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A.M. 2513. of the family of Israel, they had, contrary to every principle of B.c. 1491. integrity, every pledge of security, and every feeling of gratitude,
reduced their benefactors to abject slavery. Departure of The people being at length suffered to depart, they began their
journey exactly at the expiration of 430 years from the date when Abraham quitted his kindred in Mesopotamia. At their original settlement in Egypt, their numbers amounted only to seventy, but so prodigiously had they multiplied, in defiance of the worst of treatment, that in about two hundred years, they were increased to 600,000 men capable of bearing arms, which, together with their families, may be estimated in the whole, at four millions of individuals, who set out with vast possessions of flocks, herds, and other property, on the most extraordinary adventure that was ever recorded by the pen of history. If Moses, as their leader, had acted by his sole authority, the measure must have been pronounced imprudent, and the way in which he conducted them, impracticable: for instead of proceeding northward, in the short and direct road to Canaan, he took them eastward to the wilderness, which bounds Egypt and Arabia Petræa, in consequence of which they wandered about for many years, enduring the most painful and unexpected privations. This, however, was wisely ordered by that God who superintended their journey, and who was too well aware of their refractory spirit to allow them to pursue a route through Palestine, which would have allowed them easily to return at the first appearance of difficulty. Marshalled, therefore, under Moses, as the commander-in-chief of the expedition, God himself went before them, “by day in a pillar of a cloud; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.”
The first encampment of the children of Israel was at the top of the Red Sea, in Etham, on the edge of the wilderness, which stretched from this point towards Midian and Edom eastward, and towards Paran southward. Pharaoh was now preparing to pursue them with a force which he deemed adequate to compel their return, or effect their destruction; but though they might easily have escaped into the fastnesses of the wilderness, Moses, who acted solely under divine direction, led them into a narrow defile between the mountains, through which there was no outlet; so that when the enemy approached, they were enclosed on all sides. This appeared to the people so bad a piece of generalship, and they were in consequence exposed to such extreme danger, that their complaints were most bitter and clamorous. They tauntingly inquired whether he had brought them into this situation because there were no graves in Egypt; and loudly declared, that they should have considered prolonged servitude far preferable to so melancholy a fate. Had the object been merely to effect their escape, or had Moses acted solely from his own authority, their remonstrances might have been correct; but we are informed that God wisely
First encampment. Etham.
the Red Sea.
contrived this dilemma for the purpose of exciting Pharaoh to the A.M. 2513. pursuit, that, by his manifest interposition, he might acquire honour B.C. 1491. to his great name, and effectually cure those prejudices in favour of Egypt, which were still so prevalent in the camp. In these critical circumstances, the cool fortitude, magnanimity, and piety of their leader, were most conspicuous: he silenced their murmurings, allayed their agitation, and in the exercise of strong faith, stood up in the midst of them, stretching his rod over the sea, which instantly divided to form a dry and commodious passage. They Miracle at passed in safety; guarded on either hand by the watery element as by walls of adamant. In vain did their foes attempt to follow ; Moses again stretched forth his rod, and the deep closed upon them
-chariots, horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh-for ever! This deliverance was commemorated by Moses in a song, which is not only worthy of attention on account of its numerous beauties as a composition, but as the most ancient piece of poetry in the world, antedating the works of Homer, by at least six hundred years.
It is now generally agreed, that the transit of the children of Israel, was at the bay of Colsum or Clysma. It is now called by the Arabs Bedea, and is almost dry; and in the immediate neighbourhood the natives still preserve a tradition of the drowning of a numerous army near the place.
Three days after this miracle the Israelites marched through a barren wild without any water; on the fourth they arrived at Marah, where, indeed, they found a supply, but it was bitter. This occasioned prodigious murmurings; upon which Moses, as in all his difficulties, applied to the Lord, who directed him to cast in a tree, by which it became instantly sweetened. Hence they proceeded to Elim, and then again encamped by the sea, but afterwards went in a northerly direction inland to the wilderness of Sin, where manna was first afforded them from heaven. Subsequently, as they approached the borders of the Amalekites, they were opposed by that people and pursued to Rephidim. In this place the people again complained for want of water, and were miraculously supplied by the rod of Moses being struck against the rock in Horeb. (Ex. xvii.)
