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Heaven, or following the dictates of human prudence, he sends them all back to his father-in-law, as likely to prove either a burden or a hindrance to himself, in the discharge of his great trust. For true piety, while it reposes entire confidence in God, will never presumptuously load Providence with what is the proper work and business of man. Diligence and foresight, as well as faith and hope, are its genuine offspring. But the tempest being now blown over, and Moses of a messenger and a suppliant unto Pharaoh, being now become the head and leader of a great nation, it was natural for him and for his family mutually to desire to be restored to each other. Jethro, therefore, havin received information where Israel was, and what the Lord had done for them, takes his daughter and grandchildren, and carries them with him to the camp of Israel. The innocent endearments of natural affection, and the honest communications of private friendship, are graciously intended to alleviate the cares of public life, and to strengthen the mind by diverting it from incessant and intense application to serious business. No man can always be a general, a statesman or a king. And happy it is for those who occupy these exalted but troublesome stations, that they are frequently permitted to sink the public in the private character, and to drop the hero, the senator, the judge, the sovereign, in the man. Distance has not alienated affection between the man of God and his family. A slighter affection is effaced and destroyed by absence; a stronger love is confirmed and inflamed by it. Good old Jethrosatisfies not himself with sending by the mouth of another a compliment of congratulation to his son-in-law; neither will he permit Zipporah and her sons to go unaccompanied, unprotected, through the wilderness; but, aged and infirm as he was, chooses himself to be their companion and their protector.
Moses seems to take delight in delivering to us this passage of his life. He is amiably minute and circumstantial in the detail of it. He dwells upon the tender and affecting recollections of sorrows and of joys that are past. His heart is in it. He stops in his narration to tell us the names of his two sons, and his reason for giving them those names. “The name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land: and the name of the other was Eliezer; for the God of my fathers, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Is this beneath the dignity of history, of sacred history? No, it is the most honourable province of history, to exhibit the honest unsophisticated feelings of nature, the genuine workings of the human heart, the real though humbler scenes of human life. What signifies to us the meeting of two old men three thousand three hundred years ago? Much every way. One of them is a Moses, and that Moses is describing his own sentiments, unveiling his own heart. He can serve as an instructor and an example to none, in respect to the prophetic dignity, as the bearer of the potent rod, as the man whose face shone, by forty days intimate communion with God. He can instruct but a few, by his wisdom and sagacity as a prince and a law-giver. But as a son, a husband and a father, he is a pattern to myriads, and shall continue to teach to the end of the world.
How pleasant it is to find this great man the same in retirement and privacy that he is upon the great theatre; and delineating a battle, a triumph, and a family meeting, with the same simplicity and godly sincerity! Public men have too often two different characters. Plausible and specious, humble, modest and insinuating before the world, they are self-willed and tyrannical, confident, assuming and brutal in private; they often fawn where they fear, and domineer where they have power. Not so the meek and gentle prophet and judge of Israel. He waits not in state till
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his relations are admitted to pay their homage. He reckons it nothing derogatory to his high dignity to go forth to pay the respect due to age! and to humble the son, however high in place, at the feet of the parent. “And Moses went out to meet his father-inlaw, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent.” Were it after the separation of but a day, friends have a thousand questions to ask, a thousand little incidents to relate; about their health, their entertainment, their dangers, their deliverances; about the observations which they have made, the projects they may have formed. What must it then have been for two such friends, for such a father and son, after a separation of many months, during which, events of such high moment to both had taken place, to meet together again in health and comfort, to communicate mutually the full soul, to retire into the tent, to shut out the world, and give vent to the overflowings of tenderness and affection. And with what a subject of conversation are they furnished; “And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh, and to the Egyptians, for Israel’s sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them.” The most trifling incidents which befal a brother, a friend, a child, are interesting and important. What must then have been the emotions of Jethro to hear the wonders of Egypt; to learn the great things of God, astonishing in themselves, and acquiring an additional weight, creating a new interest, from the person who related them, and who was himself so deeply concerned in the event? But the good man is elevated, as he wondering listens to the wonderful tale, above all personal and selfish regards, above the partiality of private friendship, above the tenderness of natural affection. His heart dilates at the thought of a whole nation delivered, of a tyrant trampled in the dust, of the power, wisdom and mercy of God magnified. “And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel; whom he had delivered out of the hands of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods; for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly, he was above them.” This friendly interview issues in a solemn religious service, in which Aaron and all the elders of Israel are called to assist. What a blessed influence has true religion, in conciliating kindness and confirming friendship! When men cordially agree in the same glorious object of worship, the little peculiarities of form will not obstruct the mutual attraction of brotherly love. Prejudice will droop and die, and charity will draw a veil over its neighbour's singularities and imperfections. Happy the family whose union is cemented by piety; the family whose happiness and peace are built upon the love of God; whose employments, communications and pursuits are improved and sanctified by prayer! Due attention having been paid to the calls of hospitality, the dictates of private friendship, and the demands of filial duty, Moses reverts next day betimes to the discharge of the duties of his public station. The time, the talents of the minister of God, are not his own, they belong to mankind. Superficial observers, who consider but the eminence of the place which a magistrate fills, the robe which he wears, the respect with which he is attended, look up to him with envy, and call him blessed. They think not of the thousand sacrifices which he is constrained to make of his ease, of his inclination, of his health, of his natural propensities, of his private attachments. They talk of the honours and emoluments of his office, but they overlook his anxious days, his painful toils, his sleepless nights, the causeless hatred which he incurs, the unprovoked insults which he must bear, and must not resent, the surrender which he must make of solid and substantial felicity, and the exchange of real and certain tranquillity, for uncertain usefulness or precarious reputation. Who would not be Moses, to sit on high and judge the people? But who would be Moses to have the people stand by him for judgment, “from the morning to the evening!” The obscure part of mankind are little sensible what they owe to Providence for their obscurity. They can go out and come in unnoticed. They can go to rest when they will, and continue it as long as they please. They have no vigilant, jealous, envious eye over them. They are free from the dreadful conflict of inclination and duty, of interest and conscience, of reverence for God and respect for man. They can enjoy their families and friends. What they have, however little, they can call their own. What, compared to these, and such advantages as these, is the ermine cloak, the ivory sceptre, the gem-encircled crown? Rejoice, O man, that the world knows thee not, cares not for thee, condescends not to trouble thy repose. Creep thy way silently, I beseech thee, to heaven; unafraid of being overlooked, neglected and forgotten in the multitude of the redeemed, who there live, and reign, and “rejoice, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Observe how even a Moses may err in an excess of zeal, through ignorance, inexperience or inattention. Desirous of doing good by administering justice impartially, he cares not what trouble and labour it may cost himself. The service of fear or of necessity is slow, reluctant, partial and imperfect; the labour of love is cheerful, active and persevering. Moses is in the way of his duty early and late. If the public be served faithfully, if equity be dispensed, if God be glorified, he is willing to spend and to be spent in such a cause.