by divine appointment, on purpose that they might be blessings to the nation, and preserve the tone of piety and morals from decay. It was a favor to that people that "God raised up of their sons for prophets;" nor was it less so, that he raised up of their "young men for Nazarites, Amos 2:11."

Some, as Samson and John the Baptist, were separated by God himself even from their mother's womb; and the express order was given, that from their very birth they should drink no wine, and that no razor should come upon their head, Judges 13:4-5; Judges 13:7; Judges 13:14; Luke 1:15. Others perhaps, like Samuel, might be consecrated by their parents from the womb, 1 Samuel 1:11.

But, in general, the separation of themselves to be Nazarites was altogether voluntary and for a fixed time. The custom continued even to the apostolic age. Paul himself seems to have completed the vow of Nazariteship at Cenchrea, Acts 18:18; and when there were four men performing it at Jerusalem, he, in order to remove prejudice from the minds of those who thought him adverse to the law of Moses, united himself with them, bearing part of the charges attendant on that vow, and conforming himself in everything to the prescribed ritual, Acts 21:23-24.

The law respecting them is contained in the chapter now before us; and, agreeably to the arrangement made for us in our text, we shall consider it as containing,

I. The Nazarite's vows.

The particulars of their vow are here minutely detailed:

They separated themselves for a season to an extraordinary course of attendance upon God. During that season they were not to touch any wine, or grapes either moist or dried. They were not to cut their hair, or to approach any dead body, or to mourn even for a father or a mother verse 2-8. If, by any unforeseen accident, a person should fall down dead near them, or a corpse be brought nearly into contact with them, they were to shave their head, and offer both a burnt-offering and a sin-offering (to atone for the pollution they had contracted), and were to begin again the term of their separation, the whole that had passed having been rendered null and void, verse 9-12.

The design of it, though not expressly declared in Scripture—yet may without difficulty be ascertained.

It seems that the order of Nazarites was intended to prefigure Christ, who, though not observant of the laws relating to that order, was from eternity consecrated to the service of his God, not only by the designation of his Father, but by his own voluntary engagement, and completed the course of his obedience until he could say, "It is finished!"

But we have no doubt respecting the design of God to exhibit to us in the Nazarites, a pattern for our imitation. The appointment itself has ceased with the law, "the believing Gentiles" are expressly told that they "are not required to observe any such thing, Acts 21:25."

But, though the form has ceased, the substance remains. We are called to consecrate ourselves unreservedly to God. This is our duty, and our privilege. "We are not our own; we are bought with a price;" and therefore bought, "that we may glorify God with our bodies and our spirits, which are his." Every one among us should subscribe with his hand, and say, "I am the Lord's! Isaiah 44:5; Romans 14:7-8." We need not literally abstain from wine; but we should show a holy superiority to all the pleasures of sense. We may enjoy them, because "God has given us all things richly to enjoy;" but we should not seek our happiness in them, or be at all enslaved by them; or value them any further, than we can enjoy God in them, and glorify him by them.

The same indifference should we manifest also in relation to the cares of this life. We may mourn indeed, but never indulge that "sorrow of the world which works death." Having God for our portion, the loss of all earthly things should be comparatively but little felt. We are not called to that singularity of dress which marked the Nazarites to public view; but surely we are called not to be conformed to every idle fashion, or to be running into all the absurdities which characterize the votaries of this world. A Christian should despise such vanities, and "be no more of this world, than Christ himself was of the world." From sinful pollution of every kind we should stand at the remotest distance; we should "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness," but "be purged from dead works to serve the living God." What caution, what holy fear should we maintain! What dread of dishonoring our Lord, and walking unworthy of our holy profession! Surely we should "abstain even from the appearance of evil," and labor to "be pure as God himself is pure!" If at any time, through weakness or inadvertence, we contract pollution, we must not think to proceed as if we had done nothing amiss. No, sin, of whatever kind, must be repented of; for, if it be continued in, it will infallibly destroy us, Ezekiel 18:24.

We must, like the Nazarite, instantly apply ourselves to the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and seek remission through his precious blood. Yes, like him too, we must renew our dedication of ourselves to God, just as if we never had been devoted to him before. This is the safest way, and by far the happiest. If we stand doubting and questioning about our former state, it may be long before we come to any comfortable conclusion; but if we leave the consideration of past experiences, or use them only as grounds of deeper humiliation, and devote ourselves to God again as we did at the beginning—we shall most honor the mercy of our God, and most speedily attain renewed tokens of his favor.

At the completion of their vows they were required to present,

II. The Nazarite's offerings.

These are particularly specified; they consisted of a male lamb for a burnt-offering, to acknowledge God's goodness to them; an ewe-lamb for a sin-offering, to obtain mercy at his hands; and a ram for a peace-offering, to show that they were in a state of favor and acceptance with God. Besides these, they were to offer a basket of unleavened bread, consisting of cakes mingled with oil, and wafers anointed with oil, with a meat-offering and a drink-offering. Of these a greater portion was given to the priest than on other occasions; for, not only the wave-offering and the heave-shoulder were his, but also the other shoulder of the ram, which was sodden or boiled, was added, with one unleavened cake and one unleavened wafer; and, after having been put into the hands of the Nazarite and waved before the Lord, were given to the priest as his portion. The Nazarite's hair also was shaved, and was burnt in the fire which boiled the peace-offerings. Thus was the termination of their vow publicly made known; and they, released from those particular obligations, were at liberty to resume the enjoyments which during their separation they had voluntarily renounced, verse 13-20.

It would not be easy to mark with precision the exact design of these multiplied observances; but from a collective view of them we may gather,

1. That of all that we do, we should give the glory to God.

This was designed by the burnt-offering, as also by the heave-offering; they were acknowledgments to God, that his goodness to them was great, and that the service which they were enabled to render him had been the fruit of his love, and the gift of his grace. Thus should all our services be viewed. If they be regarded by us as grounds of self-preference and self-delight, they will be odious to God in proportion as they are admired by us. We should never for a moment forget, that "it is by the grace of God we are what we are." "It is God who gives us both to will and to do, and that too altogether of his good pleasure." Our sufficiency even for a good thought is derived from Him alone. Instead of imagining therefore that we lay God under obligations to us for any works that we do, we must remember that the more we do for God, the more we are indebted to God.

2. That, after all that we can do, we need a saving interest in the sin-atoning blood of Christ.

This was clearly manifested by the sin-offering. The Nazarite's hair was not burnt on the altar of the burnt-offerings, to make atonement, but with the fire that boiled the peace-offerings, to make acknowledgment. However holy our lives are, even though we were sanctified to God from the very womb, and never contracted such a degree of pollution as should destroy our hope of acceptance with him—yet must we be washed in "the fountain open for sin," even the fountain of Christ's blood, which alone "cleanses from all sin." There is iniquity cleaving to our holiest things; and an atonement is as necessary for them as for our grossest sins; and that atonement can be found only in the sacrifice of Christ.

3. That when our term of separation is fulfilled, our joys shall be unrestrained for evermore.

"After that, the Nazarite may drink wine, verse 20." Just so, after the short period of mortification and self-denial assigned to us here on earth, we shall "enter into the joy of our Lord," even into "his presence, where there is fullness of joy, and pleasures for evermore." The dread of pollution shall then be past; and the tokens of humiliation be put away. Then shall we "drink new wine in the kingdom of our Father;" and O! how sweet those draughts, of which, in our present state of separation, it was not permitted us to taste! More encouragement than this we need not, we cannot, have. Let us only contemplate "the blessedness of those who die in the Lord," and we shall need no other inducement to live unto the Lord.


The term, Nazarite, imports separation; and though, as has been observed before, the ordinances relative to Nazarites are no longer in force, their duties, in a spiritual view, are obligatory on us. Paul says, "Come out from among the ungodly, and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." You remember too it was observed, that "God raised up young men to be Nazarites." O that the young among us would be foremost in the surrender of themselves to God! How would the world be benefitted! how would God be glorified!

With respect to women, a vow of theirs, if not allowed by their father or their husband, was made void; so that they could not separate themselves, as Nazarites, without the permission of those who had the control over them, Numbers 30:1-16; but there is no such controlling power now, none to prevent a surrender of our souls to God. The answer to any opposing authority must be, "We ought to obey God rather than men." Let nothing then keep us from executing the purposes which God has inspired; but let us, both old and young, "yield up ourselves as living sacrifices unto God, assured that it is no less a reasonable service, than it is an acceptable service".




Numbers 6:22-27

The LORD said to Moses, "Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace."' "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."

The exercise of benevolence is that which every child of God should cultivate to the uttermost; but ministers above all should consider it as the distinguishing badge of their office; they are compelled indeed sometimes to "use sharpness;" but whether they rebuke, or whether they exhort, they should be actuated by nothing but a principle of love. Under the law, it was a very important part of the priestly office to bless the people; and God prescribed a form of words to be used by Aaron and his sons in the discharge of that duty. The circumstance of its being a prescribed form of words, did not render it the less efficacious for the people's good; nor can any words better express the scope and end of the Christian ministry. If the people are brought to receive abundant communications of grace and peace, and to surrender up themselves entirely to God, a minister can desire nothing more in this world; his labors are well repaid. To promote this blessed end, we shall,

I. Explain the words before us.

God is here making known his will to Moses, and directing him what orders to give to Aaron and his sons respecting the execution of their priestly office and there are two duties which he assigns to them:

1. To bless the people in God's name.

This was repeatedly declared to be their office, Deuteronomy 21:5; and the constant practice of the Apostles shows that it was to be continued under the Christian dispensation. In conformity to their example, the Christian Church has universally retained the custom of closing the service with a pastoral blessing. We are not indeed to suppose that ministers can, by any power or authority of their own, convey a blessing, Acts 3:12; they can neither select the people who shall be blessed, nor fix the time, the manner or the degree in which any shall receive a blessing. But, as stewards of the mysteries of God, they dispense the bread of life, assuredly expecting, that their Divine Master will give a beneficial effect to the ordinances of his own appointment.

The direction in the text was confirmed with an express promise, that what they spoke on earth should be ratified in Heaven; and every faithful minister may take encouragement from it in the discharge of his own duty, and may consider God as saying to him, Bless the congregation, "and I will bless them to this effect, see Luke 10:5-6 and John 20:23."

2. To claim the people as God's property.

To "put the name of God upon them" is, to challenge them as "his portion, the lot of his inheritance, Deuteronomy 32:9." This every minister must do in most authoritative terms; and not only claim them as his property, but excite them with all earnestness to surrender up themselves to his service. Nor shall their exhortations be lost; for God will accompany them "with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven;" and the people, constrained by a divine impulse, shall say, "I am the Lord's! Isaiah 44:3-5." Moreover, in their intercessions for the people, they are also to urge this plea with God on their behalf, Daniel 9:17-19; Jeremiah 14:9. Thus are they to strengthen the connection between God and them; and to promote that fellowship with God, which is the end, as well as means, of all spiritual communications.

Having thus explained the general import of the words, we shall,

II. Notice some truths contained in them.

Amidst the many profitable observations that may be deduced from the text, there are some deserving of peculiar attention:

1. The priests under the law, while they blessed the people, typically represented the office of Christ himself.

Christ as our High-Priest performs every part of the priestly office; and it is remarkable that he was in the very act of blessing his disciples, when he was taken up from them into Heaven, Luke 24:50-51. Nor did he then cease, but rather began, as it were, to execute that office, which he has been fulfilling from that time to the present hour.

Peter, preaching afterwards to a vast concourse of people, declared to them, that to bless them was the great end for which Jesus had ascended, and that he was ready, both as a Prince and a Savior, to give them repentance and remission of sins, Acts 3:26; Acts 5:31.

Let us then conceive the Lord Jesus standing now in the midst of us, and, with uplifted hands, pronouncing the blessing in the text; is there one among us that would not cordially add, "Amen, Amen?" Nor let this be thought a vain and fanciful idea, since he has promised to be wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, and that too, for the very purpose which is here expressed. Compare Matthew 18:20 with Exodus 20:24.

2. Though ministers are used as instruments to convey blessings, God himself is the only author and giver of them.

The very words which the priests were commanded to use, directed the attention of all to God himself; nor could the frequent repetition of Jehovah's name fail to impress the most careless auditor with a conviction, that the blessing could come from God alone.

Perhaps too, the mystery of the Holy Trinity might be intimated in these expressions, since it is certain that we, under the clearer light of the Gospel, are taught to look to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as the distinct, though united, authors of all spiritual good, 2 Corinthians 13:14. We ought indeed to reverence God's ministers as the authorized dispensers of his blessings, 1 Thessalonians 5:13; but we must look for the blessings themselves to God alone; and endeavor to exercise faith:
in the Father as the fountain of them,
in Christ as the channel in which they flow,
and in the Holy Spirit as the agent, by whose divine energy they are imparted to the soul, Revelation 1:4-5.

At the same time we should remember the obligation which these mercies lay us under, to devote ourselves entirely to the service of our gracious and adorable Benefactor.

3. However weak the ordinances are in themselves—yet shall they, if attended in faith, be available for our greatest good.

Nothing can be conceived more simple in itself than a priestly blessing; yet, most undoubtedly, it brought down many blessings upon the people. And can we suppose that God will put less honor upon his ordinances under the Gospel dispensation? Shall not "grace, mercy and peace, flow down from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ," in answer to the fervent intercessions of his ministers, 2 Timothy 1:2. These three words seem to contain all that is implied in the text.

Though ministers are but earthen vessels—yet shall they impart unto the people the richest treasures, 2 Corinthians 4:7. Their word shall not be in vain, but shall accomplish God's good pleasure, and prosper in the thing whereunto he has sent it, Isaiah 55:10-11. Let not then the blessing be so often slighted, as though it were only a signal to depart; but while it is delivered with solemnity in the name of God, let every heart be expanded to receive the benefit. Let every one consider himself in particular as the person addressed. "You" was repeated six times, though addressed to the whole congregation, that every person might feel himself as much interested as if he alone were present; and may the experience of all attest at this time, that God is ready to "grant us above all that we can ask or think!"




Numbers 9:21-23

"Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening until morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD's command they encamped, and at the LORD's command they set out. They obeyed the LORD's order, in accordance with his command through Moses."

The conducting of Israel in the wilderness by a pillar and a cloud is often mentioned in the Holy Scriptures; but in no place so fully as here. From the fifteenth verse to the end of this chapter is the same truth repeated again and again, with very little variation.

It would seem, however, that the guiding of Israel was not the only use of the pillar and the cloud. These conductors appear, indeed, to have rested on the tabernacle; but to have occupied at the same time such a space, as to give light to the whole camp of Israel by night, and to afford them a cooling shade by day; so that the people might be protected from the burning rays of the sun, which, in that climate, nothing but a miracle could enable them for a continuance to sustain. This information we have from David, who says, that God "spread a cloud for a covering; and fire, to give light in the night, Psalm 105:39."

But the regulating of their motions is that particular point to which my text adverts; and to which therefore, exclusively, I shall direct your attention. It is obvious, that the extreme uncertainty of the movements made by the cloud must keep the people in continual suspense. This was a state of discipline proper for them. And we shall find it a profitable subject of contemplation, if we consider:

I. The use of this discipline to them.

The whole system of God's dealings with them in the wilderness was intended to promote their spiritual welfare. Moses, at the close of their wanderings there, says to them, "You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart—whether you would keep his commandments, or not, Deuteronomy 8:2."

But the circumstance mentioned in my text was of very peculiar use:

1. To show them what they were.

Truly they wore a rebellious and stiff-necked, people, even from the first moment that God sent to take them under his more immediate protection, Deuteronomy 9:7; Deuteronomy 9:24. The very moment that anything obstructed their wishes, or disappointed their expectations, they murmured against the Lord. The mercies they received were altogether overlooked by them, and produced no effect to compose their minds, or to reconcile them to anything which bore an untoward aspect. The wonders of Egypt, and the passage of the Red Sea, with the destruction of all their enemies in the mighty waters, were soon forgotten, "they were disobedient at the sea, even at the Red Sea, Psalm 106:7." To such a degree did they rage against the dispensations of Heaven, that they frequently regretted that ever they had come out of Egypt, and occasionally proposed to make a captain over them, and return there again.

Now the particular dispensation mentioned in my text had a strong tendency to elicit these unholy feelings. For sometimes the cloud moved by day; at other times it commenced its motions by night; and the whole people were compelled to follow it immediately, or to be left behind. Sometimes it continued its course for days and nights together without intermission; at other times it stopped for days, and months, and even a whole year together, without ever moving from its place. These sudden changes greatly irritated their rebellious spirit.

On one occasion, we are told, "they departed from the mount of the Lord three days' journey; and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting place for them, Numbers 10:33." From whence it is evident, that they found no resting-place during those three days. And what was the effect of this upon their impatient minds? They so murmured against the Lord, as to provoke him greatly to anger. Moses says, "The people complained; and displeased the Lord; and the Lord heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp, Numbers 11:1."

On another occasion, when "they had journeyed from Mount Hor, by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom," we are told, "the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the difficulty of the way. And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness Numbers 21:4-5."

Nor were their evil passions less called forth by the long suspension of their movements. A whole year without any progress was a severe trial to their impatient minds, when a less space than that had sufficed to bring them from the brick-kilns of Egypt to the borders of the promised land. Had nothing occurred to try them, they would never have "known what spirit they were of;" but, when such frequent occasions were administered for the discovery of their evil dispositions, it was impossible but that they must see and acknowledge that they were indeed "a rebellious and stiff-necked generation."

2. To show them what they should be.

In this respect, the discipline here used was admirably calculated to inform their minds.

Almighty God, by a visible symbol of his presence, graciously undertook to guide them in all their way. On every occasion of need, he showed himself abundantly sufficient for the task he had undertaken. To his power there was no limit, whether to subdue their enemies, or to supply their needs. What, then, befit them, but to express the deepest gratitude for this wonderful condescension, and to commit themselves entirely to his fatherly care? Their song at the Red Sea should have continued to be their song under all circumstances, "Who is like unto you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders! Exodus 15:11."

When circumstances arose that were trying to their feelings, or which they were not altogether able to account for, one might expect that their past experience of God's wisdom and goodness would suffice to allay any rising irritation, and to induce a submission to his sovereign will. They knew what ready acquiescence they themselves expected from their own children and servants, in any appointments which they should make; and it was but reasonable that they should place the same confidence in God, as they themselves required of their fellow-creatures.

The successive orders to proceed or stop would naturally lead them to consider themselves as altogether at God's disposal, and to seek all their happiness in serving and obeying him. What should they do, but keep themselves in readiness at any time, in any way, to any extent to follow his leadings and fulfill his will?

The precise state of mind which this dispensation called for was that which comprised their entire duty, and would ultimately conduce to their truest happiness.

But it was not for their sakes only that this discipline was used, but for ours also; as will clearly appear, while we consider,

II. The instruction it conveys to us.

We should not limit these things to the generation then existing, nor to that peculiar people. The whole of that mysterious dispensation had a reference to the dispensation under which we live; and the particular circumstance mentioned in our text is expressly spoken of in that view, "The Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a defense, Isaiah 4:5." It may well be considered as teaching us:

1. What we may expect from God.

There was no mercy given to the Jews, which we ourselves may not expect at God's hands. In fact, all that he did for them, he will do for us.

Did he direct them in all their way? He will go before us also, and direct our way. This he declares, in many express promises, "In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths, Proverbs 3:6." We may say of God's people now, as certainly as of his people of old, "The steps of a godly man are ordered of the Lord, Psalm 37:23;" and, "The Lord shall guide you continually, Isaiah 58:11."

But we must be careful not to form wrong notions respecting the guidance which we are authorized to expect. The Jews lived under a dispensation, the blessings whereof were chiefly carnal; but we live under a dispensation which is altogether spiritual, "We walk by faith, and not by sight, 2 Corinthians 5:7." It is not by anything obvious to the senses that God will guide us; but by his word and Spirit. His Word is the one rule by which we are to walk. There is not anything we are bound to do, but we may find it there; nor anything contained in that blessed volume, but what, according to our ability, we are bound to do. Everything must be referred "to the Law and to the testimony;" and agreeably to that must we more in all things.

We are not to expect the Holy Spirit to direct us by any impulses unconnected with the Word. To be looking for visions, or impressions of any kind independent of the word, is to delude our own souls. The way by which the Holy Spirit will guide us is this: He will sanctify the dispositions and desires of our souls, and thus enable us to "discern good from evil, and light from darkness." He will give us "a single eye; and then our whole body will be full of light, Matthew 6:22." Then we shall be prepared to understand the word; and be enabled and inclined to follow it; and in this way he will fulfill his promise, that we "shall hear a voice behind us, saying: This is the way; walk in it! Isaiah 30:21."

This is exactly what he has taught us to expect, "The meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way, Psalm 25:9;" the judgment shall be rectified, in the first instance, by the influence of the Holy Spirit; and then shall the way of duty be made clear before our face; the word becoming, not only "a light to our feet in general, but a lantern to our every step! Psalm 119:105."

2. What we should render to him.

If we could but realize the state of mind which this mode of conducting Israel required, we would see at once what are those graces which we should cultivate in our journey towards the heavenly land.

We should exercise:
without anxiety,
without murmuring,
without reluctance.

We should depend on him without anxiety. We should leave God altogether to "choose our inheritance for us, Psalm 47:4," and to "appoint the bounds of our habitation, Acts 17:26." We should consider ourselves as entirely under his care and guidance, as a child is under the direction of his father; and, being assured of his fatherly regards towards us, we should "cast our care altogether upon him! 1 Peter 5:7."

We should submit to him without murmuring. We cannot see the reasons of all his dispensations; nor is it needful that we should. We should feel convinced of this, that, however inexplicable they may be to us, he is too wise to err, and too good to inflict pain without some adequate cause. We should "know in whom we have believed;" and satisfy ourselves with this composing thought, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand! John 13:7."

We should obey him without reluctance. We must not inquire whether his commands are pleasing to flesh and blood, or not. We must be anxious only to know what his will is; and then, though it be to march at midnight, or to continue our journey for many wearisome days and nights together, or to be kept by his providence in a state of inactivity for years—we should rise to the occasion, and endeavor to approve ourselves to him as faithful and obedient children.

In a word, to be continually with him, enjoying his presence, fulfilling his will, and pressing forward to his glory—this is the Christian's duty; this is the very end of his redemption, and the way to his inheritance.


Consider yourselves as now in the state of Israel advancing through the wilderness; and expect that, "as God's children, you shall be led by his Holy Spirit, Romans 8:14." Yet be careful not to expect more than God has promised. Do not suppose that you shall be so led as to be kept from all error. It is not God's design to render any man infallible, or so to guide him that he shall have no ground for fear and self-distrust. We must, under all circumstances, feel a jealousy, lest Satan should take advantage of us, or our own deceitful hearts should beguile us. The Israelites, though under the cloud, fell short of the promised land, 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 10:5, because "their hearts were not right with God, neither were they steadfast in his covenant Psalm 78:37." But, if you will "follow the Lord fully," you may look up to him with holy confidence, that now "he will guide you by his counsel, and hereafter he will receive you to glory! Psalm 73:24."




Numbers 10:29

"Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, "We are setting out for the place about which the LORD said, 'I will give it to you.' Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has promised good things to Israel."

I. The invitation.

Where was Moses going? To the land of Canaan. There was not a child in all the camp of Israel, who did not know whence he had been brought, and where he was bending his course

This is really the state of God's Israel now. They are all sensible that they have been brought out of bondage to sin and Satan; and there is not one among them who does not consider himself as a pilgrim here, and is not daily pressing forward to the heavenly Canaan as his rest, his portion, his inheritance.

Are you not solemnly pledging yourselves to renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh, etc. etc. etc. This then is the very thing which the journeying of the Israelites in the wilderness shadowed forth, and which all God's Israel at this very time are doing.

We say then to you, yes, to every one of you in particular, "Come with us." Though you be young, like Hobab, come with us; yes, though your father Jethro has gone back, "come you with us"

II. The arguments.

Hobab, it should seem, was the son of Jethro, who is here called Raguel, and in another place Reuel, Exodus 2:18. He was the brother of Zipporah, whom Moses had married in the land of Midian. Both Jethro, and his son Hobab, had accompanied Moses for a season; but Jethro had left him some time since, Exodus 18:27; and Hobab also now proposed to leave him, and "to go back to his own country and kindred." But Moses besought him not to go, but to proceed with Israel to the promised land; assuring him, that, though a Midianite, he should participate in all the blessings which God designed for Israel. On finding that this consideration was not sufficient to influence his mind, Moses urged the services which Hobab might render to Israel in their journey through the wilderness; for though God had undertaken to guide Israel through the wilderness, and to provide for and protect them in the way—yet there were many local circumstances which Hobab was acquainted with, by the communication of which, from time to time, he might render very essential services to Moses and to all Israel.

Whether Moses prevailed with Hobab to alter his determination, does not certainly appear. But it seems rather that he did succeed, because we find the descendants of Hobab actually settled in Canaan, and dwelling in the midst of the tribe of Judah, not indeed as blended with them, but as a distinct people, Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11; Judges 4:17.

This however is of no importance to us. It is the invitation only that we are concerned about; and we hope that, when the arguments with which it is enforced are duly considered, the success with us shall not be doubtful, whatever it might be with him. There is a land of promise towards which the true Israel are yet journeying, under the conduct of our great Lawgiver, the Lord Jesus Christ; and in their name is the invitation addressed to all of us , "Come with us; and we will do you good."

But, that we may have clearer views of this matter, let us distinctly consider,

III. The invitation.

That the journey of Israel in the wilderness was altogether typical of our journey heaven-ward, is well known. When therefore, in the name of all Israel, we say to every individual among us, "Come with us," we must be understood to say:

1. Set your faces in good earnest towards the promised land.

There is "a land of which God has said, I will give it to you." And it is a good land, "a land flowing with milk and honey;" a land "where you shall eat bread without scarceness;" and enjoy "a rest" from all enemies, and from all labors, for evermore, Hebrews 4:9; 1 Peter 1:4.

Towards that land all the Israel of God are journeying; they consider this world as a wilderness, in which they are pilgrims and sojourners; and the object of every step which they take in it is to advance nearer to their desired home. Let every one of us join himself to them.

Let us estimate aright the inheritance prepared for us.

Let us lose no further time in commencing our journey towards it.

Let us engage in the pursuit of it with all the ardor that the object requires.

And let us "fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into it, any of us should even seem to come short of it, Hebrews 4:1."

2. Let nothing be allowed to hinder you in your progress there.

Hobab was solicited to postpone all regard for his family and country, for the attainment of the promised land. And such is our duty also. Our blessed Lord has said, "He who loves father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me." "If any man comes to me, and hates not his father and mother, yes, and his own life also (in comparison with me), he cannot be my disciple." "He who will save his life, shall lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake, shall find it, Matthew 10:37-39; Luke 14:26."

There will be difficulties and obstructions which we must meet with; but we must meet them manfully; and, whatever be the cross that lies in our way, we must take it up, yes, and glory in it, and rejoice that we are counted worthy to bear it for His sake! For what is the favor of man, in comparison with the favor of God; or the preservation of earthly interests, in comparison with a heavenly inheritance? "What would it profit us if we gained the whole world, if at the same time we lost our own souls? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

Nor let this sacrifice appear great; it is no other than was made by Abraham, Genesis 12:1-4, and Moses, Hebrews 11:24-26, and the Apostles of our Lord, Mark 10:28, and all the primitive Christians, Acts 4:32; nay, it is made daily even for the sake of a connection with an earthly object, Ephesians 5:31; much more therefore may it be made for a union with Christ; who offers himself to us only on these express terms, "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget also your own people and your father's house; so shall the King have pleasure in your beauty; for he is your Lord, worship him, Psalm 45:10-11."

3. Proceed steadily until you are in possession of it.

Hobab had abode with Moses some considerable time; but at last he grew weary of the way, and determined to return. It must not be thus with us. We must not run well for a season only, but unto the end, if we would obtain the prize. We must "never be weary of well-doing," or "look back after having put our hand to the plough;" but "by patient continuance in well-doing must seek for glory and honor and immortality." "If any one of us turns back," says God, "my soul shall have no pleasure in him." "It were even better for us never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to us." It is "he alone who endures unto the end, that shall ever finally be saved."

4. Do not object that those who give this invitation are a mere company.

Whose fault is it, if they are a mere company? Is it theirs who are going heaven-ward; or those who will not advance a step towards it? Are those who "enter in at the strait gate, and walk in the narrow way that leads unto life," to be blamed, because the great mass of mankind prefer "the broad road that leads to destruction?"

But if they must be called a mere company, let me tell you what company it is; it consists of such as Moses summoned to his aid, "Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me, Exodus 32:26." Yes, they are those who are "on the Lord's side;" and if that be a fault, let them bear it. But who is at the head of that company? When we know that it is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, John 8:23; John 17:16, and that "the whole world besides lies under the dominion of the wicked one, John 17:14; John 15:18-20; 1 John 5:19," we need not be ashamed.

If this objection has any force, it had the same force against the Israelites who had come out of Egypt; (for they were but a mere company, in comparison with those whom they had left behind,) yes, against the Apostles and the primitive Christians it lay with still greater force; for they were, especially at first, as nothing in comparison with their opponents. If those who invite us to join them be but "a little flock," still they are the flock to whom exclusively "the kingdom of Heaven shall be given, Luke 12:32;" and therefore we would urge you all to join them without delay.

To give yet further weight to the invitation, I will call your attention to,

IV. The arguments with which it is enforced.

Two considerations Moses proposed to Hobab; first, the benefit that would accrue to himself; and next, the benefit which he would confer on Israel. Similar considerations also may fitly be proposed to us. Consider then, if you accept the invitation:

1. What benefit will accrue to yourselves.

Truly, "God has spoken good respecting Israel." He calls them his children, his first-born, his peculiar treasure above all the people upon the face of the earth. And whatever can conduce to their present and eternal happiness, he promises them in the richest abundance. Both in their way, and in their end, they shall be truly blessed.

What a catalogue of blessings is assigned to them in the space of a few verses, Exodus 6:6-8. yet they relate to this world only, and are but faint shadows of the blessings which God will pour out upon their souls. As for the glory prepared for them in a better world, what tongue can utter it? What heart can conceive it? The very throne of God is not too exalted for them to sit on; nor the kingdom of God too rich for them to possess.

Now then to all who comply with the invitation given them, we do not hesitate to say, as Moses did, "It shall be, if you go with us, yes, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto you, verse 32." You shall partake of every blessing which God's most favored people enjoy.

Does he go before them in the pillar and the cloud?

Does he feed them with manna, and cause the waters from the rock to follow them in all their way?

Does he protect them from every enemy?

Does he carry them as on eagles' wings?

Does he forgive their sins, and "heal their backslidings, and love them freely?"

Is "he as the dew to them," causing them to "grow as the lily, and to spread forth their roots as Lebanon?"

Does "he love them to the end," and "never leave them until he has fulfilled to them all that he has promised?"

All this shall be yours, if you will come with us. "You shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." You may exhaust all the powers of language in asking, and it shall all be done; you may even stretch your imagination to the utmost bounds that human intellect can reach, and all that also shall be done, and more than all, yes, "exceeding abundantly above all that you can either ask or think."

And shall not this induce you to accept the invitation? Go to all others that solicit your company, and see what they can do for you. Can they ensure to you even the least of all the blessings of grace or glory? No; they are all broken cisterns, that can hold no water, and can present to you nothing but the dregs of sensual enjoyment. Whereas with us is "the fountain of living water," of which whoever drinks shall live forever.

2. What benefit you will confer on others.

Every one that gives himself up wholly to the Lord, strengthens the hands and encourages the hearts of God's chosen people. Death is from time to time thinning the ranks of the Lord's armies; and if they were not recruited by voluntary enlistment, they would speedily disappear. But all who accept the invitation become soldiers of Christ, and engage to fight manfully the Lord's battles. All such people also are "witnesses for God" among an atheistic and rebellious people, whom they practically "condemn," as "Noah condemned the world" by constructing the ark in the midst of them, Hebrews 11:7. As lights too in a dark world, they are of great service; for they "hold forth the word of life" to those who would not otherwise behold it; and are "epistles of Christ, known and read" by thousands, who, but for such instructors, would remain forever ignorant of his will.

If any one be disposed to ask: What good can so weak an individual as I do? I answer, "If under any circumstances whatever any individual could be justified in offering such an objection, it would have been Hobab.

First, because Israel were altogether under the divine guidance, protection, and support; and therefore could not be supposed to need anything.

Next, because he was a Midianite, and therefore incapable, as might be thought, of adding anything to Moses and the Israelites. But to him Moses said, "You may be to us in the stead of eyes, verse 31."

The truth is, that no one can foresee of what use he may be to the Church of God. Had Peter, when employed in fishing, been told what services he should render to the Jewish nation, or Paul what wonders he should effect in behalf of the Gentile world, how little would they have conceived that such weak instruments should ever accomplish so great a work! The same may be said of others in later times; and so far is the weakness of the instrument from affording any just ground for discouragement, that God has expressly "committed the Gospel treasure to earthen vessels, on purpose that the excellence of the power may the more clearly appear to be of God;" and it still is, as it has ever been, his delight to "ordain strength in the mouth of babes and sucklings."

Think then, you who have tasted anything of redeeming love, is it possible that you may be useful in promoting the designs, and in advancing the glory of your Lord and Savior—and will you not do it? Shall any earthly interests or attachments prevail with you to put your light under a bushel, when, by allowing it to shine forth, you might aid others in their way to Heaven? O! requite not thus your heavenly Benefactor, but join yourselves to his people without delay, and live henceforth altogether for Him who lived and died for you.


1. To those who have never yet contemplated the invitation given them.

Our blessed Lord, both in the Old and New Testament, says, "Look unto me," "come unto me," "follow me." But yet, as strange as it may appear, we for the most part consider these invitations no more than a mere empty sound; or, if we regard them at all, we satisfy ourselves with vain excuses for refusing them. But, if we wonder at Hobab for proposing to go back, after all that he had seen and heard—then what shall be said of us, if we resist all the gracious invitations of the Gospel, after all that we have seen and heard in the New Testament? He was a Midianite by birth and by profession too, whereas we name the name of Christ, and profess ourselves to be his followers. Let us remember, that the invitation, rejected once, may be lost forever; and that the Master of the feast, when he hears your vain excuses, may send his invitations to others, and decree that you "shall never taste of his supper."

2. To those who having once accepted it, and are disposed to turn back.

Many such we read of in the Scriptures; and many such we behold among ourselves. But, if any who are here present are halting, we would ask them, "To whom will you go?" Where, but in Christ Jesus, will you find the words of eternal life! John 6:67-68. You have not forgotten Lot's wife, or the judgments that overtook her for only looking back to the city whence she had escaped; nor can you reasonably doubt but that they who turn back, "turn back unto perdition! Hebrews 10:39."

I charge you then: Be steadfast; and harbor not so much as a thought of "returning with the dog to his vomit, and with the sow that was washed to the wallowing in the mire." "If, after you have once escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you are again entangled therein and overcome, your last end will be worse with you than your beginning, 2 Peter 2:20." Do not, like Orpah, kiss, and part; but, like Ruth, be steadfast in cleaving to the Lord, Ruth 1:14; Ruth 1:17. Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life!"

3. To those who, having given themselves up to Christ, are cleaving to him with full purpose of heart.

You have doubtless met with some trials in your way, and been called to make some sacrifices; for where was there ever a true follower of Christ who had not his cross to bear? Then I will ask you, Have you ever had cause to regret any sacrifice you made for him? He has said, that "if any man leaves father and mother, and house and lands, for His sake and the Gospel's, he shall receive a hundred-fold more in this life; and in the world to come, eternal life! Mark 10:29-30." Is not this true? Have you not found it to be so by actual experience? Go on, "strong in the Lord and in the power of his might." Only, with Caleb, "follow the Lord fully," and you shall with him assuredly obtain a blessed portion in the promised land. "Faithful is He who has called you; who also will do it!"




Numbers 10:35-36

Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, "Rise up, O LORD! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you." Whenever it came to rest, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel."

Patriotism, according to the general acceptance of the term, consists in such a partial regard for our native land, as would advance the interests of one's own country at the expense of all others, and trample upon the most sacred rights of justice for the attainment of its ends. In this view, it is no better than a specious cloak for cruelty and oppression; but, when freed from selfishness and injustice, patriotism is a good principle, and nearly allied to religion itself.

Such was the patriotism of Moses; he wished well to his own country, and sought to promote its best interests. That he sought to occupy the territory of others, is true; but his right to their land was founded on the grant of Jehovah himself, the great Proprietor of Heaven and earth; and his desire to possess it originated, not in a thirst for dominion, but in a persuasion that the possession of it was combined with spiritual blessings, and would tend as much to the advancement of God's honor as of Israel's good. He wished ill to none, any further than as they were enemies of Almighty God; it was their opposition to him which he prayed to be rendered ineffectual. All his desire was, that Israel might be happy in their God, and in the ultimate possession of those privileges which God, in his sovereign mercy, had destined them to enjoy. This was the one object for which he prayed, whenever the ark removed, and whenever it became stationary. And from this prayer of his we may learn, what we also should do,

I. In times of trial.

It is not to be expected that we should pass through this wilderness without meeting with manifold trials along our way. The Church of old had much to contend with; and so must every individual that advances towards the heavenly Canaan. But our help is in God; and to Him we must look,

1. In earnest prayer.

Prayer is the appointed means of obtaining support from above; and it shall prevail when urged with fervent importunity. The uplifted hands of Moses prevailed against Amalek more than Joshua's sword; nor can we doubt but that, in all their journeys, the Israelites owed much of their safety to his continual intercession. Without prayer the whole Christian armor would leave him open to the assaults of his enemies; but, with it, he is altogether invincible!

2. In humble trust.

However numerous or powerful our enemies may be, we must remember, that "He who dwells on high is mightier." "If God is for us, none can with any effect be against us." With His help "a worm shall thresh the mountains!" It is manifest that Moses never doubted for a moment the all-sufficiency of Jehovah; nor should we; but, like David in the most perilous circumstances, we should banish all unbelieving fears with this thought, "The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord's throne is in Heaven!"

3. In confident expectation.

Moses did not pray as to an unknown God, but as to a God whom by experience he knew to be "abundant in goodness and truth." Thus we should have our expectations raised; we should ask in faith, persuaded and assured that "God will do more for us than we can either ask or think!" If we were "not straitened in ourselves," we should not find ourselves straitened in our God.

Similar to this should be our conduct,

II. In seasons of rest.

There were even in the apostolic age some seasons when "the Churches had rest." Just so, there are times of comparative rest which the saints experience in every age. But these are pregnant with danger to the soul no less than times of trial. At those seasons we are apt to relax our vigilance, and to be "settled on our lees." It befits us therefore, then more especially, to seek the presence of our God:

1. We must seek God's presence as our only safeguard.

Moses never deemed himself secure but under the divine protection. Hence he was as anxious to have God present with his people in their resting-places, as in their removals. We too, though apparently in peace, must remember, that "the roaring lion which seeks to devour us" never rests; he is ever going about, and ready to "take advantage of us" to our ruin. In God, and in him alone, is our safety.

If He guides us, we shall not err.

If He upholds us, we shall not fall.

If He is a wall of fire round about us, we may bid defiance to all the assaults of earth and Hell.

2. We must seek God's presence as our supreme happiness.

At no time should we allow ourselves to rest in created enjoyments; they are then only conducive to real happiness, when we can enjoy God in them. All, without him, is but "as the crackling of thorns under a pot." To have his presence in the ordinances, and in prayer, and in our own hearts—this is life, this is peace, this is "joy that is unspeakable and full of glory!" This therefore we should covet beyond all created good; and every moment that we are bereft of this, we should consider as lost to all the great ends and purposes of life.


1. To those who are ignorant of God.

Do not despise the idea of communion with God; there is a time coming, when you yourselves will wish for it. A dying man is a pitiable object indeed, without the divine presence. But if we seek it not now, what reason have we to expect it in a dying hour?

2. To those who indulge unbelieving fears respecting him.

How greatly do you dishonor the God of Israel! See how he attended his people of old, going before them in their journeys, and abiding with them in their resting-places; and is he not the same God still? O blush and be ashamed, that ever you have limited his power and grace. Only live near to him in the exercise of faith and prayer, and you cannot but be happy in time and in eternity.

3. To those who enjoy his presence.

Be, like Moses, true patriots. Consider "the many thousands of Israel," and let them ever have a remembrance in your prayers. Seek for them, as well as for yourselves—God's blessing and protection. To be intercessors for the Church is an employment worthy the attention of the highest potentates; at the same time "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man," however low he is in the scale of society, "avails much." And they who bring down blessings on the Church by prayer, shall be sure to have no small portion of them resting on their own souls!




Numbers 11:10-13

"Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the LORD, "Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!'"

Truly humiliating are the views which the Scripture gives us of human instability. Who would have thought that the zeal which all the princes of Israel manifested in furnishing the tabernacle, Numbers 7, should so soon vanish? The first journey which they have to perform, fills them all with discontent; it being continued three days without intermission, all complain of the length of the way. Some are signally punished by the Lord, being struck dead by fire; but the survivors, neither awed by the judgments inflicted on others, nor won by the mercy shown to themselves, soon murmur again for lack of variety in their food. At this, Moses is deeply grieved, and God is greatly offended. That the different circumstances may come easily under our review, we shall notice in succession,

I. The sin of Israel.

They were discontented with the food which God had given them.

They wanted flesh to eat, that they might gratify their palates; and were so vexed for lack of it as to "weep in all their tents." To excuse these inordinate desires, they complained that they were emaciated by subsisting only on such insipid food as God had provided for them, verse 6. They adversely compared their state in Egypt with their present state; omitting all which they had suffered there, and magnifying the comforts which they had there enjoyed. Thus they misrepresented both their past and present condition, that they might the better conceal their ingratitude, and justify their complaints.

This was nothing less than a contempt of God himself, verse 20. "You have despised the Lord," etc.

What had not God done for them? What more could he have done? He had brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand; and had overwhelmed their enemies in the Red Sea; he had been their Guide and Protector in all their way; he had given them bread from Heaven, and water out of the rock; he had revealed unto them his will, and taken them into a peculiar relation to himself above all the people upon the face of the earth. And yet, all that he had done was accounted as nothing, because they wanted flesh to eat. Is it possible to conceive a greater contempt of God than this?

Such a sin is discontent, in whoever it is found.

