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HISTORY OF MOSES.
EXODUS III. 13, 14.
And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM : And he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
THE objects presented to us in the commerce of the world have a relative greatness, but those with which we converse in solitude and retirement possess a real grandeur and magnificence. A vast city, a numerous and well disciplined army, a proud navy, a splendid court, and the like, dazzle the eyes of a stranger, and produce a transient wonder and delight. But a little acquaintance dissolves the charm; the dimensions of created greatness speedily contract, the glory departs, and what once filled us with astonishment is regarded with calm indifference, perhaps with disgust. The eye, almost with a single glance, reaches the end of human perfection, and instantly turns from what it has seen, in search of something yet undiscovered, striving to find in novelty and variety a compensation for the poverty, littleness, nothingness of the creature. But when we withdraw from the haunts of men, and either retire within ourselves or send our thoughts abroad to contemplate God and his works, we meet a height and a depth which the line of finite understanding cannot fathom; we expatiate in a region which still discloses new scenes of wonder; we feel ourselves at once invited and checked, attracted and repelled; we behold much that we can comprehend and explain, but much more that passeth knowledge; we find ourselves, like Moses at the bush, upon "holy ground," and the same wonderful sight is exhibited to our view" JEHOVAH!" IN A FLAME OF FIRE! whose light irradiates and encourages our approach; but whose fervent heat arrests our speed, and remands us to our proper distance.
That great man had now passed the second great period of his life in the humble station of a shepherd, and the shepherd too of another man's flock. He had quitted the enchanted regions of high life, not only without regret, but with joy; not impelled by spleen, not soured by disappointment; but filled with a noble disdain for empty honours, with generous sympathy towards his afflicted brethren, animated by exalted piety which settled on an invisible God, and inspired with a soul which looked at pomp with contempt, and on obscurity with acquiescence and desire. It was in this calm retreat that he cultivated those qualities which proved more favourable to the designs of Providence than all the learning which he had acquired in Egypt.
At the age of eighty the race of glory is at an end with most men: nay, the drama of life concludes with the generality long before that period arrives. But the fame, activity and usefulness of Moses commenced not till then; for
as it is never too early, so it is never too late to serve God and to do good to men; and true wisdom consists in waiting for and following the call of Heaven, not in anticipating and outrunning it. Abraham was turned out a wanderer and an exile at seventy-five. And Moses at fourscore was sent upon an enterprise, which it required much courage to undertake, much vigour to conduct and support, and a great length of time to execute. But before the divine mandate every mountain of difficulty sinks, "every valley is exalted, the crooked becomes straight, and the rough places plain." Abraham, at the head of a handful of servants, subdues five victorious kings, with their armies: Sarah, at ninety, bears a son; and Moses, at eighty, with a simple rod in his hand, advances to succour Israel, and to crush the power of Egypt.
The solemnity with which the commission was given, suited the dignity and importance of the undertaking. The whole was of God, and He does every thing in a manner worthy of himself. While Moses was employed in the innocent cares and labours of his lowly station; and faithful attention to the duties of our several stations is the best preparation for the visits of the Almighty; a very unusual and unaccountable appearance presented itself to his eyes. A bush wholly involved in flames, yet continuing unchanged, undiminished unconsumed by the fire. Whether nature preserves her steady tenor, or suffers an alteration or suspension of the laws by which she is usually governed, the finger of God is equally visible in both; for, what power, save that which is divine could have established, and can maintain the order and harmony of the universe? And what power short of Omnipotence can break in upon that order; can make the sun to stand still, or its shadow return back to the meridian after it had declined; can leave to fire its illuminating, but withdraw its devouring quality; and render artificial fire, such as that of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, harmless to the three children of the captivity, but fatal to ministers of the king of Babylon? Were our hearts right with God, miraculous interpositions would be unnecessary; every creature, every event should promote our acquaintance with our Maker. And such is the condescension of the Most High, that he vouchsafes to cure our ignorance, inattention or unbelief, by making the mighty sacrifice of that stated course of things, which his wisdom settled at first, and which his power continues to support. Rather than man shall remain unchanged, unredeemed, the great system of nature shall undergo alteration; fire shall cease to burn, the Nile shall run blood instead of water, the sun forget to shine for three days together; the eternal, uncreated Word shall become flesh, and the fountain of life to all, shall expire in death.
It required not the sagacity of a Moses to discover, that there was something extraordinary here. But mistaking it at first for merely an unusual natural appearance, whose cause, by a closer investigation, he might be able to discover, he is preparing by nearer observation to satisfy his curiosity; when lo! to his still greater astonishment, the bush becomes vocal as well as brilliant, and he hears his own name distinctly and repeatedly called, out of the midst of the flame. Curiosity and wonder are now checked by a more powerful principle than either. Terror thrills in every vein, and arrests his trembling steps. How dreadful must the visitations of God's anger be to his enemies, if to his best beloved children, the intimations of his goodness, clothed in any thing like sensible glory, be so awful and overwhelming? When I meet thee, O my God, stripped of this veil of flesh, may I find thee a pure, a genial and a lambent flame of loving kindness, not a consuming fire of wrath and vengeance!
