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On this part of the history of Moses, Pagan antiquity has founded the fabulous history of Esculapius, the pretended god of medicine, whose symbol was a serpent twisted round a rod. The learned have, through a variety of particulars, traced the derivation of the fable from the fact; but to repeat them, would rather minister to curiosity than to instruction and improvement. We dismiss the subject, then, with this general remark, that in more respects than is commonly apprehended, and than it has had the candor to acknowledge, is Pagan literature indebted to the sacred volume; that the wisdom of Egypt, of Babylon, of Greece and of Rome is traceable up to this source; that Moses is, of course, to be considered as the father of profane, as of sacred learning, from whom all subsequent historians, legislators, orators and poets have derived the lights which directed them in their several pursuits; that to the pure source of all wisdom, the revelation from heaven, in a word, the world is indebted for the first principles of science, morality and religion; which appear to the attentive and discerning eye through the mist in which credulous ignorance or bold fiction have involved them.
Let us hence be encouraged to revere the scriptures, to search and compare them; to derive our opinions of religious subjects from that sacred source, instead of forcing the truth of God into an awkward supporter of our preconceived opinions. Above all, let it be our concern to regulate our conduct by the laws which scripture has laid down, and to comfort our hearts by the hope it inspires, and the prospects which it has unfolded. Amen.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this Mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes. That is the water of Meribah in Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin....NUMB. Xxvii. 12, 13, 14.
HERE is something peculiarly interesting in hearing a plain, honest, intelligent man, without vanity, or self-sufficiency, or affected humility, talking of himself; going into the detail of his own history, with the same fidelity and simplicity as if it were the history of a stranger; unfolding his heart without reserve, disclosing his faults and infirmities without palliation, recording his wise and virtuous actions without ostentation; and relating events, with all their little circumstances, according to the feelings which they excited at the moment.
It is pleasant to see an old man, with his faculties unimpaired, his spirits cheerful, his temper sweet, his conscience clear, his prospects bright; enjoying life without fearing death; blending the modesty and benevolence of youth with the wisdom and dignity of age. There is a double satisfaction in hearing such a
one describe persons whom he knew, scenes in which he acted, expeditions which he conducted, schemes which he planned and executed.
And such an one was Moses, who having, by divine inspiration, made the ages and generations before the flood to pass in review, and unfolded the history of redemption, in its connexion with the system of nature and the ways of Providence, during a period of two thousand five hundred years; having admitted us to his familiarity and friendly instruction during an eventful life of one hundred and twenty years, is now, with the same calmness and ease, admitting us to contemplate his behavior in the immediate prospect, and up to the very hour of his death.
The idolatrous defection of Isracl in the plains of Moab, had been visited with a plague which swept away twenty-four thousand of them. Immediately on the staying of that terrible calamity, Moses is commanded, with the assistance of Eleazar the high priest, to take the number of the people, from twenty years old and upwards, and to compare the muster roll of the day, with that taken in the wilderness of Sinai, thirty-eight years before. This being done with all possible accuracy, two most singular facts turn up, each singular considered separately and by itself, and both most singular, taken in their connexion one with another. In a multitude so great, and at the distance of thirty-eight years, the whole difference is no more than one thousand eight hundred and twenty men: for, at the former period, the number of men of a military age was six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty; and at the latter, six hundred and one thousand seven hundred and thirty. But though the strength of the host was nearly the same, the individuals whereof it was composed were totally changed; two names alone of so many myriads stood upon both lists. Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun, for Moses himself was under sentence of con
demnation; he was not to be permitted to pass over Jordan; he was already numbered with the dead.
The course of nature, it is true, is continually producing a similar offect on the human race, upon the whole; but there is a degree of exactness in this instance, not to be accounted for on common principles, and which must be resolved into a special interposition of Providence, which had pronounced the doom of death on the whole body of offenders, in the moment of transgression, and at the same instant, promised the reward of fidelity and obedience to those illustrious two; longevity and the possession of Canaan. Vain therefore is the hope of so much as one guilty person escaping in a crowd, groundless the fear of singular goodness suffering in the midst of many wicked.
It is related of Xerxes, king of Persia, much to the honor of his humanity, that surveying from an eminence the vast army with which he was advancing to the invasion of Greece, he burst into tears to think that in less than one hundred years they should all be cut off from the land of the living. What then, O Moses, were the emotions of thy soul, to see the event which Xerxes but anticipated, realized before thine eyes? To walk through the ranks of Israel without meeting one man who followed thee out of Egypt, with whom thou couldst mingle the tears of sympathy over so many fallen, or remind of the joy and wonder of that great deliverance? Is not that man already dead, who has survived all his cotemporaries? A consideration, among many others, powerfully calculated to reconcile the mind to the thonghts of dissolution, and to impress on the soul the sentiment of the wise man concerning the world, "I hate it, I would not live always."
Long life, however, is not the less to be considered as a blessing. The love of it is a constitutional law of our nature; and the promise of it is annexed to the sanctions of the written law, as a motive to obedience : "Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days
may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee:" Exod. xx 12, and it is here bestowed as a reward on the faithful. Premature death, in like manner, is an object of natural horror, is threatened in anger, and inflicted as a punishment. "The wicked shall not live half his days, and his memory shall rot." In general, a wise and merciful God hides from the eyes of men the era of their departure out of the world. The bitterness of death consists in the foretaste, and the forrunners of that great enemy. That bitterness in its full proportion, was wrung out, and mingled in the cup of Moses. The death of every Israelite was a death-warning to him. He had lately ascended Mount Hor with Aaron his brother, stript him of his garments, closed his eyes to his last long sleep, and descended without him; and Mount Hor is only a few steps distant from Mount Abarim, and his own summons comes at length. He is respited, not pardoned, and a reprieve of forty years is now expired.
It is in that awful, trying hour, we are at this time to trace the character, and mark the behavior of the man of God.
From the moment he fell under the divine displeasure, which shortened the date of his life, we observe it lying with an oppressive weight upon his mind. The love of life manifests itself, and we behold in the prophet, the man of like passions with ourselves. There is no incident of his life on which he dwells so much, and with such earnestness of interest as this. The history of his offence is again and again repeated, not in the view of extenuating the guilt of it, but to vindicate the righteous judgment of God. The excellence of this part of his narrative, is its departing from the direct line of narration. He hastens forward to bring it early into view; he returns again upon his foot-steps, and presents it a second time to view. Is he reminding Israel of their rebellion and disobedience? his own transgression, and the punishment of it, arise and stare