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Philo and Josephus, however, and other Jewish writers, have taken upon them to fill up this interval of time, by a fanciful, fabulous, unsupported account of the earlier years of Moses; which we should perhaps be disposed, in part, to retail for your amusement, if not for your instruction, had not the Spirit of God supplied us with well authenticated memoirs of a more advanced period of his life. In the perusal of which, with serious meditation upon them, we shall, I trust, find pleasure and profit blended together.
Taking inspiration then for our guide, we divide the history of Moses into three periods of equal duration in respect of time, namely, of forty years. each; but very different in respect of situation, notoriety and importance. The first, and of which the Bible is silent, or speaks but a single word, presents him to us a student in the schools of the Egyptian Magi, one among the princes in the court of Pharaoh, a poet, an orator, a statesman, a general, or whatever else imagination pleases to make him. The second, exhibits an humble shepherd, tending the flocks of Jethro his father-in-law, and fulfilling the duties and exemplifying the virtues of the private citizen. In the third, we attend the footsteps of the saviour of his nation, the leader and commander, the lawgiver and judge of the Israel of God: under whom the chosen race was conducted from Egyptian oppression, to the possession of the land promised to Abraham and to his seed; the instrument chosen, raised up and employed of the Divine Providence, to execute the purposes of the Almighty, in a case which affected the general interests, spiritual and everlasting, of all mankind..
It is of the second of these periods we are now to treat; and though our materials be small and few, if we be so happy as to make a proper use of them, we shall find that, by the blessing of God, our labour has not been in vain.
In Moses, then, in the very prime and vigour of his life, we see a mind uncorrupted by the maxims and manners of an impious, tyrannical, idolatrous court; a mind not intoxicated by royal favour, not seduced by the allurements of ambition, not deadened by the uninterrupted possession of prosperity, to the impressions of humanity and compassion. And what preserved him? He believed in God. The mind's eye was fixed on Him who is invisible to the eye of sense. And what is the wisdom of Egypt compared to this? It was a land of astronomers, a land of warriors, a land of artists; and the improvement which Moses made in every liberal art and science, we may well suppose was equal to any, the first, of the age and nation in which he lived. But a principle infinitely superior to every thing human, a principle not taught in the schools of the philosophers, a principle which carries the soul where it resides, beyond the limits of this little world, inspired high thoughts, dictated a noble, manly, generous conduct.
And first it taught him to despise and to reject empty, unavailing, worldly honours. 66 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter."* Ordinary spirits value themselves on rank and distinction. Ordinary men, raised unexpectedly to eminence, strive to conceal and to forget the meanness of their extraction; but Moses would rather pass for the son of a poor, oppressed Israelite, than for the adopted son and heir of the oppressing tyrant's daughter. Putting religion out of the question, true magnanimity will seek to derive consequence from itself, not from parentage or any other adventitious circumstance; will not consider itself as ennobled by what it could have no power over, nor debased by what has in its own nature no shame. To be either vain of one's ancestry, or ashamed of it, is equally the mark of a grovelling spirit. Art thou highly descended, my friend? Let high birth inspire high, that is, worthy, generous sentiments.
*Heb. xi. 24:
Beware of disgracing reputable descent, by sordid, vulgar, vicious behaviour. Hast thou nothing to boast of in respect of pedigree? Strive to lay the foundation of thine own ability: convince the fools of the world, that goodness is true greatness; that a catalogue of living virtues is much more honourable than a long list of departed names. Know ye not, that faith makes every one, who lives by it more than the son of a king? For the son of a king may be a fool or a profligate; but faith makes its possessor a son of God, that is, a wise and a good man; and by it, Moses was more noble in the wilderness of Sinai, than in the imperial court of Pharaoh.
As this divine instructer taught him to undervalue and to refuse empty honours, so it inspired him with pity to his afflicted brethren. "And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren."* Ease and affluence generally harden the heart. If it be well with the selfish man himself, he little cares what others endure. But religion teaches another lesson: "Love to God whom we have not seen," will always be productive of "love to men whom we have seen." From the root of faith many kindred stems spring up; and all bring forth fruit. There, arises the stately plant of heavenly mindedness, producing the golden apples of self government, self denial, and contempt of the world; and close by its side, and sheltered by its branches, gentle sympathy expands its blossoms and breathes its perfumes; consolation to the afflicted, and relief to the miserable.
The progress of compassion, in Moses, is described with wonderful delicacy and judgment. First, he foregoes the pleasures of a court. Unable to relish a solitary, selfish gratification, while he reflected that his nearest and dearest relations were eating the bread and drinking the water of affliction, he goes out to look upon their misery, and tries by kind looks and words of love, to soothe their woes. Unable to alleviate, much less to remove their anguish, he is determined at least to be a partaker of it; and since he cannot raise them to the enjoyment of his liberty and ease, he voluntarily takes a share of their bondage and oppression. There is something wonderfully pleasing to a soul in trouble, to see one who might have shunned it, and have turned away from the sufferer, out of pure love drinking from the same bitter cup, and submitting to the same calamity. At length an honest zeal breaks forth, and overleaps the bounds of patience and discretion. Seeing a brutal Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, incapable of suppressing his indignation, he assaults the oppressor, and puts him to death. "Moses was meek above all the men of the But surely oppression maketh a wise man mad." This we allege as an apology for the conduct of Moses, not a vindication of it; for we pretend not to say it was in all respects justifiable. But it is one of those singular cases to which common rules will not apply.