There are many things in this world which a discontented mind will pant after or murmur over. But the indulging of such a disposition is rebellion against the Sovereign Disposer of all events; yes, it is an utter contempt of him. What! is it not sufficient to have:
God for our Father,
Christ for our Savior,
the Spirit for our Comforter,
and Heaven for our everlasting inheritance,
but must we murmur and complain because all temporal circumstances are not exactly to our mind?

What does any temporal need or loss signify, when we have such unsearchable riches secured to us? In comparison with such spiritual blessings, the greatest of earthly comforts is no more than the dust upon the balance.

But this, alas! we are too apt to forget! We are ready, like the Israelites, to overlook all the mercies we enjoy, through an excessive regret of something lost, or an inordinate desire of something unpossessed.

When we reflect on the exceeding baseness of this conduct, we shall not wonder at,

II. The grief of Moses.

We cannot altogether approve of the manner in which Moses expressed his sorrow.

He not only complained to God, but in reality complained of God himself. God had appointed him to lead that people to the land of Canaan. This should have been considered by him as a singular honor; but he complained of it as a burden. Not that he would ever have complained of it, if the people had walked worthy of their high calling; but when they were dissatisfied and rebellious, it seemed to him as if all his labor had been in vain. Had he been their natural father, he would have thought it reasonable enough that he should take the oversight of them; but when he had no other relation to them than that which was common to all, he deemed it a hardship to have so great a charge committed to him; and he begged that God would release him from it by taking away his life. Alas! what is human nature when it comes to be severely tried!

But from this we learn some very important lessons.

We learn what the ministerial office is.

God says to a minister, "Take this people," and, "as a nursing father carried his nursing child" through the wilderness, where there were no other means for its conveyance, so do you "carry them in your bosom," bearing with all their frowardness, attending to all their needs, administering to all their necessities, and seeking your happiness in their welfare." O! what a charge is this! and what grace do they need who have to sustain and execute it! O that all of us resembled Paul, 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.

We learn also what a minister's heaviest affliction is.

If his people are obedient to their God, great as his difficulties are, he is willing to bear them; his people are "his joy and crown of rejoicing;" "he lives, when they stand fast in the Lord;" "he has no greater joy than to see his children walk in truth." But when they decline from the ways of God, when they are dissatisfied with his ministrations, and begin to despise the bread of life because it is plain and unmixed with anything suited to a carnal appetite—then he is grieved, and wounded in his inmost soul; then life itself becomes a burden to him, and he is ready to wish for death to put an end to his sorrows.

We remember how Paul was grieved by the worldliness and sensuality of some, and by the heretical conduct of others; he could not speak of them without tears, Philippians 3:18-19; and he was always like a woman in travail, by reason of his anxiety for their welfare, Galatians 4:19. "The care of all the churches" was a heavier burden to him than all his own perils and dangers, whether by sea or land. "None were weak, but he was weak also;" nor were any offended and turned aside, but "he burned" with an ardent desire to restore them. O that every minister were thus wrapped up in the good of the people committed to his care! "His afflictions might abound; but his consolations should abound" also.

That which so deeply afflicted Moses, excited, in a very high degree,

III. The displeasure of God.

It is instructive to observe in what manner God manifested his displeasure.

He granted their wishes, and sent them such abundance of quail, that for many miles round their camp they lay above a yard thick upon the ground. The people with great avidity began to gather them up. For two whole days and a night did they occupy themselves in this work; so he who gathered least among them, gathered ten homers, or eighty bushels. Now they began to revel upon the spoil; but while the flesh was in their mouths, even before it was chewed, God smote them with a very great plague, whereof many thousands of them died, verses 32-33 with Psalm 78:17-31; How strongly did God mark their sin in their punishment!

But we are peculiarly interested in the end for which he thus displayed his indignation.

He expressly tells us, that it was for our sakes, and to make them examples unto us, 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:10-11. He designed to teach us "not to lust after evil things, as they lusted." O that we could learn that lesson, and take warning by them!

We are ready to think it a light matter to be murmuring and dissatisfied with what we have, and to be longing for what we have not; but God has shown us that he does not account it light; he deems it a contempt of him and of the rich mercies he has given unto us; and as such, he will sooner or later visit it with fiery indignation.

Allow you then, brethren, a word of exhortation.

1. Guard against the contagion of bad example.

It was "the mixed multitude" who first began to murmur, verse 4. They were Egyptians, who accompanied the Israelites; and from them the dissatisfaction spread through all the tents of Israel. Thus did Judas infect all the disciples, Compare Matthew 26:7-9 with John 12:4-6. Thus shall we ever find it in the Church, "a little leaven is sufficient to leaven the whole lump." If there is any one of a carnal, worldly, querulous and contentious spirit, be sure to let him have no influence over your mind. Reject his counsels as poison; and follow none any further than they follow Christ.

2. Cultivate a contented spirit.

"Be contented with such things as you have." It is better to have little with a devout spirit, than abundance, and "leanness of soul." God showed that it was not from any lack of power that he did not feed them every day with flesh; but because he knew that it would be productive of no good to their souls. Think not that it is from any lack of love or power that he allows you to be tried in a variety of ways. He could easily carry you on without any trials, and give you all that the most carnal heart could desire. But trials are the fruits of his love; he desires to instruct you in every part of your duty; that you may "know both how to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." "Learn then in everything to be content," and to say from your hearts in all things, "Not my will, but may your will be done."

3. Expect from God all that is truly good for you.

Moses himself staggered at the promise, when God said, that all the people should feed on flesh for a whole month, verse 21, 22; but God said to him, "Is the Lord's hand waxed short? You shall see now whether my word shall come to pass unto you or not, verse 23." His promises to us also are "exceeding great and precious," both in relation to our bodies and our souls; Let us never presume to "limit the Holy One of Israel," as though anything which he has promised, were either too great, or too good, for him to give. The trials which he sends us, are often sent on purpose that we may see the exceeding riches of his grace in our deliverance. For temporal things, let us depend entirely on his good providence; and for spiritual things, on his all-sufficient grace. In Christ Jesus there is a fullness of all that we can need; and "out of his fullness we may all receive" from day to day.




Numbers 11:23

The LORD answered Moses, "Is the LORD's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you."

In reading the history of the Israelites, we cannot fail of being struck with the wonderful display of God's patience and forbearance towards them. No displays of love and mercy on his part would satisfy them. They were always murmuring, and wishing that they had never come out of Egypt at all. It was a small matter in their eyes that they were supplied with manna from the clouds from day to day; they must have flesh to eat; and so intense was their desire after that gratification, that they actually wept before God, whole families of them, throughout the camp, saying, "Give us meat, that we may eat! verse 10, 13, 18." Nor was Moses himself blameless in this matter; for though he did not in the least participate with them in their inordinate desire for meat, he questioned God's power to give them meat; and it was this unbelief of his which brought forth from Jehovah the reproof which we have just read, and which will be the subject of our present discourse.

In this reproof we see:

I. The evil of unbelief.

Unbelief is the most common of all evils.

Unbelief pervades the whole human race. It is found in the godly, no less than in the ungodly.

Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, was by no means free from it. Repeatedly did he make his wife deny her relation to him as a wife, and to call herself his sister, lest people, captivated with her beauty, should kill him for the sake of obtaining an undisturbed possession of her; thus betraying his fears, that God was either not able to protect him, or not sufficiently interested in his welfare to watch over him.

And Moses, on the occasion before us, was evidently under the power of unbelief. Some, indeed, would understand his reply to God as a mere question, and a desire to be informed whether the flesh which he would give should be that of beasts or fish; but then the answer would have corresponded with it, and would merely have informed him that it was not the flesh of beasts or of fishes that he would supply in such abundance, but the flesh of birds.

But Moses' question was evidently founded on the magnitude of the supply which God had promised. He had declared, that the whole people of Israel, not less than two million in number, should be supplied with it, "not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but even a whole month, until it should come out at their nostrils, and be loathsome unto them, verse 19, 20." To that, Moses in a way of unbelief, asks, How, when the fighting men alone amounted to six hundred thousand men, should they all be so fed as "to suffice them," (twice is that idea suggested,) and that "for the space of a whole month?"

God's answer to him clearly shows, that it was unbelief that was here reproved, "Is the Lord's hand waxed short?" You have seen how easily I brought frogs and locusts upon the land of Egypt; and am I less able to supply meat of any kind that I may see good? "You shall see now (presently) whether my word shall come to pass, or not."

When we see people so eminent for the grace of faith as Abraham and Moses—yet giving way to unbelief, we need scarcely adduce any further proof of the universal prevalence of this evil. It exists, indeed, in very different degrees in men, being in some only occasional, while in others it is the entire habit of their minds; but there is not a man under the whole heavens who has not reason to mourn over the workings of this corruption, when he is brought into circumstances to call it forth. From other evils many people may be accounted nearly free; but this works equally in men of every class, and every age.

Unbelief is also the most deceitful of all evils.

No one will avow a doubt of God's power to effect whatever he shall please; his pretext will be, that he cannot conceive how God should condescend to show such extraordinary favor to one so insignificant and worthless as himself. But God himself never puts this construction upon it; he always regards it as a denial of his perfections, and resents it in that view.

We have a remarkable instance of this in Ahaz. God told him, by the prophet, to "ask a sign of him, either in the depth or in the height above." But Ahaz, wishing to hide his unbelief, pretended that this was too great an honor for him, and that therefore he could not presume to ask any such thing, "Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord."

But was this excuse admitted on God's part? No; He viewed the evil as it really was, and not as it was glossed over by this self-deluded monarch; and therefore, with just indignation, he replied, by his prophet, "Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Isaiah 7:10-13."

So, whatever we may imagine, a lack of entire confidence in God, whatever be the circumstances under which we are placed, will appear in its true colors before God, and be condemned by him as unbelief.

It is, moreover, the most offensive of all evils.

There is no grace so highly honored of God, as faith; nor any evil so reprobated by him, as unbelief. Other evils are acts of rebellion against his authority; but unbelief rises against every one of his perfections. It doubts his wisdom, his power, his goodness, his love, his mercy; yes, it questions even his veracity; and reduces the infinite Jehovah to a level with his own creatures; insomuch that Balaam, when checking the vain hopes of the king of Moab, could find no language more appropriate than this, "God is not a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and shall he not do it? Has he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Numbers 23:19."

What an indignity he considers it, is plain from his very answer to Moses, "Is the hand of the Lord waxed short? You shall see whether my word shall come to pass or not." This is no slight rebuke; it is similar to that which he gave to Sarah, when she doubted whether she should ever bear to Abraham the promised child, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I bear a child, when I am so old? Is anything too hard for the Lord Genesis, 18:12-13."

How Zachariah was reproved for his unbelief in the temple, you well know, Luke 1:20.

And among all the provocations which the Israelites committed in the wilderness, this was the one which God laid most to heart, "How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yes, they turned back, and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel; they remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy, Psalm 78:40-42."

Finally, unbelief is the most fatal of all evils.

Other evils, if we come to God in the exercise of faith, may be forgiven; but this evil, while it is yet dominant in the soul, precludes a possibility of forgiveness; because it keeps us from God, to whom we ought to come; and puts away from us that mercy which he offers to bestow. The whole adult population of Israel perished in the wilderness. What was it that prevented their entrance into Canaan? We are told, "They could not enter in because of unbelief, Hebrews 3:18."

And what is it which, under the Gospel also, is the great damning sin? it is this, "Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; he who believes and is baptized, shall be saved; and he who believes not, shall be damned, Mark 16:15-16."

While the answer of God to Moses reproves this evil, it points out to us,

II. The proper antidote to unbelief.

To prevent unbelief from ever gaining an ascendant over us, we should,

1. Reflect on God's power as already exercised.

Had Moses only called to mind the wonders which God had already wrought for his people, he would not have "staggered at the promise" that was now given. Nor shall we doubt the certainty of any promise whatever, if we bear in remembrance what God has already done. It is for this end that God himself refers us to all his wonders of creation, providence, and redemption.

Of Creation, he speaks thus, "Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, My way is hidden from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Have you not known? have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary? his understanding is infinite! Isaiah 40:27-28."

Just so, in reference to his Providence, "Why, when I came, was there no man; when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand so shortened that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke, I dry up the sea; I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish smells, because there is no water, and dies for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering, Isaiah 50:2-3."

So also respecting Redemption, Paul expressly tells us that God's particular design, in converting and saving him, was, to show to all future generations his power to save, and to cut off all occasion for despondency from the whole world, "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first (in me, the chief of sinners) God might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting! 1 Timothy 1:16."

It is in this view that the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is of such infinite benefit to the soul; for when we see what God has already done, it is almost impossible to doubt his power to effect whatever in his mercy he has promised to us.

2. Reflect on his veracity, as unalterably pledged.

When did God ever violate his engagements? His word has been pledged for many things; and has been questioned by mankind; but when did he abstain from fulfilling it? He said to our first parents in Paradise, "In the day that you eat of the forbidden tree, you shall die." No, says the tempter, "You shall not surely die." But whose word proved true? Satan's or the Lord's?

Again, to the antediluvians, God said that he would destroy by water every living creature, except what was be contained in the ark. During the building of the ark, the scoffers were lavish enough of contempt. But did God's Word fail, either in relation to those who were to be saved, or to those who were doomed to perish?

The destruction of Sodom, the captivities of Israel and Judah, the sending of the Messiah, the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom in the world, furnished plenty of matter for doubt, before they were accomplished; but they all came to pass in their season, according to the Word of God.

For the captives who were restored to Judea from Babylon, it was said, "that if they would continue there, and be obedient to the king of Babylon, they would be preserved in peace and safety; but that if, through fear of the king of Babylon, they should flee to Egypt for safety, they should all perish, Jeremiah 44:12-14." And, when they would not be persuaded to remain there, but would go to sojourn in Egypt, the Lord sent this word to them, "All the remnant of Judah that are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall know whose word shall stand, theirs or mine! Jeremiah 44:26-28."

But, that we may depart as little as possible from our text, let us see the outcome of the prediction before us. God sent a wind; and brought such a number of quails, that they fell round about the tents of Israel, and filled the whole country for the space of one hundred and twenty miles in circuit, above a yard deep; so that the whole people occupied about six-and-thirty hours in collecting them; every one, even of those who gathered the least, collecting as much as eighty bushels for his own use, verse 31, 32.

Now it was seen "whether God could fulfill his word or not." It was seen, too, whether they had reason to repent of their inordinate desires or not; for "while the flesh was yet in their mouths, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and smote them with a very great plague, verse 33 with Psalm 78:26-31."

The truth is, that "it is easier for Heaven and earth to pass away, than for one jot or tittle of God's Word to fail! Luke 16:17." "He cannot lie," Titus 1:2; he cannot deny himself, 2 Timothy 2:13." He could as soon cease to exist, as he could falsify his word in any one particular. And, if we could only bear this in remembrance, we should never give way to unbelief, or doubt the accomplishment of anything which the Lord God has spoken.


1. Those who doubt the fulfillment of God's promises.

Who among us is not conscious of great defects in this particular? Who, in trying circumstances, has not found it difficult to cast all his care on God, as caring for him; and has not rather been ready to say with David, "I shall one day perish by the hands of Saul!" Who, while he has professed to call God his Father, has been able habitually to walk before him with the same confidence that a child places in his earthly father?

Yet this is our duty; and it is a shame to us that we find the performance of it so difficult. But let us remember what a God we have to do with; how "merciful and gracious; and how abundant in goodness and truth;" and let us "never stagger at any of his promises through unbelief; but be strong in faith, giving glory to God." And if, according to the views of sense, there is no hope, "let us against hope believe in hope;" and rest assured, that "whatever God has promised, he is both able and willing to perform!"

Those who question the execution of his threatenings.

Men will dissuade us from regarding, as we ought, the sacred oracles; and will venture to place their own word in opposition to God's. Your own heart, too, will be apt to suggest, "I shall have peace, even though I walk after the imagination of my own evil heart! Deuteronomy 29:19-20." But what God said to Moses, he says to us, "You shall know whether my word shall come to pass unto you or not, Ezekiel 24:14."

Go on; listen to your carnal advisers; let them tell you that there is no need to give yourselves up to God; and that you may be the servants both of God and Mammon at the same time.

Go on; and take their word in preference to God's; and wait to see whose word shall stand—theirs or his. But remember, that if, unhappily for you, God's Word shall take place, and that threatening be executed—there will be no room left for repentance; your state will be fixed, and that forever. Choose you, then, whom you will believe, and whom you will serve; and, if you be truly wise, shut your ears against the assurances of an ungodly world, and say, in reference to them all, "Let God be true, and every man a liar! Romans 3:4."




Numbers 11:27-29

"A young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses' aide since youth, spoke up and said, "Moses, my lord, stop them!" But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"

Experience proves that eminent situations are attended with manifold anxieties; and that rulers, though envied by their subjects, often feel a weight of care which is burdensome in the extreme. Moses was supported in his office by God himself, who confirmed his authority by many signal and miraculous interpositions; yet even he complained, "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me, verse 14."

To relieve him from the burden, God promised that he would pour out his Spirit upon seventy elders, whom Moses should select, and would qualify them for taking a share in the government. Two of the people nominated, (being deterred, it would seem, by a sense of their own insufficiency for the office,) stayed in the camp, instead of going up with the others to the tabernacle at the time appointed. God however did not on this account withhold his Spirit from them, but gave the Spirit to them in the same manner as to the others; in consequence of which they began to prophesy in the camp.

This innovation excited the jealousy of Joshua; who, fearing lest it should weaken the authority of Moses, instantly informed him of it, and desired him to forbid any further exercise of their gifts; but Moses saw through the hidden motives by which Joshua was actuated, and checked the evil which had risen in his heart.

Let us consider,

I. The principle which Joshua he indulged.

Doubtless, thought that he was acting under a good impression, and that his zeal was of the purest kind; but Moses traces his conduct to a principle of envy, which needed to be mortified and suppressed.

1. Envy is a common principle.

Few are conscious of it in themselves; but all see the operation of it in their neighbors. There is not any evil in the heart of man more universally prevalent than envy! "It is not in vain that the Scripture says, The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy, James 4:5." We may see in Cain, in Joseph's brethren, in Saul, and in all the rulers of the Jewish Church, that this disposition is natural to man, 1 John 3:12; Acts 7:9; 1 Samuel 18:9; Matthew 27:18. Infants at the bosom have been seen to feel envy's malignant influence, when another has been permitted to participate what they have deemed their exclusive right. There is no age, no situation, exempt from envy! Even those who possess the most, as well as those who are wholly destitute, are open to its assaults.

2. Envy is an active principle.

Whatever is an object of desire, is also an object of envy; for envy is nothing but a regret that another should possess that which we ourselves would wish to enjoy. Usually indeed the things which people most envy, are such as are proper to their own age or condition in life; and such as they think themselves in some measure entitled to.

Those in whom beauty or strength is highly valued, look not with delight on one who is reckoned to surpass them; nor do those who desire fame on account of mental qualifications, love to acknowledge the intellectual superiority of others. All are happy to hear their rivals depreciated, and themselves preferred. Nor is it respecting natural endowments only that this principle exerts itself; it shows itself no less in reference to acquired distinctions, of whatever kind. Riches and honors are among the objects which most powerfully excite this corrupt feeling; and it is difficult for any one to behold the more rapid advancement of his rival, and not to feel in himself some workings of this malignant disposition.

But this principle operates even where personal considerations appear very feeble and remote. The exaltation of a party, for instance, will call envy forth in those who belong to an opposite party. There scarcely ever is a popular election, but the partisans of rival candidates are open to its assaults, as much as the principals themselves.

Parties in the Church are no less agitated by this corroding passion, insomuch that they will endeavor to outstrip each other in things to which they have no real inclination, in order by any means to gain an ascendency for their own side. In the days of the Apostles, "some preached Christ out of envy and strife;" and there is but too much reason to fear, that many also in this day have no better motive for their benevolent and religious exertions, than the strengthening and increasing of a party in the Church.

3. Envy is a deep-rooted principle.

One would suppose that true religion should presently and entirely extirpate this principle; but it is not so easily rooted out. We find it working in people who profess to have a zeal for God, 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; yes, in people also of whose piety we cannot doubt. The disciples of John were alarmed for the honor of their master, when they heard that Jesus had more disciples than he, John 3:26; and the Apostles themselves forbade a person to persist in the work of casting out devils, because he did not attach himself to them, Mark 9:38. This was the very spirit by which Joshua was actuated; he was afraid lest the honor and influence of Moses should be weakened by others rising into popularity around him. Of course, envy is not willfully indulged by any who truly fear God; but it is so rooted in the heart, that all have need to be on their guard against it.

The hatefulness of such a principle may be seen by,

II. The reproof which Joshua met with.

Moses appears truly as a man of God. Behold, in his answer to Joshua,

1. Moses' fidelity.

Moses had a peculiar regard for Joshua; but that did not cause him to overlook his faults, much less to countenance him in what was wrong. Young men in general are apt to be led away by their feelings, and not to be sufficiently aware of their own corruptions. This was the case with Joshua; and Moses, like a father, watched over him with care, and reproved him with tenderness. Moses pointed out to him the principle by which he was actuated, and that higher principle by which he ought rather to be governed.

It would be well if all religious people were equally on their guard, to check, rather than encourage, the growth of evil. If a person is of our party, and more especially if he is our friend, we are ready to receive his reports, without very strict inquiry, and to accede to his proposals, without sufficient care. Hence one person in a society sometimes diffuses throughout the whole a spirit of strife and contention, when, if the erroneousness of his views had been pointed out at first, the peace of the whole body might have been preserved. Great attention therefore do we recommend to all in this particular. More especially would we remind professing Christians of their duty, "Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt, Leviticus 19:17." We should not be contented with a vague suggestion. We should dread the incursion of an evil principle in the Church, as much as we do the introduction of fire in a place filled with combustibles. We should ever remember, that "a little leaven will soon leaven the whole lump!"

2. Moses' zeal.

The glory of God was that which was uppermost in the mind of Moses; and if that might but be advanced, he was quite indifferent whether his own honor were eclipsed or not. He well knew, that these two men "could have nothing except it were given them from above. This was John's answer; Mark 9:39; and that if God had conferred on them the gift of prophecy, he would overrule the exercise of it for his own glory. Instead therefore of wishing to repress it in them, he would have been glad if every person in the camp had possessed it.

What a noble spirit was this! How worthy of universal imitation! It was precisely thus that Paul rejoiced, when "Christ was preached in contention." He knew the motives of the preachers to be bad; but he knew that God would render their ministrations subservient to the increase of the Redeemer's kingdom; and therefore, however their conduct might affect his influence, he did, and would, rejoice, Philippians 1:15-18.

Thus, beloved, should we be glad to see the Redeemer's interests advanced, whoever be the instruments, and whatever be the means. This consideration should be paramount to every other; and we should say, with John, "Let me, and my party, decrease, so that Christ and his kingdom may but increase! John 3:30."

3. Moses' love.

Moses had no desire to engross or monopolize the gifts of God. As Paul said to his bitterest persecutors, "I would to God that all who hear me this day were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds, Acts 26:29," so did Moses wish all the people of Israel to have the Spirit of the Lord imparted to them, as he himself had. The more they were benefitted, the more would his happiness be increased. This is that very disposition which Paul himself exercised, 1 Corinthians 4:9, and which he inculcates on us, when he says, "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others, Philippians 2:4." In fact, this is that principle, which, more than any other, counteracts the baneful influence of envy, "Charity does not envy! 1 Corinthians 13:4." Let universal love reign in our hearts, and, instead of envying any of our brethren, we shall be willing rather to "lay down our lives for them, 1 John 3:16."

To improve this subject, we would recommend to you two things:

1. Examine well your own principles.

Do not hastily conclude that your principles are right, even though you do not know that they are wrong; but search and try your ways, and maintain a godly jealousy over your own hearts. The Apostles themselves, on more occasions than one, "knew not what spirit they were of."

Who among us does not see the blindness of others in relation to their principles? Pride, and ostentation, and vanity, and envy, and malice, and a thousand other evils—are visible enough to others, when the people influenced by them give themselves credit for very different motives. Doubtless, at times, this is the case with all of us. If indeed envy becomes in any respect a governing principle in our hearts, our religion is altogether vain, James 3:14-16. Let us therefore watch our own spirits, and be thankful to any friend, who, like Moses, will "point out to us a more excellent way, 1 Corinthians 12:31."

2. Take diligent heed to the Word of God.

The Word of God, if duly attended to, would correct every bad principle in us. It is a two-edged sword, that lays open the inmost recesses of the heart, Hebrews 4:12. To that Peter directs us, as the means of subduing envy, and every other evil propensity, 1 Peter 2:1-3. By the Word the Apostles themselves were sanctified; and by that also must we be made clean, John 15:3; John 17:17. Meditate then on the Word day and night; and let it be your earnest prayer, that it may dwell richly in you in all wisdom; and that, being cast into the mold of the Gospel, you may be "changed into the divine image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord."




Numbers 12:8-10

"Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam--leprous, like snow."

When men are angry, we may often, and with reason, doubt, whether there is any just occasion for their displeasure; but when we see Almighty God expressing indignation, we may always ask with confidence, "Is there not a cause?"

It is no slight degree of anger which God manifests in the passage before us. And what could be the reason? We are told that "Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married, verse 1." But this seems only to have been, if not a fictitious, at least a secondary, reason. (It must be strange indeed if they now began to be displeased with a thing which they knew to have been done many years ago, and which had never, in that instance, been disapproved by God.) The true reason, I apprehend, was that they were offended at his not having consulted them about the seventy people whom he had selected to bear a part of his burden with him; and it is possible enough that they might ascribe this to his wife's influence. They thought, that, as God had spoken by them as well as by Moses himself, compare verse 2 with Micah 6:4, Moses should have treated them with more respect. (This is precisely the way in which many, yes and good people too, are prone to act. If overlooked in any instance wherein they think they had a right to be consulted, they forget all the distinguishing honors which they already enjoy, and become querulous on account of the supposed slight which is cast upon them.) Of this complaint Moses took no notice; but meekly passed it over in silence. Herein he shows how unreasonable murmurers and complainers should be treated. Would to God we were more like him in this particular! If querulous objections be met by passionate answers, contentions soon arise The common history of quarrels is, that they begin like those of the ambitious disciples, and proceed like those of the jealous tribes, Matthew 20:21; Matthew 20:24; 2 Samuel 19:43; whereas silence, or "a soft answer, would turn away wrath."

But the less anxious we are to vindicate our own character, the more readily and effectually will God interpose for us. "He heard," though Moses was as one that heard not; and he immediately summoned the offenders before him, in their presence vindicated the character of his servant Moses, and smote Miriam with a leprosy; and though, at the request of Moses, he restored her to health—yet he ordered her to be put out of the camp for seven days; and thus exposed to shame the people, who, through the pride of their hearts, had arrogated to themselves an honor which belonged not to them.

On account of the importance of these subordinate circumstances, we have dwelt upon them somewhat longer than usual. But it is not our intention to enlarge any more on them; we wish rather to turn your attention to the great and leading points contained in the words of our text. In them, God expostulates with Aaron and Miriam for presuming to speak against Moses. Now Moses sustained a variety of characters; in reference to which the words before us may be differently understood.

As he was a civil magistrate, they show God's anger against those who resist the magistracy.

As he was a teacher of God's Word, they show how God is offended with a neglect of his faithful ministers.

And, as he was a representative of our great Lawgiver and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, they show what indignation God will exercise against those who either openly reject, or secretly despise, his only dear Son.

First then we shall consider them as expressing God's displeasure against those,

I. Who oppose the civil magistrate.

Magistrates are appointed of God to bear a portion of his authority; and they are invested with it, that they may be a terror to evil-doers, and a protection to the good. To these we are to be subject, not reluctantly through fear of their displeasure, but willingly, and for conscience sake; and "if we will resist them, we shall receive punishment, Romans 13:1-5." Both temporal and eternal judgments must be expected by us if we rebel against the constituted authorities. Nor is it of open and avowed rebellion only that we speak, but of murmuring and complaining against them without just and great occasion. This was the fault of Aaron and Miriam, "they were not afraid to speak against" the person whom God had ordained to be his leader. Persons of this class are invariably represented by God himself as enemies to him. "Presumptuous are they, says he, and self-willed, and are not afraid to speak evil of dignities, 2 Peter 2:10." They take liberties with earthly potentates, which the first archangel dared not to take with Satan himself, Jude verse 8, 9. It would be well if religious people were sufficiently on their guard respecting this.

We have seen, during the French Revolution, great multitudes even of them drawn after Satan; and the supporters of civil government traduced by every opprobrious epithet; and though the generality of these deluded people have seen their error—yet the necessity for cautioning you on this head has not ceased. That the rights of people are very different in different countries, is certain; and that rulers may so conduct themselves, as totally to destroy the compact between them and their subjects, is also certain. But it is no less certain, that religious people, above all, should be "the quiet in the land," and should ever conform to that solemn injunction, "You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people, Acts 23:5."

II. Who disregard the ministers of the Gospel.

Those who minister in holy things are ambassadors from God, and speak to the people "in Christ's stead, 2 Corinthians 5:20." Their word, as far as it accords with the inspired volume, is "to be received, not as the word of men, but as the Word of God himself, 1 Thessalonians 2:13;" and whatever, in the name and by the authority of God, they bid you to observe—that you are bound to observe and do, Matthew 23:2-3. It is true, that ministers are "not lords over God's heritage, 1 Peter 5:3," neither have they any "dominion over your faith, 2 Corinthians 1:24." Yet it is also true, that in things pertaining to God they are invested with a divine authority; they "are over you in the Lord, 1 Thessalonians 5:12;" they "have the rule over you, and you are to obey them, and submit yourselves, Hebrews 13:17;" and if, while "they labor in the word and doctrine, they rule well, they are to be counted worthy of double honor, 1 Timothy 5:17."

What shall we say then to those who despise the ministers of God, and that too in proportion to their fidelity? This we must say, that "in despising us, they despise both Christ, and the Father who sent him, Luke 10:16;" and their opposition to such ministers is felt by God as opposition to himself, Zechariah 2:8; such opposition too as will meet with a dreadful recompense in the day of judgment, Matthew 18:6. What Moses had said and done, was by the direction and authority of God; and it was at the peril of the greatest people of the land to contradict and oppose him.

III. Who neglect the Lord Jesus Christ.

Moses, as the head of the Church and people of God, certainly prefigured the Lord Jesus Christ. The very eulogies here passed on Moses by God himself, are such as of necessity lead our minds to Christ.

Was Moses a prophet far superior to all others? verse 6, 7. Just so, Christ is that Prophet of whom Moses was only a shadow, and whom all are commanded to hear at the peril of their souls, Acts 3:22-23.

Was Moses faithful in all God's house as a servant? verse 7. Christ is that Son who presides over his own house, Hebrews 3:2-6.

Was Moses the meekest of all men upon the face of the earth? verse 3. Christ is he whose unparalleled meekness is our great encouragement to learn of him, Matthew 11:29.

In reference to Christ therefore, the expostulation in our text has tenfold weight. O, who must not be afraid to speak against him, or to entertain so much as a thought contrary to his honor?

Here then we have not to address the unbelievers; for they may well be classed under the former head—those who openly reject Christ, cannot even in profession obey his ministers.

But many who are partial to faithful ministers, are yet far from being conformed to the mind of Christ. Many who are in high repute in the Church of Christ, have yet their unsubdued lusts, which rise in allowed hostility against their Lord and Savior. The murmurs of Aaron and Miriam were not public; but "The Lord heard them." And so these vile affections may not be known by others; but God sees them; and he will, if we continue to harbor them, be "a swift witness against us".

With what solemn authority did he summon Aaron and Miriam before him, verse 4, 5. But with a more solemn voice will he call us forth to judgment. With what indignation did he, after reproving their iniquity, "depart verse 9;" and will he not depart from such professors here; yes, and bid them to depart from him forever! Did he expose their sin to all? Did he inflict a most disgraceful punishment? Did he order Miriam to be excluded from the camp of Israel, verse 10, 14. Who does not here see the shame and misery of those, who, under a cloak of religion, have harbored any secret lusts? Were Aaron and Miriam, the most distinguished characters in the whole kingdom, dealt with thus? Who then among us has not reason to fear and tremble? "Be wise now therefore, O kings, be instructed, you judges of the earth. O kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish from the way! Psalm 2:10-12."

Behold, the sin of these two professors delayed the progress of all the hosts of Israel for seven days, Numbers 22:15. Armed hosts, or intervening seas, could not retard them; but sin, that evil and accursed thing, did what all the powers of earth and Hell could not have done.

O professor, think how many may be retarded in their progress towards Heaven by one sin of yours; yes perhaps may be turned out of the way, and ruined forever! Remember what our Lord has said, "Woe unto the world because of offences! But woe, most of all, unto him, by whom the offence comes." It is on this account that God enjoined all his people to "bear in mind what he had done to Miriam by the way, after that they were come forth out of Egypt, Deuteronomy 24:9." May the Lord grant that none of us may ever lose sight of it! May we remember what an evil and bitter thing it is to lose in any degree the fear and love of God! Jeremiah 2:19.


To those who have sinned in any of the foregoing particulars, we would particularly recommend, that, like Aaron, they confess their sin humbly, and without delay, verse 11. Yes, entreat that very Savior whose authority you have despised, to intercede for you. Seek a saving interest in him; implore forgiveness for his sake; so will God "pardon your offences, though he may take vengeance of your inventions, verse 13, 14." "Turn with sincere sorrow from your transgressions; so that your iniquity shall not be your ruin." Leprous as you are, you shall yet be healed; and, deserving as you are to be expelled from the camp of Israel, you shall yet be received into it, and, through the tender mercy of your God, shall proceed in comfort to the promised land.




Numbers 14:4-5

"And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt." Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there."

That the journeying of the Israelites in the wilderness is typical of our journey towards the heavenly Canaan is so generally known among you, that I need not insist upon it.

The Israelites had now arrived at the borders of Canaan; and they sent spies, one from every tribe, to search out the land. They all agreed respecting the fertility of the country; but ten of the spies represented the attempt to conquer it as altogether hopeless. This report discouraged the whole congregation; who bitterly bewailed their disappointment, cast severe reflections on Jehovah himself as having deceived and betrayed them, and proposed to make a captain over them and to return to Egypt.

Let us consider the circumstances here recorded; and,

I. The proposal made by the people.

The report given by the spies was very unfavorable; the cities were represented as impregnable, being "walled up to Heaven;" and the people of such a gigantic stature, that the Israelites were no more than as grasshoppers before them. The climate, too, was represented as so unhealthy, that "the land ate up the inhabitants thereof, Numbers 13:31-33." Hence the people were led to "despise the land" as unworthy of their pursuit, Psalm 106:24, and to despair of attaining it against such formidable enemies; yes, they impiously wished that they had died in Egypt, when the Egyptian first-born were slain; or in the wilderness, when God sent a plague among the people for worshiping the golden calf.

Under the influence of their unbelieving fears, they proposed to make a captain over them, and to return to Egypt, from whence they had come out. They judged this to be so wise a measure, that no one could doubt of its expediency, "Is it not better for us to return into Egypt? verse 3."

And are we not likely to hear of similar proposals at this time? You profess now to have dedicated yourselves to Almighty God, and to be bent on the attainment of the heavenly Canaan. But are you prepared to encounter the discouragements which you will meet with in the way? You have promised, before God, to renounce:
the devil and all his works,
the pomps and vanities of this wicked world,
and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.

But are you girt for the warfare, and ready to go forth in the strength of Christ, against these mighty foes?

What reports, alas! will you hear! The mortality among the Canaanites, which the spies represented as arising from the climate, was no other than that occasioned by the hornets, which God, according to his promise, had sent, to weaken the people of the land, and thereby to facilitate the entrance of Israel into it. Compare Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 24:12; yet was that made an additional ground for desisting from the enterprise.

In like manner, the very exercises of mind, whereby God weakens the corruptions of his people's hearts, and ensures to them a final victory over all their enemies—are urged, by ignorant and unbelieving men, as reasons for declining all attempts to secure the heavenly inheritance; and you will hear repentance itself decried as melancholy, and denounced as little better than a prelude to insanity. In addition to such obstacles from without, (for I confine myself to those which arise from report only, without noticing any from actual opposition,) will not your own hearts suggest, that to overcome such potent enemies, as the world, the flesh, and the devil, will be impossible, especially for people so circumstanced, as you?

The result of such misrepresentations and misconceptions is but too likely to appear among you at no distant period. You will not in a formal manner actually appoint a captain over you, because every one can act for himself, without any combination with others; but that many of you will be like-minded, in relation to this matter, is greatly to be feared; and that you will even justify the measure as wise, saying, "Is it not better that we go back again to the world?"

But let us turn our attention to,

II. The effect of that proposal on God's faithful servants.

"Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of Israel;" filled, no doubt, with grief and shame at so foolish and impious a proposal. What prospect could they have of succeeding in such an enterprise? Could they suppose that God would go before them; and cause the manna and the water to attend them in their retrograde motions, as he had done when moving according to his will? If not, without any enemy whatever, or any special judgment inflicted on them, they must all die of hunger and thirst in a few days. Or, supposing them to get back to Egypt, what would be their reception there? Would not the rigors of their bondage be increased by their vindictive oppressors to the utmost extent of human endurance? Granting that all their fears respecting the Canaanites were well founded, what could they suffer worse by manfully contending with them, than they would infallibly bring upon themselves by attempting to return to Egypt?

But the impiety of the proposal was, if possible, still greater than the folly of it.

What a contempt of the promised inheritance did it argue, when they did not deem it to be worth a manly contest!

What a distrust of God, too, who had already shown himself so mighty to save, and had engaged that not one of their enemies should be able to stand before them!

What base ingratitude, also, did this express, when they could so soon forget all the wonders that God had wrought for them, and all the benefits he had conferred upon them!

We do not wonder that Moses and Aaron, who were able to form a just estimate of their conduct, were so deeply affected with it.

And shall not we also fall on our faces with grief and shame, my dear friends, if we see you forgetting the vows that are upon you, and turning back again, and abandoning those glorious prospects which have just opened upon you? For, what can you gain by going back to the world? Suppose that you gain all that the world can give. What is it? What satisfaction can it all afford? How long will you retain it? Or, supposing you could retain it ever so long, would it repay you for the loss of Heaven?

To what a state, too, will your defection reduce you! Of all the men who came out of Egypt, not so much as one was allowed to enter the promised land, except Caleb and Joshua, who continued faithful in the midst of this general apostasy. A fearful type and pledge of the doom that awaits you! Numbers 26:64-65 with Jude verse 5 and 1 Corinthians 10:11. Hear what God says on this subject, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "If any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him, Hebrews 10:38." Ah! know of a certainty, that all who draw back, "draw back unto eternal perdition, Hebrews 10:39;" and "if, after you have escaped the corruptions of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you are again entangled therein and overcome, your latter end will be worse than your beginning; for it would have been better that you had never known the way of righteousness at all, than, after you have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto you, 2 Peter 2:20-21."

You have all doubtless heard of Lot's wife, who, though brought out of Sodom, was turned into a pillar of salt, because she looked back towards the city, when she should have thought of nothing but of pressing onward to the destined place of refuge. Ah! "Remember Lot's wife! Luke 17:32," as our blessed Lord has warned you. For "if you only look back, after having put your hand to the plough, you are not fit for the kingdom of God! Luke 9:61-62." How can your ministers, who have watched over you, contemplate such an outcome of their labors, and not weep and mourn before God on your behalf? Jeremiah 13:16-17. I beg you, beloved, let not this be the recompense of all the pains we have bestowed on you; let us not have the grief of seeing that the very privileges you have enjoyed have only fitted you, like Capernaum of old, for a deeper and heavier condemnation; but let us have joy over you, in beholding your spiritual advancement; and let us have the sweet and blessed hope of having you for "our joy and crown of rejoicing to all eternity!"

Be not afraid of any enemies; for God is with you, "if he is with you, who can be against you?" Read the exhortation of Caleb and Joshua to their unbelieving brethren, and apply it to your own souls verse 7-9; and, instead of listening to the ruinous suggestions of unbelief, Hebrews 3:18, "be followers of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

Let me, in conclusion, address myself to the elder part of this audience. You must not forget, that the subject equally concerns you. For you also must "endure unto the end, if ever you would be saved;" and it is only "by a patient continuance in well-doing, that you can attain to glory and honor and immortality."

But that which I would particularly impress on your minds at this time, is the vast importance of your watching over the young people who have now consecrated themselves unto the Lord. Set them a good example yourselves; and do all you can to induce them to follow it. Take the part that Caleb and Joshua took on this occasion; strengthen their hands; encourage their hearts; tell them what a gracious and powerful and faithful God they have to help them in every time of need. Speak to them of "the land that flows with milk and honey." Invite them to taste of "the grapes of Eshcol," which you have taken thence. Watch over the very "lambs of the flock, and carry them in your bosom." So shall all of us, ministers and people, rejoice together, and "have an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!"




Numbers 14:6-9

"Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them."

When actions originate in an evil principle, however deceitful they are, the motives from whence they proceed cannot long be hidden; a thousand things in the course of tune will arise to elicit truth, and to discover the principles which we hoped to conceal.

The proposal of sending spies to search out the land, appears, from the first verse of the preceding chapter, to have been first made by God; but in fact it arose from the Israelites themselves; the whole body of the people took a lively interest in it, and came, by their representatives at least, to request that Moses would accede to it. Moses, taking it as a symptom of their readiness to go and possess the land, was highly delighted with it, Deuteronomy 1:22-23; and consulted God respecting it. God, knowing the thoughts of their hearts, and seeing that their faith in him needed to have it confirmed by further testimony, consented; just as the Baptist did to his disciples, when they wanted to ascertain whether Jesus were the Christ, Matthew 11:2-3; he bore with their weakness, and permitted them to seek conviction in their own way. But when the spies "brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched," the people instantly betrayed their unbelieving fears, and drew from Caleb and Joshua the remonstrance which we have just read.

