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All the rest were gradually to perish during the forty years, to be numbered from the time of their leaving Egypt, which he now doomed them to pass in wanderings in the desert. The sacred historian, though he gives a catalogue of the subsequent journeys and places of encampment of the Israelites during this period, has rec rded little concerning the farther transactions which took place antecedently to the concluding year. In the brief account, however, which he has delivered, we meet with one of the customary rebellions of the people, commenced by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who together with their families were swallowed up by the earth, which opened beneath them; and drawing after it the destruction of nearly fifteen thousand of the congregation, partly by fire from Heaven, partly by a pestilence. * In the beginning of the fortieth year, when they were encamped near Kadesh on the confines of Edom, they again rebelled for want of water; and by their violence ensnared Moses and Aaron into a degree of presumption and distrust, which drew from the Almighty this aweful sentence: “ Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel; therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”+ About four months afterwards Aaron was accordingly commanded to ascend Mount Hor, with his son Eleazer and Moses, in the sight of all the congregation; where Moses took off the priestly garments from Aaron, and put them on his son: and Aaron died before God on the top of the mountain. $ At the close of the fortieth year, yet not until they had again broken forth into rebellion, and had been punished by fiery serpents sent among
* Numb. xvi.
+ Numb. xx. 12. # Numb, xx. 23, &c. ; xxxiii. 38. $ Numb. xxi. 4—9. From the bite of these serpents they were not to be cured except by looking on a brazen serpent, which God commanded Moses to make, and to raise on a pole in the camp.
them, serpents whose bite was followed by deadly inflammation, they encamped, after completely subduing the Amorites who opposed their march in the plains of Moab, near the river Jordan, opposite to Jericho. The terror of their name, and the multitude of their host, filled Balak, the king of Moab, with consternation. He instantly dispatched messengers to Balaam, a celebrated prophet of Pethor in Mesopotamia, and invited him to come and pronounce solemn maledictions against the Israelites, as an infallible method of ensuring their defeat. Balaam, obeying the directions which he received from God, refused to return with them. A more numerous and more honourable train of ambassadors arrived from the king of Moab. Balaam, loved the wages of unrighteousness *,” giving the reins to his desire of possessing the riches and honours promised on his compliance with the royal request, was daring enough again to lay the matter before God, although he had before received an answer which precluded all farther application :
« Thou shalt not go with them : thou shalt not curse the people ; for they are blessed.”+ The Supreme Being, to whom the covetousness of Balaam's heart was manifest, thought fit, for the display of his own glory, to give the prophet permission to accompany the princes of Moab, on condition of his speaking concerning Israel that only which God should put into his mouth: yet showed him on the journey, by several miraculous intimations, that his avaricious desire to undertake it was highly offensive in the eyes of his Maker. Three successive times did Balaam disappoint Balak by pronouncing blessings instead of curses on the children of Israel. But the corrupt mind of the soothsayer devised another method of gratifying his employer. He instructed Balak - to endeavour to ensnare the Israelites into idolatry and its attendant vices; and thus to withdraw them from the Divine protection. * The scheme was attended with considerable success. Israel worshipped the gods of Moab; the anger of the Lord was kindled; and twenty-four thousand of the congregation were immediately destroyed by a pestilence. The zeal of Phinehas, who was the son of Eleazer, and grandson to Aaron, for the honour of Jehovah was rewarded with, the promise of a perpetual priesthood to himself and his posterity. The Israelites were commanded to make war on the nation which had seduced them into transgression. The Midianites were utterly destroyed by the sword of Israel ; and Balaam perished with them.
Our Saviour alludes to this transaction, John, iii. 14., as emblematical of that faith in him, by which alone mankind can be delivered from the deadly consequences of guilt. 2 Peter, ii. 15.
t Numb. xxii. 12.
But why, it may be said, did the all-knowing Searcher of hearts vouchsafe to hold converse with so worthless a character as Balaam? Whence comes it that inspiration, and prophetic knowledge, and other especial favours of Heaven, bestowed on so few individuals of the whole human race, are not uniformly conferred upon
the righteous ? On the righteous they have been bestowed almost exclusively; yet to this rule there have unquestionably been exceptions. Balaam was an exception; Judas Iscariot was an exception; and others may be discovered, or are predicted, in the Scriptures. t We may be satisfied, that He who can bestow on his creatures the gifts of inspiration and prophecy and miraculous powers will not in any instance distribute and assign them without sufficient reasons, whether his reasons be perceptible to us or not. Can we then discover no one advantage likely to result from the occasional selection of an unworthy object for the reception of these peculiar favours? One benefit seems obviously to present itself to our view. We learn the momentous lesson, that it is neither inspiration, nor prophetic knowledge, nor the power of working miracles, which can lead to salvation ; but a life exercised in the fear and the love of God. It is to be observed, that the Divine justice has usually displayed itself in the signal punishment, in this world, of the guilty wretch, whom not even the possession of the peculiar favours of God had subdued unto holiness. Balaam died by the hand of those whom he had beguiled into idolatry: Judas Iscariot by his own.
* Numb. xxxi. 16. Rev. ii. 14. t See 1 Kings, xiii. and Matt. vii, 22, 23.
During the two concluding months of the fortieth year, Moses, knowing that his death was at hand, delivered to the then existing generation of the Israelites, most of whom either were not born when the law was originally given, or were too young to enter fully into its meaning, a recapitulation of the Divine commands, with such slight additions or variations as he had been instructed to make. This recapitulation, and the other subjects mentioned in the present paragraph, form the contents of the book of Deuteronomy. That he might inspire the assembled people with the deepest conviction of their own unworthiness, and of the longsuffering and kindness of their heavenly Benefactor; he recalled to their remembrance all the wonderful works which God had wrought in behalf of their fathers and of themselves, and their frequent acts of obstinate incredulity and rebellion. And to persuade them by every motive to continue stedfast for the future in obedient service to that Power, who, notwithstanding so many provocations, was about to give them possession of the land of Canaan : he laid before them in detail a most encouraging catalogue of the blessings which would accompany them so long as they should remain faithful to Jehovah; and prophetically denounced, in terms equally circumstantial, the miseries with which Divine justice would pursue the disobedience of themselves and their posterity. Having performed this concluding office of duty and affection to his countrymen; and having appointed, as the Lord directed him, Joshua to be their leader in his place; having committed the Book of the Law, which he had written, to the care of the Levites, that it might be preserved by the side of the Ark; he ascended to the top of Mount Nebo : and having from that station surveyed the promised land, which he was not to enter, died before the Lord. His body was buried by the Lord in a valley in the country of the Moabites, in a spot not disclosed to the children of Israel ; lest, as it should
seem, their reverence for the memory of their departed lawgiver, concurring with their inherent proneness to idolatry, should afterwards lead them to pay religious honours to his remains. Such was, as
this world and its ours, the end of Moses, the servant of God. In every instance, except in that which was punished, for an aweful proof of the impartial dealings of the Supreme Being with men, by his being forbidden to enter the land of promise, this delegated messenger of the Most High appears to have discharged with unabated zeal the commission with which he was entrusted. The law which, through his instrumentality, was communicated to the Israelites, consisted partly of instructions and precepts in themselves of a moral and religious nature;