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To the point of the number of victims (which is stated at about fifteen thousand), I do not think that we can quote the record, with confidence that we have it
proceeded from Moses' hand; for, as we shall have occasion more particularly to observe hereafter, there are no parts of the text, which, as a whole, are liable to so much suspicion, as those which represent figures.
quarter of Levi. But I do not know that the supposed fact existed. There is no more reason to suppose that the families of Dathan and Abiram were confederates with their head, than that such was the case with the household of Korah; nor are we told (in this passage, at least), that the former were destroyed. Nothing is recorded inconsistent with the supposition, that the wives of Dathan and Abiram “and their sons, and their little children” who “had come out” with them, “and stood at the door of their tents," whence escape was easy, were among those, who, alarmed by the threat of Moses, “gat up from the Tabernacle on every side.” (27.) For “appertain,” (30,) a word supplied by our translators, might as well be written, adhere. By “their houses,” (32,) we are rather to understand their tents, than their households ; na not uncommonly meaning a tent. (See Gen. xxxiii. 17; 2 Kings xxiii. 7.) See, further, Numb. xxvi. 11 ; Deut. xi. 6, with my remarks thereupon. ." And there came out a fire" &c.; or, " and from the Lord the fire (just spoken of] proceeded,” &c. Was this fire a subsequent infliction, or a volcanic phenomenon of the earthquake ? Rather, I think, the latter. Compare Numb. xxvi. 10. — The censers, which remained in the dead hands of the victims, Eleazar, Aaron's oldest son, is directed to collect, and having emptied them of the burning incense, to cause them to be beaten into plates, to be nailed upon the altar of burnt offering ; that so, through all ages, in the most public place of the nation, they might admonish every worshipper of the wickedness and danger of any such ambition. (36 – 40.) This charge is trusted to Eleazar, rather than to Aaron, probably that the high-priest might not be defiled by the touch of corses. In verse 41, I find a very natural expression of the discontent of the rebellious party, considering their low conceptions of God. He had supernaturally punished their leaders; that, they had seen; but they complained of Moses and Aaron, that, to gratify themselves, they had prevailed to have the infliction made so severe. And to this misapprehension, Moses' interposition in their behalf, (44 – 48,) to arrest the worst which was threatened, (45,) afforded the most conclusive answer. “ They looked toward the Tabernacle of the congregation” (42); that is, for some interposition in their behalf, as was natural in their alarm; or perhaps they turned to it, (139) they retreated to the protection of that degree of awe which it continued to inspire.
But, at all events, I submit, that, in our partial acquaintance with the circumstances, we are not prepared to say in what number of instances an extensive and menacing disaffection needed to be punished, so as to exert a powerful and permanent influence on the minds of three millions of people. If the object for which the nation had been set apart, was one worthy of the Divine Being to entertain, it was one which deserved to be protected against defeat, at any sacrifice. If it was threatened by any seditious movement, such a movement needed to be repressed for the present, and its repetition guarded against for the future. If this was to be done, how was it to be done; that is, by what choice
among methods suited to operate on the human mind? The use of natural or of supernatural methods, presents the only supposable alternative. Will any one say, that the use of natural means would have been the better, as being the more merciful course;- in other words, that less severity might be expected to result from letting loose the warriors of Judah (exasperated by the plot against their precedency) upon those of Reuben, of not much more than half their number, or by committing the punishment of a portion of the Kohathites to the hands of the families of Merari and Gershon, already as jealous of their pretensions, as they were of those of Aaron and his sons ? So far from a greater severity being consequent upon the supernatural character of the visitation, is it not unavoidable to own, that, had this been forborne, the other tribes, on all common principles of action, would have taken the punishment of the rebels into their own hands? And then, all motives of mutual hostility and partisanship having opportunity to make themselves felt, it is impossible to conjecture where the bloodshed would have stopped ; except, indeed, through some form of that very super
natural interposition, which the scheme we are considering aims to avoid.
A supernatural interposition, then, was merciful to the sufferers, as it stayed the less cautious hands of those whose rights had been invaded by the plot. The other form of punishment, moreover, would have been but partially effectual, inasmuch as it would have left any malecontents, whom it did not cut off, in a condition to say, that their claim was defeated, not by God's will, but by man's oppressive power; and it would have sowed the seeds of lasting dissensions, most inimical to the common weal, while, as things were ordered, God, by taking the punishment on himself, taught the more powerful tribes, that it was not necessary for them to interfere to vindicate his law, thus repressing a jealous hostility, which else would have not unnaturally broken out upon small occasions. — And, if it was fit that supernatural power should be applied at all, it was of course fit that it should be applied in the production of effects, of a moment proportioned to the exigency; which exigency was, in the present instance, the making of an impression sufficient to secure the people against similar movements in future, - movements, which, unless guarded against, threatened nothing less than national ruin, and what was much more, the defeat of the inestimable objects for mankind, which the Jewish nation had been organized to promote.