That we may have a full view of the subject, we shall consider,

I. The remonstrance itself.

Let us examine,

1. The occasion of the remonstrance.

The spies who were sent, were twelve in number, one from every tribe. Of these, no less than ten agreed in representing the land as unconquerable. The inhabitants, they said, were giants, in comparison with whom they themselves were but "as grasshoppers; and they dwelt in "walled cities" that were impregnable. They represented too the climate as so unhealthy, that "the land ate up its inhabitants, Numbers 13:28; Numbers 13:31-33." (God had, according to his promise, sent either hornets, or some kind of plague, to destroy the people before them, Exodus 23:28; and this they turned into a ground of discouragement!) The goodness of the land indeed they could not deny; because they had brought such a sample of its fruits, as was a clear poof of its luxuriant fertility, Numbers 13:23. On hearing the report, the congregation gave way to utter despondency; they "wept the whole night;" they wished they had "died either in Egypt, or in the wilderness;" they complained that God had brought them there on purpose to destroy them; they declared it would be better for them at once to return to Egypt; (this is not mentioned by Moses; but it is asserted by Nehemiah; Nehemiah 9:17,) and they actually appointed a captain over them, to lead them there.

What "madness is there in the heart of man! Ecclesiastes 9:3." Who would conceive it possible, that that whole nation should so soon forget all their past deliverances, and form so strange a resolution as that of returning to Egypt? This was an expedient more impracticable in its nature than the conquest of Canaan, and more dreadful in its consequences than death itself upon the field of battle. Could they expect God to follow them with miraculous supplies of bread and water; or their state in Egypt to be better than before? Yet such is the effect of discontent:
it magnifies every difficulty;
it undervalues every enjoyment;
and it rushes upon evils greater than those which it attempts to shun.

2. The manner of the remonstrance.

The boldness of Joshua and Caleb, in opposing all their colleagues together with the whole congregation of Israel, was truly commendable. That it was at no little risk they ventured to remonstrate, is evident from the effect; for no sooner had they spoken, than all the people threatened to stone them; and would undoubtedly have carried their threat into immediate execution, if God himself had not interposed, by a signal manifestation of his glory, to restrain them, verse 10. But they would have accounted themselves happy to suffer martyrdom in such a cause.

This is the very courage which we also should possess. We should be witnesses for God in a degenerate world. We should never be deterred from testifying against sin, either by the number or authority of our opponents. If even we stood alone, as Elijah did, it would befit us to maintain the truth with steadfastness, and to venture life itself in the service of our Lord.

Supposing these remonstrants not to be intimidated, we might expect them to be filled with indignation at the wickedness of the people, and to give vent to their feelings in terms of severity and reproach. But behold, they are penetrated with grief; and "rend their clothes" for anguish of heart; and in their whole address they exhibit a beautiful specimen of "the meekness of wisdom."

O that there were in all of us such a heart! that we could weep over sinners, instead of being angry with them; and that we could "in meekness instruct them that oppose themselves," bearing with their frowardness, and pitying their perverseness! This union of fortitude and compassion is the very thing which we should labor to acquire, and which alone can fit us for reproving with effect.

3. The matter of the remonstrance.

Nothing could be more judicious than this address. The people had lost sight of God; and their faithful leaders set God before them. They acknowledge the existence of the difficulties; but they deny the inference deduced from it. True, say they:

the people are mighty; but our God is mightier;

their fortifications are strong; but not so strong that they can withstand God;

the inhabitants fight only with an arm of flesh; we with the arm of the living God! What then have we to fear?

They, however numerous or powerful, are only as "bread for us," and shall be devoured by us as easily as the food we eat. We have nothing to do but to trust in God; and we are as sure of victory, as if all our enemies were already slain. Let us go up then; not to conquer the land, but "to possess it;" the food is prepared for us; and we have nothing to do but to go up and eat it. Compare Numbers 13:30 with the text.

How encouraging was this! how calculated to carry conviction to their hearts! not one word to irritate, but everything to convince and comfort them! This is the true pattern for reproof; as it should never savor of our own spirit, so it should never touch on painful topics but with care and tenderness; every syllable should breathe love.

It is a proverb in France, that 'Flies are not caught with vinegar:' and we shall do well to remember, that it is the sweet alone which renders the sour palatable. Faithful indeed we must be, and so faithful as oftentimes to give offence; but we must take care that the offence arise, not from any needless severity on our part, but from the force of truth itself.

Having noticed the remonstrance, it will be proper to consider,

II. The use we should make of it.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapters 3 and 4) the Apostle traces the correspondence between the events we are considering and the duties of Christians in all ages. He shows that Canaan represented the rest which remains for us; and he cautions us against falling short of it through unbelief, as that people did. Hence it is evident that the address delivered to them by Joshua and Caleb may with great propriety be made to us; at least, we may take occasion from it:

1. To excite your desires.

Justly did these remonstrants, who themselves "had searched the land," declare it to be good, "an exceeding good land." Are there not those among us, who by faith have searched the heavenly land, and already tasted its delicious fruits? Is not the sealing influence of the Spirit said to be "the pledge of our inheritance, Ephesians 1:13-14." And may we not from the first-fruits of the Spirit which we have already received, Romans 8:23, judge in a measure what the harvest shall be? May we not at least take upon us to affirm that Heaven is a good, an exceeding good land? Yes, truly, "it flows with milk and honey;" yet while it affords abundance to all, it never gluts.

How can that land be otherwise than good, which was:
by God the Father from the foundation of the world,
for us on the cross by the blood of his dear Son,
and secured to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to fit us for it, and to preserve us to it, 2 Timothy 4:18. How can that be otherwise than good, which is emphatically called "Emmanuel's land, Isaiah 8:8," as being the place where our adorable Savior displays the full radiance of his glory, and communicates to every one, according to the measure of his capacity, all the fullness of his richest blessings? In whatever view we contemplate it, we cannot but see, that it is worthy of our utmost exertions, and will amply repay all that we can do, or suffer, in the attainment of it.

2. To animate your hopes.

Unbelief will say to us exactly what the people said to each other on this occasion, "Were it not better for us to return to Egypt? Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt." "When we were in the world, we enjoyed its pleasures, which now we have exchanged for pain and trouble. When we turned our backs upon the world, we imagined that we should experience nothing but ease and happiness under the protection of our God; but, behold, here are constant difficulties and trials to be encountered, and such too as we can never surmount. It would have been better therefore to return to our former state, and to leave events to God, who is too merciful to exclude any of his creatures from his heavenly kingdom."

But, beloved, why should any of you be discouraged by your trials and conflicts? Have you not God on your side, who is able to make you "more than conquerors over all your enemies?" "If God be for you, who can be against you, Romans 8:31; Romans 8:37." Multiply the number and power of your enemies a thousand-fold, and you need not fear them. Only, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, Ephesians 6:10;" and know, that, though you are but as a worm, you shall, through, his almighty aid, be enabled to "thresh the mountains! Isaiah 41:14-15."

3. To direct your exertions.

One caution did Joshua and Caleb give to Israel; which also we would recommend to your attention; it is, to guard against an unbelieving and disobedient spirit, "Only do not rebel against the Lord." You have nothing to fear but sin. Nothing, but sin, can by any means hurt you. As for men and devils, so far from prevailing against you, they are only "bread for you," and shall, by the very efforts which they use to destroy you, be made subservient to your spiritual welfare. But sin is a deadly evil; that will provoke your God to depart from you. Sin may cause him to "swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest, Hebrews 3:11." O put away from you that deadly evil! Especially put away unbelief; it is "by an evil heart of unbelief that you will be tempted to depart from the living God, Hebrews 3:12." Pray therefore to God to "increase your faith, Luke 17:5."

Guard also against a murmuring spirit. If the Lord brings you into difficulties, it is only for the magnifying of his own grace in your deliverance. It is not your place to be indulging solicitude about events. God "would have you without worry, 1 Corinthians 7:32; Philippians 4:6. 1 Peter 5:7;" he bids you "do not worry about anything;" but to "cast all your care on him." Duty is yours; outcomes are his. "Only therefore let your conduct be as it befits the Gospel of Christ, Philippians 1:27." and your success is sure; for your God has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."




Numbers 14:18-24

"'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now." The LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times-- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it."

Little does the world think how much they are indebted to the saints. They are:
the cluster, for the sake of which the vineyard of the Lord is spared, Isaiah 65:8;
the elect, for whose sake the days of vengeance have been often shortened, Matthew 24:22;
the little remnant, without which the whole world would long since have been made as Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaiah 1:9.

In the passage before us we have this very matter exhibited in a striking point of view. The whole people of Israel were in a state of rebellion against God; and God was meditating their utter extermination. But Moses lifts up his heart in prayer for them; and, by his importunate intercession, averts the judgments which were ready to burst upon them.

Let us consider,

I. The prayer which Moses offered.

This did not relate to the eternal salvation of the people, except incidentally and by remote consequence; it had respect only to the threatening which God had denounced against the people. Having reason to fear that God would "smite them all with a pestilence, and disinherit them" utterly, verse 11, 12, Moses entreated God to spare them, and urged such arguments as he judged most suitable to the occasion. These pleas of his deserve an attentive consideration.

1. He pressed upon God a regard for his own honor.

"What will the Egyptians and the Canaanites say? Will they not ascribe the destruction of this people to a lack of power in you to accomplish your projected plans, verse 13-16. O let them not have such cause for triumph! Let them not have so specious an occasion to blaspheme your name!"

This was an argument of great weight. He had used it successfully on a former occasion, Exodus 32:12; and God himself had acknowledged its force, Deuteronomy 32:26-27. See also Ezekiel 20:9; Ezekiel 20:14; Ezekiel 20:22; Ezekiel 20:44. This therefore is a plea which we should use; we should use it with God, as an inducement to him to keep us, Psalm 5:8; Jeremiah 14:21; and we should use it with ourselves, as an incentive to vigilance and circumspection, 1 Timothy 6:1. We should be exceeding tender for God's honor; and, when tempted to the commission of any sin, we should think, How will the Philistines rejoice, and the uncircumcised triumph? 2 Samuel 1:20. How will they "blaspheme that sacred name by which I am called, James 2:7." O that I may "never thus give occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully, 1 Timothy 5:14."

2. He pressed upon God a conformity to his own perfections.

Did you not, O my God, when proclaiming your name to me, represent yourself as "long-suffering, and of great mercy, and as forgiving iniquity and transgression, though you would not clear the guilty, verses 17, 18 which refers to Exodus 34:6-7." Let it now be seen that this is indeed your character. I do not ask that you should "leave them altogether unpunished; but only that you should not make a full end of them. That clause, "by no means clearing the guilty," may, both in Exodus 34:7 and in this place, be rendered "clearing, I will not clear," that is not make desolate. The word "guilty" is not in the original. In that sense it will be exactly parallel with Jeremiah 30:11. But the sense affixed to it in the translation is probably the right one, though the other is better suited to the purpose for which it is here adduced, as you have threatened."

Here, methinks, is a plea, which, almost above all others, it befits us to urge in all our supplications at the throne of grace. The character of God, as a God of infinite mercy—is that which encourages our addresses to him. When every other ground of hope fails, this is still firm. If only we do not "limit the Holy One of Israel," we can never be at a loss for "arguments with which to fill our mouths" at the throne of grace. O let us study well the representations which God has given of himself, and especially that to which Moses referred; then, even in our lowest state of guilt or misery, we shall never despair of obtaining mercy at his hands.

3.He pressed upon God a consistency with his own conduct.

"You have forgiven this people from Egypt even until now; and will you abandon them at last? O let it not be so; pardon, I beseech you—yet again and again their iniquity, according unto the greatness of your unbounded mercy, verse 19."

This plea, if used with men, would have had no weight; it would have operated rather to prevent the repetition of mercies which had been so abused. But, with God, it avails much; and in our minds too, it is a most encouraging consideration. We may look back and see how God has borne with all our frowardness from our youth up to the present moment; and may take occasion from his past forbearance to supplicate the continuance of it, "Remember, O Lord, your tender mercies, and your loving-kindnesses; for they have been ever of old, Psalm 25:6." Yes; we should "account the long-suffering of God to be salvation, 2 Peter 3:15," and the goodness he has already exercised towards us as a motive and encouragement to repentance, Romans 2:4.

Such was the prayer of Moses, a prayer peculiarly excellent, because it was a holy pleading with God. Let us now proceed to consider,

II. The answer which Moses obtained.

"I have forgiven them," says God, "according to your word. You have entreated me to spare them; and I will spare them; but, I swear by my own life, that the whole of my conduct on this occasion shall be such, as shall procure me honor to the remotest ends of the earth, and to the latest period of time. Every one of my perfections shall be now displayed; now will I exhibit before my people such rays of my glory, as shall illumine the benighted heathen, and fill the whole earth with wonder."

Now then, my brethren, let us contemplate this subject with holy awe; let us beg of God to take away the veil from our hearts, that we may see wherein this glory of his consists. Let us behold,

1. God's condescension in hearing prayer.

Here was a whole nation involved in actual rebellion against God; and one single individual betakes himself to prayer. What, it may be said, can a single individual do? Read the answer of God, and see. He replies, not, "I will pardon," but, "I have pardoned;" "the very moment you lifted up your voice, my hands were tied, and I could no longer persist in my resolution to destroy them. Compare Daniel 9:20-21; Daniel 9:23. I have pardoned according to your word, and to the full extent of your petitions."

O, who after this will ever doubt the efficacy of prayer? If God answered so speedily the prayer of one on behalf of a rebellious nation, what will he not do for those who supplicate mercy for themselves? Will he ever cast out their prayer? No! Let the whole universe know, that he is "a God that hears prayer," and that not even the vilest of the human race shall "ever seek his face in vain."

2. God's mercy in forbearing vengeance.

Consider the mercies which that nation had experienced, and the extent of that wickedness which they now committed; consider that they cast the most bitter reflections on God himself, and actually appointed a captain to lead them back to Egypt, Nehemiah 9:17; and were proceeding to murder those who exhorted them to obedience. Could it be supposed that such people should be spared, spared too after God had said he would instantly cut them off? Whom then will he not spare? Who, while on praying-ground, can be considered as beyond the reach of mercy?

Let us not despair of any; nor let any despair of themselves; He is the same God as ever, "slow to anger, and of great kindness, and ready to turn from the evil" which he has thought to inflict upon us, the very moment that he can do it in consistency with his own perfections.

3. God's justice in punishing sin.

Though he forbore to destroy the nation at large, he executed immediate vengeance on those who were the leaders and instigators of the rebellion, verse 36, 37. Nor were the people themselves left unpunished. They had expressed a wish that they had died in the wilderness; now God gave them their wish; and declared that not one of those who had rebelled against him should ever see the promised land. Forty days had been spent in searching the land of Canaan; and forty years were they condemned to bear their iniquities, until their carcasses would be consumed in the wilderness.

What a solemn lesson does this give to the ungodly world! Who must not tremble for fear of his judgments? Who does not see that it is vain to hope for impunity on account of the number of those who tread the paths of wickedness? The question is often confidently put by sinners: Do you think that God will condemn so many? We answer, If you would know what God will do, look at what he has done; inquire, how many of those who came out of Egypt ever were admitted into the land of Canaan; and when you have learned that, you will know how God will proceed in the day of judgment, See 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 3:17-19; Hebrews 4:1; Jude verse 5. Let all the world hear this, and tremble; for "truly there is a God that judges in the earth!"

4. God's goodness in rewarding virtue.

Two of the spies were faithful to their God, and behold how God interposed for them! The congregation was just going to stone them, and God instantly displayed his glory in such a manner as to horrify the hearts of their enemies. To them also he bore testimony, that they had "followed him fully;" and he promised them, that though every other man throughout all the tribes should die in the wilderness, they should go into the promised land, and enjoy the inheritance reserved for them, verse 24, 30.


Do any of the human race wish to ascertain whether their works shall be rewarded? Let them look to this history; let them here see how God will protect his people; and how assuredly those who serve him in time, shall dwell with him in eternity. Surely none who hear these records will ever be afraid of being singular, or of bearing persecution for righteousness' sake. No! From henceforth every soul should be emboldened to "confess Christ before men," and to "cleave unto him with full purpose of heart."

5. God's faithfulness in fulfilling his word.

Here was a strong temptation to rescind his promises; and indeed, because of the appearance of so doing, God says, "You shall know my breach of promise verse 34." But the promise was not made to that people, that they at all events should inherit the land of Canaan; it was made to Abraham, that his seed should inherit it; and, both on this and a former occasion, when God threatened to destroy the present generation, he offered to raise up a nation from the loins of Moses, and to give the promised land to them, verse 12 with Exodus 32:10.

God fulfilled his word in every point; and Joshua appealed to the whole nation of Israel for the truth of this, Joshua 23:14; just as did Solomon many hundred years after him 1 Kings 8:56. None therefore need to be afraid of trusting in God; for "he is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent, Numbers 23:19." Let the whole world be assured, that they may safely rely on him; that "not one jot or tittle of his word shall ever fail;" that "faithful is He who has promised;" and that "what he has promised he is able also to perform." Be it known therefore, I say, "that those who trust in him shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end! Isaiah 45:17."

6. God's power to accomplish his own sovereign will and pleasure.

The people had expressed their fears that their little ones would fall a prey to the warlike inhabitants of Canaan. Now, says God, "those very children, who you said would be a prey, even them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised, verse 31." As weak as you judge them to be, I will give them the victory; and not an enemy shall be able to stand before them.

Hear this, you drooping, doubting Christians! Let the whole world hear it; yes, let it never be forgotten, that "God ordains strength in babes and sucklings;" that "his strength is perfected in their weakness;" and that through him the weakest of us shall be "more than conquerors." Who is weaker than Paul in his own apprehension? "I have not," says he, "a sufficiency even to think a good thought;" yet who is stronger in reality? "I can do all things," says he, "through Christ who strengthens me, Philippians 4:13." Let the weak then say, "I am strong, Job 3:10;" "let the feeble be as David, and the house of David be as the angel of the Lord, Zechariah 12:8."


Behold now this glory of the Lord! see how it shines throughout this mysterious dispensation! See:
his condescension in hearing prayer,
his mercy in forbearing vengeance,
his justice in punishing sin,
his goodness in rewarding virtue,
his faithfulness in fulfilling his word, and
his power to execute his sovereign will and pleasure!

Let the whole earth contemplate it; let all transmit the knowledge of it to those around them; and assist in spreading it to the remotest heathen; let all expect the time when this view of God shall be universal through the world—and all shall give him the glory of his immutable perfections.

And, while we view the glory of God in his past works, let us remember what will be the final outcome of all his dispensations. His glory will hereafter shine in still brighter splendor. When his answers to the prayers of all his people shall be known, how marvelous will his condescension and grace appear! When the sins of the whole world shall be made manifest, how shall we be filled with wonder at his long-suffering and forbearance! How tremendous will his justice and severity be found, when millions of impenitent sinners are cast headlong into the bottomless abyss!

And when his obedient people shall be exalted to thrones of glory, how will his goodness and mercy be admired and adored! Then also will his truth and faithfulness be seen in the exact completion of every promise he has ever given; and his power and might be gratefully acknowledged by all whom he has redeemed, sanctified, and saved!

This then is certain, that in every human being he will be glorified. But the question is, How will he be glorified in me? will it be in my salvation, or condemnation? In answering this question aright we are all deeply interested; nor will it be difficult to answer it, provided we inquire what our real character is. Do we resemble the unbelieving and rebellious Israelites, or those believing spies who "followed the Lord fully?" Vast was the difference between them, and consequently the discrimination will be easy. The Lord grant that we may "so judge ourselves now, that we may not be judged of the Lord" in that solemn day!




Numbers 14:24

"But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it."

The fewness of those who shall finally be saved is strongly declared in the Holy Scriptures; yet those who venture to suggest such an idea, are deemed uncharitable in the extreme. But it is not owing to a lack of mercy in God that any perish; it is utterly their own fault. God delights to bless his faithful and obedient people; but the unbelieving and disobedient he will eternally condemn. The numbers that are found in either of these classes make no difference with respect to him; if there were only one or two ungodly, they alone should perish, and all others should be saved; but if a whole nation be ungodly, and only one or two of them be observant of the divine commands, those individuals alone shall find acceptance with him, and all the rest shall meet with their deserved doom.

None but Noah and his family escaped the deluge; none but Lot and his daughters were delivered from the judgments which came upon Sodom and Gomorrah; thus, in the passage before us, we are told that Caleb alone, together with Joshua, was permitted to enter into the promised land, because they alone had followed the Lord fully.

To elucidate this record, and to bring it home to our own hearts, we shall show,

I. When we may be said to follow the Lord fully.

The whole nation of Israel might be considered as followers of the Lord, because they had given up themselves to him as his redeemed people, and depended on him for guidance and protection. In the same manner the whole body of Christians may be called followers of Christ, because they profess to have been redeemed by him from the far sorer bondage of sin and death, and because they look to him, in profession at least:
to guide them by his Spirit,
to keep them by his grace, and
to bring them in safety to the heavenly Canaan.

But as the great body of the Jewish nation deceived themselves to their ruin, so, it is to be feared, the greater part of the Christian world will ultimately be disappointed of their hopes. To follow the Lord will be to but little purpose, unless we follow him fully. Now this implies:

1. That we follow him with unreserved cheerfulness.

The Israelites at large were pleased with God's service no longer than while their inclinations were gratified to the full. As soon as ever they were called to exercise any self-denial, or to suffer a little for his sake—they began to murmur, and were sorry that they had taken his yoke upon them. Especially when they heard the report of the spies respecting the power of their enemies, they proposed to cast off God's yoke altogether, and to return to their former masters in Egypt.

But Caleb "had another spirit with him;" he considered himself as altogether at God's disposal, and cheerfully obeyed him, as well in circumstances of difficulty and danger, as in the ways that were more pleasing to flesh and blood.

Now this disposition characterizes every faithful follower of Christ. It is not for us to choose our own way, but to follow the directions of our Divine Master. No commandment of his must be esteemed grievous; nothing must be called "a hard saying;" but we must cheerfully conform ourselves to every part of his revealed will, and account his service to be perfect freedom.

2. That we follow him with undaunted resolution.

Caleb had seen with his own eyes what difficulties he should have to encounter in subduing the land of Canaan; yet was he not in the least dismayed. Yes, his whole nation were so offended with his fidelity to God, that they gave orders that he should be stoned to death. But nothing could intimidate him; he knew the will of God, and he was determined to execute it at all events.

Thus the Christian whose heart is right with God, is not deterred by any difficulties from proceeding in the path of duty. He knows that the world will be against him; and he often finds his greatest enemies to be those of his own household; yet he determines to go forward, and to obey God rather than man. Like the Hebrew youths, if he beholds a furnace prepared for his destruction, he will still hold fast his integrity, and submit to death itself rather than violate his duty to his God.

3. That we follow him with unshaken trust.

The report of the spies was doubtless very discouraging. The people whom they had seen were of most gigantic stature; the cities in which they dwelt, were walled up to Heaven; and it is probable that there was a dreadful pestilence at that time ravaging "the land, and swallowing up the inhabitants thereof." But Caleb had the promise of Jehovah to rest upon; and therefore he knew that he could not fail of success; yes, he was assured that, however numerous or mighty his enemies were, they should be "bread for the Lord's people," and be as easily crushed and devoured by them as a piece of bread.

In this also the faithful follower of Christ will resemble Caleb; he knows that Omnipotence is engaged in his behalf; and he rests securely on the Word of God. If his corruptions were yet stronger than they are, and the world, with the confederate hosts of Hell, were tenfold more powerful, he would not fear, "he knows in whom he has believed," and is persuaded that "He who has promised is able also to perform."

The character of those who follow the Lord fully, being thus delineated, we shall proceed to notice,

II. The blessedness of those who follow the Lord fully.

Here also the history of Caleb will serve as our guide. The text informs us, that he received,

1. The approbation of his God.

God confessed him before all Israel as "his servant." What an honor was this, to be thus distinguished by Jehovah himself! And shall not every faithful servant of Jehovah be thus distinguished? Shall he not have an inward witness of the Spirit testifying of his adoption into God's family, and enabling him with confidence to cry, Abba, Father! Will not God "shed abroad his love in the hearts" of his people, and "seal them with the Holy Spirit of promise, as the pledge of their eternal inheritance?" And though no authentic declaration shall be made to others respecting his state—yet shall his very enemies be constrained to reverence him in their hearts, even though, like Herod, they should persecute him unto death.

2. The completion of all his wishes.

Doubtless Caleb earnestly desired an inheritance in the land of Canaan; and the very mountain on which his feet had trodden was assigned to him as his portion by God's express appointment. But he surely looked beyond an earthly inheritance; nor can we doubt but that he is distinguished in the Canaan above, as much as he was in the earthly Canaan.

And what does the faithful Christian desire? What is the great object of his ambition, but to inherit that good land which the Lord his God has promised him? And shall he come short of it? Will not God preserve him unto his heavenly kingdom? Yes; neither men nor devils shall deprive him of his inheritance; that very land which by faith he has so often viewed and trodden, shall be given to him; and "all the seed of Caleb" and of Abraham shall have it for their everlasting portion.

Behold, Christian, where Caleb now is, you shall shortly be; whatever difficulties may obstruct your way, or whatever length of time may intervene, the period shall arrive, when He whom you serve shall say unto you, "Come, you who are blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!"


1. Those who have never set themselves to follow the Lord at all.

Think not that the Christian name will avail you, while you are destitute of the Christian spirit. Nor imagine that you will be screened from divine vengeance by the number of those who are in your condition; for there were but two out of all who had grown to man's estate, that were allowed to enter into the promised land; all the rest were excluded from it, that they might be an example unto us, and might show us what we are to expect, if we give not up ourselves to the service of Christ.

Let me then entreat you all to become followers of Christ, "not in word only, but in deed and in truth."

Look to him, that you may experience the full benefits of his redemption.

Trust in his sin-atoning blood to cleanse you from your sins.

Rely on his Spirit to guide you in his ways.

Depend on his grace to subdue all your enemies before you.

But if you still persist in your rebellion against him, know for a certainty that you shall never see that good land which you profess to expect as your eternal inheritance.

2. Those who follow the Lord partially.

A profession of religion may in a variety of ways conduce to the good of society, but it will never save the soul. We must follow the Lord fully, if we would find favor with him in the eternal world. It is no small matter to be Christians indeed. What Caleb was under the Law, we must be under the Gospel. The reason of Caleb's acceptance is marked repeatedly, in the strongest terms, Joshua 14:8-9; Joshua 14:14. The reason too of the rejection of the others is marked in similar language, and with equal plainness, Numbers 32:10-11. And the example of those who perished is set before us by Jude, on purpose that the professors of godliness may be admonished by it Jude verse 5. O let the admonition sink deep into our hearts! Let us all be stirred up to diligence, that we may be found "Israelites indeed, in whom there is no deceit!"

3. Those who, like Caleb, are following the Lord fully.

Fear not singularity in so good a cause. If you are singular in following the Lord fully, the fault is not yours, but theirs who presume to violate the divine commands. Go on then, though the whole universe should be against you. If God acknowledges you as his servant, you need not regard the censures or the threats of men. You are embarked in a good cause; you serve a good Master; you run for a good prize. The land of promise is before you. Press forward for the attainment of it, "Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life!"




Numbers 14:44

"Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD's covenant moved from the camp."

There are principles in the human heart of which few people are aware. One in particular is, a disposition to withstand the authority of God, whatever his commands may be. We see something of this in children towards their parents; the very circumstance of a thing being enjoined makes them averse to it; and a prohibition immediately creates in them a desire after the thing prohibited.

Paul represents this to have been his experience in his unconverted state, "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in him all manner of covetous desire," and made him rise against the commandment, as water does against the dam that obstructs its progress.

Such a disposition is not uncommon. There is scarcely any man, who, if he will examine carefully his own conduct, may not find, that he more readily does or forbears anything in compliance with his own will, than when that thing is the subject of a prohibition or command. This perverse temper was very conspicuous in the Israelites when on the borders of Canaan. Being commanded, importuned, and encouraged to go up and possess the promised land, they could not be prevailed upon to go; but, when they were commanded to return into the wilderness, immediately they changed their minds, and would go against the Canaanites, even in direct opposition to the will of God. This is called in our text, "presumption;" "in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country."

Let us, for the elucidation of this subject, inquire,

I. Wherein their presumption consisted.

To believe the promises of God, and to expect the accomplishment of them to our own souls, is considered by many as an evidence of presumption. But presumption is rather the fruit of unbelief. That of which the Israelites were guilty consisted in two things:

1. They went up without the divine presence.

God had told them that he would not go up with them; but they, who had just before despaired of success, even though God himself should fight on their side, now thought they could succeed by the unassisted efforts of their own arm. The folly of such a conceit we easily discern; but are little aware how universally it obtains in reference to spiritual combats. God offers to be with us, and by his almighty power to give us the victory. We persuade ourselves that we have a sufficiency of strength within ourselves, and that we can succeed without any supernatural assistance. Hence we neglect to implore help from God, we refuse to trust in him, and we go forth against our enemies in our own strength.

What is this but the very conduct of those rebellious Israelites? The only difference is, that they acted thus in reference to temporal enemies, and an earthly inheritance; whereas we do it, while we have all the powers of darkness to contend with, and no less a prize than Heaven itself at stake!

2. They went up in opposition to the divine command.

God had expressly said to them, "Do not go up;" and yet they would persist in their resolution. They would not go when they were commanded; but now will go, when they are forbidden. Doubtless they would attempt to vindicate their conduct, by alleging, that the rectifying of their former errors was the best proof of their repentance; and they would persuade themselves that God could never be angry with them for doing that, which he had just punished them for refusing to do. But vain were all such reasonings as these. Their duty was to obey, and not to put their reasonings in opposition to the divine commands.

Yet in this we imitate them continually. We find, as we imagine, good reasons why this or that command is not to be obeyed; and then we follow our own will, in direct opposition to God's. But what presumption is this! We do not like the way which God has prescribed for us to walk in, and we will go to Heaven in our own way. This conduct we may attempt to justify; but God has stamped upon it its true character, as daring and impious presumption!

To form a just estimate of their conduct, let us consider:

II. What the outcome was.

They hoped, no doubt, that they should gain the victory; but their efforts terminated:

1. In painful disappointment.

They found their enemies, as Moses had foretold, prepared for the encounter; and no sooner did they make the attack, than their courage failed them, and they fled; yes their enemies chased them "like enraged bees," and destroyed them even unto Hormah. This is precisely what they had reason to expect; and what must be expected by all who will presumptuously advance in their own strength.

In fact, this is the very thing of which all who depend on their own arm complain. They will not go forward in dependence on the Lord, and in obedience to his commands; but will trust in their own imagined sufficiency to work out their salvation; the consequence is, that, after all their endeavors to mortify sin, and to lead a heavenly life, they cannot do the things which are required of them. Hence the general complaint, that they who preach the Gospel require of men more than they can perform. But in whom is the fault? Not in those who enforce plainly the commands of God, but in those who, rejecting the offers of God's all-sufficient grace, attempt to gain the victory by an arm of flesh.

2. In fruitless sorrow.

The fugitive hosts "returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to their voice, nor give ear unto them, Deuteronomy 1:45." Now they regretted their former disobedience, and prayed that the sentence denounced against them might be reversed. If God would but try them once more, they would do whatever he should command. But their doom was sealed; yes, in this very defeat, it had already been begun to be executed. Many were slain; and God had decreed that every one of them, except Caleb and Joshua, should die in the wilderness. Like Esau therefore, "they found no place of repentance, though they sought it carefully with tears, Hebrews 12:17."

What an affecting representation is this of the final outcome of disobedience to the world at large! When once their doom is sealed, how bitterly will they regret their past folly and wickedness! O, if they could but have another opportunity afforded them, how gladly would they embrace it! How resolutely would they obey the voice of God! They would no more presumptuously prefer their own will and way to his, but would obey him cheerfully and without reserve. But in vain are all such desires; their sentence is irrevocably passed; and all possibility of attaining the heavenly inheritance is gone forever. Nothing now remains for them but to "weep and wail and gnash their teeth" for anguish, and to die that death, that second death, which they were not careful to avoid.

The subject will give me a fit occasion to address:

1. Those who are afraid of presumption.

There are many who dread presumption, and who, through a fear of it, are deterred from applying to themselves the rich consolations of the Gospel; they think it would be presumptuous in such weak and sinful creatures as they to expect all the great things which God has promised to his people. But, be it known unto you that it is no presumption to believe in God, or trust in God, even though you were the weakest and the vilest of the human race! If indeed you were to profess a confidence in him, while you were living in willful and allowed sin, that would be presumption. But, if you truly desire to devote yourselves to God, and to be saved by him in his appointed way, the deeper sense you have of your own unworthiness, the more assuredly shall you receive from him all the blessings of a complete salvation.

2. Those who indulge presumption.

Of those who determinately go on in their own way, we have already spoken; and therefore we shall pass them over with only entreating them to remember what they have already heard to be the outcome of such conduct. But there are even among those who profess religion, many who are guilty of very great presumption.

What is it but presumption, to run into needless temptations, in hopes that God will keep us?

O that the worldly-minded would consider this, when they are grasping after preferment or gain!

O that they would consider it, who mix so readily with carnal company, and conform so easily to the maxims and habits of this vain world!

O that the impure and sensual would consider it, when they give such liberty to their eyes and tongue!

Beloved brethren, we must not tempt God; but, retaining a sense of our extreme weakness and sinfulness, we must watch and pray that we enter not into temptation. Let this then be our daily prayer:

"Keep your servant, O Lord, from presumptuous sins, lest they get dominion over me!"

"Preserve me blameless unto your heavenly kingdom!"

"Hold me up, and I shall be safe!"




Numbers 15:30-31

"But anyone who sins defiantly (or presumptiously), whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD's word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him."

Every command of God is to be obeyed; and it is no excuse to say we were ignorant of the command. We know that there is a God to whom we are accountable; we know that he has given us a revelation of his will; and it is our duty to acquaint ourselves with all that he requires at our hands.

Even in reference to human laws, it is no excuse to say that we were ignorant of them. We are supposed to be acquainted with them; and if we violate them in any respect, the penalty is from that moment incurred. A merciful judge may consider our ignorance as a reason for mitigating, or even for remitting, the penalty; but the law knows nothing of this; its enactments are valid; its sanctions attach on everyone that transgresses them; and everyone feels interested in upholding its authority.

Thus it was under the Mosaic Law; even where the ordinances were so numerous, that they could scarcely be remembered by any, except those who were altogether devoted to the study of them. Yet, if any person transgressed through ignorance, he must, as soon as he was informed of his error, bring the appointed offering, in order to obtain forgiveness of his fault, verse 27, 28; and, if he refused to bring his offering, he must be cut off, as a presumptuous transgressor.

For sins of presumption, of whatever kind they might be, there was no atonement whatever prescribed. It did not befit God to spare one who could deliberately set himself against his authority; and therefore it was expressly commanded that the presumptuous sinner, whoever he might be, should be cut off. To illustrate this subject, I shall show:

I. The danger of presumptuous sin under the Law.

Presumptuous sin is not to be understood of every sin that is committed willfully; but of those sins which, as the marginal translation expresses it, are committed defiantly and "with a high hand;" such, for instance, as that of Pharaoh, when he set himself directly against God, saying, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord; neither will I let Israel go!" It is such also as David characterizes under the following terms, "The tongue that speaks proud things; namely, of those who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own; who is Lord over us? Psalm 12:3-4."

The person committing this sin was doomed to death. No sacrifice was appointed for him; whatever injunction it was that he thus determinately opposed, whether it belonged to the ceremonial or moral law, he must suffer death for his offence. It is probable that the sentence executed, by God's own command, against the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath-day was intended to illustrate this. His offence might appear but slight; namely, gathering sticks on the Sabbath-day; but, as it was done in a known and avowed contempt of the divine will, he must be stoned to death! verse 32-36.

Now, how can it be accounted for, that so severe a judgment should be executed for doing anything presumptuously? It was considered as reproaching God, and pouring contempt on God himself:

1. As unreasonable in his commands.

A man who sets himself avowedly against any command, does, in fact, complain of that command as unreasonable and unjust. A man, through infirmity, may fall short in his obedience, while he acknowledges that the law which he violates is holy and just and good; but if he sets himself against the command itself, it must, of necessity, be from an idea that it imposes an unnecessary restraint, or, at all events, that it may well be dispensed with for his convenience.

2. As weak in his threatenings.

No one who could form the least idea what "a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God" would despise his threatenings. But there is a vague notion in the minds of men, that God will never execute them. Thus David describes these poor deluded men, "In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; he is haughty and your laws are far from him; he sneers at all his enemies, Psalm 10:4-5." Would it be right for God to bear such an indignity as this?

3. As altogether unworthy of any serious regard.

Were the mind duly impressed with any of the perfections of the Deity, we could not possibly treat him with such contempt. His power and majesty would awe us into fear; his love and mercy would engage our admiration; and though we might still be far from that entire submission to his will which he requires, it would not be possible for us to set ourselves in array against him, and to "run upon the thick bosses of his buckler, Job 15:25-26."

Conceive, then, of a creature thus rising against his Creator, and you will readily see why presumptuous sin should be thus severely punished.

But let us proceed to mark:

II. The still greater danger of presumptuous sin under the Gospel.

True it is, that under the Gospel we have a sacrifice for presumptuous sins as well as others; but if the Gospel is the object of our contemptuous disregard, we cannot possibly be saved, but must perish under a most accumulated condemnation.

1. Because a contempt of the Gospel is in itself more heinous than a contempt of the Law.

The Law contained innumerable ordinances, the reason of which, few, if any, could comprehend; and Paul, in comparison with the Gospel, calls them "weak and beggarly elements." But the Gospel is the most perfect display of God's wisdom and goodness that ever he revealed to mortal man. It exhibits the works and offices of the Lord Jesus Christ, together with the gracious influences of the Spirit; and, if they be despised by us, there can be no hope for us. For thus says the Lord, "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? Hebrews 10:28-29."

2. Because a contempt of the Gospel is, in fact, a rejection of the only means whereby sin can be forgiven.

Where shall a man flee, who rejects the Savior? "What other sacrifice for sin" will he ever find, or what other "way to the Father?" Well does the Apostle say, "If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries! Hebrews 10:26-27."

Eli's reproof to his sons puts this matter in the clearest light, "If one man sins against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, in despising his sacrifices—then who shall entreat for him 1 Samuel 2:25."


1. Be thankful, then, that you live under the Gospel.

To you "all manner of sin and blasphemy may be forgiven." However presumptuous your past iniquities may have been, they may all be "blotted out as a morning cloud," and "cast into the very depths of the sea." This could not be so confidently spoken under the Law of Moses; but to you I declare it with confidence, that "the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse from all sin! 1 John 1:7;" and that "all who will believe in him shall be justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the Law of Moses! Acts 13:39."

2. Be earnest in prayer with God, that, whatever means he may find it expedient to use, he would keep you from presumptuous sin.

This was David's course, "Keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; so shall I be upright, and innocent from the great offence, Psalm 19:13." Be assured you need to use this prayer, and will need it to your dying hour. David's attainments were great; yet he felt the need of crying continually, "Hold me up, that my footsteps slip not." So must you pray continually; and you may then hope that God will "keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy! Jude verse 24, 25."




Numbers 15:32-36

[Editor's note: We find Simeon's Covenant Theology expressed in this whole section to be unbiblical.]

"While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses."

In large communities, instances of flagrant transgression will occur; nor can any mercies or judgments from God prevent them. Nothing but divine grace can keep individuals in the path of duty. The presumption of those, who, in opposition to the divine command, had gone up to the hill-top to engage the Canaanites, had been severely punished; and though God had since given instructions respecting the particular offerings which should at a future period be presented for sins of ignorance, he had expressly declared, that presumptuous sins should be punished with death; and that no offering whatever should be accepted for them, verses 30, 31. Yet, behold, scarcely had this declaration been given, before a man was found profaning the Sabbath-day; for which offence he was made a signal monument of divine vengeance.

His crime and punishment, which are specified in the text, lead us to notice the guilt and danger of profaning the Sabbath. Let us consider,

I. The guilt of profaning the Sabbath.

According to the estimate of mankind in general, the profanation of the Sabbath is but a slight offence; but, in fact, it is a very heinous sin.

1. Profaning the Sabbath is an unreasonable sin.

Consider who it is that requires the observation of the Sabbath. It is that God who made us, and endowed us with all our faculties, and upholds us every moment, maintaining our souls in life, and providing everything for our support and comfort. And is this the Being to whom we grudge that small portion of time which he requires? But further, this gracious God has so loved us as to give his only-begotten Son to die for us; and shall we think it hard to consecrate one day in the week to him?

Consider next, what portion of our time it is that he requires. If it had pleased him, he might have given us one day for our bodily concerns, and reserved six for himself; and whatever difficulties such an arrangement had occasioned, it would have been our duty cheerfully to obey his will. But the reverse of this is the proportion that he requires, "Six days," says he, "shall you labor; and the seventh day shall you keep holy." What base ingratitude then is it to grudge him such a portion of our time as this!

But consider further, for whose sake it is that he requires it. He wants it not for himself; he is not benefitted by it; he enjoined the observance of the Sabbath purely for our sakes; he knew that without some appointment for periodical returns of sacred rest, we would soon become so immersed in worldly cares, as utterly to forget our eternal interests; and therefore he fixed such a portion of our time as to his unerring wisdom appeared best, in order that we might be compelled to seek our own truest happiness. This is what he himself tells us, "The Sabbath was made for man, Mark 2:27." Shall we then, for whose benefit that day was set apart, refuse to consecrate it to the Lord, according to his appointment?

Let but these considerations be weighed, and it will appear a most unreasonable thing to trespass upon that time for temporal pursuits, which God has so mercifully set apart for the concerns of our souls.

2. Profaning the Sabbath is a presumptuous sin.

It is particularly in this view that the context leads us to consider it. God had enjoined the observance of the Sabbath in an audible voice from Mount Sinai, Exodus 20:8-11; and had afterwards repeatedly commanded that every person who should profane that day by any kind of earthly employment, even the baking of his food, or the lighting of a fire, should be cut off from among his people, Exodus 31:14-15; Exodus 35:2-3. See also Exodus 16:23; Exodus 16:29.

Now it was in direct opposition to all these commands that the man of whom we are speaking presumed to gather sticks. He might be ready to excuse himself perhaps by saying, that this was but a small breach of the Sabbath, and the sticks were necessary for his comfort; but these were no excuses; his conduct was a decided act of rebellion against God; and it is manifest that both Moses and God himself regarded it in that light; it was therefore a presumptuous sin, and consequently, as the Scripture expresses it, "a reproaching of God himself" as a hard master that was unfit to be obeyed, verse 30, 31.

