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INTRODUCTION TO PSALM XC.
PSALM OF MOSES.
WHEN the children of Israel left Egypt it appears they anticipated a short journey to Canaan, and a speedy settlement in that “goodly land.” During the first two days of their journey they proceeded in a direction to strike the great caravan route from Egypt to Canaan, which leads along the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean, and might have been traversed in a few days. But, as this would have brought them directly into the country of the Philistines, the most warlike and powerful of the Canaanitish nations, who inhabited the plain country on the southwest of Canaan; and as the Israelites were yet an undisciplined multitude, unused to war, unacquainted with the plans of Providence, unorganized and unprepared for the great purposes of their national destiny, it pleased Divine wisdom to thwart this expectation, and lead the people in another way. Moses, therefore, was commanded to take a southern and partly 'a retrograde march, which brought the Israelites, on the third day, to the western shore of the Red Sea. (Numbers xxxiii, 5–7; Exodus xii, 37, and xiii, 18, and xiv, 1-3.) From thence they passed the sea, and in just two months from the exodus from Egypt they reached Sinai, and encamped in the broad valley before that mountain. Exodus xix, 1-2. Here they remained a year and five months, while they received the law of God through the hands of Moses. Being now supplied with a full moral, ecclesiastical, and judicial code, and thus organ
ized, both as a Church and a nation, they broke up their encampment at Horeb on the twentieth day of the second month of their ecclesiastical year, (answering to the former part of our May,) and resumed their march toward Canaan.
Their route lay along the western shore of the gulf of Akaba to the head of that gulf, and thence northward through the great valley called, in the Hebrew and by the modern Arabs, “the Arabah.” It is the valley that connects the gulf of Akaba with the basin of the Dead Sea and the valley of Jordan. From Horeb to Kadesh-barnea, according to the slow rate of travel by camels, (which is about two and a third miles per hour,) it was anciently reckoned “eleven days journey, (Deuteronomy i, 2;) but the unwieldy multitude of the Israelitish nation, with their flocks and herds, their children, and immense luggage, were nearly four months in making the distance. At last, however, they arrived at Kadesh-barnea, a place (not then a city) at the extreme south of the Promised Land, in the borders of the Edomitish territories in Arabia Petrea. The site of Kadesh is supposed, by Dr. Robinson, to be marked by the great fountain now called by the Arabs Ain el-Theibeh. It is a copious watering-place, and very valuable in that inhospitable desert. Here they halt, and from this point twelve spies are sent out, one for each tribe, to examine the condition of the land and its inhabitants. Forty days were spent in searching out the land from the borders of Arabia to Mount Lebanon, and the spies returned to the camp with full information of all the facts, and laden moreover with specimens of the goodly productions of the soil. The spies all concurred in giving a good report of the fertility of the soil and the richness of the country; but ten of them assured the people that the inhabitants of the country were so numerous, so warlike, so well defended by walled cities, and led on by such giant champions in war, that it was impossible to conquer them. This was simply the conclusion to which their fears and their unbelief had led them, and their imagination augmented the real dangers and difficulties a thousand-fold. Caleb and Joshua were the only persons out of the twelve spies that withstood the dangerous counsel of the ten. They admitted the facts as stated by the ten spies, but denied the validity of their conclusion. The people of the land were indeed numer
ous, and tall, and warlike, and fenced in with high city walls; but the invincible argument against all these discouragements was, “ If the Lord delight in us, then will he bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us : their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not.” Numbers xiv, 8, 9.
In vain did they try to hush the murmurings of the people. The contagious fears of the ten spies had spread throughout the assembly, and dismay and terror seized upon all hearts. The exhortations and remonstrances of Caleb and Joshua only served to exasperate the excited multitude, who even attempted to stone these faithful witnesses. Cries and murmurs now arose from all parts of the camp of Israel. Bitterly did they regret that they ever left Egypt, or that they had not died in the desert. In the transports of their grief they mutinied against Moses and against God, and proposed to elect a captain and return into Egypt.
The storm of revolution had now reached its height. Moses and Aaron, unable to control the spirit of the people, fell on their faces to the earth, and Joshua and Caleb rent their clothes. In the midst of the tumult and confusion the luminous cloud, the symbol of the Divine presence, appeared at the door of "the tabernacle of the congregation.” Thither Moses repaired, and interceded for his people. It was the purpose of God to destroy them, and raise up a nation from the family of Moses; but the fervent intercessions of that holy man prevailed, and the Lord changed the sentence of instant death to that of banishment and wandering in the desert forty years, till all the adult members of the nation should die.
" And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? . . . Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh,