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them not. And there went out fire from the The sin of Nadab and Abihu consisted simply Lord, and devoured them, and they died in this, they burnt incense with strange fire. before the Lord."*
99* The words are few, but Now the meaning of this expression we shall they convey a full and distinct idea of the be able easily to collect, by comparing toguilt of the parties: though by attending to gether a few passages that have an obvious the context, we shall have reason to conclude connexion, and serve to illustrate and explain their crime was of a very complex nature. each other. First, in Leviticus chapter the And sure it could be no common transgres- ninth, verse the twenty-fourth, it is said that sion which drew down a judgment so dread- "fire from the Lord,” that is, either fire imful. Bishop Patrick is of opinion that Nadab mediately descending from heaven, or issuing and Abihu had rendered themselves incapable out of the cloud that covered the tabernacle, of doing their duty by intemperance: that consumed the first victims which Aaron of they indulged in the delicacies of the sacri- fered for a burnt-offering. Again,—This safice to a criminal excess, till they were in- cred fire, once miraculously kindled, was by capable of putting a difference between holy a special ordinance to be kept for over alive; and unholy, and between clean and unclean. as we read, Leviticus chapter the sixth, This conjecture is founded upon the injunc- verses twelfth and thirteenth. . Thus the tion which immediately follows the narration vigilance, attention, and care of man, was to of this dismal story in the ninth and tenth preserve and continue what Providence had verses. “Do not drink wine nor strong begun. By another ordinance it was enjoined, drink, thou nor thy sons with thee, when ye that the incense to be offered on the day of go into the tabernacle of the congregation, atonement, should be kindled by a portion of lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever, that perpetual fire. This we read in Levitithroughout your generations; and that ye cus chapter the sixteenth, verses eleventh, may put difference
between holy and unholy, twelfth, and thirteenth. This then was the and between unclean and clean." If there fire which the Lord commanded to be used; be truth in this conjecture, it is a melancholy and of course, every other kind of fire, howproof, that the best things are most liable to ever produced, and though in all other reabuse, that the brutal part of our nature is spects adequate to the purpose, wąs unlawful, ever ready to run away with the rational: forbidden, or strange. This accordingly conthat as God is continually employing himself stituted the guilt, they took upon them to in bringing good out of evil, so men are for kindle the incense, which their office obliged ever perversely employing themselves in them to burn every evening and morning, bringing evil out of good.
with a fire different from that which burnt Others have charged upon these two sons continually on the altar of burnt-offering ; of Aaron, the criminality of attempting to every other being strange fire, which the enter the most holy place, which was not Lord commanded not. Now it was certainly permitted but to the high priest, and that fit and necessary that such a crime should only at certain stated times. This charge be punished in the most exemplary manner. is established in the following manner. In The sanctity of the whole institution was the passage we have quoted, it is said, that over at once, if the ministers of it might with it was before the Lord that Nadab and Abihu impunity, in the very setting out, presume offered incense with strange fire. Upon to dispense with its most august ceremonies. comparing this with what is recorded in the The rank and station of the offenders was a sixteenth chapter in the first and second high aggravation of their offence. It was verses, where Moses recapitulates this sad their duty to have set an example of scrupuevent, we find it added, “The Lord said unto lous regard to the known will of God. They Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that had been admitted to more intimate commuhe come not at all times into the holy place, nion with God than others; had seen more within the veil before the mercy-seat, which of the terrors of his power, more of the wonis upon the ark; that he die not: for I will ders of his grace. Unhappy men! how had appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat.” they been betrayed into an error so fatal? Hence it has been inferred that the two young Ignorance it could not be, the voice of the men, uncalled, unauthorised, presumed to law was yet sounding in their ears. Dared enter that august department of the taberna- they to be careless in any thing that related cle, assuming to themselves privileges that to the service of a holy God? They had seen belonged only to the supreme priesthood, the exactness of their pious uncle, in forming which in their father's life time it was un- every thing according to the pattern showed luwful to intermeddle with, and which even him in the mount. Was it indeed a wilful he himself durst not at all times exercise. and deliberate violation of the law? I fear, Bit though neither of these suppositions be I fear it was; and dreadful was the expiation. improbable, we have no occasion to go so far The unhallowed fire of their own kindling for a discovery of their crime, nor to account was quickly absorbed in a hotter flame: “ they for the severity with which it was punished. died before the Lord:* for there went out fire * Lev. x. 1, 2
• Lev. x. 2.