The Israelites were now conducted to the wilderness of Sinai, in Sinai. the third month of their departure out of Egypt, where the law was given them, with all the circumstances of terror and magnificence which suited that extraordinary period. Moses was, on this occasion, admitted to an intercourse with the Supreme Being, more familiar than any which had hitherto fallen to the lot of a mortal; but for which he had been prepared by the manifestation of the burning bush, and by the capacity to work miracles with which he had afterwards been endowed. Having been called up into Horeb, by a voice which proceeded from the summit of the mountain, Moses was desired to remind the people of the past interpositions of providence, as evidences of the divine goodness, and to assure them of
A.M. 2513. God's intentions respecting their future destination, to which they B.C. 1491. bad been introductory. They were now to become the “ peculiar
treasure ” of the Most High, “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” When this declaration was reported to the camp by an assembly of the elders, the whole multitude expressed their readiness to comply with unhesitating obedience with every divine requisition. Moses conveyed this language to the Lord, who, having intimated his determination to appear in a thick cloud, and communicate his will in an audible conference with his chosen servant, directed the use of certain precautions previously to the solemn manifestation, The people were to sanctify themselves, and a fence was prepared, that no one should touch the borders of the mountain upon pain of death. On the third day from the interview of their leader with God, in which these preparatory measures were arranged, thunders, lightnings, and a thick cloud, invested Sinai, accompanied with the sound of a trumpet, so tremendously loud as to put the whole camp into extreme agitation. The mount itself shook to the very base ; while smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, into the midst of which Moses entered, ascending to the very summit, where he received a new charge to preserve the multitude from indulging an eager and obtrusive curiosity: after which the ten commandments were pronounced, in a voice so solemn and superhuman, that the people requested Moses to become the medium of future communication. Accordingly, after endeavouring to allay their fears, he approached the thick darkness, and received from the present Deity a minute specification of laws, by which Israel was henceforth to be governed. These were all written in a book, and an altar, to serve as a sacred memorial of the wonderful transactions, was erected on the spot, with twelve pillars to correspond with the number of the tribes. Having first sprinkled blood upon the altar, Moses read the volume; and when the people expressed their unanimous consent to every requisition, he proceeded to sprinkle blood upon them, in attestation of the solemn covenant. After this, he was again called into the mount, where he abode forty days and forty nights, receiving instructions for the building of a tabernacle, in which it was the divine purpose to display his glory to his favourite nation, for the
benefit of the universal world. Idolatry of During the absence of Moses, the people relapsed into idolatry, the people.
persuading Aaron to form a golden calf: which so justly incensed the Lord, that his anger was only appeased by the intercession of Moses, who, upon descending the mountain with the two tables of the law written upon stone in his hands, was filled with such indignation, that he threw them upon the ground, and dashed them to pieces. As a further punishment for their rebellion, he ground the idolatrous image to powder, and strewing it upon water, compelled them to drink it. Aaron endeavoured to excuse himself, by pleading the importunity of the people ; and when Moses saw how completely they had stripped themselves, in order to furnish the A.M. 2513. means of forming the calf, he went to the gate and proclaimed, B.C. 1491. “Who is on the Lord's side ? let him come unto me.” The Levites instantly repaired to the spot, and by divine command, they were ordered to pass through the camp sword in hand, by which three thousand perished miserably. The people were now threatened with the withdrawment of the presence of God, which occasioned the deepest lamentation ; but their faithful leader and friend pitched the tabernacle in the midst of the congregation, into which he entered when the cloud descended upon it, and successfully interceded for their preservation. For himself, he requested some encouraging display of the divine glory, which was graciously accorded, and an account of it is given in the concluding passage of the thirty-third chapter of Exodus. In addition to this distinguishing favour, he was directed to prepare two other tables of stone, and bring them into the mount, where they were again inscribed with the commandments, by the finger of God; and whence, having remained for forty days and nights in a state of strict abstinence from food, he descended with such a supernatural splendour upon his countenance, that he was under the necessity of putting on a veil, to allay the apprehensions of Aaron and the children of Israel. Whenever he went in before the Lord, he removed the veil till he returned to the people.