Moses instantly comprehends that the Lord was there; or, if he could for a moment have doubted who it was that talked with him, in a moment his doubt must have been removed by the continuation of the voice of Him who spake. We find here, as in many other places of the Old Testament, the same person
who is styled in the course of the narration, the "Angel of the Lord," styling himself JEHOVAH and GOD; exercising divine prerogatives, manifesting divine perfections, and claiming the homage which is due to Deity alone. The person therefore, thus described, can be none other than the uncreated "Angel of the covenant," who " at sundry times, and in divers manners," in maturing the work of redemption, assumed a sensible appearance; and at length, in the fulness of time, united his divine nature to ours and dwelt among men, and made them to behold his glory, as the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
Every thing here is singular, and every thing instructive. The first interview between God and Moses inspires terror; but the spirit of bondage gadually dies away, and refines into the spirit of adoption and love. Acquaintance begets confidence, "perfect love casteth out fear ;" and the man who spake to God with trembling in Horeb, by and by becomes strengthened to endure his presence forty days and nights together, in Sinai. "Enduring, as seeing Him who is invisible," he "despised the wrath of an earthly king." When he comes to the knowledge of that same God, by the seeing of the eye and the hearing of the ear, he "exceedingly fears and quakes; abhors himself and lies low in dust and ashes." But, following on to know the Lord, he comes at length to converse with Him, as a man with his friend. "Acquaint thyself then with Him, and be at peace, thereby good shall come unto thee." Miserable beyond expression, beyond thought are they, whose acquaintance with God has to begin at death; who, having lived without a gracious, merciful, longsuffering God in the world, find they must, by a dreadful necessity, fall into the hands of a neglected, forgotten, righteous, incensed God, when they leave it.
The appearance of Jehovah in the bush was not only preternatural, but emblematical; it not only sanctioned the commission given to Moses by the seal of Deity, but exhibited a lively representation of the state of his church and people in Egypt; oppressed, but not crushed, brought low, but not deserted of Heaven, in the midst of flames, but not consumed. And it is a striking emblem of the church of God in the world, to the end of time: "troubled on every side, yet not distressed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, cast down, but not destroyed."
The same voice which solicited intercourse with Moses, which tendered friendship, which encouraged hope, sets a fence about the divine Majesty; it reminds him of his distance, of his impurity; it forbids rashness, presumption, familiarity. In veneration of the spot which God had honoured with his special presence, he is commanded to "put off his shoes from off his feet:" a mandate, which by an image natural and obvious, enjoins the drawing near to God in holy places and in sacred services, with seriousness, attention and reverence; divested of that impurity which men necessarily contract by coming into frequent contact with the world. And surely, it is owing to the want of a due sense of the majesty of God upon our spirits, that his house is profaned and his service marred by levity, carelessness and inattention. Did we seriously consider that the place where we stand is "holy ground," that the word which we speak and hear is "not the word of men, but of the living God," could one short hour's attendance betray us into slumber? Could the little jealousies and strife of a base world intrude into a worshipping heart? Could the eye find leisure to wander upon the dress and appearance of another? Durst a scornful leer or simpering countenance communicate from one vain, silly, irreverent spirit to another the private sneer and censure? Would there be a contention for place and preeminence? Now, surely, God is as really though less sensibly, in this place, as he was in the bush at Horeb: and though we see him not, his eyes are continually upon us, and he will bring
every thing into judgment. O Lord, open thou our eyes, that we may behold Thee, and every other object shall instantly disappear.
The words which follow, if any thing can increase their intrinsic force and importance, derive a peculiar energy and value to the christian world, as the passage quoted by our blessed Lord, from an authority which they could not deny, to confute the Sadducees, on the subject of the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body. I AM the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." We speak of the dead, under the idea that they were; but God represents them as still existing, and his relation to them as unbroken, his care of them as uninterrupted. The effect which this declaration had upon Moses, is such as might have been expected; no more turning aside to see this great sight;" he hides his face, "afraid to look upon God." It is ignorance of God, not intimate communion, which encourages forwardness and freedom. Angels, who know him best, and love him most, are most sensible of their distance and are represented as "covering their faces with their wings" when they approach their dread Creator.
In the declaration which immediately follows, under a sanction so solemn and affecting, which shall we most admire, the mercy and goodness of God,
his perfect wisdom and foreknowledge? Four hundred years have elapsed since this wretched state of his posterity had been foretold and revealed to Abraham. For wise and gracious purposes it was appointed and brought to pass. But the days of darkness are now almost ended, and the sun returns. Like rain from heaven to a dry and thirsty land, the promises of favour and salvation fall upon a persecuted, oppressed people; and "that Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and judge?" is after an interval of forty years sent back to Egypt, on the kind, merciful errand of salvation to an oppressed and persecuted people.