Such is every violation of the Sabbath among us. It is clear that we are not ignorant of his commands respecting that holy day; and what we do, we do in direct opposition to his will; we "reproach him" for exacting of us what he had no right to demand, and we are under no obligation to grant. Let the profaners of the Sabbath regard their conduct in this view, and they will need nothing further to convince them of their guilt.

Having noticed the guilt of profaning the Sabbath, let us consider,

II. The danger of profaning the Sabbath.

Wherein can this be painted more strongly than in the text? The very sight of this sinful act created instant and universal alarm; and, as Moses did not know in what way it was to be punished, he sought instructions from God himself. Behold now the answer of Almighty God—of him, whose wisdom is unerring, whose justice is most pure, whose mercy is infinite; his answer is, "The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones that he die;" and let this be done "outside the camp," that he may be marked as an accursed sinner, that is separated from me, and shall have no part with my people.

Had the offender been cautioned respecting the consequences of such an act, it is probable that he would have laughed at the idea, or, as the Scripture expresses it, would have "puffed at it." So it is with men at this day; they will not be convinced that there is any danger in what they are pleased to call light sins; but there is a day coming when they will find to their cost, that no sin is light, and least of all is presumptuous sin to be so accounted.

If anything more were needful to evince the danger of violating the Sabbath, we might mention, that this sin is particularly specified, as a very principal occasion of bringing down all those judgments with which the Jews were visited at the time of their captivity in Babylon. Nehemiah, after the return of the Jews from Babylon, found that the Sabbath was still shamefully profaned among them. To remedy this evil, he exerted all his authority, and expostulated with them in the most energetic manner, "I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, "What is this wicked thing you are doing--desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn't your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath." Nehemiah 13:17-18."

Surely then, if such was the outcome to the individual that led the way, and such the consequence to the whole nation, when it had followed the example, it will be madness in us to make light of this offence. We may, it is true, escape the judgments of God in this world; (though it is surprising how often they overtake the profaners of the Sabbath;) but we shall certainly not escape them in the world to come.

Let me then propose this subject to you as an occasion,

1. For deep humiliation.

We are apt to think highly of our nation in comparison with the Jewish people; but, if we compare ourselves with them at the period when the events mentioned in our text occurred, we shall see no great reason to boast. Among the Jews there was found but one person in the whole nation that dared to profane the Sabbath; among us there is scarcely one in a hundred that does not profane it. Among them it was profaned only by gathering a few sticks; among us, in every way that can be conceived; it is a day of business or of pleasure to all ranks and orders of men. Shops open, etc. etc. Among them, this solitary instance created universal indignation; the spectators instantly communicated the matter to the magistrates, and the magistrates instantly set themselves to stop the evil.

But among us, with the exception of a few who sigh and mourn in secret, scarcely any regard the evil as of any consequence; the very name of an informer is deemed odious, so that no one chooses to incur the obloquy attached to it; and, if any were zealous and courageous enough to inform, there are but few magistrates who would not shrink back from the task of exercising the power with which they are armed. Such is the state of this nation; such the state of almost every town and village in it. Who then does not see that this national evil calls for national humiliation?

But let us bring home the matter personally to ourselves. How many Sabbaths have we enjoyed, and yet how few have we kept in the way that God has required! A person that has attained to seventy years of age, has had no less than ten years of Sabbaths. What a time is this for securing the interests of the soul! And what a load of guilt has been contracted in all that time, merely from the one single offence of profaning the Sabbath-day! Brethren, we need indeed to lie low before God in dust and ashes. We have need to be thankful too, that God's wrath has not broken forth against us, and cut us off in the midst of our transgressions. Let us know how to estimate the forbearance we have experienced; and let "the goodness of our God lead us to repentance."

2. For holy vigilance.

The ceremonial part of the Sabbath is done away; so that there certainly is a greater latitude allowed to us than was given to the Jews. We acknowledge also that works of necessity and of mercy supersede even those duties which are yet in force on that day. Our Lord himself has taught us to interpret in this view those memorable words of the prophet, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." But the moral part is as strongly in force as ever. To have the mind exercised on spiritual subjects, and occupied in advancing the interests of our souls, is our bounden duty. It was the work of the Sabbath even in Paradise; and therefore must continue to be our duty still. If the Sabbath existed two thousand years before the ceremonial law was given, it can never be vacated by the abrogation of that law.

Would we know distinctly the duties of the Sabbath, the prophet Isaiah has, negatively at least, informed us, "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." The mouth of the LORD has spoken, Isaiah 58:13-14."

We are to lay aside all the cares and pleasures of the world, and to seek all our happiness in God, and in his immediate service. Even common conversation should as much as possible be put aside, that the mind may be wholly occupied in the service of our God.

Now this requires much care and vigilance. The more decent among us are ready to think, that, if they attend the house of God once or twice, they have done all that is required of them; from a regard to the prejudices of mankind they abstain from some particular amusements; but they are not at all solicitous to make a due improvement of their time. But this by no means comes up to the injunctions of the prophet; nor will it ever be regarded by God as a just observation of the Sabbath.

The instructing of our families, the teaching of poor children, the visiting of the sick, and many other exercises of benevolence, may find place on this day. But in a peculiar manner we are called to secret meditation and prayer; we should study the Holy Scriptures, and examine our own hearts, and endeavor to keep ourselves in readiness to give up our account to God. Let the consideration of the guilt which we contract by spending our Sabbaths in another way, put us upon this; and let every Sabbath that shall be continued to us be so improved, that it may advance our spiritual state, and help forward our preparation for our eternal rest.




Numbers 15:37-41

"The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.'"

A very principal distinction between the Christian and Jewish laws is this; that our laws are given in broad, general, comprehensive principles; whereas theirs descended to the most minute particulars, even such as we should have been ready to conceive unworthy the notice of the Divine Lawgiver. There was scarcely any occupation in life, respecting which there was not some precise limit fixed, some positive precept enjoined, such as:

If they ploughed, they must not plough with an ox and a donkey.

If they sowed their ground, they must not sow various kinds of seeds.

If they reaped, they must not reap the corners of their field.

If they carried their grain, they must not go back for a sheaf that they had left behind.

If they threshed it, they must not muzzle the ox that trod it out.

If they killed their meat, they must pour the blood upon the ground.

If they dressed it, they must not seethe a goat in its mother's milk.

If they ate it, they must not eat the fat.

If they planted a tree, they must not eat of the fruit for four years.

If they built a house, they must make railings on its roof.

So, if they made a garment, they must put upon it a tassel with a ribbon of blue. This last ordinance, it may be thought, like all the other ceremonies, being abrogated, is quite uninteresting to us. But, if we consider it attentively, we shall find it by no means uninstructive. It shows us,

I. The end which we ought to aim at.

That, for which the use of the tassel was appointed to the Jews, is equally necessary for us; namely, to preserve continually upon our minds a sense of:

1. Our duty to God.

We are told to "walk in the fear of the Lord all the day long." For this purpose we should have the commandments of God ever, as it were, before our eyes. It is useful to have habitually some short portion of the Word of God, someone precept or promise, for our meditation through the day, especially at those intervals when the mind has nothing particular to engage its attention. The expediency of such a habit appears from the text itself; for, if we have nothing good at hand for our meditations, "the eye and the heart" will furnish evil enough. In our unconverted state we uniformly, as God himself expresses it, "go a-whoring after these;" our affections are estranged from God, and our thoughts from time to time fix on some vanity which our eyes have seen, or on some evil which our own wicked heart has suggested. How desirable were it, instead of having our minds thus occupied, to have them filled with heavenly contemplations; to be searching out our duty; to be examining our own hearts in relation to it; and to be inquiring continually wherein we can make our profiting to appear!

2. Our obligations to him.

How strong and energetic are the expressions in our text respecting this! "I am your God; I have redeemed you in order that I might be so to the utmost possible extent; and I consider all that I am, and all that I have, as yours."

If these mercies, as far as they were given to the Jews, deserved to be had in continual remembrance, how much greater cause have we to remember them; we, who have been redeemed, not from Egypt, but from Hell itself; and not by power only, but by price, even by the precious blood of God's only-begotten Son; and who have such a saving interest in God, that he not merely dwells among us, but in us, being one with us, as he is one with Christ himself, John 15:5; John 17:21-23 and 1 Corinthians 6:17. Methinks, instead of finding it difficult to turn our minds to this subject, it may well appear strange that we can for a moment fix them upon anything else. Were we day and night to "meditate on the loving-kindness of our God, our souls would be filled as with marrow and fatness, and our mouth would praise him with joyful lips! Psalm 63:3-6."

The ordinance before us goes further still, and prescribes,

II. The means by which we are to obtain it.

It is true that no distinctions in dress are prescribed to New Covenant Christians; the Mosaic ordinance regarding tassels on our garments in this respect is annulled. But, as a means to an end, the appointment of the tassels may teach us:

1. To make a spiritual improvement of sensible objects.

This was the direct intent of the tassels on their garments; they were as monitors, to remind the people of their duty and obligations.

And why may not we receive similar admonitions from everything around us? Has not our blessed Lord set us the example? For instance, What part of farming is there which he has not made a source of spiritual instruction? The ploughing, the sowing, the weeding, the growth, the reaping, the carrying, the winnowing, the destruction of the chaff, and the treasuring up of the wheat, are all improved by him in this view. There are some things also which he has expressly ordained to be used for this end.

What is the water in baptism, but to remind us of "the answer of a good conscience towards God, 1 Peter 3:21." What are the bread and wine in the Lord's supper, but to be signs to us of his body given, and his blood shed, for the sins of the whole world? We acknowledge that those things only which he has appointed to be signs, are of necessity to be used as such; but we are at liberty to use everything in that view; and so far from its being superstitious to do so, it is highly reasonable and proper to do it; it then only becomes superstitious, when it is rested in as an end, or used as a mean for an end which it has no proper tendency to effect.

[Editor's note: We find Simeon's Anglican theology expressed in the the following material to be unbiblical.]

Some have been offended with the use of the cross in baptism; and if it were intended as any kind of charm, they might well be offended with it; but it is, as the Liturgy expresses it, "a token that hereafter the child shall not be ashamed to confess faith in Christ crucified;" and, if it serves to impress the minds of the sponsors in that light, it is well; if it does not, the fault is not in it, but in them.

The same may we say in reference to the names, the titles, and the habits that are in use among us. Our Christian name, as it is called, should never be mentioned without bringing to our remembrance him, "whose we are, and whom we are bound to serve." The titles which are given to men, either on account of their rank in society, or of their consecration to the sacred office of the ministry, may well be improved for that end for which they were originally given; not merely to show to others what respect was due to the individuals, but to show to the individuals themselves what might justly be expected of them, and what their rank and office required; the one should maintain his honor unsullied; the other should be so heavenly in his deportment as to constrain all to revere him. In this view, the use of the surplice was doubtless well intended; and happy would it be if all who wear it were reminded, as often as they put it on, how pure and spotless they ought to be, both in their hearts and lives. The very sight of a lofty church should remind us, that we are temples of the living God; while the spire pointing upwards, may well direct us to lift up our hearts to God.

Let us not be misunderstood. We contend not for any of these things as necessary; but we learn from our text that they may be rendered subservient to a blessed end, and that it is our privilege to make everything around us a step towards Heaven.

2. To get the law itself written in our hearts.

While the tassels had in themselves a practical use, they were also emblematic of benefits which were to be more fully bestowed under the Christian dispensation. As a sign they are abolished; but the thing signified remains in undiminished force. What the thing signified was, we are at no loss to determine; it was, that the law, of which a visible memorial was to be worn by the Jews, was to be inscribed in living characters on our hearts. To this effect Moses speaks repeatedly, when giving directions respecting those other memorials of the law, which were to be worn on the forehead, and on the neck, and arms, "These words which I command you this day shall be in your heart; and you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes, Deuteronomy 6:6-9."

And again, "You shall lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, Deuteronomy 11:18-20. See also Proverbs 3:3." Hence the real design of God even as it respected them, and much more as it respects us, is evident. Moreover, God has promised this very thing to us, as the distinguishing blessing of the New Covenant, "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts, Jeremiah 31:33 with Hebrews 8:10."

Now this is the true way to attain that constant sense of our duty and obligations to God, which have been before mentioned. For, if his law is written on our hearts, then we shall find the same disposition to meditate upon it, as a covetous man does to meditate upon his gains, and an ambitious man on his distinctions. It is true, the heart has more to struggle with in the one case than the other; but, in proportion as divine grace prevails, holy exercises will be easy and delightful.

3. To exhibit that law in our lives.

The tassel was a distinction which showed to everyone of what religion they were. Thus there is a singularity which we also are to maintain; we are to be "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." If others will not walk with us in the narrow path of holiness, it is not our fault that we are singular, but theirs; we are no more blameable for differing from them, than Noah, Lot, Daniel, or Elijah, were for differing from the people among whom they lived.

As to singularity in dress, it is rather to be avoided than desired. Our distinctions must be found only in the conformity of our lives to the Word of God. While the world are clad in mirthful attire, let us "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," and be "clothed with humility;" yes, let us "put off the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness." This is the way to honor God; and the more we strive to adorn our holy profession, the more peace and happiness we shall enjoy in it.

In a word, holiness is our tassel; let us wear it; let us not be ashamed of it, but rather endeavor to "make our light to shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in Heaven." Of course, I must not be understood to recommend anything like ostentation; that is hateful both to God and man; but a bold, open, manly confession of Christ crucified is the indispensable duty of all who are called by his name; and "if we deny him, he will assuredly deny us." I say then again, let us wear the tassel, and not indulge a wish to hide it. But let us be careful that "the ribbon be of blue;" it must not be of any fading color; our piety must be uniform in all places, and unchanging under all circumstances. We must be the same in the world as in the house of God. We must be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;" and then we are assured, that "our labor shall not be in vain in the Lord."




Numbers 16:37-38

"The censers are holy—the censers of the men who sinned at the cost of their souls. Hammer the censers into sheets to overlay the altar, for they were presented before the LORD and have become holy. Let them be a sign to the Israelites."

It is painful, in perusing the history of the Israelites, to see how constantly they were murmuring and rebelling against God. Persons who are ignorant of their own hearts are ready to conceive of them as less perverse and obstinate than the rest of mankind; but they who know what human nature is, behold in their rebellions a true picture of mankind at large.

In the chapter before us we have an exact representation of a popular tumult; we see the motives and principles by which factious demagogues are actuated, and the lamentable evils which they produce. The censers of which our text speaks were formed into plates for a covering of the altar, that they might be a sign to all future generations; and, though we have not now the altar before us, they are no less a sign to us, than they were to the Israelites of old.

Let us consider:

I. The history before us.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, raised a rebellion against Moses and Aaron.

Let us mark how they proceeded. They complained that Moses and Aaron had usurped an undue authority over them; and that Moses in particular had ensnared them, and brought them into the wilderness for that very purpose, verses 13, 14. For the purpose of making an invidious comparison between their former situation in Egypt and their present state, verses 13, 14, they represented Egypt as "a land flowing with milk and honey." As to any personal interest, they disclaimed any regard to that; and professed to be actuated by a generous concern for the public welfare, verse 3. In a word, they were true patriots; they were enemies to usurpation and tyranny, and friends to the liberties of the people. Liberty and equality was their motto, verse 3.

Such were their professions—and by these they imposed upon the people, and rendered them dissatisfied with the government of God through Moses.

But what were their real principles? They envied the power and dignity with which their governors were invested, and were ambitious to obtain a like pre-eminence for themselves. As for any desire to ameliorate the state of the people at large, they had it not; a patriotic concern for others was a mere pretext, a popular cry raised for the purpose of gaining partisans.

Korah was at the head of the Levites; and Dathan and Abiram were "men of renown among the princes of the congregation;" but they were not satisfied; they could endure no dignity superior to their own; and this was the true cause of all their discontent and clamor, verse 7; and if by means of this insurrection they could have obtained the distinction which they aimed at, not a word more would have been uttered on the subject of national grievances; nor would one hundredth part of the care have been taken to prevent them. It is impossible to read the history and not to see that this was the true state of the case.

What an insight does this give us into that which is usually dignified with the name of patriotism! If ever there was a mild and just governor, it was Moses. If ever there was a pious, affectionate, and diligent minister, it was Aaron. If ever there was a well-administered government both in church and state, it was at that time. If ever people had cause to be satisfied and happy, it was then. There was not a single ground of sorrow among all the people, except that which had arisen solely from their own perverseness, their detention in the wilderness.

Yet a few factious demagogues prevail to spread dissatisfaction through the whole camp; and their oppressed state of bondage in Egypt is declared to be preferable to the grievances which they then experienced.

But, in fact, their rebellion was against God himself.

This is plainly declared to them by Moses verse 11. What matter was there of complaint against Aaron? He did only what God had commanded him; and was he to be blamed for that? Moses forbears to make the same apology for himself; but his observation was equally applicable to himself, who had done nothing but by the express command of God. The conspirators then were in reality fighting against God himself, by whose direction every measure of the government had been taken.

Moreover there was a typical design in these divine appointments, which this conspiracy was calculated to defeat. Thus, while envy and ambition characterized the conduct of the conspirators towards man, they betrayed also the grossest impiety and presumption towards God.

The best estimate of their conduct may be found in the punishment inflicted for it.

This was truly dreadful. Moses had obtained mercy from God for the congregation at large; but the leaders of the rebellion must be punished. Accordingly, while Dathan and Abiram, together with their wives, and families, and adherents, stood in the door of their tents, setting God himself, as it were, at defiance—Moses declared by what an extraordinary judgment they should perish; and no sooner had he spoken, than the judgment was inflicted, "the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them all up, with all that appertained unto them."

As for the two hundred and fifty people who presumed to make their appeal to God respecting their title to the priesthood, "a fire came forth from the Lord, and consumed them all." Terrible was this if viewed only as a temporal judgment; but if considered in reference to the eternal world, it was awful indeed! That it might be kept in remembrance for the instruction of future ages, "the censers, in which they had offered incense, were ordered to be made into broad plates for a covering of the altar."

It will be proper then that we distinctly consider,

II. The instruction to be gathered from it.

To us, no less than to the Jews, does this event most clearly speak. It shows us:

1. That sin is an act of hostility against our own souls.

These rebels might be said to sin against their governors and against God; but they were "sinners also against their own souls;" and, had the object of their desire been the destruction of their own souls, they could not have prosecuted their end by any surer means.

Little is this thought of by those who live in sin; but, whatever be the sin which they commit, the effect is still the same, Proverbs 8:36. If a man will only keep from sin, he may defy all the assaults either of men or devils. Men may destroy his body, but they cannot touch his soul. Satan himself cannot hurt his soul, without his own consent. Sin is the only medium by which the soul can receive any injury. But sin inflicts upon the soul a deadly wound:
that destroys its innocence and peace;
that brings down upon it the wrath of an incensed God;
that subjects it to everlasting misery!

See how the earth swallowed up some, and how the fire consumed others—and there you will learn the fate of all who die in their sins! Hell will open wide its mouth to swallow them up, and unquenchable fire will consume them as its proper and appointed fuel! O that men were wise, and would consider this; and turn, every one of them, from the evil of their ways!

2. That opposition to constituted authorities is highly displeasing to God.

We are far from denying that there is such a thing as real patriotism; nor do we mean to say that tyranny and oppression may not rise to such a height, as to justify the overthrow of an existing government.

But this we say, that a real Christian will not be hasty to complain of grievances, even where they do exist; much less will he bear the smallest resemblance to these factious people, whose case we have been considering. The Christian is one of "those who are quiet in the land." He regards government as God's ordinance; and the people who are invested with authority as God's representatives. He considers that, in obeying them, he obeys God; and in unnecessarily and vexatiously opposing them, he opposes God; and he knows that "God is the avenger of all such," yes, that such people "shall receive to themselves judgment! Romans 13:1-2;" the government itself may justly inflict punishment upon them; and God himself will punish such conduct in the eternal world!

Persons of this stamp often pretend to religion; and so they did in the days of the Apostles; but those who "despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities," have a "woe" denounced against them; their spirit is justly marked as a compound of envy, covetousness, and ambition; and having resembled Cain and Balaam in their spirit, they shall resemble Korah in their fate; they shall be eternal monuments of God's heavy displeasure Jude verses 8, 11.

Happy would it be if people who are of a factious and turbulent disposition would look occasionally on these "censers," and reap the instruction which they are intended to convey!

3. That a rejection of Christ must of necessity prove fatal to the soul.

Moses as the governor, and Aaron as the high-priest, of Israel, were types and representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 7:37-39; Hebrews 8:1-2; Hebrews 9:11-12; and in rebelling against them, the people virtually rebelled against Christ also. Thus, among ourselves, how many are there who say, "We will not have this man to reign over us! Luke 19:14."

Some complain of Christ's authority, as imposing an insupportable yoke upon them; and others complain of Christ's priesthood, as prohibiting any access to God except through him as the only Mediator. But what the outcome of such rebellion will be, we are faithfully warned, and that too with some reference, it should seem, to the judgments exercised on Korah and his company, Hebrews 10:26-27.

At all events, if the opposers of Moses and Aaron were so fearfully destroyed—then we may be sure that a far heavier judgment awaits the despisers and opposers of Christ! Hebrews 10:28-29 with Luke 19:27.

Let those who do not thankfully come to God by Christ, and unreservedly obey his holy will, be instructed by these events. In particular, we entreat them to act like Israel in the case before us, "All Israel that were gathered round the tents of Dathan and Abiram, fled at the cry of them; for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also! verse 34."

Could we but hear the cry of those that are in Hell, we would no longer sit supine and confident. O let us realize this thought before it be too late, and "flee in earnest from the wrath to come!"




Numbers 16:48

"Moses stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped."

As corrupt as human nature is, there are some sins which we scarcely think it possible for a rational being to be guilty of; and, if it were suggested to us that we ourselves were in danger of committing them, we should be ready to reply, "Is your servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" Such is the sin which all the congregation of Israel committed on the very day after the death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram!

These three people had excited a rebellion against Moses and Aaron; Korah and his company aspiring to the priesthood; and Dathan and Abiram, with their friends, desiring the office of supreme governor. For this their impiety they had been severely punished; Korah and his company being destroyed by fire that issued from the tabernacle; and all the relatives of Dathan and Abiram being swallowed up by an earthquake. These signal judgments, one would have thought, should have effectually silenced every murmur throughout the camp; but, instead of being humbled, the people were the more enraged; and murmured more than ever against Moses and Aaron, complaining, that the people who had been destroyed were "the people of the Lord," and that Moses and Aaron had been their murderers, "You have killed the people of the Lord!"

God now renewed his threatening to destroy them; but Moses and Aaron "fell upon their faces," as they had done frequently before, compare verse 45 with Numbers 14:5; Numbers 16:4; Numbers 16:22, and importuned God to spare them. God however would not spare them, but sent a plague among them for their destruction. But no sooner did Moses perceive that "the plague was begun," than he sent Aaron with an offering of incense to arrest its progress. Aaron went immediately into the midst of the people, and succeeded according to his wishes, "he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped."

This subject is to be considered in a two-fold view:

I. As a historical fact.

In this view it is worthy of particular attention. We cannot but admire:

1. The interposition of Aaron.

If ever opposition was unreasonable, it was then; if ever a people had offended beyond all forgiveness, it was at that time. Well might Moses and Aaron have said, 'We have interceded for you often enough; we have repeatedly saved every one of you from destruction; and now, because God has seen fit to punish some of the ringleaders in rebellion—we are charged with having killed them. If mercies will not reclaim you, it is high time that judgments should be tried.'

But not a thought of this kind entered into their hearts. They were filled with nothing but compassion and love. They fell on their faces to intercede for these rebellious people, as much as if they had received no provocation at their hands. The expedient suggested by Moses was instantly carried into effect; and Aaron, at his advanced age, ran with haste into the midst of the congregation, to make an atonement for them. He did not know but that the incensed people would wreak their vengeance upon him, as they had frequently threatened to do; and put him to death, as the author of their present sufferings. Nor could he be certain, but that, if he ran into the midst of the plague, it might sweep him away together with the rest. But he thought not of himself, nor listened for a moment to any personal considerations. He was intent only on saving the lives of his fellow-creatures.

What a glorious example did he afford to all future ministers! What a blessing would it be to the Church, if all her ministers were like him; if all could say, "I count not my life dear to me, so that I may but fulfill my ministry, Acts 20:24;" "most gladly will I spend and be spent for my people, though, the more abundantly I love them, the less I am loved, 2 Corinthians 12:15;" "I could wish even to be accursed after the example of Christ, if I might but by any means save only some, Romans 9:3; 1 Corinthians 9:22;" yes, most cheerfully would "I suffer all things for their sakes, that they might obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory! 2 Timothy 2:10."

Were there:
more tender compassion among us,
more ardent love,
more self-denying zeal,
more active exertion to "pluck our people as brands out of the fire,"
and more willingness to perish in the attempt
—then we might "save many souls alive," and have them to be "our joy and crown of rejoicing" to all eternity. O that "God would speak the word, and that great might be the company of such preachers, Psalm 68:11."

2. The effect of Aaron's interposition.

How wonderful! No sooner does the cloud of incense arise from Aaron's hands, than the plague is stayed! On the day before, two hundred and fifty censers full of incense had been offered at the tabernacle, and had brought instantaneous destruction on the offerers; now the incense from one single censer averts destruction from all the congregation of Israel. The plague was spreading its ravages with such rapidity, that already, notwithstanding Aaron's haste, fourteen thousand and seven hundred people had died of it; but the moment he reached the spot, the arm of justice was arrested, and the sword fell from the hand of the destroying angel.

It proceeded irresistibly until it came to Aaron; but could not advance one hair's breadth beyond him. On the one side of him all were dead; on the other, all remained alive. What a testimony was this to Aaron's divine appointment! What a refutation was here of the accusations brought against him! And, above all, what an encouragement was here given to all future generations to abound in prayer and intercession!

O! what might be effected for the souls of men, if all ministers were men of prayer, and all who profess themselves the servants of the Lord would interpose between the living and the dead! O that "a spirit of prayer might be poured out upon us" all! If only we took our fire from off the altar of burnt-offering, the smoke of our incense would come up with acceptance before God. "We might ask what we would, and it should be done unto us, John 15:7."

As a history this passage is instructive; but it is no less so,

II. As an emblematic record.

Those who read the Scriptures merely as a history, read them like mere children. The Old Testament, as well as the New, contains the deepest mysteries; and, to understand it aright, we must consider it not only "in the letter, but in the spirit."

Now the passage before us has undoubtedly an emblematic import; it was intended to shadow forth:

1. The means by which God's wrath is to be averted.

Aaron himself was a type of Christ; and the atonement which he now made for the people was typical of that great atonement which Christ himself was in due time to make for the sins of the whole world. There was indeed no animal slain; for there was now no time for sacrifice; but the fire taken from off the altar of burnt-offering, whereon the sacrifices were consumed, was considered on this occasion in the same light as "an atonement;" and the incense burnt on this occasion typified the intercession of our great High-Priest.

By these two, the sacrifice and intercession of Christ, the whole world is to be saved. To this the whole Scriptures bear witness. What can be clearer than the prediction of the prophet Isaiah, "He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12." What more express than the declaration of the beloved Apostle, "If any man sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, 1 John 2:1-2." The one intent of the Epistle to the Hebrews is to establish and illustrate this glorious truth.

Let us then look beyond Aaron and the rebellious Israelites, to Christ and a rebellious world! Let us see with what eager desire for our welfare he left the bosom of his Father, and came into the midst of us, not at the risk of his life, but on purpose to "make his soul an offering for sin, Isaiah 53:10." Let us hear too with what compassion he interceded for his very murderers, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Let us look through the shadow to the substance. Then shall we have a right understanding of the history when we view it as "a shadow of good things to come."

2. The efficacy of Aaron's atonement for the end proposed.

Death was arrested, and could proceed no further. And to what is it owing that our rebellious world has not long since been consigned over to destruction? "Not unto us, O Lord Jesus Christ, not unto us, but unto your name be the praise!" By your sin-atoning sacrifice you have made reconciliation between God and us; and by your prevailing intercession you have procured for us the mercies we so greatly need. Can we doubt whether this statement be true? Paul expressly tells us that Christ is "our Peace;" and, in that view of him, exultingly exclaims, "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather who has risen again, who also makes intercession for us! Romans 8:34." He tells us further, that "Christ is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for us! Hebrews 7:25."

Here then again let us view the history in its proper light; and let us learn, Where to look, and, In whom to hope, whenever our sins have raised the divine displeasure against us. Let us learn too the force of that apostolic argument, so weak in logic, but so sound in theology, "If the censer in Aaron's hand prevailed for the preservation of one rebellious people from temporal death—then how much more shall the atonement and intercession of Christ prevail for the everlasting salvation of our souls, yes, for the souls of the whole world. See Hebrews 9:13-14."

From the whole of this subject let us learn the duties:

1. Of faith.

In the case before us, the benefit was conferred on account of Aaron's faith, just as our Lord afterwards healed the paralytic on account of the faith of those who brought him. But in the great concerns of our souls, nothing can be obtained but through the exercise of our own faith. Notwithstanding our great High-Priest has performed the whole of his office, no benefit will accrue to us unless we believe in him.

In this respect we are to resemble the Israelites when bitten by the fiery serpents; we must look unto the bronze serpent in order to be healed; or, in other words, we must regard the Lord Jesus Christ as our Advocate and sin-atoning sacrifice. We must renounce every other hope, and "flee for refuge to him as to the hope set before us."

On the one hand, we must not construe the forbearance of God as an approbation of our sinful ways, as though we had no ground for fear; nor, on the other hand, should the greatness of our guilt or the multitude of our provocations make us despair, as though there were no ground for hope. But, viewing Christ as the appointed Mediator between God and us, we should "go to God through him," trusting to his promise, that "he will never cast us out."

2. Of love.

We see not men struck dead around us under any visible marks of the divine displeasure; but we know that "God is angry with the wicked every day," and is summoning multitudes to his tribunal under the weight and guilt of all their sins!

How can we behold these things with such indifference? Why do we loiter? Why do we not run, as it were, into the midst of the congregation, in order, if possible, to awaken them from their stupor, and to save their precious souls? Why do we not betake ourselves to prayer? We have figuratively, at least, our censers near at hand, if only we would take fire from the altar of burnt-offering, and burn incense on them.

Let it not be said, "This is the work of ministers;" doubtless it is so; but not of them exclusively. They should lead the way, it is true, and be examples to the flock. But others should imitate their example, and "be followers of them, as they are of Christ;" or rather, should follow Christ, whether others will follow him or not.

I call you then, every one of you, to forget yourselves, as it were, and your own personal concerns, and to be swallowed up with love and pity for your perishing fellow-creatures! Remember that they are not a whit safer by reason of their delusions. They may call rebels, "the people of the Lord;" but that will not make them the Lord's people. They may cry out against God's judgments as injustice and cruelty; but that will not prevent those judgments from being inflicted, either on others or themselves; yes rather, it will bring down those very judgments the more speedily, and more heavily, upon them. Try then to stir up within you the feelings of Christians, "Of some have compassion, making a difference; and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh! Jude verses 22, 23."




Numbers 17:10

The LORD said to Moses, "Put back Aaron's staff in front of the Testimony, to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die."

One cannot read one page in the Bible without seeing abundant evidence that God delights in the exercise of mercy. Judgment is with great truth called, "his strange act;" it is an act to which he never resorts but from absolute necessity; but mercy is his darling attribute; and to that he is inclined, even when the conduct of his enemies calls most loudly for tokens of his displeasure.

Of this we have a surprising instance in the chapter before us. The competitors with Aaron for the high-priesthood had been struck dead by fire while they were in the very act of presenting their offerings to God; while their associates in rebellion, with their whole families, were swallowed up by an earthquake! These judgments produced a murmuring throughout the camp; and fourteen thousand seven hundred were swept off by a plague, which was stopped only by the interposition of Aaron. The people now were silent; but God knew that, though intimidated, they were not so convinced, but that they would on some future occasion renew their pretensions to the priesthood, and thereby provoke him to destroy them utterly. Of his own rich mercy therefore he proposed to give them a sign, which should forever silence their murmurings and preclude the necessity of heavier judgments.

In opening this subject we shall show,

I. What God did to confirm the Aaronic priesthood.

He commanded the head of every tribe to bring a rod or staff to Moses, who inscribed on every one of them the owner's name. These all together were placed before the ark; and the people were taught to expect that the rod belonging to that tribe which God had chosen for the priesthood would blossom; while all the other rods should remain as they were. On the morrow the rods were all brought forth. The owners severally took their own; and Aaron's was distinguished from the rest by the mark proposed, "it was budded, and brought forth buds, and blossomed blossoms, and yielded almonds."

The controversy being thus decided, God commanded that Aaron's rod should be brought again before the ark, and "be kept for a token against the rebels." How long it was preserved, cannot be ascertained; but that it was for a very long period, is certain; because Paul speaks of that, and the golden pot that had manna, as known appendages to the ark, Hebrews 9:4. Thus its use was not confined to that generation; it remained to future ages:

1. An evidence of God's decision.

The change wrought upon the rod in one single night, together with its having at once all the different stages of vegetation, "buds, blossoms, fruit," this was sufficient to convince the most incredulous; no room could hereafter be left for doubt upon the subject. Nor do we find from this time even to the days of King Uzziah, that any one dared to usurp again the priestly office.

2. A memorial of his mercy.

Justly might the people have been utterly destroyed for their continued murmurings against God. But God here showed, that "he desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they should turn from their wickedness and live." This was the avowed design of the test which God proposed, "It shall take away their murmurings from me, that they die not." What astonishing condescension! Was it not enough for him to make the appointment, but must he use such methods to convince unreasonable men; to convince those, whom neither mercies nor judgments had before convinced? Had it been given, like Gideon's fleece, to assure a doubting saint, we would the less have wondered at it; but when it was given as a superabundant proof to silence the most incorrigible rebels, it remained a monument to all future ages, that God is indeed "full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great kindness."

3. A witness for God, in case he should be hereafter compelled to inflict his judgments upon them.

It is well called "a token against the rebels." God might at all future periods point to it, and ask, "What could have been done more for my people, than I have done for them? Isaiah 5:3-4." Have they not procured my judgments by their own willful and obstinate transgressions? Jeremiah 2:17; Jeremiah 4:18. By this means, whatever judgments he should from that time inflict, he would "be justified in what he ordained, and be clear when he judged, Psalm 51:4."

If we bear in mind that the Aaronic priesthood was typical, we shall see the propriety of considering,

II. What he has done to confirm the priesthood of Christ.

The whole Epistle to the Hebrews is written to show that the Aaronic priesthood typified that of the Lord Jesus, and was accomplished by it. This will account for the jealousy which God manifested on the subject of the Aaronic priesthood, and the care that he took to establish it on an immovable foundation. Whether there was anything typical in the peculiar means by which it was established, we will not pretend to determine; but certain it is that there is a striking correspondence between the blossoming of Aaron's rod, and those things by which Christ's priesthood is established.

Two things in particular we shall mention as placing beyond all doubt the appointment of the Lord Jesus to the priestly office:

1. The resurrection of Christ.

Christ is expressly called, "a rod out of the stem of Jesse, Isaiah 11:1;" and so little prospect was there, according to human appearances, that he should ever flourish, that it was said of him, "He shall grow up as a tender plant, and as a root out of the dry ground;" "He is despised and rejected by men, Isaiah 53:2-3." If this was his state while yet alive, how much more must it be so when he was dead and buried! His enemies then triumphed over him as a deceiver, and his followers despaired of ever seeing his pretensions realized. But behold, with the intervention of one single day, this dry rod revived, and blossomed to the astonishment and confusion of all his adversaries. Now indeed it appeared that God had "appointed him to be both Lord and Christ, Acts 2:32; Acts 2:36." Now it was proved, that "his enemies should become his footstool, Acts 2:34-35." On his ascension to Heaven he was laid up, as it were, beside the testimony in the immediate presence of his God, to be "a token against the rebels." There is he "a token," that God desires to save his rebellious people; that "he has laid help for them upon one that is mighty;" that all which is necessary for their salvation is already accomplished; that their great High-Priest, having made atonement for them, is entered within the veil; and that "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them."

If any shall now reject him, he will be "a swift witness against them;" and God will be justified, yes he will glorify himself in their eternal condemnation.

2. The spread of the Gospel.

The Gospel is represented by God as "the rod of his strength, Psalm 110:2;" and in reference, as it should seem, to the very miracle before us, its miraculous propagation through the earth is thus foretold, "God shall cause those who come from Jacob to take root; Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit, Isaiah 27:6 with Matthew 24:14." Consider how the Gospel militated against all the prejudices and passions of mankind, and by whom it was to be propagated, (a few poor fishermen,) and it will appear, that the blossoming of Aaron's rod was not a more unlikely event than that Christianity should be established in the world.

Yet behold, a very short space of time was sufficient for the diffusion of it throughout the Roman empire; and, from its first propagation to the present moment, not all the efforts of men or devils have been able to root it out.

The spread of Mohammadanism affords no parallel to this; because that was propagated by the sword, and tended rather to gratify, than counteract, the sinful passions of mankind. The doctrine of the cross not only gained acceptance through the world, but transformed the very natures of men into the divine image. Such operations, visible in every place, and in every stage of their progress from their first budding to the production of ripe fruit, could not but prove that:
the priesthood which it maintained was of divine appointment;
that the doctrine which it published was suited to our necessities;
and that all who embraced it should be saved by it.

In this view every individual believer is a witness for God, and "a token against the rebels;" inasmuch as he manifests to all the power and efficacy of the gospel salvation; he is "an epistle of Christ, known and read by all men;" and, by his earnestness in the ways of God, he says to all around him, "How shall you escape, if you neglect so great a salvation?" Yes; every soul that shall have found mercy through the mediation of our great High-Priest, will, in the last day, rise up in judgment against the despisers of his salvation, and condemn them; nor will the condemned criminals themselves be able to offer a plea in arrest of judgment.


1. Those who are not conscious of having rejected Christ.

It is not necessary in order to a rejection of Christ that we should combine against him as the Israelites did against Aaron; we reject him, in fact, if we do not receive him for the ends and purposes for which he was sent. Our inquiry then must be, not, Have I conspired against him, and openly cast him off? But, Am I daily making him the one medium of my access to God, and expecting salvation through him alone? If we have not thus practically regarded him in his mediatorial character, we are decided rebels against God.

2. Those who begin to be sensible of their rebellion against him.

Men are apt to run to extremes; the transition from presumption to despondency is very common. See how rapidly it took place in the rebellious Israelites! No sooner did they see the controversy decided, than they cried, "We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the LORD will die. Are we all going to die?" verses 12, 13."

What consternation and terror did they here express! Just before, they would be priests, and come to the very altar of God; and now, they will not "come anywhere near the tabernacle," though it was their duty to bring their sacrifices to the very door thereof.

So it is too often with us. Before we are convinced of sin, we cast off all fear of God's judgments; and, when convinced of our sin, we put away all hope of his mercy. Let it not be thus. The very means which God has used for our conviction, are proofs and evidences of his tender mercy. Only let us come to him through Christ, and all our past iniquities shall be "blotted out as a morning cloud!"

3. Those who confess him as their divinely appointed Mediator.

From this time the Israelites never presumed to approach the Lord but through the mediation of the high-priest. Whether they offered sacrifices or gifts, they equally acknowledged the unacceptableness of them in any other than the appointed way.

Thus must we do. Not anything must be presented to God, or be expected from him, but in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. If we approach God in any other way, we shall find him to be "a consuming fire." Let this be remembered by us; it cannot possibly be too deeply engraved on our minds. If God manifested such indignation against those who disregarded the shadow, what must be the fate of those who disregard the substance? If we reject Christ, we have nothing to hope for; if we cleave unto him, we have nothing to fear.




Numbers 19:17-20

"For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or someone who has been killed or someone who has died a natural death. The man who is clean is to sprinkle the unclean person on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify him. The person being cleansed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and that evening he will be clean. But if a person who is unclean does not purify himself, he must be cut off from the community, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, and he is unclean."

An inspired Apostle has acknowledged that the yoke imposed upon the Jews was quite insupportable. Where the reason of the ordinances was apparent, and the observance of them easy, we may suppose that the people would cheerfully comply with them; but, in many cases, the rites prescribed were very burdensome; they laid the people under severe restraints, entailed upon them heavy expenses, deprived them of many comforts, and subjected them to great inconveniences, apparently without any adequate reason. This might be illustrated by many of the ordinances; but in none so forcibly as in that before us.

The kind of defilement which was to be remedied, was as light and venial as could possibly be conceived; it implied no moral guilt whatever; nor could it possibly in some cases be avoided; yet it rendered a person unclean seven days; and everything that he touched, was also made unclean; and every person who might, however inadvertently, come in contact with anything that had been touched by him, was also made unclean. Moreover, if any person that had contracted this ceremonial defilement, concealed it, or refused to submit to this prescribed form of purification, he was to be cut off from God's people.

We do not wonder, that the proud heart of man should rise up in rebellion against such an ordinance as this; and still less do we wonder that the pious Jews should long for the Messiah, who was to liberate his people from such a yoke.

But if, on the one hand, this was the most burdensome ordinance, it was, on the other hand, the most edifying to those who could discover its true import. It may well be doubted whether in any other ordinance whatever there can be found so rich a variety of instructive matter, as may justly be deduced from that before us.

To confirm this assertion, we shall state:

I. Its typical import.

On this we shall dwell no longer than is necessary to prepare the way for the instruction which the subject is suited to convey. We will however, for the sake of clarity, call your attention to the ordinance under two distinct heads:

1. The preparation of the heifer for its destined use.

A red heifer was taken from the congregation; it was to be without spot or blemish; and it must be one that had never borne a yoke. Being brought outside the camp, it was slain in the presence of the priest, who with his finger sprinkled the blood "directly before the tabernacle, seven times." The whole carcass was then burned in his presence; (the skin, the flesh, the blood, the dung, were all burned together;) and some cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet wool were burned with it. Then the ashes of the heifer were gathered up by another person, and deposited in a clean place without the camp.