from the Lord, and devoured them.” Neither, been able to subdue indwelling corruption ; their sacred character, the sacredness of the for we immediately find him in a plot, with place, nor the sacredness of the employment, Miriam his sister, to disturb the peace, dimican protect them from the keen stroke of nish the respect, and distress the government avenging justice. “Let us have grace where of their brother Moses. Their pretence was by we may serve God acceptably, with re- his marriage with an “ Ethiopian woman;" verence and godly fear: for our God is a an event which had taken place forty years Consuming fire."* Unhappy father! what before; an union which had no immorality were now thy feelings; bereaved in one sad in it: which transgressed no law, for the day of half thy children, of thy first, thy dar- law was not then given; and against which ling hopes: to behold them thus immaturely God himself had not expressed any displeacut off, taken away in anger ! The bitterness sure; but had crowned it with the blessing of death is not relieved by one consolatory of children, who were justly admitted to rank circumstance. What is the loss of children in Israel. in infancy, and falling by the stroke of nature, 'The real cause was their envy of the precompared to this? To heighten the old man's eminence, which their younger brother had a fiction, he is expressly forbidden' to mourn, obtained over them in all things, civil and cr to assist in the last såd offices of humanity sacred. For this, in spite of all their art, towards his deceased sons. Behold him in breaks out in the malicious whispers which inute dejection and distress, ministering in they scatter abroad to blacken their brother's the duties of his charge, attentive to the calls reputation. “Hath the Lord indeed spoken of the living, leaying to others the care of only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by burying the dead. How severely must his us ?"** If Moses indeed erred by marrying own offences now have been bronght to his Jethro's daughter, he had severely smarted remembrance! He had been guilty of a crime for it: for being induced, by an improper of equal or greater magnitudė: he had led compliance with her humour, to neglect the the way in idolatry, and presided in the wor- circumcision of his son, he had nearly paid ship of a thing of his own fabrication ; but the forfeit of that neglect with his life, by the justice suffered him to live, to live to see his hand of God himself; and now his good name own sons dying for a crime similar to his is bleeding on Zipporah's account, by the enown. Alas, what is prolonged life but length- venomed tongues of his own brother and sisened anguish!
ter; and “who can stand before envy ?" As the giving of the law was fenced round Who can think to escape, if Moses remain with fire, and the sanctity of the tabernacle not unhurt? This attack upon his fame and worship guarded by a flaining sword, so the comfort, gives Moses occasion to deliver bis mecker, gentler institution of the gospel, own eulogium: and I believe it just, for te fortified its first beginnings by executing gives it with that lovely simplicity, which judgment on presumptuous sinners. Seve- characterises all that he relates of himself rity is the soul of a law, especially when it or of others. “Now the man Moses was is notified to those who are obliged to submit very meek, above all the men which were to it; indulgence, or the appearance of feeble upon the face of the earth.”+ He either had ness, are of the most dangerous consequence, not heard the scandalous speeches which especially in the commencement of a new were propagated to his disadvantage by constitution. One of the heralds of the Sa- Aaron and Miriam; or he pitied and neviour of mankind began his ministry by a glected them. Who knows what length the clap of thunder; the first rays he shot from mischief might have gone, had it not been his eyes were mortal, and the sudden death heard and avenged by the Protector of inof two false and perfidious disciples was the jured innocence.“ The Lord heard it.” Let seal of his apostleship. The second coming the slanderer hear this and tremble. of the Lord himself is to be “ in flaming fire, The two brothers and their sister are now taking vengeance on them that know not summoned to present themselves together at God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord the door of the tabernacle of the congregaJesus Christ." I
tion, and the glory of the Lord appears: and Aaron had now arrived at an advanced a voice from that glory pronounces aloud and period of life, and at the possession of an at full length, the praise of the man who had office and rank in life, which rendered him spoken so odestly of himself, and who bad an object of envy to some, and of veneration been so wickedly maligned by his own nearto others. He had oftener than once been est relations. « And he said, Hear now my corrected by his own folly, and he was " the words; if there be a prophet among you. I man who had seen affliction by the rod of the Lord will make myself known unto him in God's anger;" but neither the fire of calami- a vision, and will speak unto him in the dream. ty, nor the frost of age; neither the counsels My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful of experience, nor the sanctity of office, have in all mine house. With him will I speak
mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in † Acts v. 1 2 Thess. i. 8.
t Numb. xii. 3.