Moses however, it would appear, has not forgotten the surly reception which his well meant interposition had met with from his brethren so long before; and presumes to urge it as a reason, why a person of more influence and authority should be entrusted with the commission.
He considered not, that formerly he acted from the impulse of his own mind; with indeed an upright and benevolent intention, but with a zeal rather too bold and impetuous; whereas now, he was following the direction of Providence, and was therefore certain of success. As there is a sinful pride which urges men to seek stations and employments, to which they have neither pretension, title, nor qualification; so there is a sinful humility, which shrinks from the call of God, which, in the guise of self denial, contains the spirit of rebellion and disobedience; and which, under the affectation of undervaluing and debasing our own persons and qualities, indirectly charges God with foolishness in choosing an instrument so inapt and improper. Such humility is of the very essence of pride, and such, with regret we observe it, was the spirit by which Moses was on this occasion actuated. The heavenly vision removes the objection at once, by assuring him of the divine presence, blessing and support and refers him for the proof of it, to a train of events closely succeeding each other; and all issuing in the people's assembling to gether, in that very spot, to worship, after their enfranchisement, all forming a chain of evidence, that the authority under which he acted was divine.
Still doubting and irresolute, Moses ventures to urge another difficulty, which he expresses in these terms; "And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, the God of your fathers hath sent me unto you: and they shall say unto me what is his name? What shall I say unto them?" God had already declared his name, and purpose, and given his charge, and yet Moses dares to make inquiry. How rare a thing it is, to see a soul wholly resolved into the will of God! How seldom
do we find a faith entirely disposed to be, to do, and to endure, neither more nor less than what God is pleased to appoint! But the incredulity and presumption of Moses shall not render the design of God of none effect. When men are contradicted or opposed, they fly out, and storm, and threaten. But the great God bears with our frowardness and folly, gives way to our scruples, and, yielding to our obstinacy, overcomes evil with good. And we are almost tempted to rejoice that Moses stood out so long, as it gave occasion to the most solemn and satisfying proclamation of the name and nature of God, from his own mouth, and the most amiable and engaging picture of tender mercy and longsuffering that ever was exhibited. "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: And he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."
What flimsy things are commissions issued under the handwriting and seals of kings, compared to this! a shred of parchment, a morsel of wax, an unmeaning scrawl: a slender, contracted, shortlived power, delegated from one worm to another. Where is now the signet of Ahasuerus, which pretended to communicate irreversible authority to the writing whereto it was affixed? Where are the warrants under which the statesmen and heroes of other times deliberated, fought and conquered? With the princes who granted them they are gone to oblivion. They were what they were. They fulfilled their day, and then they fell asleep, and now are seen no more! What avail the long list of empty titles, which potentates and princes, in the pride of their hearts, affix to their perishing names? All, all shrink and fade, before that tremendous Power, whose authority no change of circumstances can affect, whose existence no succession of ages can impair; who, yesterday, to-day and forever still proclaims of himself, “I am.'
Nothing can equal the simplicity, sublimity and force of these remarkable words. Independency of existence, eternity of duration, immutability of purpose, faithfulness and truth in keeping covenant and shewing mercy, are all conveyed in one little sentence, "I AM THAT I AM.' Longinus, the celebrated critic, has with equal judgment and taste, quoted a well known passage from the writings of Moses, as an instance of the true sublime, viz. the first words pronounced by the Creator in the formation of the world, "And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." Why did not Longinus dip deeper into the works of this great historian; why did he not enrich and embellish his own beautiful little book, and farther approve his exquisite taste, by inserting other passages from the page of inspiration, particularly the passage under review? A passage which Jews, Heathens and Christians, as one man, have consented to admire.
Under the sanction of this most awful name, God repeats his commission, repeats his charge, repeats his promise of support, assistance and success; success with the elders of Israel; success with the people; success against Pharaoh. And yet, Moses "staggers at this promise," although it be the promise of the Eternal," through unbelief!" What have we most to wonder at here, the strange incredulity and perverseness of the prophet, or the singu lar fidelity and exactness of the historian, in recording his own errors? God had said, "they shall hearken to thy voice:" yet Moses presumes, in the face of this express declaration, to gainsay and draw back." And Moses answered, and said, But behold, they will not believe me; nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee." Surely "the LORD is God, and not man, and therefore the children of men are not consumed." A man of common spirit would here have broken off the conference, and left the timid, froward shepherd to his own folly, and permitted him to remain destitute of the honour which he obstinately persevered to decline. But it pleased God to shew us patience, at least in one instance, too powerful for unbelief: "for his ways are not like our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts.”