The day after, he had the mortification of seeing two Hebrews striving together. Unhappy men! as if they had not enemies enough in their common cruel taskmasters; as if condemnation to labour in making bricks without some of the necessary materials, could not find employment for their most vigorous efforts; as if an edict to destroy all their male children from their birth, had not been sufficient to fill up the measure of their woe; they pour hatred and strife into the bowl, already surcharged with wormwood and gall. Wretched sons of men! eternally arraigning the wisdom and goodness of Providence; eternally complaining of the hardships of their lot; and eternally swelling the catalogue of their miseries, by their own perverseness and folly adding vinegar to nitre, and then wondering how their distresses came to be so great! Moses reproved the offending Egyptian by a blow, and a mortal
* Exod. ii. 11.
one; he tries to gain an offending brother by meekness and gentleness; he makes reason and humanity speak; but they speak in vain; for the same spirit that leads men to commit cruelty or injustice, leads them also to vindicate and support their ill conduct. "And he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us; intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyp tian ?""* From this, Moses discovered that the rash action which he had committed the day before, was publicly known and talked of, and might prove fatal to him, unless he instantly fled from the danger. The affair had reached the ears of Pharaoh, who, it would appear, wanted only a decent pretence to rid himself of a man of whom all Egypt was jealous. He hurries away therefore out of the territories of the king of Egypt, into that part of Arabia which is called Petrea, from its mountainous or rocky aspect; and by a singular concurrence of providential circumstances, is stopped at a city of that country called Midian, and is induced to remain there for many years.
There lived in this city a person of distinguished rank and station; but whether possessed of a sacred or civil character, the ambiguity of the term in the holy language permits us not to determine; and the scripture leaves us totally uncertain whether he were a priest or a prince of Midian. But we are left in no doubt respecting his moral and intellectual qualifications; and we shall have no reason to be displeased at finding the history of Moses blended with that of so sensible and so good a man as Jethro, or Raguel, turns out to be. Whatever his dignity was, the sacerdotal or royal, we find his daughters trained up in all the simplicity of those early times; following the humble, harmless profession of shepherdesses. Wise is that father, kind and just to his children, who, whatever his station, possessions or prospects may be, brings up his sons and his daughters to sɔme virtuous and useful employment; for idleness is not more odious, dishonourable and contemptible, than it is inimical to happiness, and irreconcileable to inward peace.
Moses, being arrived in the neighbourhood of Midian, weary and faint with a long journey, through a barren and unhospitable country, sits down by a well of water to rest and refresh himself. And, as a good man's footsteps are all ordered of the Lord, Providence sends him thither just at the moment, to succour the daughters of Raguel from the violence of some of their neighbours. In those countries, the precious fluid bestowed upon us in such boundless profusion, being dispensed as it were in drops, became an object of desire and a ground of contention. The daughters of Jethro, sensible of their inferiority in point of strength, endeavour to supply it by diligence and address. They arrive at the well before their rival shepherds, and are preparing with all possible dispatch to water their flocks, when behold they are overtaken by these brutals, who rudely drive them and their flocks away and cruelly attempt to convert the fruits of their labour to their own use. Moses possessing at once sensibility, courage and force, takes part with the injured, and affords them effectual support against their oppressors. An helpless, timid female, assaulted and insulted, is an object of peculiar concern to a brave and generous spirit; and for this reason, courage and intrepidity are qualities in men, held in great and just estimation by the female sex.
If the heroic behaviour of Moses merit approbation and respect, the modest reserve of the virgin daughters of Raguel is equally amiable and praiseworthy. It does not appear that they solicited protection, but modestly received it; they look their thanks rather than utter them; and they deem it more suitable to their sex and character to appear ungrateful to a generous stranger, than to offend him by forwardness and indelicacy. They hasten home to their
*Exod. ii. 13, 14,
father, who, surprised at the earliness of their return, inquires into the cause of it. Happy, I doubt not, to celebrate the praises of a man whose appearance and behaviour must have made a deep impression upon them, they relate the adventure of the morning; and Raguel, struck with the magnanimity, gallantry and spirit of this stranger's conduct, eagerly inquires after him, sends to find him out, invites him to his house and table, and endeavours to express that gratitude, which the young women could not, by every effort of kindness and hospitality.