The tabernacle was now erected in exact conformity with the pattern A.M. 2514. that had been presented to Moses in the mount. It was completed B.c. 1490. in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, The when the glory of God appeared in a cloud, which so entirely per- tabernacle. vaded it, that Moses was unable to enter; and this miraculous cloud continued with them in all their future journeyings; so that they halted while the cloud rested on them, and went forward as often and as long as it was taken up. In the night it always assumed a luminous appearance, and was every where conspicuous.
The first remove of the Israelites from Sinai, was into the wilderness of Paran, and on their way we find several acts of divine forbearance at the intercession of Moses. At the voice of his supplication, fire was quenched, and manna and quails supplied. It would have been strange indeed, if a person of so much eminence had been exempted from that envy which commonly prevails, upon occasions far less calculated to excite it; yet we cannot but wonder that his dearest connections should have attained the first ignoble distinction of attempting to depreciate his character, and diminish his well-merited reputation. Miriam and Aaron were, however, both influenced by this detestable spirit; on which account, the former was smitten with leprosy, that was only healed at the powerful entreaty of their injured brother, who procured her the mitigated punishment of only a seven days' exclusion from the camp.
Hitherto, no measures had been taken to obtain information
A.M. 2514. respecting the country they were marching to invade : at length, a B.C. 1490. ruler from each tribe was despatched as a spy, secretly, to ascertain Sends to the nature of the soil, the disposition of the inhabitants, and the search the military state of the cities. At the expiration of forty days they
returned, bringing with them a favourable report of the fertility of the land, of which they produced some satisfactory specimens in the grapes of Eshcol, with several pomegranates and figs; but they described the fortifications which they had seen, as so strong, and the people as of so gigantic a stature, that every one seemed dispirited, and refused to attempt the proposed conquest. So much, indeed, did the spirit of rebellion display itself, that they were on the point of selecting a new leader to guide them back to Egypt, and were about to stone Joshua and Caleb, whose report widely differed from that of the other spies, and whose remonstrances they could not endure; when the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation, and the smiting pestilence was threatened to exterminate the rebels. Nothing, indeed, could have prevented its fatal and immediate operation, but that earnest entreaty, with which it was the honour and privilege of Moses so often to avert the displeasure of the Almighty: but to mark with an indelible sign of disgrace the offending multitude, they were made to understand, that only two individuals, whose fidelity had rendered them worthy of such a distinction, Joshua and Caleb, out of their numerous thousands and tens of thousands then alive, should ultimately see the promised inheritance: nor should even their children enjoy it, till after they had wandered forty years in the wilderness, in correspondence with the number of days it had occupied to survey the land. The individuals who had given the report which occasioned
the present murmuring, were instantaneously smitten by a fatal Defeat of plague“ before the Lord.” The next morning, a party, deeply
affected with the predicted chastisement, presumed, contrary to orders, to attack the enemy, and were repulsed by the Amalekites and Canaanites with great loss. But Moses did not aim to remedy the misfortune, to renew the contest with a larger and more efficient force, or to march directly forward towards the desirable residence of which they were in search; but, in obedience to a heavenly intimation, turned back to the wilderness of Sin, and then passing near Ezion Gaber, at the eastern extremity of the Red Sea, and proceeding round the land of Edom, he at length led the people to the plains of Moab, near mount Nebo.
At different times, during this circuitous journey, several memorable events occurred, in which Moses was particularly implicated.
An envious spirit having again manifested itself in the revilings of and Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, ministers before the Lord, who had
formed a party of 250 princes of the assembly, they were summoned to the door of the tabernacle, each with his censer having incense. The Lord then appeared in glory, requiring Moses and Aaron to