We shall not attempt to explain every minute particular of this ordinance; but its leading features are clear. We see here the Lord Jesus Christ, taken from, and separated for, the whole mass of mankind. We see him who was "without blemish and without spot," and who was under no previous obligation to suffer for us, coming voluntarily into the world for that express purpose. We see him suffering the most inconceivable agonies both in body and soul even unto death, outside the gates of Jerusalem. We see him sprinkling his own blood before the mercy-seat of the Most High God, in order to effect a perfect reconciliation between God and us. And that one atonement which was offered by him for the sins of the whole world, we see to be of perpetual efficacy in the Church, and ever ready at hand to be applied for the purification of those who desire deliverance from sin and death.

2. The application of it to that use.

A portion of the ashes being put into a vessel, running water was poured upon them; and then a bunch of hyssop was dipped in the water, and the unclean person, together with everything which had been defiled through him, was sprinkled with it. This was done on the third day, and on the seventh day; and then the unclean person was considered as purified from his defilement.

Here we behold the Holy Spirit co-operating with the Lord Jesus Christ in effecting the redemption of a ruined world. The Holy Spirit qualified the man Jesus for his work, and upheld him in it, and wrought miracles by him in confirmation of his mission, and raised him up from the dead, and bore witness to him in a visible manner on the day of Pentecost; and from that day to this, has been imparting to the souls of men the benefits of the Redeemer's sacrifice. By working faith in our hearts, he enables us to apply to ourselves the promises of God, and thereby to obtain a saving interest in all that Christ has done and suffered for us. And by such repeated applications of the promises to ourselves, he conveys to us all the blessings of grace and glory.

That this is the import of the type we can have no doubt, since God himself has so explained it in Hebrews 9:13-14. We see particularly in this passage, what was the import of the living water with which the ashes were mixed; it intimated, that "Christ offered himself through the eternal Spirit."

This may suffice for a general explanation of the ordinance; but we shall gain a still clearer insight into it by considering,

II. Its instructive tendency.

We do not apprehend that any Jew, perhaps not even Moses himself, could discover in it all that we do with our additional New Testament light. Yet we would be extremely cautious of indulging our imagination, or of deducing from the ordinance any instruction which it is not well fitted to convey. We certainly keep within the bounds of sober interpretation, when we say that we may learn from it:

1. Our universal need of a remedy against the defilement of sin.

The contracting of defilement from the touch of a dead body, or a bone, or a grave, and the communicating of that defilement to everything that was touched, and the rendering of that also a means of communicating defilement to others, intimated, that in our present state we cannot but receive defilement from the things around us; and that, whether intentionally or not, we are the means of diffusing the sad contagion of sin. "There is not a man that lives, and sins not;" "in many things we all sin;" so that we may well adopt the language of the Psalmist, "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from my secret faults! Psalm 19:12."

Now as every one who was defiled, needed the purification that was appointed, so do we, even the most pure among us, need deliverance from guilt and corruption. However careful we are, we cannot plead exemption from the common lot of all; we are "corrupted and corrupters, Isaiah 1:4," every one of us; and are greatly indebted to our God, who has graciously appointed means for the purifying of our souls!

2. The mysterious nature of that remedy prescribed to us in the Gospel.

Some have said, Where mystery begins, religion ends. We rather would say that Christianity is altogether a mystery in every part. Look at this typical representation, and say whether there is no mystery in it. Can we fathom all its depths? Or, if enabled by the light of the New Testament to declare its import, can we reduce it all to the dictates of reason? Look at the truths that are shadowed forth; is there nothing mysterious in them?

Think of God's only dear Son, "in whom was no sin, becoming sin for us, that we might be mode the righteousness of God in him!" Think of the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, concurring with him in his work, and exercising his almighty power to render it effectual for our good. Is there no mystery in all this? Truly, "great is the mystery of godliness;" and the more we contemplate it, the more shall we be constrained to exclaim with the Apostle, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"

3. The precise manner in which that remedy becomes effectual.

What was it that rendered the ordinance effectual for the purifying of an unclean person? Was there any necessary connection between sprinkling the ashes of a heifer upon a person, and the cleansing him from sin? None at all. It was the divine appointment, and that alone gave efficacy to it. Indeed, so far was it from being able of itself to cleanse a person from sin, that the very observance of the ordinance rendered every person unclean who was engaged in it. The killing of the heifer, the sprinkling of its blood, the burning of it, and the gathering up of the ashes—rendered all the people who were occupied in those duties unclean until the evening; and laid them under a necessity of washing both their body and their clothes, in order to their purification from the defilement they had contracted.

All this showed clearly enough that the ordinance in itself had no purifying power. It went further; it intimated that neither could evangelical obedience cleanse us from sin. We cannot exercise repentance or faith, but we contract guilt through the imperfection of our graces. "Our tears," as a pious minister expresses it, "need to be washed, and our repentances need to to be repented of." There is no virtue in them to cleanse us from sin; nay, there is no necessary connection between the exercise of those graces in us, and the removal of guilt from our souls.

If the devils were to repent, or to believe, we have no authority to say that they must therefore be restored to the state from which they fell; and, independent of the divine appointment, there is no more connection between the death of Christ and our salvation, than between the same event and theirs.

It is from the divine appointment only, that the Gospel derives its power to save. It was from that source alone that the rod of Moses had power to divide the sea, or the bronze serpent to heal the wounded Israelites, or the waters of Jordan to cure Naaman of his leprosy. Consequently, if any of us obtain salvation, all ground of glorying in ourselves must be forever excluded; our repentance, our faith, our obedience are necessary, as the sprinkling of the ashes; but the ultimate effect, namely, the salvation of our souls, is altogether the free gift of God for Christ's sake!

Unless we view this matter aright, we shall never know how entirely we are indebted to the free grace of God, or be sufficiently on our guard against self-preference and self-delight.

4. The indispensable necessity of resorting to it.

If any person had contracted impurity, it signified nothing how the defilement came; he was unclean; and he must purify himself in the appointed way; and, if he refused to do so, he must be cut off. If, previous to his purification, he should presume to enter into the sanctuary, the sanctuary itself would be defiled.

Thus whether a man has sinned in a greater or less degree, he must seek to be cleansed by the blood and Spirit of Christ; he must embrace the Gospel as his only hope. It will be in vain to plead, that his sins have been small and unintentional, and that he does not deserve the wrath of God. One question only will be asked, "Is he a sinner? has he at any time, or in any way, contracted the smallest measure of defilement?" If any man is so free from sin, as never to have committed it once in his whole life, in thought, word, or deed—let him reject the Gospel as unsuited to his state; but if the smallest evil has ever been indulged in his heart, he must submit to the purification that is prescribed. No other can be substituted in its place.

He may say, as Naaman, "Are not the waters of Abana and Pharpar as good as those of Jordan?" But, allowing them to be as good, they will not have the same effect, because they are not appointed of God to that end.

I say then to every person, "Repent, and believe the Gospel;" "Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out;" "He who believes shall be saved; and he who believes not shall be damned!" Think not to come to God in any other way than this; for Heaven itself would be defiled by your admission there, if you were not first purged from your sins by the blood and Spirit of Christ.

5. The efficacy of it when duly applied.

Every person who complied with the ordinance, was cleansed; and every one who has the blood and Spirit of Christ sprinkled on his soul, shall "be saved with an everlasting salvation." The argument which the Apostle uses in a fore-cited passage, Hebrews 9:13-14, deserves to be attentively considered. It is this, "If the legal purification availed for the smallest good, how shall not the gospel method of purification avail for the greatest?" In this argument there would be no force at all, if only logically considered; but, if considered in connection with the deep mysteries of the Gospel, it has all the force of demonstration.

Consider who it was, whose blood was offered unto God for us? it was the blood of his co-equal, co-eternal Son!

Consider who that Agent was, who co-operated with him in the making of this offering? it was "The Eternal Spirit," who, with the Father and the Son, is the one Supreme God.

Consider these things, I say, and nothing will be too great for us to expect, if only we come to God in his appointed way. Yes, our consciences shall be purged from guilt, and our souls be transformed into the divine image. Whatever our sins may have been, even "though of a crimson dye, they shall be made as white as snow."

Let the sinner view an unclean person under the law, excluded from the society of his dearest friends, and prohibited from all access to the sanctuary; and then, on the renewed sprinkling of the ashes, instantly brought into communion with the Lord's people, and invested with the privilege of drawing near to God. Let him view this, I say, and he has a striking representation of the change that shall take place in his own condition, the very moment he is savingly interested in the atonement of Christ. He shall instantly be numbered with the saints below, and assuredly be fellow-heir with "the saints in light." Let then this sprinkling be performed without delay; exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Go to your great High-Priest, and say, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow!"

But remember that you must repeat this sprinkling from day to day. The unclean person was to be sprinkled on the third day, and on the seventh; so must we be from time to time, even to the last period of our lives.

Consider, brethren, what I say, "and the Lord give you understanding in all things."




Numbers 20:12

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."

Scarcely shall we find any portion of sacred history that is more calculated to affect a pious mind, than this. When we see judgments inflicted on the rebellious Israelites, we acknowledge without hesitation the justice and equity of God. We regret indeed that their impieties called for such severity; but we approve of the severity itself, or rather, regard it as lenient, in comparison with their deserts.

But here our proud hearts are almost ready to revolt, and to exclaim, "Has God forgotten to be gracious?" "Is it thus that God deals with his chosen servants, who for forty years have been indefatigable in his service? Does he thus for one offence exclude them from the promised land, to the possession of which they had looked forward with such ardent desire and assured expectation?"

But we are soon silenced with that unanswerable question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Sinful men are totally incompetent to determine what befits the holy God to do. But though we are not to sit in judgment on his dispensations, we may with propriety inquire into the reasons of them, if only we do so with a view to vindicate his ways, and to gain that instruction which they are intended to convey. Let us then, while contemplating the exclusion of Moses and Aaron from the land of Canaan, consider:

I. The offence they committed.

Slight as it may appear to us, it was a complicated sin.

There was in it a mixture of:

1. Irreverence.

"God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of his saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about him! Psalm 89:7." But on this occasion Moses and Aaron seem to have forgotten that they were in the presence of God, or that there was any necessity to lead the murmurers to a becoming affiance in him. They should have reminded the people of his past mercies, and shown them how to secure the continuance of his favors by penitence and prayer. But, notwithstanding "the glory of the Lord appeared unto them," they omitted, as he complains, "to sanctify him in the eyes of the children of Israel." This was a great offence. They should have remembered, that Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, had been devoured by fire before the Lord for irreverently offering common fire in their censers, instead of the fire that was burning on the altar; and that God on that occasion had said, "I will be sanctified in them that come near unto me, and before all the people I will be glorified, Leviticus 10:3." There would therefore have been no ground to arraign the justice of God, even if he had smitten them in like manner on this occasion. Their exclusion from Canaan, though grievous, was less than their iniquity deserved.

2. Anger.

A certain kind of anger is allowable; nor is it wrong to testify that displeasure in words; but it must not be such an anger as transports us into unfitting actions or vehement invectives. The expressions used by Moses on this occasion, show, that his anger was by no means duly moderated. It did not terminate on the offence, but struck at the person of the offenders; towards whom nothing but pity, joined with faithful remonstrances, should have been exercised. Doubtless, his indignation was very hot, when he addressed the people, "You rebels!" and in this it is evident that Aaron also was a partaker with him. How sinful this was, we may judge from that declaration of our Lord, that "Whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of Hell fire! Compare verse 10, 11 with Matthew 5:22." Here then again we see that their exclusion from Canaan was justly merited.

3. Disobedience.

God had commanded Moses to "speak to the rock;" but Moses, in the paroxysm of his anger, smote it, yes "smote it twice." Had Moses forgotten how strict God's injunctions had been respecting the furniture of the tabernacle, that every the smallest vessel or pin should be "made according to the pattern shown to him in the mount?" Had he forgotten that, when bounds were set round Mount Sinai, even a beast, if he should pass them, was to be pierced through with a dart? Had he and Aaron forgotten how strictly the minutest service of the sanctuary was enjoined on the pain of death? How then could they dare thus to violate the divine commands? God himself complains of this as an act of direct rebellion against him, verse 21 with Numbers 27:14.

Who then can wonder that God saw fit to mark it with a testimony of his displeasure? It is not improbable that God, in ordering Moses to speak to the rock, intended to reprove the Israelites, when they saw the rocks themselves more obedient to the divine command than they.

But the disobedience of Moses altogether defeated this intention; yes, it was calculated to convey a most erroneous idea to those who understood the mystic import of this dispensation. The rock that had been smitten thirty-nine years before was a type of Christ, from whom, as smitten for our offences, the waters of life and salvation flow, Exodus 17:6 with 1 Corinthians 10:4. But Christ was not to be smitten twice, "he was once offered to bear the sins of many;" and it is henceforth by speaking to him, and addressing him in prayer and faith, that we are to receive renewed communications of his grace and mercy. But Moses and Aaron overlooked all this, (for what will not people forget, when under the influence of passion?) and justly brought upon themselves this severe rebuke.

4. Unbelief.

Of this in particular God accuses them, "You believed me not, to sanctify me." Whether they doubted the efficacy of a word, and therefore smote the rock; or whether they acted in their own strength, expecting the effect to be produced by their own act of striking the rock, instead of regarding God alone as the author of the mercy, we cannot say. We rather incline to the latter opinion, because of the emphatic manner in which they addressed the Israelites, "You rebels, must we fetch water out of this rock for you?" In either case they were under the influence of unbelief; for distrust of God, or creature-confidence, are equally the effects of unbelief; the one characterized the conduct of those Israelites who were afraid to go up to take possession of the promised land; and the other, those who went up in their own strength, when God had refused to go before them. This was the offence which excluded the whole nation from the promised land, "they could not enter in because of unbelief, Hebrews 3:19;" no wonder therefore, that, when Moses and Aaron were guilty of it, they were involved in the common lot.

What has been said may suffice to show that their offence was not so light as it may at first sight appear to be; but its enormity will be best seen in:

II. The punishment inflicted for it.

The sentence denounced against them was, that they should die in the wilderness, and be denied the privilege of leading the people into the promised land. This was:

1. A dreadful sentence.

How distressing it was to them, we may judge from the prayer of Moses, who sought to have the sentence reversed, "O Lord God, I beg you let me go over and see the good land!" But, as Moses himself tells us, "God was angry with him, and would not hear him, Deuteronomy 3:23-26."

How loudly does this speak to us! If we reflect on the length of time that they had served the Lord; the exemplary manner in which they had conducted themselves; (oftentimes at the peril of their lives expostulating with the people, and seeking to avert the wrath of God from them;) and that this, as it respected Moses at least, was almost the only fault that he had committed. If we at the same time consider, how grievous the disappointment must have been to them to have all their hopes and expectations frustrated, now that they had nearly completed the destined period of their wanderings; truly we cannot but see in this dispensation the evil and bitterness of sin; and feel the importance of that admonition, "Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into God's rest, any of us should seem to come short of it! Hebrews 4:1."

We know indeed that this sentence of exclusion did not extend to the Canaan that is above; and it is probable that many others who died in the wilderness, were therefore "judged and chastened of the Lord, that they might not be condemned with the world, 1 Corinthians 11:32;" nevertheless the record of their failure is "written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world have come! 1 Corinthians 10:11." And as the great body of the nation were "examples unto us, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted," so may the example of Moses in particular teach us, that "if the righteous turn away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, all his righteousness that he has done shall not be mentioned; in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them shall he die, Ezekiel 18:24."

Indeed this is the very lesson which Paul himself inculcates from the exclusion of the Israelites at large, and which is doubly forcible when arising from the failure of Moses, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls, 1 Corinthians 10:12." Were a man as eminent as Paul himself, it would behoove him to use the same vigilance as he, "keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others, he himself should be a castaway, 1 Corinthians 9:27." Not he who "runs well for a season," but "he who endures to the end, shall be saved."

2. An instructive sentence.

Besides the general idea above suggested, there are several very important things prefigured in this dispensation.

First, it intimated the insufficiency of the moral law to justify us.

Moses, the meekest of all the human race, had once "spoken unadvisedly with his lips, Psalm 106:33;" and for that one trespass was excluded from the promised land, Deuteronomy 32:48-51. Now, if we consider the typical nature of the whole Mosaic economy, we shall not wonder that he whose whole office and ministry were typical, was ordained to instruct us even by his death. In fact, he was himself a commentary on his own law; that denounced every one "cursed, who continued not in all things that were written in the book of the law to do them;" and he, for one offence, was doomed to die among the unbelieving Israelites, and thereby to show, that "by the deeds of the law should no flesh be justified! Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 3:16."

Let this be remembered by us: the law condemns us as truly for one offence as for a thousand! James 2:10; it is of excellent use to lead us through the wilderness; but it never can bring us into Canaan; and, if ever we would be saved at all, we must trust, not in our own obedience to the law, but in Him who fulfilled it, and redeemed us from its curse! Romans 8:3 and Galatians 3:13.

Next, it instructs us in the transitory nature of the ceremonial law.

Before the sentence was to be executed on Aaron, he was to go up to the top of Mount Hor, and there to be stripped of his priestly garments, which Moses was to put upon Eleazar his son, verse 25-28. By this transfer of the priesthood it was shown, that this typical priesthood was not to endure forever, but to be transferred from one generation to another, until at last it should be superseded by Him, who was to be "a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."

This is no fanciful construction; it is the very idea suggested by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews; who tells us that the law was disannulled for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof; the priests, its ministers, being unable to continue by reason of death, yielded up their office to "Him who lives for evermore." And thus the whole legal economy, not being able to make any one perfect, gave way to that better hope which does, Hebrews 7:18-19; Hebrews 7:23-24.

Thus, I say, Aaron's death illustrated the weakness of the ceremonial law, as the death of Moses did that of the moral law. Neither could introduce any one to the land of Canaan; but the one "waxed old and vanished away, Hebrews 8:13;" and the other remained only to curse and to condemn all who were under its power, Romans 7:10; 2 Corinthians 3:9.

The last truth which this dispensation preaches to us is, that Christ is the appointed Savior of the world.

Moses and Aaron, being doomed to die in the wilderness, and Miriam having already died at the commencement of this fortieth year, the people were by God's command committed to the care and government of Joshua, Numbers 27:18-23. He was to subdue all their enemies before them, and to put the Israelites into a complete possession of the promised land. Who does not recognize in Joshua the Lord Jesus Christ. Their very names are precisely the same in the Greek language; and their offices are the same. Jesus is "the Captain of our salvation;" God has given all his people into his hands, that he may give eternal life unto as many as the Father has given him! John 17:2.

Know then, all you who are going towards the promised land, to whom you must look for direction, support, and victory. Jesus is "given to be a Leader and Commander to his people;" and they who fight under his banners, shall be "more than conquerors."

In a word, the moral "law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ;" and the ceremonial law was a visible representation to shadow him forth; and in reference to both of them it may be said, "Jesus was the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes! Romans 10:4."

To conclude.

Let us receive from this history the instruction it was intended to convey.

Let us learn from it the excellency of the Gospel, which reveals the Savior to us.

Let us see the importance of adorning the Gospel by a suitable conduct and life; ever remembering, that to them, and them only, who, by a patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality, will eternal life be assigned! Romans 2:6-7.




Numbers 20:27-28

"Moses did as the LORD commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. Moses removed Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain"

The lapse of time is so gradual and silent, that, for the most part, it escapes our observation; but there are seasons and occurrences which almost irresistibly force upon us the conviction that our days are coming to a close. The history before us is particularly calculated to impress our minds with this thought.

It was not until an advanced period of life that Moses and Aaron were called to their sacred office; and when, contrary to their expectation, they were turned back into the wilderness, and doomed to sojourn there during the space of forty years, it would appear as though that time would scarcely ever expire. But years rolled on; the destined period arrived; and death, which had nearly completed its work in the destruction of all the men who had come out of Egypt, received a new commission against those most distinguished servants of the Lord.

At the commencement of the fortieth year, Miriam died; before it was half expired, Aaron too was cut off. And before its termination, Moses himself also was constrained to yield to the stroke of death. In the death of Aaron, to which we would now call your attention, there are two things more especially to be noticed:

I. The transfer of Aaron's office.

Moses received an order to "strip off Aaron's garments, and to put them on Eleazar his son." That order was now executed; and in the execution of it we may see the true nature of that law, of which Aaron was the chief minister. We may see:

1. That the Law could not save.

In the preceding Discourse we have observed, that the sentence of death passed on Moses, marked the insufficiency of the moral law to justify; and now we observe, that the transfer of Aaron's priesthood marked the same respecting the ceremonial law. The ceremonial law was never designed to make any real satisfaction for sin. The annual repetition of the same sacrifices showed, that they had not fully prevailed for the removal of guilt. As they could not satisfy divine justice, so neither could they satisfy the consciences of those who offered them, "they were remembrances of sin," calculated to preserve a sense of guilt upon the conscience, and to direct the people to that great Sacrifice, which would in due time be offered for the sins of the whole world, Hebrews 10:1-4; Hebrews 9:9-10.

This, I say, was shadowed forth in the death of Aaron; for, if those sacrifices which he had offered could really atone for sin, why were they not accepted for his sin; or why was not some fresh sacrifice appointed for it? They could not so much as avert from him a temporal punishment, or procure for him an admission into the earthly Canaan. How then could they prevail for the removal of eternal punishment, and for the admission of sinners into the heavenly land? The Apostle tells us, that "it was not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sin;" nor could a more striking evidence of its inefficiency be conceived, than that which was exhibited in the event before us.

2. That the Law was not to continue.

The sentence of death denounced against Aaron, manifested, as we have before shown, that the law itself was in due time to be abolished.

The stripping off of Aaron's garments, and putting of them upon Eleazar, still more clearly marked the changeableness of Aaron's priesthood; and intimated, that it should successively devolve on dying men, until he should arrive, who should never die, but "be a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek!"

But the manner in which this transfer was carried into execution deserves particular attention, inasmuch as it was peculiarly calculated to give the people an insight into the whole nature and design of the ceremonial law.

Whether the ceremony passed in the sight of all the congregation or not, we cannot say; but they were certainly informed of what was about to take place on the arrival of Moses and Aaron at the destined spot. Now Moses was the person who, by God's appointment, had put the priestly garments on Aaron, forty years before, Exodus 29:4-7; and he also was the person appointed to strip them off.

Was this an accidental circumstance, without any mystical design? Can we suppose that, in a dispensation which was altogether figurative, such a singular fact as this was devoid of meaning? No; it was replete with instruction. We exceedingly dread the indulgence of imagination in interpreting the Scriptures; but we are persuaded that a very deep mystery was shadowed forth on this occasion.

Moses was the representative of the law, as Aaron was of our great High-Priest. Now it was the law which made any priesthood necessary.

If the law had not existed, there would have been no transgression.

If the law had not denounced a curse for sin, there would have been no need of a High-Priest to make atonement for sin.

And if there had been no need of a real sacrifice, there would have been no occasion for either a priesthood or sacrifices to shadow it forth.

The law then called forth, if I may so speak, the Lord Jesus Christ to his office; and therefore Moses put the priestly garments on him who was to prefigure Christ. But the same law which rendered a real atonement necessary, made the figurative priesthood wholly ineffectual; its demands were too high to be satisfied with mere carnal ordinances; there was nothing in a ceremonial observance that could be accepted as a fulfillment of its injunctions; nor was there anything in the blood of a beast that could compensate for the violation of them. Therefore, to show that nothing but the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ could be of any avail, the same hand that put the shadowy garments upon Aaron must strip them off again.

Thus in this transaction are we taught, not only that the ceremonial law was a mere temporary appointment, but that men should look through it to Him whom it shadowed forth. The language of it was, in effect, similar to that of the Apostle, "I through the law am dead to the law, Galatians 2:19." That is, "I, through the strictness of the moral law, am cut off from all hopes of acceptance with God by any obedience to its commands. Yes, I despair of obtaining salvation by any works either of the ceremonial or moral law; and I trust wholly in the Lord Jesus Christ; I seek to be justified solely and altogether by faith in him."

While our minds are instructed by the transfer of Aaron's office to Eleazar his son, our hearts cannot but be affected by,

II. The surrender of Aaron's soul.

"The time was come when his spirit must now return unto God who gave it." He goes up to Mount Hor, the appointed place, where he must lay down his mortal body, and from whence he must enter into the presence of his God.

In this last scene of his life there is much that is worthy of observation:

1. The occasion was awful.

Aaron had sinned; and for that sin he must die. We doubt not indeed but that he found mercy before God; but still he died on account of his transgression; his death was the punishment of sin, verse 24. This, in fact, is true respecting every one that dies; though in some respects death may be numbered among the Christian's treasures—yet in another point of view it must still be regarded as an enemy, 1 Corinthians 15:26, and a punishment for sin. In this light it must be considered even by the most exalted Christian, no less than by the most ungodly, "his body is dead because of sin, even though his spirit is alive because of righteousness, Romans 8:10."

But in the death of this eminent saint we have a most instructive lesson. It was doubtless intended as a warning to all who profess themselves to be the servants of God. Like Lot's wife, it speaks to all succeeding generations, and declares the danger of departing from God. No length of services will avail us anything, if at last we yield to temptation, and "fall from our own steadfastness, 2 Peter 3:17." The death of Aaron shadowed forth that truth which is plainly declared by the prophet Ezekiel, that "if a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, all his righteousness that he has done shall not be mentioned; but in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them shall he die, Ezekiel 18:24."

Many there are, who, from an attachment to human systems and a zeal for truths of an apparently opposite nature, would almost expunge this passage from the sacred volume; but, whether we can reconcile it with other passages or not, it is true; and every one of us shall find it true at last, that not he who runs well for a season, but "he who endures unto the end, shall be saved! Matthew 24:13."

2. The manner was dignified.

Methinks I see Aaron, accompanied by Moses and Eleazar going up to Mount Hor "in the sight of all the congregation." There is in him no appearance of infidel hardness, or unbelieving fear, or pharisaic confidence; he acquiesces in the divine appointment, and, with meek composure, a firm step, and a cheerful countenance, ascends to meet his God. Thrice happy man! How enviable his state, to be so attended, and to be so assured!

What can a saint desire more than this: to have his pious relatives about him; to see, not only those with whom he has moved in sweet harmony for many years, and who are soon to follow him into the eternal world, but his children also, who are coming forward to fill the offices he vacates, and to serve the Lord as he has done before them; to see them around him, I say, in his last hours; to enjoy their prayers; and to bestow on them his parting blessings? How delightful, in that hour, to "know in whom he has believed," and to be assured that he is "entering into the joy of his Lord!"

Such may be the state of all; such ought to be the state of all. Hear how Peter speaks of his death, "I know that I must shortly put off this my tabernacle, 2 Peter 1:14." Hear Paul also speaking of his, "I know that when the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, I have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me, 2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Timothy 4:8."

Shall it be said: These were Apostles; and we must not expect such attainments as theirs? I answer, These things are the privilege of all, "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace! Psalm 37:37."

3. The outcome was honorable.

Upon every recurrence of difficulties, the whole people of Israel had vented their spleen against Moses and against Aaron. On some occasions they had been ready to stone these distinguished servants of the Lord. But now that Aaron was taken from them, the whole congregation of Israel bemoaned their loss, verse 29. Now they call to mind those services, which once they despised. Now they say one to another, 'How often have we seen him fall on his face before God, to implore mercy for us, at the very moment when we were murmuring against him as the source of all our troubles! How did we on a recent occasion see him rushing with his censer into the midst of the plague, to arrest the pestilence in its progress, even at the peril of his own life! Alas, alas, what a friend and father have we lost!'

Yes, thus it too generally is that men realize their blessings only by the loss of them. They enjoy a faithful ministry, but will not avail themselves of it, until "the lampstand is removed," and the privileges, which they have slighted, are withdrawn.

The same is too often experienced by children who have neglected the admonitions of their parents, and servants who have disregarded the instructions of their masters. Happy are those who "know the day of their visitation," and "walk in the light before the night comes!"

To those indeed who die, it is comforting to know that they shall leave such a testimony behind them; but, when we consider the augmented guilt and misery of those who have slighted our admonitions, our sorrow for them preponderates, and turns our self-congratulations into tender sympathy and grief; for the greater our exertions were for their salvation, the more certainly shall we appear as swift witnesses against them, to increase and aggravate their condemnation.


What if God were now to issue the command to any one of us: "Go up to your bed and die!" How would it be received among us? Would we welcome such an order? Would we rejoice that the period was arrived for our dismissal from the body, and for our entrance into the presence of our God? Such an order will assuredly be soon given to every one of us; the old and the young, the rich and the poor, those who have traveled all through the wilderness, and those who have but just entered into it—may have it said to them within a few hours, "This night your soul is required of you."

But, however men might receive the summons, its consequences to them would be widely different, according as they were prepared, or unprepared, to meet their God. Think:

1. You who are regardless of your eternal state.

You are now perhaps adorned in costly array, and filling some high station; perhaps, if not crowned with a mitre, like Aaron—you are at least officiating at the altar of your God. But your honors and your ornaments must all be laid aside; and your office, together with your wealth, must be transferred to others. "Naked you came into the world, and naked must you go from it."

But where must you go? To Heaven? Alas! people of your description can find no admittance there. You will be excluded, like the foolish virgins, who had no oil in their lamps. O think, from what you will be excluded; not from an earthly Canaan, but from Heaven itself; and not, to be merely bereaved of good, but to bewail your misery in Hell forever! Ah! fearful thought! May the Lord grant that it may sink down into all our hearts, and stir us up to "flee from the wrath to come!"

Do any inquire, What shall we do to he saved? My answer is, There is a High-Priest who never dies. Or rather, I should say: There is a High-Priest though once he died on Mount Calvary, now "lives, and behold he is alive for evermore!" It is to him who Moses directed you when he stripped off Aaron's robes; and to him Aaron himself directed you, when he surrendered up his soul. The typical priests being inefficient, "were not allowed to continue by reason of death; but the Lord Jesus has an unchangeable priesthood; and is therefore able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives! Hebrews 7:23-25." Believe in him, and the sting of death shall be removed; you shall have peace with God through his sin-atoning blood; and, when taken hence, shall be transported on the wings of angels to Abraham's bosom!

2. You who profess religion—yet are living at a distance from God.

Let us suppose for a moment, you are not so far from God, but that you shall find mercy at his hands in the last day; still it would be very painful to die under a cloud, and to leave your surviving friends doubtful of your state. Yet this is the best that you can expect, while you are relaxing your diligence, and "the things which remain in you are ready to die." But there is reason to fear that you are "drawing back unto perdition," and that "your last end will be worse than your beginning!"

Think not that this is an uncommon case; there are many who "seem to be religious, and yet deceive their own souls." How terrible then will be your disappointment, if, after walking, perhaps twenty, or, like Aaron, forty years, in expectation of reaching the promised land—you come short of it at last! Yet this will be the case with all who dissemble with God, Job 20:4-7.

When your minister, who had hoped that you would have been "his joy and crown of rejoicing" forever, shall inquire: "Where is he?" And your dearest friends also shall ask, "Where is he?" How painful will it he, and perhaps surprising too, to be informed, that you were counted unworthy of that heavenly kingdom, Job 20:7. May the Lord grant that this picture may never be realized with respect to any of you! But I must caution you in the words of the Apostle, "Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into God's rest, any of you should seem to come short of it! Hebrews 4:1."

3. You sincere and upright Christian.

What a glorious change will it be to you, when God shall bid you to go up unto your bed and die! Whatever honors you possess here, you need feel no regret at parting with them. You have found your trials in this wilderness great and manifold; and happy may you he to go unto the rest that remains for you. You have no need to be afraid of death; it should be regarded only as the stripping off of your garments, to retire to rest. Or rather, "For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life! 2 Corinthians 5:4."

Go forward then in daily expectation of your summons; yes, be daily "looking for, and hastening unto, the coming of that blessed day! 2 Peter 3:12,"when you shall "depart, and be with Christ forever."

Who can conceive the bliss that awaits you at that hour? To behold Him, "of whom the Law and the Prophets testified," and in whom their testimony received its full accomplishment! To behold Him whom Aaron's love and services but faintly shadowed! Him, "the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person!" Were death a thousand times more terrible than it is, it should be eagerly to be coveted as an introduction to such bliss! Methinks, impatience were a virtue with such prospects as these; or if you must wait with patience your appointed time, endeavor at least so to live, that, at whatever hour your Lord may come, you may be found ready, and have "an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! 2 Peter 1:11."




Numbers 21:4

"And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the journey."

The history of human nature is nearly the same in all ages. Successive generations ought progressively to advance in wisdom, because they have the advantage of others' experience. But youth will not avail themselves of the instructions of their forefathers; they will go forward in their own ways; exactly as if they had no compass whereby to steer, nor any chart of the rocks and shoals, on which so many thousands have been shipwrecked. "

A new generation had been born in the wilderness since the departure of the Israelites from the land of Egypt; and they had ample means of information respecting the rebellious conduct of their fathers, and the chastisements inflicted on account of it; yet on similar occasions they constantly acted in a similar manner, murmuring and complaining as soon as any new trial arose, and wishing themselves dead, to get rid of their present troubles. Thus it was with them at this time. We propose to inquire into:

I. The causes of their discouragement.

Doubtless, to those who could not implicitly confide in the wisdom and goodness of God, there was ground for discouragement:

1. There was a perplexing providence.

The period fixed for their entrance into Canaan was nearly arrived. They had just had a severe engagement with one of the Canaanite kings, who had come forth against them with all his forces; and, after suffering a partial defeat, had entirely vanquished him. But they were not allowed to follow up their success, or to proceed to the immediate invasion of his land. On the contrary, having been refused permission to pass through the territories of the king of Edom, they were directed to "compass his whole land, and to go back to the Red Sea," perhaps as far as to Ezion-geber, Deuteronomy 2:8. This was after they had been thirty-nine years and six months in the wilderness; after two of their leaders, Miriam and Aaron, were taken from them by death; and when there remained but six months to the time fixed for their entrance into the promised land.

How perplexing did this appear! Must they wait to be attacked in the wilderness, and never be permitted to reap the reward of victory? Must they wait in the wilderness until their enemies would be willing to resign their land? Had God forgotten his promise, or determined that they should spend another forty years in the wilderness? If the promise was to be fulfilled, why give them the trouble of traversing the wilderness again? If it was not to be fulfilled, they had better die at once, than protract a miserable existence under such vexatious and cruel disappointments.

While they viewed the dispensation in this light, we do not wonder that "their soul was much discouraged."

In truth, this is a very common source of discouragement to ourselves. Persons, on their first commencement of their journey heaven-ward, are apt to be optimistic, and to expect that they shall speedily arrive at the promised land. At one time they seem near it, but are turned back again, in order that by a long course of trials, they may be better prepared to enjoy it. At another time they seem almost to possess it; and then, not long after, find themselves at a greater distance from it than ever. Thus "hope deferred makes their heart sick;" and being disappointed in their expectations, they yield to great dejection of mind: 'If I am not of the number of God's people, whence have I these desires? if I am, why have I not those attainments?'

The same disquietude arises from perplexities of any kind, where the promise of God and the providence of God appear at variance with each other. Not being able to account for the Lord's dealings towards them, "their souls are cast down, and greatly disquieted within them."

2. There was a long protracted trial.

Forty years of trial was a long period; and the nearer they came to its completion, the longer every day appeared. Hence this fresh order to go back to the Red Sea, and there to recommence their travels, quite overwhelmed them.

And how do long-continued afflictions operate on us? For a season we can bear up under them; but when pains of body, or distress of mind, are lengthened out; when the clouds, instead of dispersing, thicken, and storms of trouble are gathering all around us; then patience is apt to fail, and the mind sinks under its accumulated trials. Because "our strength is small, we faint under our adversity." Even Job, that bright pattern of patience, who after the heaviest losses could say, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord;" even he, I say, fainted at last, and cursed the day of his birth! He must be endued with an uncommon measure of grace, who under such circumstances can say with Paul, "None of these things move me!"

That we may see how their discouragement operated, let us consider,

II. The effects produced by it.

Their minds being discomposed, they immediately gave way to:

1. A dissatisfied spirit.

Many were the blessings which they received from the hand of God; they lived by a continual miracle; they were provided with water out of a rock, and with manna daily from the clouds; and yet they complain, "There is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul despises this light bread." Because they did not partake of that variety which the nations around them enjoyed, they were discontented; or rather, because they were offended with the order to go back unto the Red Sea, they were displeased with everything.

What a picture is this of human frailty! The mind discouraged on one account, looks not out for circumstances of alleviation and comfort, but gives itself up to disquietude and dejection. Temporal blessings lose all their relish. Let even the bread of life be administered to people in such a frame, they can taste no sweetness in it; the promises of God seem not suited to their case; nor are they sufficient for their support. They "cannot hear the voice of the charmer, charm he ever so wisely." If they even turn their minds to the right object, it is only to confirm their own doubts, and to augment their own sorrows. Their experience is like that of Asaph, "My sore ran in the night, and ceased not; my soul refused to be comforted; I remembered God, and was troubled, Psalm 77:2-3."

2. A murmuring spirit.

How lamentable to hear them on this occasion accusing God and his servant Moses of having brought them out of Egypt with a view to deceive their expectations and to kill them in the wilderness! But the mind, once thrown off its bias, will stop short of nothing, unless it is restrained by the grace of God, Isaiah 8:21-22. Let anyone that has been in deep affliction, look back and see, whether he has not found his mind rise against the immediate authors of his calamities, and ultimately against God himself, for having appointed him so hard a lot, Proverbs 19:3.

It is true, we do not perhaps intend to accuse God; but we do it in effect; because, whoever is the instrument, it is his hand that smites. Whether Chaldeans or Sabeans invaded the property of Job, or tempests destroyed his family, the holy sufferer referred the events to God, as their true author. Without God, not a hair of our head could be touched, even if the whole world were confederate against us. When therefore we murmur at the calamities we suffer, we murmur in reality against God who sends them.

It may be asked perhaps: How could they help yielding to this discouragement? That they might have done so, will appear, while we show,

III. The way in which they should have fortified themselves against this severe affliction.

It behooved them in this trouble, as indeed in every other, to consider,

1. Whence this severe affliction came.

It did not spring out of the dust; it came from God; even from him who had brought them out of Egypt, and had supported them to that very hour. Had they not had evidence enough of God's power and goodness during the 39 years that they had continued in the wilderness? And did it not befit them to place their confidence in him, though they could not see the immediate reason of his dispensations?

Thus should we do, when tempted to disquietude and despondency; we should say, "It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to Him," "the cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" Yes, "when walking in darkness, we should stay ourselves upon our God;" and determine with Job, "Though he slays me—yet will I trust in him." This was the expedient to which David resorted in the midst of all his troubles, and which he found effectual to compose his mind, "he encouraged himself in the Lord his God, 1 Samuel 30:6 with Psalm 42:11."

2. For what end this severe affliction was sent.

God has expressly stated the end for which he tried them so long in the wilderness; it was, "to humble them, and to prove them, that they might know what was in their hearts, Deuteronomy 8:2." And was not the prospect of such an end sufficient to reconcile them to the means used for the attainment of it?

Let us also consider the ends for which our afflictions are sent; are they not sent with a view to make us "partakers of his holiness?" Who would be discouraged at his trials, if he reflected on the necessity which there is for them, and the blessed fruit that shall spring from them? Doubtless, they are "not joyous for the present, but grievous;" nevertheless the refiner's fire may well be endured, if only it purges us from our dross, and makes us, as "vessels of honor, fit for our Master's use."

3. The certain outcome of this severe affliction, if duly improved.

They were well assured that God would fulfill his promises. Even their recent victory over the Canaanites was a pledge of their future conquests. What if they did not understand the way of the Lord? The direction they had taken at their first departure from Egypt had appeared to their fathers to be erroneous; but it had proved to be "the right way;" and they should have been satisfied, that this, though alike mysterious, would have a similar outcome; and that the number and greatness of their trials would ultimately redound to the glory of their God, and to their own real happiness!

Thus we should bear in mind that all our afflictions are working together for good, and that, "light and momentary in themselves, they are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!" Did we but consider this, we would be content to suffer, until we had filled up our appointed measure; yes, we would even "glory in our tribulations," knowing that we are to be "made perfect by them," and that "they are our appointed way to the kingdom of Heaven."


Certain it is that "we have need of patience, in order that, when we have done the will of God, we may inherit the promises." But let not any of the sons and daughters of affliction yield to discouragement. If their trials are great, their supports and consolations shall be great also. Are they particularly discouraged at the thought of their weakness and sinfulness? Let them recollect, what a fullness of merit and of grace is treasured up for them in Jesus; that "where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound; and that his strength shall surely be perfected in their weakness."




Numbers 21:8-9

The LORD said to Moses, "Make a serpent and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a serpent and looked at the bronze serpent, he lived."

It is said in Scripture, that, "where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound." This declaration, if received as a licence for sin, would be pernicious in the extreme; but, if taken as an encouragement to repent, its tendency is most consolatory and beneficial. That God has magnified his grace towards the most unworthy of men, and even taken occasion from their wickedness to display the unbounded extent of his own mercy, is certain. We need only read the history of the Israelites in the wilderness, and we shall be fully convinced of this.

Their conduct was most perverse. They were truly a stiff-necked people. Notwithstanding all their experience of God's kindness towards them, they could never confide in him, but were always murmuring, and always rebelling. By their wickedness they brought down upon themselves the divine judgments; but no sooner did they implore forgiveness, than God returned to them in mercy, and put away his judgments far from them.

We have a very singular instance of this in the history before us; where we are informed, that God had, on account of their murmurings, sent fiery serpents to destroy them; but, on the intercession of Moses, had appointed them an easy remedy, by the use of which their wounds were healed, and their calamities removed.

We propose to consider,

I. The appointment itself.

The need of God's interposition was exceedingly urgent.

The wilderness abounded with serpents, such as the camp was now infested with Deuteronomy 8:15. They were of a very malignant nature, causing by their bite a fatal inflammation. They are probably called "fiery" on this account, rather than from their color. Multitudes of the people had been bitten by them; many were dying; and many were already dead. In vain did any of them seek an antidote against the venom, with which they were in hourly expectation of being infected; nor could any means be devised to abate its force.

What then could the people do? To arm themselves against the danger, was impossible; they were assailable on every side; their assaults were irresistible. In this extremity, they apply themselves to Him, who alone was able to deliver. They humble themselves before their God; and they entreat Moses to intercede for them. If God does not have mercy on them, they must all perish. Such was the extremity to which they were reduced.

But the manner in which he interposed was perplexing.

God ordered a serpent to be made of brass, as like as possible to those which bit the people; and that serpent he commanded to be erected on a pole, in order that the wounded people might look unto it and be healed.