Minds so well assorted as those of Moses and Jethro, and attracted to each other by mutual acts of beneficence, would easily assimilate and unite in friendship. And the pleasing recollection of protection given and received, natural sensibility of a female mind to personal accomplishments, but more especially to generosity and courage, on the one hand; and the irresistible charm of feminine beauty and modesty to a manly heart, on the other, would speedily and insensibly, between Moses, and some one of the priest of Midian's fair daughters, ripen into love. What follows, therefore, is all in the course of honest nature, which never swerves from her purpose, never fails to accomplish her end. But it was Providence that furnished the field and the instruments with which nature should work. That Providence which saved him forty years before from perishing in the Nile; that Providence which delivered him so lately from the hands of an incensed king; the same Providence now, by a concourse of circumstances equally beyond the reach of human power or foresight, fixes the bounds of his habitation, forms for him the most important connexion of human life; and for another space of forty years makes him forget the tumultuous pleasures of a court, in the more calm and rational delights of disinterested friendship, virtuous affection, and heavenly contemplation.
It was in this delicious retreat, that the man of God is supposed to have composed, by divine inspiration, and to have committed to writing, that most ancient, most elegant, and most instructive of all books; which contains the history of the world, from the creation down to his own times; a period which no other writer has presumed to touch upon; holy ground which none but the foot of God himself has dared to tread. Here also, and at this time, as it is conjectured by interpreters, he wrote that beautifully poetical, moral and historical work, the book of Job: which, for sublimity of thought, force of expression, justness of sentiment, strength of reasoning, and variety of matter, holds a distinguished place in the sacred code. If from the schools of the Magi he drew such stores of wisdom and eloquence, high must our ideas rise of those noble seminaries of learning. But Moses derived his wonderful accomplishments from a much higher source, even from the everlasting Spring of all knowledge, even from Him who made the heavens and the earth, and caused the light to arise; even from Him who can make the desert of Horeb a school of WISDOM, and the simple to be wiser than all his teachers. Here, also, he has the felicity of becoming a father; and, even in Midian, God builds up one of the families of Israel.
And now at last the time to favour that despised, oppressed nation was come. Egypt had changed its sovereign in the mean time, but the seed of Jacob had felt no mitigation of their distress. Every change which they have undergone is only from evil to worse. Moses was now arrived at his eightieth year, but remained in the full vigour of his bodily strength, and of his mental powers. Erring, reasoning, cavilling man will be asking, Why was the employment of Moses in so important a service so long delayed? Wherefore bury such talents for such a space of time in the inglorious life of an obscure shepherd? Wherefore call a man at so late a period of life, in the evening of his day, in the decline of his faculties, to a service that required all the fer
vour, intrepidity and exertion of youth? To all which we answer in the words of our Saviour on a well known occasion, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." Man is perpetually in a hurry, and often hastens forward without making progress; but "he that believeth shall not make haste." GOD, the father of believers, advances to his end not in a vehement and hurried step, but in a solemn, steady, majestic pace; his progress, which we may in our folly account slow, in the issue proves to have been the most expeditious; and the course, which human ignorance may condemn as irregular and circuitous, will be found in the end the shortest and the surest.
The course of the history then has brought us to that important, eventful hour, when the shepherd of Midian, trained up in retirement and contemplation, and converse with God, was to shake off his disguise, and stand confessed the minister of the most high God, the king in Jeshurun, the scourge of Egypt, the deliverer of Israel. As the commission which was given him to execute, and the station assigned to him, were altogether singular and uncommon, we are not to be surprised if the seal and signature affixed to that commission, and the powers bestowed for the faithful and effectual execution of it, should likewise be out of the usual course of things, and should announce the power and authority of Him who granted it. But as this merits a principal place in the course of these exercises, we shall not compress it into the conclusion of a Lecture; hoping, through the help of God, to resume and continue the subject next Lord's day.
Such was Moses, the Jewish legislator and hero, during the two first great periods of his life. But a greater than Moses is here, even He, "the latchet of whose shoes Moses is unworthy to stoop down and unloose;" to whom Moses and Elias, on the mount of transfiguration, brought all their glory and honour, and laid them at his feet!
Moses "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;" and Jesus disdained not to be called "the son of the carpenter." Supreme, all divine though He was, yet he declined not the society of the poorest, meanest, most afflicted of mankind!
Was the humiliation of Moses cheerful and voluntary, not forcibly obtruded upon him, but sought out and submitted to? Christ, though " in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant." Was sympathy a leading feature in the character of Moses? Jesus "hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, neither hath he hid his face from him, but when he cried unto him he heard."* "In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them, and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old."+ Did Moses, through the vale of obscurity, arrive at the summit of glory? Of Christ it is said, as following up the scene of his humiliation, "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of JESUS every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." But the time would fail to point out every mark of resemblance. Christ derives no glory from similitude to Moses, but all the glory of Moses flows from his typifying Christ the Lord, in whom "all the promises are yea and amen," and who "is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."
+ Isai. lxiii. 9.
* Psal. xxii. 24.