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History of Moses.
NUMBERS XXXI, 1, 2.
And the Lord fpake unto Mofes, faying, Avenge the children of Ifrael of the Midianites: afterward fhalt thou be gathered unto thy people,
THE intereft which every reader of taste and sensibility takes in the life and actions of Mofes is never permitted to flag, much lefs totally to fink and expire. His infant cries, from the very firft moment, awaken our fympathy; and his departing words, at the age of a hundred and twenty years, continue to excite our esteem and admiration. Whether employed as a minister of vengeance or of mercy, he infpires affection or commands refpect.
The love of life is not only natural and innocent, but important and neceffary. We are inftructed to guard, to preserve, to prolong it, at once by the conftitution and frame of our nature, and by manifold examples of the highest authority. And while Providence permits the farther extenfion of it, the reafons and end of that extenfion are obviously manifeft. Not a fingle hour is added to the life of any one, merely to make up fuch a quantity of time. No, every moment is deftined to its peculiar purpose, paffes to account, calls to its proper ufe and employment.
To dream of premature retirement from the exercise of our faculties and functions, of mere existence without employment, is an attempt to defeat the intention of the Creator in fending us into the world; is a degradation and perversion of the powers of the human mind; is to be dead while we live. The inquiry of a well regulated fpirit, to the laft, is, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me do ?" While any of my powers remain, however blunted, however impaired, to whom shall I dedicate the poor remains? Enfeebled, exhausted as I am, is there no one respect in which I can yet glorify God, or be useful to my fellow creatures?" And, to the laft, the great Supporter of life, the Ruler of the world, has fome command to give, fome labour to be performed, fome exercise of the hand, the head, or the heart to enjoin, fome purpofe of juftice or of love to accomplish.
Mofes has received warning to depart, but the bour of release is not yet come. And though his offence at the waters of Meribah must be punished with death, the tranquillity of his mind is not thereby difcompofed, nor his intercourfe with Heaven interrupted, nor his zeal in performing the duties of his ftation abated. The God whom he had fo long and faithfully ferved, continues to converfe with him as a man with his friend, communicates to him his defigns, and employs him in the execution. Our lives too are forfeited; the fentence of death is upon us; under a refpite of unknown, uncertain duration, our days are paffing away. Improved ever so well, they cannot indeed redcem from the grave, nor alter the immutable decree; but their improvement may alleviate the bitterness of death, and pluck out the fling. The inevitable course of nature, and the righteous decifions of a holy law, deftroy not the facred communications which fubfift between a merciful God and a gracious fpirit. To receive a command from an offended father, after judgment has been pronounced, partakes of the nature of a pardon; and it is no flender confolation, even un
der the stroke of justice, to reflect that paternal affection was pleased to regard and accept future obedience and fubmiffion, if not as an atonement for offence, at least as a mark of contrition for having tranfgreffed. As if, therefore, we could wipe out the memory of the paft; as if perfevering labours of gratitude and love could purchase our release; as if death were to be prevented, difarmed or destroyed, by the efforts of the paffing moment, let us awake and arife to the knowledge, the study and the practice of our heavenly Father's will.
The service prescribed to Mofes on this occafion was the execution of juftice on a nation of offenders. The nature of the offence has been hinted at in a former Lecture; and we may form a judgment of its enormity, from the vengeance which purfued it. The ftate of Midian, at the period in queftion, exhibits the laft ftage of moral depravity-a corrupted people carrying on a temporary political defign, by means the moft fcandalous and difhonourable-the dearcft and moft delicate interefts of human nature vilely faci ficed to its worst and most difgraceful propenfities-husbands countenancing the prostitution of their wives, and parents that of their daughters, in order to gratify ambition, avarice or revenge, A nation of fuch a character is neceffarily haftening to utter deftruction, without fire from heaven, or the fword of a foreign enemy. But what vice was accelerating by its own native energy, Providence haftens to an ifle by a special interpofition, and "the Lord makes himfelf known by the judgment which he executes."
The force which it was thought proper to employ for the extermination of this debauched race, is indication fufficient how low its character was rated. Immerfed in fenfuality, enervated by luxury, a handful of men was deemed enough to deftroy them. A thoufand out of every tribe of Ifrael, twelve thousand men in all, Mofes confiders as fully competent to the
execution of this enterprize; and the event fully juftified the estimate he had made. It is likewife remarkable, that he neither commands in this expedition, in perfon, nor commits the conduct of it to Joshua, or any other of military profeffion; but to "Phineas, the son of Eleazar the priest," furnished "with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow, in his hand." We have here, therefore, the idea of a folemn public execution, rather than of regular war. No refistance is made, no blood but that of the criminals is fhed; they dare not meet in the field those whom in the fecret chambers they could enfnare. In vain their hoary advifer Balaam, urges them to feats of arms, and fets them an example of courage; fupported by five kings and their armies, he falls together with them, by the fword of Ifrael, an awful monument, how certainly, however flowly, eternal justice overtakes the finner!
The immenfe booty which this eafy victory tranfferred to the Ifraelites, is a farther demonstration of c feebleness and diffolution of their unwarlike eneay. They had wealth without being rich, luxury without enjoyment, policy without wisdom, kingly power without government, and zeal for religion without an object of worship. Conquered the moment they are attacked, having no refource in public or private virtue; men loft to a sense of what conftitutes true female dignity, women precipitating that corruption of which they were the miferable victims -they hold up to mankind a fearful but instructive example of the native, neceffary, inevitable confequences of vice. Up to fimilar causes the downfal of ftill greater states may be traced; and if fin be the ruin of any kingdom, what individual offender fhall dare to flatter himself with the hope of efcaping the righteous judgment of God?
The feverity with which judgment was executed on the Midianites, helps farther to unfold their character. An effeminate, luxurious people, generally
excites contempt at moft; but here a holy and just indignation is kindled. Heaven itself is up in arms against a degenerate race; and Mofes, the meekeft of men, accuses the exterminators of the whole race of Midian of weak and exceffive lenity. How is this to be accounted for? It will be found on inquiry, that in a very diffolute ftate of fociety, vices of the most odious and atrocious kind are neceffarily blended with others lefs offenfive. The love of pleasure is the predominant character; but in order to feed and fupport that paffion, arts the most criminal and deteftable must be employed. Injustice, violence, perjury and murder follow in the train of luft. The moral principle is destroyed: all fense of fhame is loft. The general depravity keeps every individual tranfgreffor in countenance. Appearances are no longer attended to or kept up. Men glory in their fhame. The very offices of religion are perverted into inftruments of debauchery. Such, apparently, was the ftate of Midian at the period under review; fuch was that of Ifrael during the government and priesthood of Eli; and fuch was that of the Affyrian and Roman empire. immediately previous to their fubverfion. And in fuch a state, is it any wonder to fee heaven and earth combined to root out and overthrow-a holy and righteous God employing the miniftration of the gentleft of mankind to cut off the name and memory of fuch a people from the earth? When punishment fo fignal is inflicted, we may fafely infer, that the guilt which provoked it from fuch hands was enormous.
On reviewing the little army of Ifrael, after the victory, a fact turns up unequalled in the history of mankind-not fo much as one of the twelve thousand has fallen in battle: and that in attacking and destroying a nation fo populous as to contain thirty-two thoufand females of a particular defcription. The hand of God was clearly visible in this, and thankfully acknowledged. The fuperfluous ornaments
*Numb. xxxi. 35.