* Heb. xii. 28, 29.
* Numb. xii. 2.
dark speeches; and tne similitude of the sequence? In the event of difference of Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were opinion, or of attachment, one man is unmerye not afraid to speak against my servant cifully, unrelentingly run down, and another Moses !"* In many respects Moses was is, with equal want of reason, magnified and " the figure of him who was to come," and in exalted. Women, young women, good young both were peculiarly verified the words of women, think they are only yielding to the Christ, “a man's foes shall be they of his impulse of a pious affection, when they apown house," and, “a prophet is not without plaud or censure this or the other public honour, save in his own country, and in his character. But what are they doing inown house."I With God to resent is to deed? Blowing up one poor vain idol of avenge; having reproved the transgressors straw into self-consequence and importance; he withdraws in anger, and lo, the punish- and piercing through, on the other hand, an ment is already inflicted. “The cloud de- honest heart with anguish unutterable; perparted from off the tabernacle, and behold, haps robbing a worthy, happy family of its Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and bread, or, what is more, of its peace and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and behold she comfort. I am no stranger to what is by was leprous.”I A shocking example of di- some termed religious conversation, and I vine displeasure against one of the most am seriously concerned about the topics of it. odious of crimes. My fair hearers, let me It generally turns upon persons, not things. whisper an advice in your ears. I am no Now, it ought to be just the reverse. Percommonplace declaimer against your sex; I sons always mislead us, for no one is wholly honour it, and I wish to improve it; you must impartial; but truth is eternal and unchangehear me with the greater attention, and mark able. · Apply then the test—Does the conwhat I say. You lie under a general impu- versation dwell upon this man or his neighbut general imputations are for the most part with it; what have the interests of piety to ill-founded. I do not mean, however, to in- do in the case? Had he never been born, sinuate that you are totally innocent, or more " the foundation of God” would have stood so than the other sex: for your affections are as it does, without his feeble aid. Call no eager, and what the heart feels, by the eyes man master in sacred things, but Christ; and or the tongue you will express; and that ex- take care that you measure neither orthopression is sometimes too strong for either doxy, sense, nor virtue, by the imperfect, piety or prudence. I mean to caution you fluctuating standard of your own caprice, at present, on a particular fault of the tongue, affection, or understanding. Were similar which affects my own profession, which is punishment instantly to follow the vices of far from being foreign to the subject, and on the tongue, as in the case of Miriam, I shudwhich I deem myself both qualified and en- der to think how many a fair face now lovely titled to advise you.
to the sight, must by to-morrow morning Women, among other favourite objects, stand in need of a veil; but not for the same have their favourite systems of religion, and reason that the face of Moses did on his detheir favourite preachers; and, following the scending from the mount, to temper its impulse of an honest affection, they are for lustre ; but to shroud its loathsomeness and establishing their favourite object on the deformity. Consider what hath been said, ruins of every competitor. What is the con- and “set a watch on the door of your * Numb. xij. 6, 7, 8.
lips,” and “ keep the heart with all diliNumb. xii. 10.
Matt. xiii. 57.
HISTORY OF AARON.
And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying, Aaron shall be gathered unto his people : for he shall not enter into the land which I have
given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazer his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor: and strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazer his son : and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there. And Moses did as the Lord commanded : and they went up into mount Hor, in the sight of all the congregation.
And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazer his son: and Aaron died there in the top of the mount. And Moses and Eleazer came down from the mount. And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.-NUMBERS XX. 23—29.