But what connection was there between the means and the end?

Of what use could a piece of brass be, or what could it signify of what shape it was?

Of what service could it be to look upon it?

If it were reduced to powder and swallowed; or any mixture were made with an infusion of brass in it; one might suppose it possible that such a prescription might be of some use; there might be some affinity between the remedy and the disease. But, when such an order as that in our text was given, it seemed rather as if God were only "laughing at their calamity, and mocking now that their fear was come."

Strange however as this might appear at the time, the reason of it is clear to us, who know,

II. The mystery contained in this appointment .

That the deepest mysteries of our holy religion were shadowed forth by it, we are well assured, because our blessed Lord has expressly referred to it as illustrative and explanatory of them. Let us, for distinctness' sake, consider:

1. The provision made.

God ordered that a bronze serpent should be made like unto the other serpents, (but without their venom;) and that it should be erected on a pole in the midst of the camp. And herein was a great mystery.

What, I would ask, is the provision which God has made for the recovery of a ruined world? Has he not sent his only dear Son into the world, to he made "in the likeness of sinful flesh," yes, to he "made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted, Romans 8:3 with Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15." Has he not caused that glorious Person to be suspended on a cross, and to yield up his own life a sacrifice for sin? Has he not moreover commanded that in every place, and in every age, that adorable Savior should, by the preaching of the everlasting Gospel, be "evidently set forth crucified before the eyes of men, Galatians 3:1."

Here then we behold that which was prefigured by the bronze serpent. In affirming this, we speak only what our Lord himself has declared in John 3:14. Indeed on several different occasions did he refer to this type, as to receive in due season its accomplishment in him, John 8:28; John 12:32.

O how are we indebted to God for the light of his blessed Gospel! Little did the Israelites know what a stupendous mercy was here exhibited to their view. Doubtless, as a mere ordinance for the healing of their bodies, they should be thankful for it; but how thankful should we be, who see in it such a wonderful provision for our souls! Let us contemplate it; God's co-equal, co-eternal Son, Jehovah's Fellow—made incarnate! The Deity himself assuming our nature with all its sinless infirmities, and dying an accursed death upon the cross! And this too for the salvation of his own rebellious creatures! O let us never for one moment forget that this is the means which God has appointed for our deliverance from death and Hell. Let us contemplate it, until our hearts are altogether absorbed in wonder, love, and praise.

2. The direction given.

The only thing which the Israelites had to do, was to look unto the bronze serpent. There was nothing else required of them; they were not first to heal themselves in part; or to apply any other remedy in conjunction with this; nor were they to do anything either to merit, or to increase its efficacy; they were simply to look unto the serpent, as God's ordinance for their recovery.

Here then we behold a further mystery. Never from the foundation of the world was the way of salvation more plainly, more fully, or more intelligibly declared, than in this simple method of obtaining the desired blessing. Salvation is only and entirely by faith in Christ. The direction which Christ himself gives us by the Prophet Isaiah, is this, "Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else! Isaiah 45:22." And when he sent forth his disciples to preach his Gospel, he especially charged them to declare, that "he who believed would be saved; and he who believed not would be damned, Mark 16:16."

Many other things indeed he requires of his people; he requires that they should repent, in order to evince that they truly desire mercy; and that they should obey, in order to manifest that they have obtained mercy; but both their repentance and obedience are carefully excluded from the office of justifying; justification is invariably declared to be by faith alone. "It is by faith in order that it may be by grace, John 3:15 with Romans 4:16; Romans 11:6 and Ephesians 2:8-9;" and, when we have learned how much the Israelites did for the healing of their bodies, then we shall know how much our own works are to procure the healing of our souls.

In this view the type before us is singularly instructive; it is so plain, that it is obvious to the lowest apprehension; so comprehensive, that nothing can be added for the elucidation of it; and so authenticated, that scepticism itself cannot doubt either its reference or its accomplishment.

3. The effect produced.

If any despised the remedy, they died; whereas not a single instance occurred, throughout all the camp of Israel, of any person resorting to it in vain. However desperate his state was, however distant he might be from the serpent, or however indistinctly he beheld it—the effect was still the same; every person who looked to it as God's ordinance for the healing of his wounds, was healed by it; he was healed immediately, and he was healed perfectly.

The man that can see no mystery here, is blind indeed. We may defy the ingenuity of men or angels to devise any means whereby the efficacy of faith in Christ should be more clearly ascertained. Plain indeed is that declaration of Paul, "All who believe, are justified from all things Acts 13:39;" but, as plain as it is, it does not so forcibly strike the mind, as does the typical representation in our text.

All the questions that can arise respecting the nature and the efficacy of faith, are here distinctly answered. If suppositions are made which can never be verified, then no wonder if difficulties occur which cannot be solved. But let us only remember, that faith is a looking to Christ for salvation, and that that faith is uniformly and universally productive of good works; and then we can no more doubt its efficacy to save the soul, than we can doubt the veracity of God.

We inquire not, whether that faith is strong or weak; (though doubtless the stronger it is, the more abundant will be its fruits.) We only ask whether it is genuine and sincere; and then we do not hesitate to affirm, that the possessor of it "shall be saved;" "he shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end! Acts 16:31 with Isaiah 45:17."


1. Those who are averse to this method of salvation.

Many there are to whom the doctrine of salvation by faith alone is an object of disgust. It was so in the first ages of Christianity; and it is so still to the greater part of the professing Christian world. But though the cross of Christ is still, as formerly, "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness," yet is it at this time, as it was then, "the power of God and the wisdom of God! 1 Corinthians 1:23-24."

If it is objected, that to be saved by faith alone, and by faith in One who saved not himself, appears absurd; we answer, That such an objection might with just as much reason have been urged against the healing of dying men by the sight of a bronze serpent; and that it is not for us to prescribe to God in what way he shall save a ruined world. It is not for us to dictate, but obey. Were there therefore really as little connection between the means and the end in the gospel salvation, as there was in the typical representation of it, it would still be our duty thankfully to submit to the remedy proposed.

But this is not the case; it would be easy to show that there is a wonderful suitableness between the death of Christ as an atonement for sin, and the mercy given to us for his sake; nor is there a less suitableness between our exercise of faith in him, and his communication of grace to us. But without entering into that discussion at present, we refer to the type as decisive of the point.

"Wash and be clean!" was said to Naaman.

"Look and be healed," was said to Israel.

"Believe and be saved," is said to us.

This is Christ's message to a guilty world; and "blessed is he who shall not be offended in him."

2. Those who have experienced its saving benefits.

The bronze serpent was carried by the Israelites throughout all the remainder of their journey; and, if they had been bitten again by the fiery serpents, they would doubtless have had recourse again to the remedy, which they had once found to be effectual.

Just so, the need of repeated applications to our remedy is daily recurring; and, thanks be to God! its efficacy is undiminished. To all therefore would we repeat the direction before given, "Look unto Christ and be saved, all the ends of the earth!" If those around you doubt, as certainly they will doubt, the efficacy of faith, then let them read it in your whole conduct; let them see that your corruptions are mortified, and your evil dispositions are healed. Let them see that there is a difference between you and those around you, and such a difference too, as nothing but faith in Christ can produce.

They will be boasting of other remedies, which, in spite of their utmost exertions, they will find ineffectual; but let them see in you the superior excellence of that which God has revealed in his Gospel. Declare to them the way of life; exalt the Lord Jesus in their eyes; commend him to them with your lips; but most of all commend him to them in your lives.

In a word, let your whole conduct be a visible commentary on those words of the Apostle, "God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world! Galatians 6:14."




Numbers 22:18-19

But Balaam answered them, "Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God. Now stay here tonight as the others did, and I will find out what else the LORD will tell me."

The study of human nature is ever profitable. Much insight into it may be gained from history; much from converse with the world; and much from the examination of our own hearts. But that which we acquire from a perusal of the Holy Scriptures is the most clear and certain, because we have all the circumstances in one view before our eyes, and have infallible information respecting the motives and principles by which the different agents were influenced.

The character of Balaam is peculiarly instructive. He was a man eminent as a soothsayer; and it was supposed that he could influence the fate, not of individuals only, but of nations, by his sentence of blessing or malediction. Persons of his description were frequently employed by kings at the commencement of a war, to curse their enemies to destruction; and, among the Romans, an officer was appointed particularly to that office. This man was applied to by Balak, the king of Moab, to come and curse Israel; who, as they feared, would vanquish them all, as easily "as an ox licks up the grass." This message gave occasion to Balaam to display what was in his heart. We propose to show you,

I. The inconsistency of Balaam's character.

That we may have a more distinct view of his character, we shall notice:

1. The contrariety between his opinions and desires.

The desires of man by nature are altogether earthly and sensual; but when spiritual light breaks in upon his mind, and he is made to see in a measure the evil of such desires, a conflict begins within him. It is in this state that multitudes go on; they see the better path, and approve it in their minds; but they cannot, will not, follow it; there are some gratifications which they know not how to forego, and some interests which they cannot prevail upon themselves to give up; and hence they proceed in a painful opposition to the dictates of their own consciences, being habitually self-convicted and self-condemned. They "hate the light," and, as the Scripture strongly expresses it, "rebel against the light."

Such was the state of Balaam. His views of divine truth were very enlarged, when we consider the age and country in which he lived. He had a considerable knowledge of God and his perfections; yes, of Christ also, together with the kingdom which he should establish upon earth, Numbers 24:17-19. He was acquainted with the nature of truly spiritual religion, Micah 6:6-8; and saw, not only the certainty of a future state, but the certainty, that, in that state, there would be an inconceivable difference between the righteous and the wicked.

But still he was a covetous and ambitious man; and as soon as a prospect of gratifying his evil propensities was opened to him, he bore down the better convictions of his own mind, and determinately set himself to do evil.

2. The contrariety between his professions and conduct.

Who that had heard all the fine speeches which he made respecting his determination to adhere to the will of God, even though he should be able to gain "a house full of silver and gold" by disobeying it; and his pious advice to Balak, "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God;" who that had seen him apparently so fearful of stirring a step, or speaking a word, without the divine counsel and direction—would not have conceived him to be a pious character?

Yet from beginning to the end his conduct was a continued course of horrible impiety. After he had once consulted God, and had received from him a determined answer that "he should not go with the messengers, and that he should not curse Israel, for that they were, and should be, blessed;" what had he to do, but to dismiss the messengers with a plain, full, determined answer?

When the second company of ambassadors came, he should not have listened to them a moment; but should have been as peremptory in his answer to them as to the former. His second application for direction was only an insult to the Divine Majesty, and a spreading of a net for his own feet. God, seeing how bent he was upon the attainment of his own ends, (the acquisition of wealth and honor,) no more interposed with authority to prevent him, but on certain conditions gave him a permission to go. No sooner was a conditional permission given, than Balaam, without waiting for the conditions, set out upon his journey. God, in mercy to him, interposed by a miracle to obstruct his way; and caused a dumb donkey to reprove him, verse 22-34 with 2 Peter 2:16; but even this produced nothing more than a momentary conviction of his sin, which however he was still determined to persist in; and, having obtained from the angel what he construed into a permission to proceed, but which was rather a declaration that the ends of his journey should be defeated; (for that he should not be permitted to speak anything which was not put into his mouth by God himself;) onward he goes, and addresses himself to his impious work with activity and perseverance.

In all his renewed endeavors to curse Israel, he found himself constrained to bless them, insomuch that Balak, furiously enraged against him, dismissed him without any of the riches or honors which he had so eagerly sought after!

Now, it might be hoped, that Balaam at last should see his error, and humble himself for his iniquity. But, instead of this, he devised a plan whereby that people, who could not be subdued by war, might be beguiled into sin, and thereby subjected to the displeasure of their Almighty Protector. He advised Balak to make use of the Midianite women, first to allure them to fornication, and then to draw them to idolatry; and by this means to destroy the souls of those, whom he could not otherwise injure. Compare Numbers 31:16 with Revelation 2:14.

Now compare this with all his professions of reverence for God, of regard for holiness, and of a desire after everlasting happiness; and what an astonishing inconsistency will appear!

But, in truth, though his circumstances were peculiar, his state is common. Many, many are the people, who, amidst high professions of regard for religion—are as much actuated by love of wealth and honor as ever Balaam was; and, if they can only obtain their own ends, are as little scrupulous as he about the means to obtain the wealth they desire. Such are they who resemble the ancient Pharisees, on the one hand; and such also are the descendants of Judas and of Demas, on the other hand. Such characters abounded even in the apostolic age, 2 Peter 2:14-15 with Revelation 3:1 and former part of verse 9; and we must not wonder, if they be to are found also in the present day! Ezekiel 33:31.

In the course of this history, while we mark the inconsistency of Balaam, we cannot but notice also,

II. The consequences resulting from Balaam's character.

Let us attend to those which resulted,

1. The consequences to Balak.

Balak had raised his expectations high, and had hoped to derive great advantage from the aid of Balaam, "I know that he whom you bless, is blessed; and he whom you curse, is cursed." But, after all his expense and trouble, he found that he had trusted to a broken reed; and was constrained to dismiss with indignation the man, whom he had so anxiously endeavored to interest in his favor.

What a picture does this afford us of the disappointment too often generated in the minds of men by hypocritical professors!

One perhaps, having heard of the religious principles of such or such a servant, promises himself the highest satisfaction in connection with him; but finds him, after all, conceited, idle, deceitful, disobedient.

Another deals with such or such a tradesman, in expectation that he shall find in him the integrity suited to his religious professions; but soon learns that others who know nothing of religion, are more honorable, and more to be depended on, than he.

Another contracts a matrimonial alliance, from the presumption that the person's opinions will have a suitable influence on his conduct; but learns afterwards by bitter experience, that asperities of temper, and imprudences of conduct, even such as any moral person would be ashamed of, are too often cloaked under a garb of religion, and gratified, to the utter subversion of domestic happiness.

Need we say, what a wound such conduct gives to religion, or what a stumbling-block it lays in the way of the ungodly? Truly, through such people "the way of truth is evil spoken of," the prejudices of thousands are confirmed, and the name of our God and Savior is blasphemed.

2. The consequences to Israel.

Though the enchantments of Balaam were unavailing, his diabolical advice was but too successful; the Israelites, unable to resist the allurements of the Midianite women, were betrayed into an unlawful commerce with them; and thus fell into the snare which Balak had laid for them, and brought upon themselves the heavy displeasure of their God.

And are not hypocritical professors a snare to many? Do they not, either, by a spirit of disputation, turn weak believers "from the simplicity of the Gospel;" or, by a spirit of licentiousness, (which they call liberty,) induce them to violate their own consciences? Multitudes of such professors there have been, and yet are, in the Christian Church; nor will it ever be known until the day of judgment, how many "weak brethren, for whom Christ died, have perished" through their mean, 1 Corinthians 8:9-12.

3. The consequences to himself.

It might have been hoped, that after having been constrained to bless Israel, and thus to lose "the rewards of divination" which he coveted, he would have seen "his error," and repented of it. But this is very rarely the lot of those who proceed for any time in a willful opposition to the convictions of their own minds; they generally become "seared in their consciences," and hardened in their sins.

Thus it was with Balaam. Though foiled for the present in his hopes of gain, he would not relinquish his pursuit of it, but still continued among the Midianites, and soon afterwards was involved in their destruction, Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:22.

What a lesson does this teach us! What a prospect does it afford to all who yield themselves to the dominion of an unhallowed appetite! How vain his wish to have "his end like that of the righteous," when he would not resemble them in his life! And truly, if we follow his steps, we shall, like him, perish miserably at last among the enemies of God.

Learn then from this history:

1. The danger of indulging any besetting sin.

The sin of Balaam was covetousness; and we see how it hurried him from one iniquity to another, until it brought him finally to destruction, both of body and soul! Nor is this an uncommon case. There is scarcely any principle more common, or more destructive, than a desire after wealth and preferment. "The love of money," says the Apostle, "is the root of all evil; and many, by coveting after it, have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows! 1 Timothy 6:9-10."

The facility with which men deceive themselves in relation to this principle, renders it peculiarly dangerous. It scarcely ever appears in any other light than as a venial, at least, if not a commendable, quality. It is likely that Balaam himself did not see the extent of his own iniquity; he probably conceived himself to be solicitous only to know and do the will of God. But an inspired Apostle says of him, that "he loved the wages of unrighteousness," and "ran greedily after error for reward!"

Beware then, brethren, lest, while you think yourselves only prudent and discreet, God himself should "choose your delusions," "give you up to a reprobate mind," impute the same as sin unto you, and assign you your doom among his enemies. Whatever excites in you even a wish to violate the commands of God, will, if not restrained and mortified, assuredly "drown you in destruction and perdition!"

2. The necessity of acting conformably with our principles and professions.

Happy would it have been for Balaam, if he had so done!

Of what use was his knowledge of God, whom he did not fear?

Of what benefit was his views of Christ, whom he did not love?

Of what benefit was his knowledge of his duty, when he would not practice it?

Of what benefit was his persuasion of a future judgment, for which he made no exertions to prepare?

These things served only to enhance his guilt, and to aggravate his condemnation. Thus will it be with us, "it would have been better never to have known anything of the way of righteousness, than to" oppose it, or "depart from it." "The servant that knew his Lord's will and did it not, shall be beaten with more stripes, than the servant who sinned through ignorance."

I would earnestly entreat you therefore, brethren, to walk according to the light which you possess. Do not, like Balaam, "hold the truth in unrighteousness;" do not "profess that you know God, and at the same time in your works deny him;" but rather be yourselves examples unto others, that they may in you behold the sanctifying efficacy of your faith, and the excellency of that religion which you profess.




Numbers 22:31

"Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown."

The ministry of angels is frequently asserted both in the Old and New Testament; but, because the angels are not seen, it is scarcely believed among us. Nevertheless, there is not any doctrine more fully established than this; nor scarcely any more clearly exemplified. We need only look to the passage before us; and there we see an angel deputed to intercept Balaam in his way to Midian, and to stop him in his career of wickedness.

Whether the angel were the Son of God himself, "the Angel of the Covenant," with whom Jacob afterwards wrestled, Hosea 12:3-5, we will not absolutely determine; but the context seems to countenance the idea that it was. See verse 32, 35. At all events he had the appearance of an angel, and acted in the capacity of a messenger from Heaven. For a considerable time Balaam did not see him; though the donkey on which he rode, both saw, and endeavored to avoid him. The whole story is so singular, that some have represented it as a vision. But, while that mode of accounting for the circumstances renders them not at all less miraculous than the more obvious interpretation, (for a divine agency would be as necessary in that case, as in the other,) it directly opposes the assertions of the historian, and the testimony of an inspired Apostle, 2 Peter 2:16. We can have no doubt but that the facts happened as they are related; and, that we may present them before you in a more easy manner, we will call your attention to some observations founded upon them.

I. God often mercifully interposes to obstruct sinners in their evil ways.

Balaam, though he professed to be acting by the divine appointment, was in reality going in opposition to the will of God. The permission which had been granted him conditionally, he had construed as unconditional; and when God had declared that Israel should be blessed, Balaam was going with a desire and purpose to curse them. God, to awaken him to a sense of his wickedness, sent an angel to stop him in his way, and to make known to him the evil of his conduct.

It is thus that God often interposes to arrest the progress of sinners, and prevent the commission of iniquity. We do not say that he often proceeds precisely in this way; he has a great variety of ways in which he carries this gracious purpose into execution. Elihu, in his address to Job, directly affirms, that God does interpose, and in a variety of ways too, for this gracious end, Job 33:14-17; and the Scriptures universally attest the truth of his remark.

Sometimes God endeavors to divert men from their purpose by a dream, (as Pilate, by a dream of his wife, Matthew 27:19;) sometimes by a vision, (as Saul, in his way to Damascus, Acts 9:3-4;) sometimes by a judgment, (as Jeroboam, when he stretched out his hand against the man of God, 1 Kings 13:4;) sometimes by a human monitor, (as David, by Abigail, 1 Samuel 25:32-33;) and sometimes by an unforeseen occurrence, (as Saul, when having encompassed David with his army, was called away from him by a sudden invasion of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 23:28.) We cannot enumerate, nor indeed conceive, the infinite variety of methods by which God withstands sinners; but all of us, on reflection, must acknowledge both the reality and frequency of his interpositions.

How often has it happened that the thief, the robber, the housebreaker, and the murderer, have been deterred from their purpose by the approach of some unexpected person, or by some suggestion of their own minds!

How often have people under a strong temptation to gratify their lusts, been kept from the actual commission of fornication or adultery by some little occurrence, some noise, some apprehension, some qualm of conscience, which God, in mercy to their souls, has sent to interrupt them!

How many unhappy women have been kept from destroying their infant children, either before or after their birth, by some considerations widely different from the fear of sin!

It is a well-known fact, that many people, but for such restraints as these, would have even destroyed their own lives; and perhaps, of the many who actually do commit suicide, there is scarcely one, who has not been repeatedly diverted from his purpose, before he could find it in his heart to carry it into execution.

So common are the interpositions of God for the prevention of sin, and the rescue of those who would commit it! But,

II. God's most signal interpositions often excite only the wrath of those for whose benefit they are sent.

Thrice was Balaam interrupted in his course.

The first time, his donkey turned aside into a field, to avoid the angel.

The next time, he ran up against a wall.

The third time, having no other method of avoiding him left, he fell down.

At each time Balaam's anger was kindled; and at last it rose to such a height, that even the strange phenomenon of the donkey speaking, as with a human voice, and expostulating with him, was not sufficient to arrest his attention; his only reply was, that he wished for a sword that he might kill her. Had he known at the time what danger he was exposed to, and what obligations he owed to his beast for that very conduct which so incensed him, he would have seen that he had reason for unbounded thankfulness, where he thought that he had the greatest reason to complain.

And is it not thus oftentimes with us? If nothing had been revealed to us respecting the deliverance of Balaam, we would have thought him fully justified in his anger. Just so, because we do not see the particular mercies which God gives to us, we think ourselves justified in raging against the means and instruments that he employs.

There are a thousand things which we call accidents, on which the greatest events depend. Evils might have come to us, or blessings might have been lost, if some circumstance, which at the time we deemed most unfortunate, had not taken place. Nor can any but God himself conceive the extent to which we are indebted to him for things, which at the time excited our grief and indignation.

On this subject, I must leave everyone to consult his own experience. But there is one view of it which will come home to the hearts of all. How often, when God has sent a guardian angel, a friend or minister, to instruct and warn us—have his reproofs kindled resentment, rather than gratitude, in our minds! How many of us now see reason to be thankful for warnings which once excited our displeasure, while others have been eternally ruined by continuing to disregard them! Think only of the ministry of Christ and his Apostles, and of the different states of those who rejected or received their testimony, and this part of our subject will need no further comment. Moreover,

III. Those interpositions which are acknowledged to have been sent in mercy, produce, for the most part, a very transient effect.

Balaam, when his eyes were opened, and he was informed that he had narrowly escaped death, acknowledged his sin, and professed a readiness to return. But it is observable, that his very confession touches only on the supposed guilt of attempting to proceed in opposition to the angel, and not on the real guilt of going with a disposition and purpose directly opposed to the known will of God. So far from being humbled for this offence, he was glad at any rate to gain a renewed permission to prosecute his vile designs. Nor did he afterwards reflect, or repent of his evil ways; but persisted in them, until vengeance overtook him, and he perished among the enemies of God!

Just so, have we at times been made sensible of our danger. Some great calamity has overtaken us, or disease has brought us to the gates of death. Then we have acknowledged our sins, and professed a willingness to forsake them. But no sooner have the impediments been removed, than "our goodness has proved as the morning dew; and as the early cloud it has passed away."

Thus it was with Pharaoh, when God, by many successive judgments, strove to overcome his obstinacy; and thus it was with Saul, when David repeatedly spared his life. The judgments and mercies of God affected both of them for a moment, so that they confessed their sins; but the effect was transient, and they perished under an accumulated weight of guilt!

O that it may not be so with us! O that we may not any longer resemble the rebellious Israelites, Psalm 78:34-37; lest, like them, we exhaust the patience of our God, and provoke him to "swear in his wrath that we shall never enter into his rest!"


1. Those who are bent on their evil ways.

Covetousness is a common and destructive sin; and many are guilty of it, while they seem unconscious of any great evil. They are decidedly guilty of it, who prefer the prosecution of their interests to the will of God and the welfare of his people. Let such offenders know then, that God and his Angel stand before them with a fiery sword; and that, for anything they know, the very next step they take may transmit them to the presence of an angry God. Methinks the brute creation that obey their will, would, if their mouths were opened, rebuke their disobedience, more pointedly than ever Balaam's donkey rebuked him, Isaiah 1:2-3; Jeremiah 8:5-7.

See, brethren, how Solomon describes your state, Ecclesiastes 9:3. see how he warns you of your end, Proverbs 29:1. O beg of God, that he would never give you his permission to proceed, but contend with you effectually, until he has gained his point! If once "he gives you up," and says, "Let him alone! Psalm 81:11-12; Hosea 4:17," It would have been better for you that you had never been born!

2. Those who desire to return from their evil ways.

Whatever have been the means of stopping your career, be thankful for it; falls or bruises, such as Balaam had, are mercies when sent for such an end. Bear in mind what your conduct has been Isaiah 57:17, and be humbled on account of it in dust and ashes. Bear in mind too that you will assuredly "return, like the dog to his vomit," if Almighty God do not keep you by his grace. But he has promised to his people to "hedge up their way with thorns, and to build a wall against them, that they may not find their former ways Hosea 2:6-7;" entreat him earnestly to do this for you; and to "keep you by his own power through faith unto salvation."




Numbers 23:7-10

Then Balaam uttered his oracle: "Balak brought me from Aram, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains. 'Come,' he said, 'curse Jacob for me; come, denounce Israel.' How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the LORD has not denounced? From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them. I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!"

It is scarcely to be conceived to what a degree superstition will blind the eyes of men. There is nothing so absurd or incredible, which a person under the influence of it is not ready to believe. Who would imagine that people could be brought to believe the infallibility of the Pope, and the power of the Popish priests to forgive sin? Who would suppose that any person could be brought to believe, that a priest is able to convert bread and wine into the body and soul; yes, and into the Godhead also, of Christ; and that every individual who partakes of that bread and wine, eats and drinks the whole body, the whole soul, and the whole Godhead of Christ? Yet these things are credited by millions of people, as firmly as they believe that there is a God.

Were it not that we have such evidence of the power of superstition in later ages, we could scarcely conceive, that any Being endowed with reason would act like Balak, when he sent for Balaam to curse Israel. How could he entertain such a foolish thought, as that Balaam should be able to inflict a curse upon the whole Israelitish nation, so as to ensure the conquest of them to the king of Moab? Yet this superstition prevailed, not only there, and at that time, but fifteen hundred years afterwards at Rome also, where there was an officer expressly appointed to imprecate curses on their enemies.

How little it was in the power of Balaam to effect, we see in every renewed attempt that he made. So far from being able to inflict a curse on Israel, he was not able even to denounce one; for God overruled and constrained him to bless the people whom he desired to curse.

Having offered seven bullocks and seven rams on as many altars, he came to Balak, who was anxiously expecting the accomplishment of his wishes. But, behold, the man on whose power he relied to curse Israel, was constrained explicitly to declare,

I. Israel's security.

Balaam acknowledges that it was not in his power to curse them; and declares that, instead of being vanquished by Balak, they would prevail against every enemy, and be a peculiar people to the end of time.

This has ever since been verified in relation to those who are Israelites after the flesh.

That nation did prevail over their enemies. They did get possession of Canaan. They did maintain it against all their enemies, until, for their iniquities, God sent them into captivity in Babylon. Yet even there did they retain their peculiarities; yes, even at this day, though dispersed through every country under Heaven, they are as much a peculiar people as ever. Other nations, when vanquished and dispersed, have become incorporated with their victors, and been assimilated to the people among whom they have dwelt; but the Jews in every country are still a distinct people; and are living witnesses of the truth of this prophecy.

It is no less verified in relation to the spiritual Israel.

Every blessing promised to Abraham and his natural seed was, in a spiritual sense, made also to his spiritual seed. The Gospel itself, with all the blessings of salvation, was contained in that promise, "In your seed shall all nations be "blessed, Galatians 3:8." It is evident, moreover, that Balaam himself was instructed by God to prophesy of people under the gospel dispensation, even of those who should be the subjects of the Lord Jesus Christ, Numbers 24:17-19.

Now they are indeed a peculiar people, Exodus 19:5-6; 1 Peter 2:9." They "dwell alone;" "though in the world, they are not of the world, even as Christ himself was not of the world, John 17:14; John 17:16;" they "are not conformed to it;" "they come out from it and are separate;" they can "have no more communion with it, than light can have with darkness, or Christ with Belial." They dwell in the midst of enemies. Wherever they are, they are, and ever have been, in a greater or less degree, objects of hatred and persecution. Every possible method has been used to extirpate them; but no enemy has ever been able to prevail against them. They are still, and ever shall be, monuments of God's saving power, and objects of his saving love.

II. Israel's increase.

The Israelites, as a nation, became very numerous.

At the time that Balaam saw them, they probably amounted to two million people; but after their settlement in Canaan they multiplied exceedingly, so as to fulfill the promise made to Abraham, Genesis 28:14, and to justify the declaration in the text.

But the true Israel shall indeed be "as the dust of the earth".

In the first ages of Christianity they were spread over the whole Roman empire; and though we acknowledge that hitherto they have not been numerous, when compared with their enemies—yet we are assured, that they shall in due time cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, and for the space of a thousand years fill the whole earth. And, if we consider how they will multiply when wars shall cease, when the diseases arising from men's folly and wickedness shall be removed, and "the man dying at a hundred years old shall be considered but a child" brought to an untimely end, Isaiah 65:20; we may well imagine, that their numbers shall far exceed that of all who have perished in their sins. We are sure at all events, that, in the last day, they shall be "a multitude, which no man can number, out of every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue;" and that they shall join together in everlasting hallelujahs, "saying, Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb! Revelation 7:10." O blessed period! May "God hasten it, in His time!"

III. Israel's happiness.

Balaam proclaims them happy also in their eternal state.

Here he must refer to those who were the true Israelites; since an ungodly Jew can no more be saved, than an ungodly heathen. And it is worthy of notice, how strongly he asserts the happiness of the godly in the future world. He looked forward to their future state; he saw them distinguished from the ungodly; he saw, that, however they might be involved in the calamities of the wicked here, they would be translated by death to a state of endless felicity; hence he envied them, and desired to have "his last end like theirs!"

And truly in this view believers are objects of envy to the whole world.

The wish that Balaam expressed is the wish of every man, even of the most abandoned. There is no one living under the light of the Gospel, but feels an inward persuasion that God will put a difference between the righteous and the wicked. However much he may hates the godly, he envies their state; and has at some time the thought arising in his mind, 'If I were now to die, I should be glad to be found in your state.' And well may this be the case, seeing that God has prepared for them "such good things as surpass man's understanding". Were it not for their future prospects, Christians would be rather in a pitiable condition, especially in seasons of bitter persecution 1 Corinthians 15:19. But, with such hopes before them, they can be in no condition whatever, wherein they are not greatly to be envied.

To improve this subject, we shall add:

1. A word of warning.

Balaam by all his efforts could not prevail on God to reverse his word respecting Israel; on the contrary, the word which he delivered by God's command has been fulfilled to them in all ages.

Just so, shall not what God has spoken both here and elsewhere, respecting the end of the righteous and the wicked, be fulfilled? Shall any man die the death of the righteous, if he will not live his life; or shall he attain his end without walking in his way? If God has declared that he will "put a difference between those who serve him, and those who serve him not," who shall prevail upon him to change his mind? Or "who shall harden himself against him, and prosper?" O, think of this, beloved, and do not buoy up yourselves with unfounded expectations of Heaven at last; for "God is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent."

2. A word of consolation.

Little did Israel know what plots were formed against them; but God knew, and counteracted them all. Thus it is with God's Israel now. Both men and devils are confederate against them. Satan especially, "like a roaring lion, goes about seeking, if possible, to devour them;" but God overrules all their devices for good, and gives us a blessing where they would have sent a curse. He has promised, that "no weapon that is formed against us shall prosper;" and he will fulfill it even to the end; he will "keep us by his own power through faith unto everlasting salvation."

Let us then not say, "A conspiracy! a conspiracy!" But let us "sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, and make him our fear, and him our dread." He will be "a wall of fire round about us, and the glory in the midst of us;" he will keep us even as the apple of his eye; nor "shall any one who trusts in him, ever be ashamed or confounded world without end."

As Balaam could not prevail against Israel of old, so "not all the gates of Hell shall prevail against us!" Only put your trust in God, and you may, in the language of the Apostle, defy the whole universe to "separate you from the love of God! Romans 8:35-39."




Numbers 23:18-23

Then he uttered his oracle: "Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me, son of Zippor. God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it. "No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them. God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox. There is no sorcery against Jacob, no divination against Israel. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel, 'See what God has done!'"

The distinct answers which God gave to Balaam are surely deserving of distinct consideration. The general scope of them indeed is the same; namely, that Israel should be blessed; but the terms in which that declaration was made, are diversified, and contain in them a great variety of important matter.

We are astonished indeed that God would condescend to notice Balaam a second time, more especially as he had the impiety to approach him with divinations and enchantments, Numbers 24:1. But, for the sake of his Church and people, the Lord himself met Balaam again, and constrained him, in his reply to Balak, to declare,

I. The immutability of God.

Balaam had endeavored to turn God from his purpose; and perhaps, from having, as he conceived, prevailed upon him to reverse his word before, he hoped to succeed in like manner again. But he was compelled to confess to Balak the inefficacy of his attempts to change the mind of God.

Balak had supposed Balaam to be capable of effecting great things; and had imputed his former answer to a lack of inclination, rather than of power, to comply with his wishes. But Balaam here distinctly confesses, that it was not in his power to "reverse," or alter, what God had spoken; and that, consequently, it was in vain to make any renewed attempts.

Man, from a variety of causes, might be led to change his mind; he might gain a further insight into a matter than he had possessed before; or he might be biased by some intervening interests; or he might find himself incapable of executing his projects for lack of power.

But no such occasions of change can exist in God, for "He is not a man that he should lie;" there is in him "no variableness, neither shadow of turning;" "He cannot lie;" "it is impossible that he lie, Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18." He is as unchangeable in his purposes, as he is in his perfections, "He is of one mind; and who can turn him?" So self-evident was this truth, that Balaam appealed even to the conscience of Balak himself respecting it, "Has he said—and shall he not do it?"

This view of the Deity was a sufficient answer to Balak; it was a pledge to him, that the promises originally made to Abraham would be fulfilled to his descendants. And it is an answer too to all the unbelieving fears which occasionally arise in our minds. "God's gifts and callings are without repentance, Romans 11:29." "He will not forsake his people, because it has pleased him to make them his people, 1 Samuel 12:22;" and it is owing solely to the unchangeableness of his mercies, that anyone of his people escapes destruction, "He changes not; and therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed! Malachi 3:6."

The immutability of God being established, Balaam proceeded to recite,

II. The kindness which God had already shown to his people.

This was such as gave Balak but little hope of ever succeeding against them.

God had forgiven their sins, so that nothing which they had done amiss should ever provoke him to destroy them. Doubtless there was in them much "iniquity," and much "perverseness;" but they had not renounced their allegiance to him or their affiance in him; and therefore he would not give them up to their enemies. He had "cast all their sins behind his back into the depths of the sea," and he viewed them only with an eye of love and mercy. He considered them still as his peculiar people; and he dwelt in the midst of them as their God. Moreover, such manifestations did he afford them of his love and favor, that they could not but rejoice in their security, and triumph in him, with shouts and acclamations, as their Almighty Protector.

It shows us also what God does for his redeemed people at this time.

The best of God's people are but imperfect creatures, "in many things we all sin." But, if we are truly his, "he does not behold iniquity or wickedness in us." We are not by this to understand, that sin, if committed by the Lord's people, is not sinful; or that it is not most hateful in his eyes; but we are to understand that he is "not extreme to mark what we do amiss;" that, on the contrary, he views us as "perfect in Christ Jesus," by whom we are "presented faultless before him," and through whose blood and righteousness we are made "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, yes holy, and without blemish! Ephesians 5:27; Jude verse 24."

Regarding us thus as objects of his favor, he delights to dwell among us, to abide with us, to manifest himself to us, and to "fill us with joy and peace in believing;" so that he enables us to say with the Apostle, "Thanks be to God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ Jesus!" Truly, "the children of Zion are made joyful in their King," yes, they "ever shout for joy, because he defends them;" "they sing unto him for the excellent things which he has done; they cry out and shout, because great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of them! Psalm 126:1-2 and Isaiah 12:5-6."

From the mention of what God has done for his people, Balaam went on to declare,

III. The kindness which God has yet in reserve for his people.

The time was soon to come when all the surrounding nations would be astonished at it.

God had already "brought them out of Egypt, and given them, as it were, the strength of an ox." He had suffered no machinations of men or devils to prevail against them. He had fulfilled all his promises to them hitherto; and the time was now nearly arrived, when he would accomplish them in their full extent. However formidable the opposition to them might be, "His people rise like a lioness; they rouse themselves like a lion that does not rest until he devours his prey and drinks the blood of his victims." In a word, such should be his marvelous interpositions in their favor, that all who beheld them would exclaim, "See what God has done!"

All of this was but a mere shadow of the kindness God has laid up for us, his redeemed people.

It is not from an Egyptian tyrant that we are delivered, but from sin and Satan, death and Hell! Nor are we endued with strength against an earthly enemy, but against all the powers of darkness; insomuch that "Satan himself shall shortly be bruised under our feet." Not only shall "the gates of Hell never prevail against his Church" at large, but not against even the weakest of his people; both Christ and his Father are pledged, that "however weak the believer may be, none shall ever be able to pluck him out of their hands! John 10:28-29." The least of the flock have no more cause to fear than the greatest; for "it is the Father's good pleasure to give the possession of his kingdom to the one as well as to the other, Luke 12:32." The weakest shall be "strong in the Lord," yes, strong as a lion; he shall be "able to do all things" that are conducive to his welfare; and shall be "more than conqueror through Him who loved him."

O what "a wonder is he unto many," even at this time! and what a wonder will he be, both to himself and others, in the eternal world! When the whole Israel of God shall be in possession of the heavenly land, how will each say, on a review of his own mercies in particular, as well as those given to the whole collective body, "See what God has done!" Truly, they will all be lost in wonder, love, and praise!

Let none dismiss this subject from their minds without reflecting,

1. How great our obligations to God are!

Here, as in a looking-glass, we may see them very distinctly; and we read this history to little purpose, if we see not in it transactions of the present day. To recapitulate the mercies of God towards us, or to point out their correspondence with those that were given to Israel, is needless. The slight mention we have already made of them is sufficient. But it is of importance to ask, What effect have they produced upon our minds? Have we not again and again been constrained to say, "See what God has done!" "What manner of love is this with which the Father has loved us!" Be assured, that the man who is not frequently (I might almost say, habitually,) impressed with this thought, knows nothing of God, nor has he any part or lot in the gospel salvation.

2. How strenuous should be our exertions to walk worthy of the mercies of God towards us!

It is thought by some, that views of God's sovereign grace and unchanging love will lead men to carelessness and presumption. It behooves us all to show, that there is no foundation for this calumny; and that the stupendous love of Christ will rather constrain us to obedience. Let us remember, that, if the promises of God are sure, so also are the threatenings; and that we can no more reverse these, than Satan can reverse the others, if we are found in a state against which God has threatened his displeasure.

How painful is the thought, that, notwithstanding all the warnings which God has given them, most will yet perish in their sins! Methinks, if God's mercy will excite wonder among those who are saved, so will sin excite wonder among those who perish. With what force will that reflection strike us in the day of judgment, "What has SIN wrought!" O think upon it now; and let us not only flee from it, but endeavor so to "walk, that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus!"




Numbers 23:19

"God is not a man, that he should lie."

There is scarcely anything that more strongly manifests the depravity of our nature, than that propensity to lying which we perceive in children, as soon as they begin to speak! Psalm 58:3. Even when men are grown to the full exercise of their reason, they too often deviate from truth, sometimes through forgetfulness, sometimes from a change of sentiment or inclination, and sometimes from an inability to perform their word. Hence it is characteristic of man to lie; and we are all so sensible of this, that in matters of great importance we require of men an oath to confirm their word, and enter into written covenants with them, which we take care to have properly attested, Hebrews 6:16; Galatians 3:15.

Now we are apt to "think that God is even such a one as ourselves;" and that he also may be prevailed upon to "alter the word that has gone out of his lips." Balak evidently entertained this idea of him; and labored by many repeated sacrifices to divert him from his purpose. But Balaam was inspired to declare the vanity of such a hope, and to assert in a most humiliating comparison the unchangeableness of Jehovah.

To unfold the full meaning of his words, we observe,

I. Some think that God will lie.

God has told us with strong and repeated asseverations, that "we must be born again, John 3:3. See the full import of this in Discourse on that text." But this is totally disbelieved by:

1. The profane.

They persuade themselves, that such strictness in religion as is implied in the new birth, is not necessary; and that they shall go to Heaven in their own way.

2. The self-righteous.

These consider regeneration as a dream of weak religious enthusiasts; and are satisfied with "the form of godliness without" ever experiencing "the power of it".

3. The hypocritical professors of religion.

These, having changed their creed together with their outward conduct, fancy themselves Christians, notwithstanding their faith:
neither "overcomes the world,"
nor "works by love,"
nor "purifies their hearts!"

That all these people think God will lie, is evident beyond a doubt; for if they really believed that "old things must pass away, and all things become new, 2 Corinthians 5:17," before they can enter into the kingdom of Heaven, they would feel concerned to know whether any such change had taken place in them; nor would they ever be satisfied until they had a scriptural evidence that they were indeed "new creatures in Christ Jesus." But as this is in no respect the case with them, it is manifest that they "do not believe the record of God," and consequently, however harsh the expression may seem, "they make God a liar! 1 John 5:10."

While some do not hesitate to entertain these dishonorable thoughts of God,

II. Others fear that God may lie.

This is common with people,

1. Under conviction of sin.

When men are deeply convinced of sin, they find it exceedingly difficult to rest simply on the promises of the Gospel. God promises to cast out none who come to him by Christ Jesus; to wash them from sins of deepest dye; and to bestow on them all the blessings of salvation freely, "without money and without price, John 6:37; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 55:1."