* Righteous punishment is not vindictive, but has one, or both, of two objects; viz. the reformation of the transgressor, or security for the public, through warning to others who may be tempted to the same offence. In respect to punishment which contemplates the latter object, i. e. exemplary punishment, no principle is more familiar, than that justice and mercy require it to be made heavy in proportion to the interests which are endangered. Abstractly, it would be hard to put a man to death for betaking himself to the next town. If the man were a soldier, yet if, through his insubordination, nothing were lost to the state but his own
Henceforward we do not read of any organized opposition to the divinely instituted authorities, whether sacred or civil. The miraculous testimony in Aaron's favor, of which we read in the seventeenth chapter, I understand to have been designed to take advantage of the state of feeling which the recent event had created, in order to teach a further lesson. That Aaron was the rightful high-priest, was a point established by the late divine judgment upon those who had oppugned his claim. The time was favorable for teaching the heads of the respective tribes, that he was the superior of them all. To this end, the twelve phylarchs are invited by Moses to bring to the Tabernacle each his sceptre, or staff of office, identifying it by the inscription of his name, that of Aaron being written upon the rod of Levi; and to await the divine decision respecting the precedency of one of their number, to be given in the form of miraculously causing his staff to blossom. On examination of the rods on the following day, that of Aaron, (whether it was of wood or of metal, we are not told,) was found to have germinated like an almond
services, his life would still be too great a sacrifice to exact for that loss. But, inasmuch as what one may do, another may, and by the desertion of a sufficient number of its protectors, a country might be left defenceless, for an invader to ravage it with fire and sword, it is a great saving of life, and consequently a provision of the public clemency, to punish desertion with death. — So to describe some black characters on a white surface, is abstractly an insignificant act, and in a barbarous community might well attract no animadversion; but, in consideration of its consequences, when done under certain circumstances, in a country whose great interests are sustained by mutual confidence, laws, held to be wise and lenient, have called it forgery, and made it capital. — If fifteen thousand lives, in the fifteenth century, had bought the internal peace of England through the next, the price would have been less than was paid, and the purchase better than was realized. - In the case now before us, as in that of Nadab and Abihu, (Lev. x. 1-5,) and of Ananias and Sapphira, (Acts v. 1-11,) the interests at stake were great; and accordingly benevolence dictated that the methods of security should be vigorous.
branch, and to be yielding the fruit of that tree. It was directed to be laid up at the Tabernacle, in permanent memory of the transaction; and the language of the people, when the result of the trial was made known, indicates the impression of salutary awe, which, in connexion with the recent disaster, it produced upon their minds.*
As, in a passage of the preceding book,t we saw the rules respecting the great annual celebrations, which had before been separately exhibited, brought together in one view, with some additions, so, in the chapter which here next follows, we have a collection of provisions previously announced, relating to the revenues of the sacerdotal order; in addition to which, it is now
* We are not informed what means were taken to identify the rods which were produced, as being the same which were deposited, beyond “ the writing of every man's name upon his rod.” According to the common inference from verse 4, viz. that Moses was to lay them up over night in the Most Holy Place, there would be no satisfactory way of identifying them; and so obviously would there have been opportunity for fraud, that it is hardly to be supposed, on any scheme, that Moses would have proposed it. The rods were to be deposited “at the Tabernacle of the congregation, in the presence of the testimony"; that is, in the sacred precincts. It is to be presumed that they were sealed up in one receptacle, the princes, or others authorized by them, watching by it through the night, to see that no dishonesty was practised. They were not in Moses' charge ; for “ on the morrow, Moses went to the Tabernacle of witness” (8) to examine them. — The view which I have given in the text, of the special object of this miracle, (according with the fact, that, before the period of the kings, the high-priest appears to have been, in common times, the head of the nation,) I had become satisfied was correct, before I observed the question of Dr. Geddes, (“Critical Remarks,” p. 384,) “ Is it credible, that ..... a new miracle should be necessary to establish the priesthood of Aaron?” an inquiry, of which this view removes the basis. Nor is it in any degree inconsistent with the language in verses 5, 10, 12, 13. When the people were satisfied, that Aaron was not only rightful high-priest, as they had been taught before, but that he was above all the other permanent authorities of the state, as they were instructed now, and that his rights would be so resolutely vindicated, their consternation at the thought of having so opposed him became extreme. f Lev. xxiii. VOL. I.