The love of life is one of the most useful flesh, for the greater good of the church and and important principles implanted in human of the world, argues a great, a noble, and nature; and death, the necessary end of all disinterested spirit; it excites our love and men, is an event mercifully and in wisdom admiration. That man is indeed immortal, hid from our eyes. Hoping that we may the daily language of whose conduct is, live till to-morrow, we feel ourselves impelled “Let me perform at least one good action to exert ourselves to-day, to make some pro- more, I know I am to die; let my tongue, vision for it. Not knowing the time of their then, yet once again speak praise to God and death, men are engaged to act as if they instruction to man, before it becomes for ever were immortal. And though no wise man silent
. Before the cold hand of death freezes would " wish to live always,” or can deem it up the genial current at my heart, let it pour possible, yet the precise period never comes, out the gentle stream of kindness, sympathy, when we find ourselves so entirely unoccu- and love. While this arm is able as yet to pied with temporal prospects or pursuits, so extend itself, and this hand to expand, let it totally mortified to the world, as to be dis- be extended to protect the oppressed, to supposed with cheerfulness to leave it. Hence port the weak; let it be expanded to feed the the business of the world goes on, which hungry, to clothe the naked, to relieve the would otherwise stand still; and that God, miserable. Ere my eyes close, to open no of whose years there can be no end, is carry- more, let some one of the wonderful things ing on designs of everlasting moment, by of God again pass through them, to revive frail and shortlived instruments. This man my drooping spirits, to cheer and elevate my makes a few feeble, dying efforts, and expires. sinking soul; and before I divest myself of Another comes after him, takes up the instru- my robes of office, never to resume them, ment which his fellow had laid down, makes let me humbly endeavour to minister to the his stroke or two, and expires likewise; and Lord, and to the spiritual wants of men, in yet by means of efforts so weak, so inter- the duties of my station." rupted, and self-destroying, the purposes of Calm and composed as was the death of Heaven proceed, the building of God rises; Aaron, we advance toward it with slowness every loss is instantly repaired, every defect and reluctance, and therefore with eagersupplied, and no chasm in the chain of Provi- ness seize the occasion which scripture afdence is permitted to take place. Hence fords, of adverting to some farther incidents men are dignified with the title of fellow- of his life, before we come to the history of workers with God, and the perishing attempts that fatal event. of perishing creatures are employed in ma It was with astonishment and grief, we turing the plans of infinite wisdom, and are saw him engaged in a plan of disaffection honoured by the acceptance and approbation and sedition against his amiable and excel. of Him who “worketh all things after the lent brother; and in wonder mixed with tercounsel of his own will.” What a motive to ror, we observed the mingled lenity and diligence, exertion, and perseverance ! severity of the punishment inflicted by God
"I paint for eternity," replied the great on that impious, unnatural, and ungrateful artist of antiquity, when reprehended for an conduct. But the offence was not expiated over curious, painful, and laborious attention when Miriam was struck with leprosy, and to the more nice and delicate touches of his Aaron thereby tacitly reprehended; when favourite pieces. What a lesson of encour- Miriam was restored, and Israel permitted to agement, admonition, and reproof to Chris- move forwards. Transgressors often flatter lians! They are indeed acting for eternity; themselves that surely the bitterness of death not like the painter, pursuing the empty bub- is past, when a righteous God is but awaking ble, reputation, but aiming at “ the end of to vengeance; and it is not seldom found, their faith, even the salvation of their souls." that between crimes and punishments there They are striving continually to bring a is such an apparent affinity, that the criminal new tribute of praise to God, and to promote cannot but read his guilt in the evil which the everlasting happiness of mankind. overtakes him; and the world is made to
It is truly pitiable to see a poor creature " see,” not only " the rod,” but “ him that cleaving to life after the relish of it is gone, hath appointed it.” merely from a fond attachment to the things Six years have elapsed, from the sedition of time. It is more lamentable still to behold of Aaron and Miriam, when a similar conspia miserable wretch shrinking from death, racy is formed to discredit the government through a well-grounded horror of its conse- of Moses, and the priesthood of Aaron, by quences. But to desire life from a desire of certain turbulent, envious, and ambitious men doing good; to be willing to continue in the of their own tribe, in confederacy with some