Now this appears too good to be true; they cannot conceive how God should "justify the ungodly, Romans 4:5," and therefore they seek to become godly first, in order that they may be justified; and if they cannot bring some price in their hands, they keep back, and give themselves over to desponding fears.

2. Under temptation or spiritual desertion.

God has declared that "he will not allow his people to be tempted above what they are able to bear, 1 Corinthians 10:13." But when they come into temptation, they are apt to say, as David, "I shall one day perish by the hands of Saul! 1 Samuel 27:1." They see no way for their escape; and therefore they fear that the very next wave will overwhelm them utterly.

If God at these seasons hides his face from them, they conclude "there is no hope;" they think "his mercy clean gone forever, and his loving-kindness come utterly to an end for evermore, Psalm 77:7-9," notwithstanding God has so frequently and so expressly declared, that he will never leave them nor forsake them! Hebrews 13:5.

Now these people do not, like the ungodly, deliberately think that God will lie; but they have many misgiving fears lest he should; and that they do so is obvious; for, if they did not, they would take God at his word, and "stay themselves on him when they are in darkness, and have no light, Isaiah 50:10."

Thus generally is the veracity of him who is truth itself, either questioned or denied.

III. But God neither will nor can lie.

It is humiliating beyond expression that ministers should be forced to vindicate the veracity of God. But as he himself has seen fit to do so in the sacred oracles, and as the unbelief of men is so inveterate, we submit to the necessity, and proceed to show that,

1. God will not lie.

First, let us hear the testimonies of those who have tried him. Had ever any one more opportunities of proving his fidelity than Moses, Joshua, and Samuel? Yet they all attest in the most solemn manner that he neither had deceived them in anything, nor ever would, Deuteronomy 32:4; Joshua 23:14; 1 Samuel 15:29.

Next, let us attend to God's own assertions and appeals, Isaiah 5:4; Isaiah 49:19. Would he ever venture to speak thus strongly on his own behalf, if his creatures could make good their accusations against him?

Lastly, let us look to matter of fact.

He threatened to punish the angels if they should prove disobedient.

He denounced a curse on Adam if he should eat of the forbidden tree.

He threatened to destroy the whole world with a deluge.

He threatened to overwhelm Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone

He threatened to scatter his once chosen people over the face of the whole earth.

See now whether he has forborne to execute any of these threatenings.

He also promised to send his only dear Son to die for sinners; and to make him great among the Gentiles, while his own nation should almost universally reject him. Have either of these promises been forgotten? Or, if such promises, and such threatenings have received their accomplishment, is there any reason to doubt respecting any other that are yet unfulfilled? Are not his past actions so many types and pledges of what he will hereafter perform, 2 Peter 2:4-9; Jude verse 7.

2. God cannot lie.

Truth is as essential to the divine nature as goodness, wisdom, power, or any other attribute; so that he can as easily cease to be good, or wise, or powerful, as he can allow "one jot or tittle of his word to fail." If for one moment he could divest himself of truth, he would cease to be deserving of all confidence or affection. Let it only be said of any man, "He is great, and wise, and generous—but no dependence can be placed on his word," would he not on the whole be deemed a contemptible character? How then would Jehovah be degraded, if any such sin could be laid to his charge?

It would seem that Paul was peculiarly solicitous to guard us against entertaining the smallest possible doubt of the divine veracity; for he abounds in expressions declarative of this perfection. "God," says he, "cannot lie, Titus 1:2;" and again, "he cannot deny himself, 2 Timothy 2:13;" and again in still stronger terms, "It is impossible for God to lie, Hebrews 6:18." Nor let it be thought that this detracts from God's power; for to be able to lie, would be a weakness rather than a perfection; and as it is man's disgrace that he is prone to violate his word, so it is God's honor that he neither will nor can lie.


1. How vain are the hopes of unconverted men!

Men, whatever may be their state, persuade themselves that they shall be happy when they die. But how delusive must be that hope, which is built upon the expectation that God will prove himself a liar! Who are we, that God should, (if we may so speak) undeify himself for us? And what security would we have if he were even to admit us into Heaven in direct opposition to his own word? Might he not change his word again, and cast us into Hell at last? Surely Heaven would be no Heaven, if it were held on so precarious a tenure. Let us then lay aside all such delusive hopes. Let us learn to tremble at God's Word; and seek to attain that entire change both of heart and life, to which the promises of salvation are annexed.

2. How groundless are the fears of the converted!

There is a holy fear or jealousy that is highly desirable for everyone, however eminent, however established. But there is a tormenting slavish fear that arises from unbelief, and which greatly retards our progress in the divine life. Now we ask, Does this fear arise from an apprehension of our own unfaithfulness, or of God's? If it is God's faithfulness that we doubt, let us know that "his gifts and callings are without repentance. Compare Romans 11:29 with the words following the text," and that "where he has begun a good work, he will perfect it unto the day of Christ, Philippians 1:6."

If, on the other hand, we suspect our own faithfulness, let us recollect on whom our faithfulness depends; if it depends wholly on ourselves, who among us will be saved? 2 Corinthians 3:5; Zechariah 4:6. Thanks be to God, he who has been the author of our faith, has engaged to be the finisher of it, Hebrews 12:2; Zechariah 4:9. He has promised, not only that he will not depart from us, but that he will put his fear in our hearts, so that we shall not depart from him, Jeremiah 32:39-40. Let us then "set to our seal that God is true, John 3:33." Let us commit ourselves to him, knowing in whom we have believed, 2 Timothy 1:12, and assured that, while we stand on the foundation of his Word, we are immovably secure, 2 Timothy 2:19.




Numbers 24:5

"How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!"

Numbers 24:9

"May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!"

If there were no other instance than that before us, we could never doubt the influence of God over all his creatures. Balaam had shown strongly enough his desire to curse Israel; but had been twice constrained to speak the words which God had put into his mouth. On this third occasion, he saw that it was in vain to use enchantments; and therefore he laid them all aside; and gave himself up, without any further resistance, to declare whatever God should say unto him.

His preface is usually represented as a pompous recital of his own peculiar privileges and attainments; but it is rather a relation of the circumstances that occurred while he was on his way to Balak. He speaks of himself as "the man whose eyes were shut," (so it should be read; and so it is read in the margin of our Bibles,) and who "had a vision of the Almighty, falling, but having his eyes open;" (the words, "into a trance," are printed in italics, to show that they are inserted by the translators, and are not in the original,) his donkey fell, and he fell also; and then his eyes were opened, to see the angel; whom, though his donkey had seen, he had not until then been enabled to behold.

On a view of the orderly manner in which the Israelites were encamped, he expressed his admiration of them; and then, in the concluding words of our text declared the irreversible decree of God respecting them, "May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!"

We shall consider these words,

I. In reference to national Israel.

To them, in their primary sense, the words must certainly refer. But, when we read such a solemn declaration respecting them, we are naturally led to ask:

1. How can we account for it?

Was there any peculiar merit in them, that had induced Jehovah so wonderfully to signalize them with his favor? No! They were a stiff-necked people from first to last. But God had "chosen them for himself to be a peculiar people;" and had pledged himself to fulfill to them all the promises which he had made to Abraham respecting them. Whoever therefore should set himself against that people, would be endeavoring to thwart the divine counsels; while every one who should promote the prosperity of Zion, would, in fact, advance the designs of God. No wonder therefore that God pronounced a blessing or a curse on all, according as they co-operated with him, or opposed his will.

2. How was it fulfilled?

In addition to all that has been stated on the two former occasions, we are here led to contemplate the prosperity of Israel under the images of a verdant valley, a well-watered garden, and fragrant or stately trees; they are further spoken of as marvelously enriched, prolific, powerful.

But we may particularly notice the discrimination made between the Gibeonites and all the other nations of Canaan. These, because they made a league with Joshua, were spared, protected, and preserved; while all the others, without exception, were destroyed! Joshua 9:25-27; Joshua 10:1-11. And, many hundred years afterwards, when Saul had broken the covenant with them, and had sought to destroy them, God avenged their cause by a famine during three successive years, and caused the injustice of Saul to be punished in the destruction of almost all his family! 2 Samuel 21:1-9. When at last the Israelites had provoked God utterly to abandon them, they became as weak as others, and were left, as at this day, to experience all the evils which, as God's instruments, they themselves had inflicted upon other nations.

The declaration in our text must further be considered,

II. In reference to the spiritual Israel.

If only we reflect, that this declaration was a repetition of the promise made to Abraham and to Jacob, its application to the spiritual seed of Abraham will be obvious and undeniable, Genesis 12:3; Genesis 27:29. Let us consider then,

1. What is implied in this declaration.

It does not relate to temporal benefits or evils, but to those which are spiritual and eternal. And it shall assuredly be fulfilled to men in its utmost extent, according as they shall be found to have loved and aided the true spiritual Israelites, or to have hated and opposed them, Isaiah 54:15-17; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 65:13-14. Divine Providence even in this world may be expected to put a difference between the friends and enemies of Zion, Psalm 122:6; Psalm 129:5-8; but, if no differences are visible in this world, they shall be made visible enough in the world to come! 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7.

2. On what ground we may expect its accomplishment.

The circumstance of its being uttered by the voice of inspiration, is a pledge of its accomplishment. It may appear strange indeed that God should interest himself to such an extent in behalf of his believing people; but there are two grounds on which we may be well assured that he will do so:

the one is that he considers our conduct towards his Church, as a criterion of our true character, Luke 2:34-35; 1 Peter 2:6-8;

and the other is, that he identifies himself with his Church, accounting everything which is done to them, as done to himself. Whether good, Matthew 25:40; or evil, Zechariah 2:8; Acts 9:4-5. Realize these thoughts, and all doubt respecting the accomplishment of the declaration will vanish forever.


1. The importance of ascertaining our true character.

"Everyone who loves the father loves his child as well, 1 John 5:1." Let us bring ourselves to this test, and carefully judge ourselves as in the presence of God.

2. The blessedness of being Israelites indeed.

If God is so interested about you as to deal with men according to their conduct towards you—then what blessings may you yourselves expect at his hands?




Numbers 24:15-17

Then he uttered his oracle: "The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth."

It has pleased God on various occasions to make known his will to people of a very unworthy character; and to show that his ways and thoughts are not regulated by the vain maxims of human wisdom. He proclaimed to Ahaz the conception of our Emmanuel in the womb of a virgin. To Nebuchadnezzar he revealed the successive destruction of the four great monarchies, and the erection of the Messiah's kingdom on the ruins of them all.

Thus, in the passage before us, we are informed, that he declared to Balaam not only his purposes respecting Israel and the nations that surrounded them, but the advent of that glorious person, who, as a star should enlighten, and as a prince should govern, the whole world!

Let us consider,

I. The prophecy.

The introduction to this prophecy is worthy of our notice.

It seems very strongly to characterize the person who delivered it. When prophecies have been delivered by pious men, they have either been introduced with a plain declaration, "Thus says the Lord;" or the prefatory observations have been calculated to exalt and glorify God.

But Balaam's prediction is ushered in with a pompous exhibition of his own attainments, intended, as it would seem, to wrest from Balak that respect and honor, which he had failed to procure by his preceding prophecies.

It shows us too, in a very solemn and convincing light, how much knowledge we may possess, while yet we are utterly destitute of converting grace. The most highly favored of God's servants from the beginning of the world had not delivered a clearer prophecy of Christ than that which was uttered by Balaam on this occasion.

Nor is it improbable that the expectation which prevailed throughout the East, that a prince should arise out of Judea and rule the whole world, was occasioned very much by this prophecy. It is remarkable that the Eastern Magi no sooner saw the supernatural star, than they concluded that this Prince was born, and came immediately to Judea to inquire, Where is he who is born King of the Jews?

Yet where shall we find a baser character than Balaam's? Having considerable knowledge of the true God, he still continued to use enchantments as a magician. He was so covetous that he "ran greedily after a reward," and preferred "the wages of unrighteousness" to every consideration, either of duty to God or of love to man, Jude verse 11; 2 Peter 2:15-16.

His hypocrisy was conspicuous from first to last; for in the midst of all his high professions of regard to the will and Word of God, he labored to the utmost to counteract the designs of God, and to reverse his decrees. More murderous purposes never were entertained in the heart of man; for it was his most earnest desire to curse all the people of God, and to consign them over to destruction by the sword of their enemies.

His last act especially was truly diabolical; when he found he could not prevail to destroy their bodies, he taught their enemies how to tempt them and to destroy their souls! Revelation 2:14.

After comparing his character with his professions and attainments in divine knowledge, what shall we say? Shall we not tremble for ourselves, lest we should rest in a mere speculative knowledge of Christ, and fail, after all, of obtaining any saving interest in him?

We are elsewhere informed that we may have the gifts of prophecy, of tongues, and of a miraculous faith—and yet be only as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbals 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Our Lord assures us that many will in the last day plead the miraculous works that they have performed, but be dismissed with this humiliating answer: Depart from me, I never knew you! Matthew 7:22-23. Even Judas himself was not, in respect of gifts, behind the very chief Apostles. Let us never value ourselves on any discoveries of the truths of Scripture, unless we have suitable affections and a correspondent practice.

The prophecy itself is deserving of particular attention.

In its primary sense it must be understood in reference to David. The immediate intention of Balaam was to inform Balak "what the Israelites would do unto his people in the latter days." Accordingly he declares that one, like a star for brightness, should arise from among the Jews at a distant period, to sway the Jewish scepter, and to destroy the kingdoms of Edom and Moab. This was fulfilled in David, who subjugated the Moabites, and slew every male in Edom, 2 Samuel 8:2; 2 Samuel 8:14; Psalm 60:8; 1 Kings 11:15-16.

But there can be no doubt that this prophecy ultimately referred to Christ himself. Christ is called in Scripture "the Day-star," "the bright and morning Star;" nor did ever anyone arise with splendor comparable to his. He too sat upon the throne of his father David, and exercised unlimited dominion.

The children of Edom and Moab may be justly considered as representing the enemies of his Church and people. These he subdues and will finally destroy; not one shall live before him, "he will reign until he has put all enemies under his feet."

Doubts have arisen whether by "Sheth" we are to understand that son of Adam, whose posterity alone survived the flood; or some person or place of eminence in Moab; (which on the whole is the more probable) but in both senses the prediction was equally fulfilled in Christ, who "has the heathen for his inheritance and the utmost ends of the earth for his possession." Him then did Balaam see, as Abraham also had seen four hundred years before, but not, alas! with Abraham's joyful hope. Of his victorious career he spoke, saying, "I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not near."

Having ascertained the import of the prophecy, let us consider,

II. The improvement to be made of it.

1. Let us be thankful for its accomplishment.

We have not to look forward at the distance of fifteen centuries; nor yet to travel, like the Eastern Magi, through trackless deserts, to behold the Lord. We see him "now," we behold him "near." We have not to go up to Heaven, to bring him down, or to go down into the deep, to bring him up. No, he is near unto us, even in the word of faith which we have both in our hands and our hearts, Romans 10:6-8. Truly he is not only arisen on our benighted world, but, if it is not our own fault, "he is arisen in our very hearts, 2 Peter 1:19," so that "we behold his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of his Father, full of grace and truth, John 1:14."

We see his "dominion" already established in the world, verse 19. From the hour in which he sent down his Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost even to the present moment, has his kingdom been extending over the face of the earth; and the hour is fast approaching when "all kings shall fall down before him, and all nations shall serve him, Psalm 72:3-11," and "all the kingdoms of the world become his undivided empire."

I may say also, that even in the hearts of many here present he has set up his throne! Yes, and I hope that in due season "he will bruise Satan himself under our feet," and "bring every thought into captivity" to his holy will. If we then are not thankful, methinks "the very stones will cry out against us."

2. Let us receive the Lord under the very characters by which he is here revealed.

Let us give up ourselves willingly to his guidance, and not regard any difficulties we may encounter in our way. Truly we may see our way traced out with accuracy in his blessed word, the way which he himself trod when he was upon earth. It is impossible to miss our end, if only we follow his steps.

Let us also surrender up ourselves to him in a way of holy obedience, knowing no will but his, and doing it without reserve. Under him we ourselves also are to fight; and if we "do valiantly, verse 18," we have nothing to fear; for "through his strength we can do all things, Philippians 4:13." You have seen how Edom and Moab fell before David, and how Christ's "scepter" has prevailed over the great enemy of our salvation. And so shall "all enemies be put both under his feet," and under ours, until, having overcome like him, we are exalted to his throne forever and ever.

See Israel at the time of Balaam's prophecy. They were altogether unused to war; yet did they vanquish all the kingdoms of Canaan. And so shall we, though weak as "worms, thresh the mountains" before us, Isaiah 41:14-15, and be "more than conquerors through him who loved us." In vain shall any attempt to "curse us;" for "there is no enchantment against Jacob, nor any divination against Israel;" and to all eternity shall we, as monuments of our Redeemer's love, be occupied with adoring gratitude, each exclaiming for himself, and all uniting in that overwhelming sentiment, "What has God wrought! Numbers 23:23."




Numbers 25:10-13

The LORD said to Moses, "Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites."

Satan is incessant in his endeavors to destroy the people of God; and, if one device fails, he has recourse to another; nor is he ever at a loss for a succession of expedients, whereby to accomplish his malignant ends. He had labored hard, in concert with Balaam his willing agent, to bring a curse upon Israel; but he had been foiled in every attempt. What, however, he could not effect by the sword of Moab, he more successfully essayed to do through the influence of their own corruptions, and the fascinations of abandoned women; and, if the zeal of Phinehas had not intervened to arrest the arm of divine vengeance, we know not to what an extent the calamities of Israel might have reached.

In considering what is here recorded concerning Phinehas, we shall notice,

I. The act for which he was rewarded.

A most grievous iniquity was committed in the camp.

Balaam had advised Balak to ensnare the Israelites by means of the Midianite women Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14. A fellowship between them had been opened; the Israelites fell into the snare; and were drawn into unlawful connections with them, and then into idolatry itself! Thus God was incensed against his people; and after having protected them from the imprecations of Balaam, he himself became the executioner of heavy judgments upon them. In addition to the plague which he himself inflicted upon the people, he ordered Moses to send forth and slay the chief offenders, and to hang them up in the sight of all the congregation.

While these judgments were being executed, and the unoffending part of the congregation were "weeping before the door of the tabernacle," behold, a man of distinction in one of the tribes brought a Midianite woman to his tent, in the very sight of Moses and of all the congregation. The guilt of such an illicit sin would under any circumstances have been exceeding great; but at such a time, and in such a manner, was criminal in the highest degree; it was shameless in the extreme; it was an open defiance both of God and man!

To punish it as it deserved, Phinehas stood forth with holy zeal.

He seized a javelin, and followed the abandoned criminals to the tent, and pierced them through in the midst of their guilty pleasures! This might appear to have been a usurpation of legal authority; but it was not so; for the chief magistrate himself had given the command to all the judges of Israel; moreover, being the son of the high-priest, it is reasonable to suppose that Phinehas was himself a magistrate. At all events, he acted by a divine impulse, and was "God's minister, a revenger to execute wrath upon these evil-doers."

Such an act in us would be unjustifiable; because we have received no such commission either from God or man; but the spirit from which it proceeded, would be commendable in whoever it was found.

We ought to be filled with a zeal for God's honor.

We ought to feel indignation against sin.

We ought to be penetrated with compassion towards those who are in danger of perishing through the impiety of others.

We ought to be ready to assist the civil magistrate in the suppression of iniquity.

God's approbation of Phinehas' conduct was strongly marked in:

II. The reward conferred upon him.

Instantly was God pacified towards his offending people.

Already had twenty-three thousand people fallen by the plague, and another thousand by the sword of justice; compare verse 9 with 1 Corinthians 10:8; but, on the execution of this signal vengeance, God stopped the plague, and commanded the sword of justice to be sheathed. He accepted this as "an atonement for the children of Israel." Not that there was anything in the blood of the victims, that could expiate sin; but their death was considered as a sacrifice to divine justice; and God took occasion from it to return in mercy to his repenting people. What a glorious reward was this! Not a family throughout all the tribes of Israel could help feeling its obligations to Phinehas, and acknowledging him as its benefactor.

Immediately too did "God give him his covenant of an everlasting priesthood".

True it was, that Phinehas was next in succession to the priesthood; but it was not ensured to him, and his seed, until God now gave it to him by an express promise. The covenant of priesthood is called "a covenant of peace," both because it was a testimony of divine acceptance to Phinehas himself, Psalm 106:28-31, and (as long as the priesthood should last) the means of maintaining peace between God and his people; it also shadowed forth that better priesthood, which should be the means of reconciling the whole world to God, and God unto the world.

This priesthood, we know, was typical of Christ; but, whether the giving of it in consequence of "the atonement made" by Phinehas was typical of him, we cannot say; but this is clear, that the giving of the priesthood to Phinehas, as a reward for the zeal he had exercised, was intended to show to the remotest ages, that "it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, Galatians 4:18;" and that those who serve God with their whole hearts, shall have the most intimate access to him in this world, and participate his glory in the world to come, "they shall be kings and priests unto their God forever and ever!"

III. We cannot reflect on this history without seeing in a striking point of view,

1. The danger of indulging sin in ourselves.

While the Israelites were obedient to the divine commands, they were safe; God turned all the execrations of their enemies into blessings, Deuteronomy 23:5. But when they allowed themselves to be tempted by the Midianite women, they fell from one sin to another, and provoked God himself to become their enemy. Happy will it be for us, if we learn from their experience to resist iniquity in its first approaches; lest we fall and perish after their example.

Do not let this caution be deemed unworthy the attention of any. If David, and Solomon, were betrayed into the most grievous iniquities by means of their ungoverned appetites, who is he who shall think himself secure? Solomon's description of an abandoned woman is but too just, "Her heart is as snares and nets, and her hands as chains! Ecclesiastes 7:26;" he tells us too, that "many strong men have been slain by her; and that her house is the way to Hell! Proverbs 7:24-27."

Many who once appeared to be in the way to Heaven, have found this to their cost; and many of us who are yet out of Hell, owe it more to the long-suffering of God than to any virtue of our own. Let such people then be thankful to God for his mercy; and, "if any man thinks that he stands, let him take heed lest he falls."

2. The duty of restraining sin in others.

Why were these rewards conferred on Phinehas, but to show the world the acceptableness of such services as his? And to what purpose has he committed the power of the sword to magistrates, if they are not to be a terror to the workers of iniquity? This power is a talent for which magistrates are responsible to God; and, if they shrink not from using it, because the exercise of it would subject them to the reproaches of the ungodly, let them bear in mind that they shall receive commendations from their God; and that, by every friend of piety and of order, they will be reckoned, like Phinehas, the truest patriots of their day.

Ministers also, in their respective spheres, should use influence for the suppression of iniquity; boldly rebuking it in public, and using every lawful method of discountenancing it in private.

Persons too in every sphere of life should co-operate for the same benevolent purpose; assured that, by obstructing the progress of sin, they approve themselves the best friends both of God and man.

3. The greatness of our obligations to the Lord Jesus Christ.

If Phinehas was so great a benefactor to his country, and deserved the thanks of all for sacrificing the lives of two licentious profligates—then what thanks are due to the Lord Jesus Christ, who offered his own life a sacrifice for us! Here was love unsearchable, and zeal unparalleled. To him must every human being confess his obligations; to him must every one that shall finally be saved, render everlasting praise and honor.

O let every one throughout the camp of Israel behold his Benefactor; let every one contemplate Jesus as appeasing the wrath of God, and effecting our reconciliation with him; and, inasmuch as "for his obedience unto death God has highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name," let every heart acknowledge him; let every knee bow to him; and every tongue be occupied in ascribing glory to his name!




Numbers 26:63-65

"These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. For the LORD had told those Israelites they would surely die in the desert, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun."

The Israelites in some respects had an advantage over us, inasmuch as they had the most stupendous miracles wrought before their eyes; but we have an incomparably greater advantage over them, in seeing the accomplishment of many prophecies relating to them, and the design of God in his diversified dispensations towards them. The miracles would strike the senses more forcibly for a little time; but the accomplishment of prophecy commends itself to our judgment, and operates with more permanent effect.

The event before us, for instance, carries an irresistible conviction with it to every reflecting mind. The Israelites had been numbered in the wilderness of Sinai, Numbers 1:1-3; but for their sin at Kadesh-barnea, where they refused to go up and possess the land, they were doomed to die in the wilderness, Numbers 14:28-30. Two exceptions alone were made, Caleb and Joshua, who had boldly testified against the wickedness of the people on that occasion, and encouraged them to maintain a confidence in their God.

Now the time for entering into Canaan was nearly arrived; and Moses and Eleazar were commanded to number the people again, and to ascertain, for the instruction of the nation at large, the perfect accomplishment of this prophecy. Accordingly, it was ascertained by minute investigation, and it is here distinctly affirmed for the benefit of the whole world. The fact that is here asserted, is often mentioned in the New Testament for the benefit of the Church at this day; and it is in this particular view that we shall insist upon it. It was intended to show us:

I. That sinners derive no security from their numbers.

There is a conceit in the minds of men, that God can never condemn so many as are walking in the ways of sin. Though they cannot but acknowledge that the lives of a few pious people are far more agreeable to the Scriptures than those of the generality of mankind—yet they deem it presumptuous in these to imagine themselves in a safer state than others. As for the distinctions which are made in the Word of God, the promises of life to the godly, and the threatening of death to the ungodly, they are accounted of but little weight. Men's own surmisings, however groundless, are made to outweigh the plainest declarations of Holy Writ.

Here then the matter has been put to a trial. The whole nation of Israel had offended God, and were to be excluded from the promised land; but two individuals, who had withstood the torrent of iniquity, were to have the honor and happiness of entering into Canaan. Now on the borders of that land the people are numbered a second time; and after a complete survey of every tribe, it is declared, yes twice declared, that "not a man" against whom the judgment had been denounced, had survived.

Thus it will assuredly be in the eternal world.

Men are now told that the unrighteous shall not enter into Heaven; but, because they constitute the great mass of mankind, they doubt whether the threatening will be executed. Nevertheless, when a scrutiny shall be made of those who shall be at the right hand of God, there will not be found a single man whom God in his word had consigned to Hell. The "broad and frequented road will be found to have led to destruction;" nor will so much as one have attained to life, who did not "enter in at the strait gate, and walk in the narrow way! Matthew 7:13-14."

II. That no outward privileges or professions will save them.

In this view in particular is the destruction of the Israelites proposed to our consideration in the New Testament, Jude verse 5 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 and Hebrews 3:17-19; Hebrews 4:1. Their privileges were exceeding great, and they could boast of having experienced the most marvelous interpositions of God in their behalf. But were they therefore saved? Was not God so offended with them, that he even "swore in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest?"

To what purpose then is it that we have been baptized into the name of Christ? To what purpose is it that we have:
his word in our hands,
his presence in our assemblies,
his promises on our lips?

To what purpose is it that we have "eaten spiritual food, and drank spiritual drink," at his table, if we are yet children of disobedience?

Were the Jews rejected for their unbelief? So shall we be, if we have not that "faith, which purifies the heart." If "Christ is not formed in our hearts," so as to make us "partaken of a divine nature," "the labor bestowed upon us will be in vain." We must "live by faith in the Son of God," and "walk as Christ himself walked," or else we shall never find admission into his rest. Nor is it by "running well for a season," but "by a patient continuance in well-doing," that we shall attain eternal life. We must both begin well, and "endure unto the end," if ever we would be counted worthy of that heavenly kingdom.

III. That the divine judgments, however long delayed, will overtake them at last.

Though at first, when sent back into the wilderness, the people confessed their sins with apparent contrition, they soon relapsed into their former habits; and probably, after a season indulged a hope, that they should succeed as well as those to whom the promises had been made. This is the way of sinners: "because judgment is not executed speedily upon them," they think it never will. "The scoffers in the last days will say: Where is the promise of his coming?" But God assures us, that "the judgment of sinners now of a long time lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not."

God had respect to the posterity of Israel, when he endured their evil conduct in the wilderness forty years. He had a chosen seed who were yet in their loins, and who were in due time to enjoy that inheritance, which their fathers had despised. "He gave them also space for repentance," that they might not be excluded from Heaven itself.

Thus "is he long-suffering towards us also, not willing that any of us should perish, but that we should come to repentance and live." But we deceive ourselves, if we think that he will never call us into judgment; on the contrary, he will require at our hands every talent he has entrusted to us, and increase our punishment in proportion to the mercies we have abused.

O that those who are more advanced in life would contemplate this! that they would "account the long-suffering of God to be salvation," and not make it the occasion of a more aggravated condemnation!

IV. That not one of God's faithful servants shall ever perish.

At this numbering of the people, Caleb and Joshua were found alive, though all the rest were dead; so exactly had death executed its commission!

Of six hundred thousand offenders, not one had escaped God's dart of death. But the two who had "followed the Lord fully" remained unhurt. This shows how certainly the promises of God shall be fulfilled to every believer. Be the numbers of the Lord's people ever so few, they shall not be overlooked; though the whole universe be sifted and blown away as chaff, "not the smallest grain of true wheat shall be lost! Amos 9:9." They have many and powerful adversaries; but "none shall pluck them out of their Father's hand." "It is not His will that one of his little ones should perish." They may be so weak in faith as to indulge many fears of the outcome of their warfare; but God himself pledges his word, that "they shall never perish, but shall have eternal life."

Be not discouraged then, believers, because you are few, or weak, or despised, or beset with enemies all around; for the word of Christ to you is, "Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom!" Only "commit your souls to God in well-doing, as into the hands of a faithful Creator," and he will "preserve you blameless unto his heavenly kingdom."





Numbers 27:15-21

Moses said to the LORD, "May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd."

So the LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in."

When great and good men are taken away, we are apt to suppose that their places cannot be adequately supplied. But God can raise up instruments at any time to carry on his gracious purposes in the world. When Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a fiery chariot, his servant Elisha was ready to imagine, that all the stay and support of Israel was removed, "My father, my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!" but Elijah's mantle fell upon Elisha. Thus, when Moses had received God's final decision respecting his dying in the wilderness, it seemed as if the nation of Israel would be left as sheep without a shepherd; but God, in answer to the prayer of Moses, appointed one to succeed him, who fulfilled his trust as well as Moses himself could have done.

The points for our present consideration are,

I. The concern of Moses for the people committed to him.

The last forty years of his life he had spent entirely in their service; and now that he could superintend them no longer, he was concerned that a successor should be appointed by God himself; so that all occasion for rivalship might be cut off, and all discord and anarchy be prevented. In this he acted,

1. As a true patriot.

Patriotism is a virtue which all public men affect, but which very few possess. Selfishness is by far the more prevailing character. Many, when they can hold the reins of government no longer, would rather be succeeded by one of moderate talents, whose inferiority should cause regret for their departed worth, than by one of transcendent abilities, whose eminence should eclipse their virtues, and cause their services to be forgotten. A regard for their own credit would outweigh their desire for the public good.

Besides, the generality of patriots exert all their influence to aggrandize their own families; and appoint to places of trust and honor, not those whom in their consciences they think most fit for the office, but those who from family or party considerations will most confirm their power, or perpetuate the honor of their name.

The very reverse of all this was displayed in the conduct of Moses. He was fearful lest the people should have any reason to regret his loss. He was anxious that a person should be selected and qualified by God himself; so that the administration of their affairs might be conducted to the greatest possible advantage. And though he had children of his own, he placed them in no peculiar situation either of church or state; but left them to occupy the humbler post of common Levites, while Aaron's children succeeded to the priesthood, and one of another tribe was nominated as his successor in the government.

Moreover, the manner of evincing his concern for the people's welfare, was such as is little known to modern patriots; he evinced it not by declamatory harangues, but by praying to God for them. Happy would it be, if those who in this day make such professions of zeal in the service of their country, would manifest it before God in their secret chamber, entreating him to direct their counsels and prosper their endeavors! To secure his direction and blessing for those in power, would be a better proof of patriotism, than to be aiming incessantly at their subversion and ruin.

2. As a faithful minister.

Moses presided over Israel, both as a Church, and as a Nation; and he showed the same regard for their spiritual interests, as for their temporal interests. He well knew, that the appointment of a truly religious governor would equally conduce to their good in both respects. Hence he prayed, that God would set one over them, who would "go in and out before them," leading them by his example, as well as directing them by his authority; and though doubtless this might principally refer to the wars which they were about to wage—yet it certainly comprehended also every part of the governor's office, whether civil or religious.

Such is the prayer which every pious minister must offer, when he finds the time of his dissolution drawing near. He must not be satisfied with having discharged his own duties conscientiously, but must "labor earnestly for them in prayer," desiring to have his flock committed to one who shall watch over them with diligence, and minister unto them with fidelity; one who will not merely direct them aright, but will go before them in the way, as the eastern shepherds were accustomed to do.

In this he must manifest his resemblance to the Savior, who "had compassion on the people, because they were as sheep having no shepherd, Matthew 9:36;" in this too he must follow the footsteps of the Apostles, who strove, both by oral and written communications, to perpetuate the effect of their labors, Acts 20:25-32; 2 Peter 1:12-15.

How pleasing and acceptable this intercession was, we see in,

II. The gracious provision which God made for them.

Here, as in ten thousand instances, God answered the petitions presented to him without delay.

1. He selected a suitable person for the office.

"Take Joshua," says he, "a man in whom is the Spirit." Yes, such are the magistrates and ministers whom God appoints; he selects those in whom are suitable qualifications for the post assigned them, or, at least, people whom he himself will fit for their office. A talent for government is implied in this expression, but it implies also real piety; which is absolutely requisite for a due discharge either of the magisterial or ministerial office. None can act for God, who do not act from him, that is, by grace received from him; and consequently, none can make the best use of their authority, who are not taught by the Spirit to use it for the furtherance of religion, and for the glory of God.

O that such people were universally selected to manage the concerns both of church and state! We might hope for a far richer blessing on the nation at large, and far infinitely greater good to the Church of Christ, if such people, and such only, were invested with the sword of magistracy, or the pastoral staff. At all events, both magistrates and ministers may learn from hence, what qualification they should chiefly seek, for a profitable discharge of their respective offices.

2. He prescribed the mode of his ordination to it.

"Set him before Eleazar, and before all the congregation," said the Lord, "and lay your hand upon him, and give him a charge in their sight, and put some of your honor upon him;" that is, invest him now, before your death, with a part of your own authority; that all, seeing whom I have chosen, may acknowledge him as their governor, and render a willing obedience to his commands.

This mode of ordaining Joshua was calculated to answer every end that could be wished. It effectually prevented all competition, and strengthened his hands for the arduous employment that was assigned him; and we may well suppose that Joshua would be deeply impressed with these ceremonies, and long retain a remembrance of the charge given to him, confirmed as it was by an additional charge from God himself, Deuteronomy 31:7-8; Deuteronomy 31:14-15; Deuteronomy 31:23.

Nor is this mode of appointing Joshua uninstructive to us; for, a similar mode of consecrating people to divine offices has ever since obtained in the Church of God. The deacons who were first ordained by the Apostles, to superintend the temporal concerns of the Church were set apart in this way, Acts 6:3; Acts 6:6; and both priests and elders were afterwards consecrated with nearly the same forms, 1 Timothy 4:14; Acts 14:23. And may we not hope that similar effects are still produced on the minds of many at their solemn consecration to the work of the ministry? We have no doubt they are; and on the days which are especially set apart for praying to God in behalf of those who are to be ordained, a still richer blessing would rest upon them; and the imposition of hands be accompanied with a more abundant communication of the Holy Spirit to their souls, Compare Deuteronomy 34:9 with 2 Timothy 1:6.

3. He promised him all needful assistance in it.

It must of necessity be, that in the government of that people many cases would arise, wherein he would need direction from above. Moses had on such occasions enjoyed immediate access to the Deity. But another mode of communication had been fixed by God for all succeeding governors. The Urim and Thummim (which import light and perfection) were in the breastplate, which was worn by the high-priest; and by means of that breastplate, God, in some way unknown to us, revealed his will. To Joshua he particularly promised, that he would communicate to him in this way all needful information; so that, whatever difficulties might arise, he should have infallible means of ascertaining the mind of God. Doubtless that method of obtaining instruction is now at an end; but the prayer of faith will yet prevail, so that God's ministers and people shall not seek his race in vain. If they truly desire his direction, they shall be preserved from any important error, and be guided into all necessary truth, "The meek he will guide in judgment; the meek he will teach his way."

From this subject we may clearly learn,

1. The blessedness of the Christian church.

How happy were the Jews to have such an intercessor as Moses, and such a governor as Joshua! Follow Joshua in his course, from the moment of his appointment to the moment of his death; what a series of victories, until he had conquered the land, and distributed it according to the divine purpose! But if we envy the Jews their divinely-appointed head, what objects of envy must we be, who have the Lord Jesus Christ himself for our Head! He is the true Joshua, to whom "the Spirit is given without measure, Isaiah 11:2-3; John 3:34." He also is made "Head of the Church," and is "ascended up on high, that he may fill all things;" and through him the very weakest of his people shall be "more than conquerors." Let us then "be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might," and not doubt but that "he will bruise Satan under our feet shortly."

2. The duty of advancing in every possible way its best interests.

If we are magistrates or ministers, our duty is proportionably difficult, and our responsibility proportionably solemn. O that all who have been placed in such offices, felt as they ought the obligations that are upon them! Let ministers in particular, who have a far greater charge than that of magistrates committed to them, give themselves up wholly to the execution of their trust. Let them fear lest the blood of those who die in their sins, be laid to their charge. And let them so fulfill their ministry, that they may give up their account with joy, and not with grief.




Numbers 28:3-10

Say to them: 'This is the offering made by fire that you are to present to the LORD: two lambs a year old without defect, as a regular burnt offering each day. Prepare one lamb in the morning and the other at twilight, together with a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives. This is the regular burnt offering instituted at Mount Sinai as a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the LORD by fire. The accompanying drink offering is to be a quarter of a hin of fermented drink with each lamb. Pour out the drink offering to the LORD at the sanctuary. Prepare the second lamb at twilight, along with the same kind of grain offering and drink offering that you prepare in the morning. This is an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.

"'On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering."

This burnt-offering, our text informs us, "was ordained in Mount Sinai," nearly forty years before the period at which it was again enjoined Exodus 29:38-41. Commentators are not agreed respecting the reason of its being again so circumstantially repeated. Some have thought that the observance of this ordinance had been entirely neglected in the wilderness; and that from hence arose the necessity of enjoining it again, in order that it might not be neglected when they should come into the land of Canaan. Nor is this opinion without some foundation; for the prophet Amos, and after him the first martyr, Stephen, complains of the most grievous neglect of duty among the Israelites in the wilderness, and of their worshiping idols in preference to the living God, "It is written in the book of the Prophets," says Stephen, "O house of Israel, have you offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yes, you took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your God Remphan, figures which you made to worship them; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon, Amos 5:25-27; Acts 7:42-43."

But it is altogether incredible that Moses should have allowed such a public dereliction of duty as this; and, if he had, it is impossible that God should have spoken of him as a servant "faithful in all his house." We apprehend therefore that it was not of these sacrifices which depended upon Aaron and Moses, but of other sacrifices which depended more upon the people, and which they had neglected to offer on the proper occasions, that the prophet speaks; and consequently, that there was some other reason for renewing the appointment of the ordinance before us.

The true reason seems to be, that, as all who had come out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, had perished in the wilderness, and as Aaron was dead, and Moses himself had but two or three months to live, it was desirable that this new generation should have this ordinance enjoined from God himself, that they might be duly impressed with a sense of its great importance. The repetition of it moreover is of use to us, inasmuch as it shows us that some deep mystery must be contained in it, and that much valuable instruction is to be derived from it. Let us then consider,

I. The matter of which this offering consisted.

There were two very distinct offerings united:

1. The lamb.

This was to be "of the first year," and "without spot;" and it was to be slain, and then consumed by fire upon the altar, as "a sacrifice of a sweet savor unto the Lord."

Can anyone doubt what this imported? Can anyone fail to see in this a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom one Apostle speaks of as "a lamb without blemish, and without spot, 1 Peter 1:19;" and another Apostle represents as "the Lamb," even "the Lamb who was slain, Revelation 5:8-9," to whom all the glorified saints in Heaven ascribe the honor of their salvation, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb! Revelation 7:10."

It is worthy of observation, that the very first sacrifices of which any mention is made in Scripture, were lambs. It was "of the firstlings of his flock" that Abel offered; and by that offering he obtained very peculiar tokens of God's favor and acceptance, Genesis 4:4 with Hebrews 11:4. And there is reason to believe, that the skins, with which Adam and Eve were, by God's appointment, clothed immediately after the fall, were of lambs which they had previously offered in sacrifice, Genesis 3:21; and in reference to this early appointment, as well as to the everlasting decrees of God, the Lord Jesus is called "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8."

We shall not detain you in order to point out the correspondence between Christ and these spotless lambs, in the perfection of his nature, in the holiness of his life, or in the intent of his death; but, passing by these things as known and understood among you, we shall content ourselves with saying, that, in this offering, there was virtually the same proclamation made to the Jews, as was afterwards expressly made by John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29; John 1:36."

2. The meat-offering and the drink-offering.

With the lamb a portion of flour, about three quarts, was to be offered, mixed up with somewhat more than a quart of beaten oil; and while they and the lamb were burning together upon the altar, some strong generous wine, (of equal quantity with the oil,) was to be poured out as a libation; and the whole together being consumed by fire, was "of sweet savor unto the Lord."

The meaning of this is not so clear as that which relates to the lamb. It may possibly be a tribute of thanksgiving to God for all his mercies, which are comprehended under the terms, "corn, and wine, and oil;" and, in that view, the ordinance will be a compound of prayer and praise, corresponding with that injunction of Paul, "in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God, Philippians 4:6."

But we rather suppose that there is an allusion made here to feasts, of which corn and wine and oil were very distinguished parts; and that the consumption of these upon the altar was intended to convey the idea that God himself feasted with his people, and would always meet them with tokens of his love, whenever they came to him as sinners, trusting in the atonement that would in due time be offered for them.

This interpretation is clearly countenanced by the gracious promises which God made, when first he instituted this ordinance on Mount Sinai; saying, "There I will meet you, to speak there unto you; and there I will meet with the children of Israel; and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory, Exodus 29:42-43." In this view the ordinance is most instructive; in that it announces the truths proclaimed afterwards by the voice of Christ himself, "No man comes unto the Father but by me;" and, "him who comes unto me, I will never cast out! John 6:37; John 14:6."