of a similar spirit of the tribe of Reuben. So signal and alarming, is apt speedily to be obwidely and so suddenly has the malignity of literated—such is the thoughtlessness and revolt spread itself, that no less than two folly of men! He was pleased to appoint a hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, lasting memorial of the preference which he famous in the congregation, men of renown, had bestowed on Aaron and his family, and with their adherents, have been infected by it: to confer a fresh badge of distinction on the and Aaron has his large share of that obloquy, man whom he delighted to honour. Moses which he had before so unjustly employed, is directed to take of each of the tribes of to weaken the hands, and to blast the repu- Israel a several rod, and to inscribe every tation of his brother. But ah! my friends, a one with the name of the prince of that tribe leprosy of seven days could not wash away to which it belonged, writing the name of the stain of this transgression; neither could Aaron on the rod of the tribe of Levi. They the blood of one unhappy victim, make atone- were to be laid up together over night before ment for a crime in which so many were in the Lord, in the tabernacle of the congregavolved. The Lord creates a new thing," tion before the testimony, and previous intito mark the severity of his hot displeasure. mation was given to all concerned, that by When Moses had made an end of denouncing the next inorning God would give an explithe judgment of God, it came to pass that cit, and unequivocal declaration of his will, " the ground clave asunder that was under respecting the office of priesthood. them, and the earth opened her mouth, and The God whom we adore, would rather swallowed them up, and their houses, and all make himself known by the wonders which the men that appertained unto Korah, and he performs, and the mercies which he disall their goods. They, and all that apper- penses, than by the judgments which he exetained to them, went down alive into the pit, cutes. It was fulfilled accordingly. The and the earth closed upon them: and they rods of the eleven other tribes remained as perished from among the congregation. And they were deposited; separated from the pathere came out fire from the Lord, and con- rent stock, sapless, withered, and dead; but sumed the two hundred and fifty men that the rod of Aaron, as if it had been still a offered incense."* A plague broke out among branch united to a living root, and by a prothe people, which, before it was stayed by gress of vegetation infinitely more rapid than the interposition of the high priest himself, nature knows, in the course of one night, offering incense between the living and the“ brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, dead, had consumed fourteen thousand seven and yielded almonds."* And lo, a miracle hundred.
as great as a lifeless twig bringing forth What, О Aaron, were now thy feelings, fruit
, the fierce and angry spirit which acts surveying a field of blood so dreadful and so of just vengeance had but irritated, is by a extensive! What were thy feelings in re-miracle of kindness and condescension, molflecting that for the very offence which thou lified, melted, subdued, extinguished: and thyself hadst committed, Miriam was a leper, thus necessary are signs and wonders to siand thousands were slain! Did not thy heart lence and persuade murmuring, unbelieving tremble, as the sword of the destroying angel | Hebrews, as well as to render inexcusable laid heaps upon heaps, whilst thou stoodst in impenitent Egyptians. the fearful gap, lest its keen edge should This mark of preference having been reach thyself?
openly exhibited, for the conviction and saIt is remarkable, that the enormity of the tisfaction of all, commandment is once more greater crimes which Aaron committed, was given to carry back this wondrous rod, and exposed by the judgments wherewith God to deposit it by itself before God, with the visited similar crimes others, not in him-other sacred furniture of the most holy place, self; whereas, for an apparently lighter trans- to serve to latest posterity as one of the pregression, his life was irrecoverably forfeited, cious monuments of the divine favour to their and he fell under a doom, which no peni- forefathers. It is highly probable, that it altence nor supplication could alter or avert. ways preserved that verdure to which it was We cannot judge of the malignity of crimes thus preternaturally restored ; and is a lively from certain external circumstances. Both image of the constant preservation of the in the good which men do, and the evil they universe, by that all-powerful Word which commit, God principally regards the heart spake it into existence at first; of the conand intention; but to discern and to judge of tinued support of life, by the merciful visitathe thoughts and intents of the heart, is a tion of that Spirit who breathed into man's prerogative, which with awful propriety he nostrils the breath of life; and man became a has reserved to himself.
living soul.”+ God has punished the defection of Korah Aaron, thus again distinguished and honourand his abettors in the most open and exem- ed of Heaven, continues to enjoy the dignity, plary manner. Not satisfied with this, be- and to perform the duties of the priesthood for cause the memory of judgments the most thirty-one years longer; we doubt not, with
| Gen. ii. 7.
* Numb. xv. 31-33. 35.
* Numb. xvii. 8.