That which distinguishes this offering from all others will be found particularly in,

II. The manner in which it was presented.

Many offerings were only occasional; but this offering was stated, and was renewed daily throughout the year. The things to which we would more particularly call your attention are,

1. The union of the different materials.

Meat-offerings and drink-offerings were indeed sometimes offered with other sacrifices; and sometimes also by themselves; but here they were constantly presented and consumed with the lamb. Now, if we regard them as expressions of gratitude to God, they show that with our acknowledgments of guilt we should invariably render unto God a tribute of praise.

If, on the other hand, we regard them as presented unto God in order that by the consumption of them on his altar he may express, as it were, his communion with us, and his acceptance of us, then they show that in our applications for mercy through the Redeemer's sacrifice, we should draw near to God with a confidence of finding favor in his sight.

Now such a union of feelings and dispositions in our hearts is most desirable. We are not so to lean to the side of humiliation as to encourage despondency, nor so to confide in God as to lose all our tenderness and contrition; but we should at all times "rejoice with trembling, Psalm 2:11," and tremble with rejoicing.

2. The frequency with which they were offered.

Every morning and every evening they were to be offered throughout the year; and from this circumstance they were called "a continual burnt-offering." Now there were two things in particular, which this circumstance was calculated to impress on the people's minds; the one was their continual need of a sin-atoning sacrifice; the other was, the continued efficacy of that which should in due time be offered.

Not a day passed but they were repeatedly reminded, even the whole congregation, that they were sinners before God, and must seek salvation through Him whom this offering typified; (O that we also might bear in mind that beneficial lesson!) they were reminded too that there was in this sacrifice, a sufficiency for the sins of the whole world. Not the greatest sinner in all Israel was excepted, if he did but really with penitential sorrow seek for pardon in this way; nor, as long as the world shall stand, shall any one plead the merits of the Redeemer's sacrifice in vain. The shadows were repeated, because they were shadows; but Christ who is the substance, has made a complete atonement for the sins of the whole world, and "by one offering of himself has perfected forever them that are sanctified! Hebrews 10:14."

3. The increase of them on the Sabbath-day.

This is particularly noticed in the text; the lambs, and the meat and drink-offerings, were doubled on that day. What a reverence for the Sabbath was this calculated to inspire! It showed to all, that though that day is a day of rest from worldly business, it ought to be a day of peculiar exertion in the things of God. Then should all the faculties of the soul be summoned to the service, or, I should rather say, to the enjoyment, of God. We should keep a holy feast unto him, and seek a more abundant measure of communion with him. In the closet, in the family, in the public assembly—we should be endeavoring to advance his glory; in a word, we should labor to spend the whole day, as it were, in "fellowship with him, and with his Son, Jesus Christ." Not that we need to be all the day in acts of devotion; it is the habit, which we should particularly attend to; and we may vary our services, so as to render them all more easy and delightful.

Shall it be thought that under the Gospel this strictness is not necessary? We answer, that, though the ceremonial part of the Sabbath is superseded, the moral part remains; and, on that day, as well as every other day, our sacrifices, instead of being diminished, should be increased. It is of the times of the Gospel that Ezekiel speaks, though in terms taken from the law; and the attentive reader will see that more is required of us than of the Jews; and that both our services and enjoyments should be augmented in proportion to our superior advantages, Ezekiel 46:14 on common days; and Ezekiel 46:4-5 on the Sabbath-day. Let not us be sparing of our services, and God will not be sparing of his communications, Isaiah 64:5.




Numbers 31:48-50

"Then the officers who were over the units of the army--the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds--went to Moses and said to him, "Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. So we have brought as an offering to the LORD the gold articles each of us acquired--armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces--to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD."

Numberless are the occasions on which we are led to admire the condescension of God towards his chosen servants; and one of considerable importance occurs in the chapter before us. He had doomed Moses to die in the wilderness without ever setting his foot upon the promised land; and the time was nearly come for the execution of the sentence upon him. But God graciously determined to give him a pledge of those blessings which were shortly to be poured out on the surviving generation. He therefore directed Moses to "avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites, before he should be gathered unto his people." Moses gives immediate orders to carry into effect the divine command; but he remarkably alters the language which Jehovah had used.

"The LORD said to Moses, "Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites, Numbers 31:1-2."

"So Moses said to the people, "Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the LORD's vengeance on them, Numbers 31:3."

The Lord marked his tender concern for Israel's good; but Moses showed a paramount concern for the glory of his God. Thus it is that the condescension and kindness of God should ever be received; and while God seeks the best interests of his people, we should seek his glory above every other consideration; to that every interest of ours should be subordinated.

The order being issued, a thousand from every tribe went forth to battle; (for, when God was with them, it was alike easy to subdue their enemies with many or with few,) and Phinehas, who had displayed his zeal for God in the matter of Zimri and Cozbi, was sent with them to animate their exertions. We have no particular account of the engagement; but the consequences of it are minutely detailed, and may profitably be distinctly considered. We notice:

I. Their victory over Midian.

This was most complete. All the five kings who came out against them were slain; and all their forces destroyed. That all Midian did not come to the battle, appears from this, that in two hundred years afterwards they were again a powerful nation; but all who engaged in this conflict were destroyed, their cities also were taken, and their fortresses demolished. "Balaam also," who, though foiled in his former endeavors, had returned to them, "was slain among them with the sword."

Now this victory is instructive, whether we regard it in a historical view, or typical view.

As a historical fact, it teaches us, that no power can withstand the arm of the Lord; that, when aided by him, we are infallibly sure of victory; and that all who determinately set themselves against him shall perish! They may boast of their knowledge, and may wish to "die the death of the righteous;" but they shall surely be numbered with the enemies of God at last!

As a type, it shows us what shall ultimately be the fate of all our spiritual enemies. Our strength may appear as nothing in comparison with theirs; but it shall prevail, and our exertions be crowned with perfect victory.

II. Their slaughter of the captives.

"Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, Numbers 31:17."

On the return of the Israelites from battle, Moses went forth to meet them; but finding that they had not slain the women with the men, but had taken them captives, together with the male children—he was much displeased; and ordered them to destroy all, except the females who were virgins.

Our natural compassion for the weak and helpless makes us shudder at such an order as this, and to wonder how the soldiers could be induced to carry it into execution. But we must remember that God has a right over his creatures, to take them away at any time and in any manner that he sees fit. Whether he sweeps them away by a pestilence, or an earthquake, or cuts them off by the sword—he is no more to be accused of harshness towards them, than if he takes them away by the more common means of disease and old age.

It must be remembered too, that the women in particular had forfeited their lives by tempting the Israelites to whoredom and idolatry. Already had they occasioned the destruction of twenty-four thousand Israelites; and, if allowed to live, might have successfully renewed their former practices. It was necessary therefore in that view also to cut them off, both mothers and daughters indiscriminately; all having, either by action or connivance, been accessory to Israel's ruin.

As for the male children, they, though not actually involved in their parents' iniquities—were justly, as in almost all cases they must be, involved in their parents' punishment.

With respect to the Israelites themselves, they were no more to be blamed, than any people are who act as executioners under the orders of the civil magistrate. No one condemns the jury who by their verdict subject their fellow-creatures to the penalty of death; nor the judge who pronounces sentence; nor the jailer who confines the criminal; nor the officers who attend the execution; nor the man that employs the instrument of death.

No one condemns the angel who destroyed the Egyptian first-born, nor him who in one night slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian army. Nor can any one justly condemn the Israelites, who executed the divine command in the slaughter of their captives.

The case was peculiar, and not applicable to modern warfare; nor was it intended as an example to us.

But, as a lesson, it is of great importance; since it shows us that peculiar judgments await those who tempt others to sin; and that, though they may escape for a time, the most signal vengeance shall fall on them at last!

It teaches us also (for this, as well as the foregoing circumstance, admits of a typical application) that we must destroy all our spiritual enemies without exception; not those only that seem more immediately to threaten our destruction, but those also, which, though apparently weak and insignificant, may warp us from our duty, or in time become strong and formidable.

III. Their dedication of the spoils.

Immense were the spoils taken on this occasion; and the distribution of them which God appointed, seemed to afford universal satisfaction. Half was given to the congregation at large, and half was reserved for the warriors who took them. From each was a tribute taken for God; from the half belonging to the congregation, a fiftieth part; and from that belonging to the warriors, a five hundredth part. This shows us, that God must have a portion of all that his providence has allotted to us; whether we earn it ourselves, or receive it as the fruit of others' labor, God must be acknowledged in it, and be glorified with it.

But, on mustering the troops, a most wonderful fact was ascertained. Notwithstanding only twelve thousand went to the war, and the enemy whom they attacked were so numerous, and their success had been so great, not one single man was missing from their ranks! This filled them with utter astonishment, and with the most lively gratitude; and all with one accord desired to make their acknowledgments to God, by dedicating to him a part, if not the whole, of the gold and jewels which they had taken, every man for himself. Accordingly, the whole of the spoil having been purified either by fire or water, and the soldiers themselves also having been purified from the pollution which the slaughter of so many people, and the touching of the dead, had occasioned, the gold and jewels were presented unto God for the service of his sanctuary, "as an atonement for their souls."

The word "atonement" which is here used, is not to be understood as importing an expiatory sacrifice, but only (as it is afterwards explained) "a memorial." These spoils were presented, precisely as the half shekel, or "atonement-money," was appointed to be, in commemoration of a most wonderful deliverance, Exodus 30:12-16.

The Israelites presented them:

First, as an acknowledgment of their desert; for they deserved death, no less than the people whom they had destroyed.

Next, as a memorial of their deliverance, which was truly astonishing.

Lastly, as a testimony of their gratitude; a sense of which they desired to retain to the end of life; and to transmit to their last posterity.

O that there were in all of us such a heart! O that we could see in such a view our obligations to God! O that we were thus forward to express our sense of them in every possible way!

The preservation of our lives is not indeed so manifest, as in their case; but it is not at all less the work of God. Think of the diseases and accidents to which we have been exposed, and the havoc made by them on those around us; and you shall see that we, no less than the Israelites, are indebted for our lives to the good providence of our God!

Apply the same thought to our souls; and then say whether we have not as abundant calls for gratitude, as they!

How then shall we testify our gratitude to God? I answer, Whatever he has given to us for a prey? Let us present that to him for a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Has he given us time, and health, and money, and influence; and, above all, has he infused a heavenly life into our souls? Let us devote it all to him, and "glorify him with our bodies and our spirits which are his."

The Israelites thought their jewels would be ill employed as ornaments for their wives or daughters, when they might be of use for the service and honor of God; thus should we also estimate whatever we possess; not by the gratification it will afford to our pride and vanity, but by the good it will enable us to do to our fellow-creatures, and the service in which it may be employed for our heavenly Benefactor. This only would I observe in relation to it, that we must first give up ourselves to God, and then our property, 2 Corinthians 8:5. Without our hearts no sacrifice whatever will be accepted by him; but if we "give ourselves to him as living sacrifices, we shall perform a holy, a reasonable, and an acceptable service, Romans 12:1;" and every victory we gain, together with every blessing we enjoy, whether public and national, or private and personal—demands it at our hands.




Numbers 32:6-7

"Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites: Shall your countrymen go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from going over into the land the LORD has given them?"

Actions are good or evil according to the motives from which they proceed; but, as motives are known only to God, it must often happen that our conduct is either viewed in too favorable a light, or subjected to unmerited censure. Our inability to delve into the hearts of men should certainly incline us at all times to lean rather to the side of charity, and to hope and believe all things of a favorable nature, as far as circumstances will admit. This consideration however is not to operate so far as to blind our eyes to what is manifestly evil, or to keep us from reproving those who act amiss.

Magistrates in particular must proceed with firmness in suppressing wickedness of every kind, and by timely interference must stop the contagion of bad example. Thus did Moses, when the Reubenites and Gadites presented a request to him, which he deemed injurious to all the other tribes. They asked to have the land on the east side of Jordan for their portion, instead of any part of the land of Canaan; and Moses, conceiving their request to proceed from improper and unjustifiable motives, expostulated with them, and reproved them with great severity. Let us consider,

I. The grounds of Moses' apprehensions.

There was ample reason for the fears Moses entertained respecting them.

Their request seemed to be dictated by selfishness, worldliness, and unbelief. As soon as Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og the king of Bashan were subdued, and their fertile territories were seized, these two tribes requested to have the exclusive possession of their land, under a pretense that it was pre-eminently suited to them, on account of the number of their flocks and herds. As for their brethren belonging to the other ten tribes, let them go and fight their way among the Canaanites, and get possession of whatever they could; but the land which was already subdued, and which was of the richest quality, they desired to have allotted to themselves without any further trouble.

This land was not within the precincts of Canaan; moreover, it would be far removed from the ordinances of religion and from the house of God; but they did not seem to regard either of these considerations in comparison with an ample, easy, and immediate settlement.

The inhabitants of the promised land were exceeding numerous and warlike; and could never be dispossessed without many bloody contests. Perhaps, after all, the victory over them might be dearly purchased, or possibly might never be attained; hence also might arise the willingness of the suitors to forego their share in what was uncertain, if they might be permitted to possess what was already gained.

Such was the construction which Moses put upon the conduct of these two tribes, and such was the ground of those reproofs which he administered.

And is there not ground for similar fears whenever a similar conduct prevails?

If a minister at this day sees his hearers selfish, mindful of their own comforts, but inattentive to the wants and miseries of others, has he not reason to fear concerning them? When it is eminently characteristic of the true Christian to "mind, not his own things, but the things of others, Philippians 2:4," and there is a manifest failure in this respect among his people, ought he not to be "jealous over them with a godly jealousy," and to warn them of their self-deceit?

Again, if he observes any professors of religion to have become worldly; if he finds them so intent on their present interests, as to be comparatively indifferent about the ordinances of religion, and the ultimate possession of the heavenly land; if he sees them studious of their present ease, and averse to spiritual conflicts—then must he not of necessity "stand in doubt of" such people? Does not love itself require him to "change his voice towards them," and to adopt the language of admonition and reproof?

Once more, if he sees them yielding to unbelief, and resting satisfied with a present portion, through desponding apprehensions respecting the attainment of a better inheritance, does it befit him to be silent? Ought he not to exert himself in every way to repress such a spirit, and to stimulate his people to a more befitting conduct? Must he wait for open and notorious transgressions before he opens his lips in expostulations and reproofs? Surely not; the example of Moses in the text, and of Paul on various occasions, 2 Corinthians 11:2; Galatians 4:19-20, shows what are the emotions which every such instance should produce, and what methods every faithful minister should adopt to counteract such evils.

While we justify Moses on reviewing the grounds of his apprehensions, we shall find reason to congratulate him on,

II. The effects of it.

From himself it produced a faithful remonstrance.

It is but too common to express our fears and jealousies to others, and to conceal them from the person who is the subject of them. But Moses abhorred any such concealment; he felt the importance of suggesting all his fears to those who were most interested in being made acquainted with them; and he accordingly addressed himself to the people themselves.

He set before them the pernicious tendency of their example, which was calculated to discourage all the children of Israel; he also reminded them of the similar conduct of their fathers, which had involved them all in one common ruin; and assured them, that they would bring a similar destruction on the present generation, if they persisted in such unreasonable desires, verses 6-15.

Thus he acted like a true friend, and a faithful servant of the Lord. It was thus that Paul also acted towards Peter, when by a temporizing and timid policy he was endangering the liberty of the Christian Church. Thus also are we to act agreeably to that precept, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart; but you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him, Leviticus 19:17."

From them it called forth a satisfactory explanation.

They did not, on the one hand, either acknowledge, or deny, the fault imputed to them; nor on the other hand, did they take the slightest offence at it. But for the satisfaction of Moses they voluntarily engaged to accompany their brethren in arms, and even to go before them to the battle; and to continue with them until the whole land should be subdued, and every tribe should be in possession of its destined inheritance. This was fair and equitable; and Moses readily acquiesced in the proposal. He warned them however, that, if they should ever recede from their purpose, and violate their engagement, "their sin should surely find them out," and be visited upon them.

Thus were matters settled to the satisfaction of all parties; the apprehension of Moses evinced his concern for their welfare; and, if it did not give birth to the proposal which was made, it certainly confirmed the people in their determination to execute it with boldness and fidelity.

A similar instance of apprehension towards these very tribes occurred, when they were returning to their families after the conquest of Canaan, Joshua 22:11-33. On that occasion indeed they were evidently blameless, notwithstanding the appearances were, as in the present case, very much against them. But the outcome in both was happy; and we learn from both to admonish with candor, and to receive admonitions with humble gratitude; being more intent on satisfying the minds of those who are offended, than on lowering our accusers by any recriminations.

This subject will naturally furnish us with some important hints:

1. Maintain on all occasions an apprehension over yourselves.

The heart is justly said to be "deceitful above all things;" and "Satan can easily transform himself into an angel of light." Even the Apostles themselves on some occasions "knew not what spirit they were of;" they supposed themselves actuated by pure and holy zeal, when they were influenced by nothing but pride and revenge. It is highly probable that these two tribes took credit to themselves for far more unselfishness than they possessed; and that Moses saw more of their real disposition, than they themselves were aware of. This appears from the solemn charge which Moses gave them, even after he had acceded to their proposal.

We are sure that this is frequently the case among ourselves; under the idea of a prudential regard for our families and our property, we are very apt to indulge a worldly and selfish spirit; and to be unconscious of evils which are but too visible to others. Let us remember this. We see it in others; let us guard against it in ourselves.

2. Be ready to assign the reasons of your conduct to others.

It may easily happen that our conduct may appear to others in a more unfavorable light than it ought; and if they knew our real views, they would form a different judgment respecting it. Now then we should not be angry with them because they express their doubts respecting any particular action; but should be ready to satisfy their minds, precisely as we would, if they inquired into the grounds of our faith, 1 Peter 3:15.

The Apostle Peter, when called to an account by all the other Apostles for "going to uncircumcised Gentiles and eating with them," thought it no degradation to assign his reasons to them, but was glad of an opportunity of removing their misapprehensions, Acts 11:2-4. Though they seemed to have been somewhat hasty in condemning him, he was not angry with them; he knew the purity of their motives, and felt a pleasure in declaring to them the designs of God towards the Gentile world.

Happy would it be for us, if there were in all of us such a mind as this. But, alas! the quick sensibility which is manifested by us when any fault is pointed out; our extreme backwardness to acknowledge it, and our proneness to condemn our admonishers rather than ourselves, render the duly of admonishing one another extremely difficult. Let us however cultivate a better spirit, and "esteem it a kindness, if the righteous smite and reprove us." Let us receive their admonitions "as an excellent oil, which shall not break our head, Psalm 141:5," but rather heal the wounds which our own misconduct may have occasioned.

3. Endeavor so to walk, that your actions may carry their own evidence along with them.

In some circumstances our actions must of necessity be open to misconstruction. Paul in circumcising Timothy and not Titus, and in "becoming all things to all men," must appear to many to be guilty of inconsistency. But his general spirit would bear such ample testimony to the integrity of his mind, that all candid people must at least withhold their censures, even when they could not discern the exact propriety of his conduct. Where there was real danger of his laying a stumbling-block before others, he invariably leaned to the safer side, and would deny himself in things that were most innocent, rather than by indulgence ensnare the consciences of others, 1 Corinthians 8:13.

Thus should we endeavor to act. We should "abstain from all appearance of evil." We should be careful that our "good may not be spoken evil of, Romans 14:16." In a word, we should "be circumspect in all things;" and "so make our light to shine before men, that all who behold it may be constrained to glorify our Father who is in Heaven."




Numbers 32:23

"But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out!"

The fear of punishment, if not the best, is certainly the most common preservative from sin. Under the Mosaic dispensation it was the principal motive with which the divine commands were enforced. Nor did Paul, though so well acquainted with the liberal spirit of the Gospel, think it wrong to "persuade men by the terrors of the Lord." The words before us therefore may properly be addressed to us.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad had solicited permission to have the land of Jazer and of Gilead for their portion, instead of any inheritance in the land of Canaan. Upon their promising to fight in conjunction with the other tribes until the whole of Canaan should be subdued, Moses acceded to their proposal; but warned them that, if they receded from their engagement, they should assuredly meet with a due recompense from God!

We may take occasion from them to consider:

I. In what manner we have sinned against the Lord.

It would be endless to attempt an enumeration of all the sins we have committed. We shall confine ourselves to that view of them which the context suggests.

The sin against which Moses cautioned the two tribes was, unfaithfulness to their engagements, and a preferring of their present ease to the executing of the work which God had assigned to them.

As Christians we promised to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil; but how have we kept the promises which we have made?

Have we not maintained that friendship with the world which is enmity with God? James 4:4.

Have we not rather sought to please than to mortify our carnal appetites? Titus 3:3.

Has not the God of this world led us captive at his will? Ephesians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:26.

But the sin referred to in the text, will scarcely bear any comparison with ours.

The Israelites were to maintain a warfare with men; we, with the devil, Ephesians 6:12.

The Israelites were to fight for an earthly portion; we, a heavenly portion, 1 Corinthians 9:25.

The Israelites might have urged that their aid was unnecessary, when God was engaged; and that, after all, the prize was an inadequate reward for such fatigue and danger.

Can we hope to conquer without exerting our own powers? Do we suppose that God will subdue our enemies without our concurrence? Or can we say that the prize held forth to us is not worth the contest? If our engagements are more solemn, then our work is more noble, and our reward is more glorious than theirs, our sin in disregarding all must be proportionably greater; yet who among us must not confess that he has forgotten all his baptismal vows? Behold then, we may say to all, "You have sinned against the Lord!"

Nor are we to suppose that our sin will always pass unnoticed.

II. What assurance we have that our sin shall surely find us out.

Sin may be said to find us out when it brings down divine judgments upon us.

Conscience, stupefied or seared, often forgets to execute its office. Nor does conscience speak, until God, by his providence or grace, awakens it. Sometimes years elapse before conscience reproves our iniquities, Genesis 42:21-22. Sometimes conscience testifies to our face as soon as our sin is committed, Matthew 26:74-75; Matthew 27:3-4. Whenever conscience thus condemns us, our sins may be said to find us out.

But the expression in the text imports rather the visitation of God for sin. There is a punishment annexed to every violation of God's law, Ezekiel 18:4; and sin then finds us out effectually when it brings that punishment upon us.

That sin will find us out, we have the fullest possible assurance.

"Be sure your sin will find you out!" The attributes of God's nature absolutely preclude all hope of sinning with impunity.

If God is omnipresent, then he must see.

If God is omniscient, then he must remember.

If God is holy, then he must hate sin.

If God is just, then he must punish the violations of his law.

If God is possessed of veracity and power, then he must execute the judgments he has denounced.

The declarations of his Word abundantly confirm this solemn truth, Isaiah 3:11; Romans 2:9; Psalm 21:8; Proverbs 11:21. Sin leaves a track which can never be effaced; and justice, however slow-paced, will surely overtake it! Proverbs 13:21; Psalm 140:11. However scoffers may exult in their security, their ruin is fast approaching, 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 3:4; 2 Peter 3:9 and Deuteronomy 29:19-20.

The remarkable instances of sin being detected and punished in this world afford a strong additional testimony. David and Gehazi, though so studious to conceal their guilt, had their iniquity marked in the punishment inflicted for it, 2 Samuel 12:9-12; 2 Kings 5:26-27. When, according to human calculations, it was above two million to one that Achan would escape, the lot fell on him by an infallible direction, Joshua 7:14-18. How much more then shall the most hidden things be brought to light hereafter!

Be sure your sin will find you out! The appointment of a day of final retribution puts the matter beyond a possibility of doubt. For what end can there be such a period fixed, but that the actions of men may be judged? And for what end can they be judged, but that every man may receive according to his deeds, Ecclesiastes 12:14. We may then emphatically say to every sinner, "Be sure your sin will find you out!"


1. How earnest should we be in searching out our own sins!

We think little of evils which have been committed by us long ago, and imagine that they are effaced from God's memory as well as from our own. But every action, word, and thought, is noted in the book of his remembrance. He sees the transactions of former years as if they are now happening before his face. All our iniquities are viewed by him in one accumulated mass; nor does he abhor them less than in the very instant they were committed. Let us not then pass them over, or palliate them, as mere youthful follies.

Let us remember how exactly the Lord's threatenings were executed on the Israelites in the wilderness, Numbers 32:10-13; and endeavor to avert his judgments while space for repentance is allowed to us. Let us mourn over our innumerable violations of our baptismal covenant. Let us lament our solicitude about a present portion, our aversion to fight the Lord's battles, and our indifference about the heavenly Canaan. We must repent of these things, or lie under the guilt of them forever! Psalm 50:21; Luke 13:3.

2. How thankful should we be that a way of escape is provided for us!

It is not sin lamented, but sin unrepented of—which will find us out. There is a city of refuge provided for those who will flee to it, Hebrews 6:18. The man, Christ Jesus, is a hiding-place from the impending storm, Isaiah 32:2. If we flee to him, we may be sure that sin shall not find us out. Every attribute of the Deity is pledged to save a believing penitent, 1 John 1:9. We are confirmed in this hope by the most positive declarations of Scripture, Isaiah 44:22; Micah 7:19; Hebrews 8:12. We have most authentic and astonishing instances of sin forgiven, 2 Samuel 12:13; Luke 7:47; Luke 23:43; and the day of judgment is appointed no less for the complete justification of believers than for the condemnation of unbelievers, 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10.

Let this blessed assurance then dwell richly on our minds.

Let it encourage us to take refuge under the Savior's wings, Matthew 23:37.

Let a holy confidence inspire those who have committed their souls to him, 2 Timothy 1:12.

And let all rejoice and glory in him as able to save them to the uttermost, Hebrews 7:25.




Numbers 35:24-28

"the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled. He must stay there until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil. "'But if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which he has fled and the avenger of blood finds him outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder. The accused must stay in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may he return to his own property."

[This was an Assize Sermon, preached at Cambridge, July, 1803.]

The impartial administration of justice is one of the richest blessings that result from civilization and good government. It counteracts the evil which might otherwise arise from inequality of rank and fortune, and, without leveling the distinctions which are necessary for the well-being of society, prevents the abuse of them. It keeps every member of the community in his proper place and station; it protects the rich from the rapacity of the envious, and the poor from the oppression of the proud; and, while it imposes on all a beneficial restraint, it gives to all personal security and mutual confidence.

Supposing therefore that the inspired volume had made no provision for the administration of justice; it would have been expedient to establish such an order of things as should maintain the rights of men inviolate, or inflict fitting punishment on the aggressors.

But God has graciously admitted this subject into the code which he has given us; he has put honor upon those who are appointed to preside in judgment; he has declared them to be his own representatives and viceregents upon earth; he has required the utmost deference to be paid them, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake; and has on some occasions ratified their decisions by extraordinary dispensations of his providence In the destruction of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.

The protecting of the innocent, and the punishing of the guilty, were objects of especial care in the government which he himself established upon earth. This appears, as from a variety of other ordinances, so particularly from the appointment of cities of refuge, where people, who had accidentally or willfully taken away the life of a fellow creature, might flee for safety until the matter should be examined, and the judgment of the congregation declared respecting it.

This enactment, which is to be the subject of the present discourse, may be considered in a two-fold view; namely, as a civil ordinance, and as a typical institution.

I. First, let us consider the appointment of cities of refuge as a civil ordinance. For the sake of clarity we will begin with explaining the nature and intent of the ordinance, and then make such remarks upon it as our peculiar circumstances require.

The ordinance was simply this.

There were to be six cities separated at convenient distances, three on either side of the Jordan River, that any people who had occasioned the death of a fellow-creature might flee to one or other of them for safety, until the circumstances of the case should be investigated, and his guilt or innocence be ascertained. The person next of kin to him who was killed, was permitted to avenge the blood of his relation in case he overtook the slayer before he reached the place of refuge; but, when the slayer had got within the gates of the city, he was safe. Nevertheless the magistrates were to carry him back to the town or village where the transaction had taken place; and to institute an inquiry into his conduct. Then, if it appeared that he had struck the deceased person in wrath or malice, (whether with any kind of weapon, or without one,) he was adjudged to be a murderer, and was delivered up to justice; and the near relative of the murdered person was to be his executioner. If, on the contrary, it was found that he had been unwittingly and unintentionally accessory to the person's death, he was restored to the city where he had fled, and was protected there from any further apprehensions of the avenger's wrath.

Nevertheless he was, as it were, a prisoner at large in that city; he was on no account to go out of it; if the avenger should at any time find him outside the borders of the city, he was at liberty to kill him. This imprisonment continued during the life of the high-priest; but at his death it ceased; and the slayer was at liberty to return to his family and friends. This part of the ordinance was probably intended to put honor upon the high-priest, whose death was to be considered as a public calamity, in the lamenting of which all private resentments were to be swallowed up. Such was the ordinance itself. We now come to the intention of it.

The intention of the ordinance.

The shedding of human blood has ever been regarded by God with the utmost abhorrence. The first murderer indeed was spared in consequence of a divine mandate; but not from mercy, but rather, that he might be to the newly-created world a living monument of God's wrath and indignation.

The edict given to Noah says expressly, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." But, as there must of course be different degrees of guilt, according to the circumstances under which any person might be killed, God appointed this method of securing protection to the innocent, and punishment to the guilty. The accomplishing of these two objects was, I say, the direct end which God proposed. Provision was thus made that unselfish and experienced judges should have the cause brought before them, and determine it according to evidence.

If the man were guilty, and declared to be so on the evidence of two witnesses, he must die; whatever were his rank in life, he must die; no commutation of punishment could possibly be admitted.

If the man were innocent, or were not convicted by the testimony of two witnesses, (for no man was to be put to death on the testimony of one witness only,) the whole congregation was bound to secure him from the effects of animosity and vindictive wrath.

Yet even in the protection thus afforded to the man-slayer, there were many circumstances which were intended to mark God's abhorrence of murder; for though no blame attached to the man who had unwittingly slain his neighbor—yet he must leave all that was dear to him, and flee in danger of his life to the city of refuge, and continue there a prisoner, perhaps as long as he lived, and certainly to the death of the high-priest; nor could his confinement there be dispensed with; there was no more commutation of sentence allowed for him, than for the murderer himself.

The injunctions of God relative to this deserve particular notice, "You shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death; but he shall be surely put to death. And you shall take no satisfaction for him who is fled to the city of his refuge; that he should come again and dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. So you shall not pollute the land wherein you are; for blood defiles the land, and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him who shed it."

In the remarks that we shall have occasion to make on this ordinance, we must of necessity be more particular than we could wish; but in all that we may say upon this most interesting subject, we beg to be understood, not as presuming to incriminate any individual, but as declaring in general terms what we believe to be agreeable to the mind of God, and what we are bound in conscience to declare with all faithfulness.

That there is an ardent wish in all our legislators, and in all who superintend the execution of the laws, to maintain the strictest equity, none can doubt; a conviction of it is rooted in the mind of every Briton; and the bitterest enemies of our country are compelled to acknowledge it. But in some respects there is in our laws an awful departure from the laws of God; I should rather say, a direct opposition to them.

Adultery, by the law of God, was punished with death, with the death of both the offenders. But by our laws the penalties attach only, or principally, when the crime is committed by the wife, and then only on her paramour. That the penalties have on some occasions been heavy, we confess; but never once too heavy. Yet it happens that the very penalty itself may in some cases contribute to the evil which it is intended to repress; to repress I say, rather than to punish; for, if public report may be credited, the penalty recently adjudged was expressly said to be, not a punishment inflicted on the offender, but a compensation to the injured party. In this view the crime is never punished as a crime, when no less a punishment than death was by God's law to be awarded to it. I allude to the murders that are committed in duels, and which have greatly, and increasingly defiled our land. It has been said, and with too much reason, that our laws are harsh. They doubtless are so in many instances; but on the subject of duelling, whether from the laws themselves, or from the influence of those who administer them, or from the connivance of those who are sworn to give a verdict according to them, they are criminally lax. On this account, as well as for the cruelties of the slave trade, God has a controversy with us. I know that political expediency is urged in support of both these evils; but what have we to do with expediency in express opposition to the commands of God?

Let me recall to your minds that declaration of God already cited, that "blood defiles the land, and that the blood that is shed therein cannot be cleansed but by the blood of him who shed it;" and let me turn your attention to another passage, which I would to God that every senator might hear, yes that it might reach the ears of majesty itself, forasmuch as it would reflect no inconsiderable light on the circumstances in which we are involved.

You will find it written in 2 Kings 24:2-4. "The Lord sent against him (the king of Judah) bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it …Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did; and also for the innocent blood that he shed, (for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood,) which the Lord would not pardon."

The Jews probably ascribed the invasion of their country to the avarice or anger of the Babylonish monarch; and we also may trace our present dangers to the insatiable ambition of a tyrant; but in our case, as well as theirs, it is certain, that "at the commandment of the Lord all this has come upon us;" and the same reason also may be assigned, "Our land is defiled with blood," with the blood of thousands of our fellow-creatures in Africa, and with the blood of murderous duelists in our own land; with "blood (I say) which the Lord will not pardon."

Moreover, these iniquities must be considered as sanctioned by the legislature, because they who alone have the power, adopt no measures to cleanse the land from these horrible defilements. God therefore has taken the matter into his own hands, and has stirred up once more our inveterate enemies to avenge his quarrel. The time is come when he is about to "make inquisition for blood," and when he will require at our hands both the innocent blood that we have shed, and the guilty blood which we have forborne to shed. O that we might take warning before it be too late; and put away the evils which are likely to involve us in utter ruin!

Thus it appears that the ordinance before us is by no means uninstructive, or irrelevant to the present occasion, when God's representatives in judgment are about to investigate causes, and to execute the laws. And we hope that in delivering our opinions on such momentous concerns we shall not be thought to have exceeded our province, or to have transgressed the rules which modesty, combined with faithfulness, would prescribe.

But we are to consider the appointment of these cities of refuge in another view also; namely,

II. As a typical institution.

The whole of the Mosaic economy was "a shadow of good things to come;" and the typical import of it is illustrated at large in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Of course it cannot be expected that every particular part of it should be opened to us with the same precision. What was most essential to the understanding of Christianity, was explained to us fully, and the parallel drawn by an infallible hand. What was less necessary, was merely referred to, without any express delineation of its import; its signification being clearly to be gathered from the light reflected on other parts, and from the analogy of faith.

There is not much said respecting the typical import of the cities of refuge; yet there are plain and manifest allusions to it. The prophet says, "Turn to your stronghold, you prisoners of hope;" in which words he marks the precise state of those who had fled to the cities, as "prisoners of hope." Paul speaks of Christians as "fleeing for refuge to the hope set before them;" wherein he alludes not only to the cities themselves, but to the care taken to keep the roads leading to them in good repair, Deuteronomy 19:3, and by direction-posts to point it out to those, who, if retarded by obstacles, or detained by inquiries, might lose their lives.

Again, alluding to the danger of those who should be found out of the borders of the city, he expresses his earnest desire to "be found in Christ." But in explaining images of this kind there is need of much caution and sobriety, lest, while we endeavor to illustrate Scripture, we give occasion to the adversary to regard it as fanciful and absurd. We are however in no danger of exceeding the limits of sober interpretation, if we say that the cities of refuge were intended to teach us three things:

That we are all sinners and liable unto death.

That there is one only way for our escape.

That those who flee to the appointed refuge are safe forever.

That we are all sinners and liable unto death, is plain to every one that acknowledges the authority of Scripture. We all are sinners; as sinners, we are condemned by the holy law of God; which says, "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." We are therefore in the situation of the man-slayer, pursued by him whose right it is to avenge himself on us for our transgressions. Whether our transgressions have been more or less heinous, his right is the same, and our danger is the same, if we are overtaken by his avenging arm. We may urge many pleas in extenuation of our guilt; but they will be of no avail. We may not have been so bad as others; but we "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God:", "every mouth therefore must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." The very calling of Christ by the name, Savior, is a plain confession, that in ourselves we are lost; for "he came to save only those who are lost."

Further proof of this being unnecessary, we proceed to observe next,

That there is but one way for our escape.

There were many cities in Canaan; but none afforded protection to the man-slayer, except those which had been separated for that express purpose. We too may think that there are many refuges for us; but all, except one, will be found "refuges of lies, which will be swept away with the broom of destruction."

Repentances, reformations, alms-deeds, are all good and proper in their place; but none of them, nor all together, can ward off the sword of divine vengeance, or afford security to our souls. Christ is the only refuge! His blood alone can expiate our guilt, "his name is the tower to which we are to run for safety;" "neither is there any other name given under Heaven whereby we can be saved."

The man-slayer might perhaps escape the vigilance of the avenger, or, if overtaken, might successfully withstand him. But who can elude the search of Almighty God, or resist his power? The hope is vain. We must flee to Christ, or perish forever!

The urgency of the case is methinks a sufficient reason for our fleeing to Christ with all expedition. But if we need any further stimulus, let us reflect on the next hint suggested by the text; namely,

That those who flee to the appointed refuge are safe forever.

The man-slayer might stand within the gates of the city, and defy the threats of his adversary; for the whole city was pledged for his security. And may not the sinner, who has taken refuge in Christ, behold without alarm the threatenings of the law, secured as he is by the promise and oath of Jehovah? From the city of refuge indeed those who had committed willful murder were brought forth for execution. But was ever one cast out who came to Christ? Was ever one taken from that sanctuary in order that he might suffer the sentence of the law? It is possible that through the remissness of the magistrates the rights of those privileged cities might be violated; but who shall violate the engagements of Jehovah? Who shall break in to destroy a sinner lodged in the bosom of his Lord? God himself assures us that "there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."

There is however a striking and beneficial intimation given us, respecting the necessity not only of fleeing to Christ, but of abiding in him. If the man-slayer for one moment ventured beyond the bounds of the city, he lost his privilege, and became exposed to the wrath of the avenger. Thus, if after we have escaped, as we think, from the vengeance of our God, we grow insensible of our guilt and danger, and do not carefully, by renewed applications to the Savior, abide in him—we expose ourselves to the most imminent peril. For, as "we cannot escape if we neglect so great salvation," so neither can we, "if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth; there will remain nothing for us then but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation to consume us." Our situation will even be worse than ever; and "our latter end be worse than the beginning; for it would have been better never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after we have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to us."

Permit me then to address you all as in the situation before described, for none of us will presume to deny that we are sinners, or that, as sinners, we are liable to divine displeasure. Let me entreat you all to flee from the wrath to come. Let these principles be universally acknowledged among us, and deeply rooted in our hearts:

That there is no refuge but in Christ!

That all self-righteous methods of obtaining mercy will prove fallacious.

That every one must feel his guilt and danger, and, like the man-slayer when pursued by the avenger, flee as for his life, renouncing all things whatever that may impede his flight and endanger his soul. Pleasures, interests, friends—must all give way to this great concern; and all regard for them must be swallowed up in this, the one thing needful. To obtain a saving interest in Christ must be our great, our only care. We must "count all things but loss that we may win Christ and be found in him."

The city of refuge was open day and night, and to a heathen sojourner as well as to the native Jew. In the same manner also is Christ accessible to us at all times, and his mercy shall be extended to all who flee unto him.

The cities of refuge were so situated, that any one at the remotest corner of the land might reach one of them in less than half a day. Just so, is not Jesus also "near to all that call upon him?" Yes, all, whether in this land, or in the most distant quarter of the globe, may come to him in one single hour, or, if I may so speak, in one single moment; for the soul that sincerely relies on him for pardon and acceptance, is enclosed by him as in an impregnable fortress, and shall be "saved by him with an everlasting salvation."

Yet it is not sufficient to flee to him once; we must be daily and hourly fleeing to him in the habit of our minds; in other words, we must "abide in him," by the continual exercise of faith, even to the last hour of our lives; then shall the death of our great High-Priest be available for our discharge, and we shall be restored to the complete and everlasting enjoyment of our friends, our liberty, and our inheritance.

Hitherto we have enforced the subject from topics suited to all people in all ages of the world. But we cannot conclude without adding a few considerations, which arise out of existing circumstances, and are peculiarly worthy of our attention.

That our enemies are Jehovah's sword, and that he is come forth against us as an avenger, cannot but be confessed; but whether it be for our chastisement only, or for our utter destruction, none can tell. One thing however is sure; that the best possible method of pacifying divine anger, and averting the impending judgments, is to flee unto the Savior, and to seek mercy through him.

If once we were stirred up, as a nation, to take refuge in him, He who spared repenting Nineveh, would spare us, and either avert the gathering storm, or deliver us from its dreadful ravages. This is the direction uniformly given us by God himself. Thus he says by the prophet Zephaniah, "Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD comes upon you, before the day of the LORD's wrath comes upon you. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger! Zephaniah 2:1-3." Again he says by Isaiah, "Come, my people, enter into your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast; for, behold, the Lord comes out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the land for their iniquity." Could we but be prevailed upon to follow this advice, we doubt not but that it would be more effectual for our preservation than all the navies that can be built, or all the armies that can be mustered; for if God were for us, then none could successfully fight against us. If we were even already vanquished, yes, and led into captivity, still we "should take those captive whose captives we were, and should rule over our oppressors." Let me not however be understood as disregarding the proper means of self-defense; for God saves by means; and to expect his interposition without using our utmost efforts in our own behalf, would be presumption.

Though therefore we would exhort all in the first place to flee for refuge to the hope set before them, we would also exhort them to stand forth manfully against the enemy; to regard neither time, nor labor, nor property, no, nor life itself—so that they may but help forward to the uttermost their country's cause. And though the occupation of a warrior is the last perhaps that a man of piety would choose—yet on the present occasion conscience requires, rather than forbids, that all of us should unite with heart and hand to repel the foe, and to sacrifice our lives, if need be, in defense of our religion and liberties, our property and friends, our king and country.

Still however we must recur to our former observation; and urge in the first place the necessity of turning to our stronghold. Would to God that none of us might delay, or loiter, or slacken our pace, or yield to weariness, or regard anything that we leave behind; but that all might flee, as Lot out of Sodom, to our adorable Savior! Then, whether we live or die, we must be safe. The enemy may destroy our bodies, but our great adversary can never hurt our souls. Our immortal part will be placed beyond the reach of harm; and when empires fall, yes, and the whole earth shall be dissolved by fire, we shall dwell in mansions that are inaccessible to evil, and enjoy a bliss that shall never end!